Field trip to Brussel
Fieldwork at the EU level took place for three weeks in June 2022. Altogether 13 interviews could be held with an additional two interviews that actors responded to in writing. The interviewees comprised EU Commission staff working on issues relating to EU freedom of movement of persons (FoM), permanent representatives of member states to the Council of the European Union, members of the European Parliament as well as staff working for umbrella organizations of unions and employers in the EU.
A key observation from the fieldwork is that FoM related emigration is a cross-sectoral topic that does not fit within a defined policy area. Thus, EU emigration is discussed within policy areas such as EU cohesion policy, EU employment and social policy, EU migration policy, as well as EU agricultural policy. Most actors acknowledged that EU emigration is an issue of concern for some accession countries in the East and Southeast of the European Union. EU measures such as cohesion funds as well as the common agricultural policy are considered to support the development of better living and working conditions that could also influence people in their migratory decisions. Direct compensatory measures for population losses administered via EU cohesion funds are acknowledged by interviewees but also seen critically.
Actors supported FoM as a right but acknowledge brain drain and demographic decline as issues related to the EU principle. The topic is relatively new on the EU’s agenda. Therefore, it was very interesting to observe which actors contribute to setting the agenda and how EU emigration is identified as a topic of concern while at the same time embracing the right of EU FoM.
The interview data is rich and will allow us to shed light on EU emigration as a cross-sectoral issue area as well as its framing by different actors as a topic of EU concern.