UK fails to see benefits of migration
By George Parker in Brussels
Published: February 18 2007 22:09
The UKs economy might have benefited from the surge of migration from eastern Europe, but it does not feel that way to the British.
In spite of claims from politicians and economists that an influx of Poles and Lithuanians since 2004 has made up for skills shortages and helped to contain inflation, an FT/Harris poll suggests the political argument has been lost.
According to the survey, Britons now take the most negative view of immigration of any big western European economy, challenging the UKs self-perception as an open and welcoming country.
The survey found that 47 per cent of Britons believe migration by workers within the EU has been negative for the economy, almost twice as many as the 24 per cent of people who hold the same view in Spain.
Meanwhile, 76 per cent of British respondents wanted to tighten border controls and 66 per cent said there were too many foreigners in the country, in both cases more than their counterparts in France, Italy, Spain or Germany.
The poll illustrates the failure of British politicians and economists to persuade a sceptical public that an open-door policy to eastern workers would help to boost the national economy.
Last year Peter Mandelson, European Union trade commissioner, chided other member states for failing to follow Britains lead (along with Ireland and Sweden) in opening its doors to workers from eight new member states in the former communist bloc.
Put away your fears. Celebrate the opportunities that all fellow Europeans now have as a result of enlargement, he said.
David Blanchflower, a member of the Bank of Englands monetary policy committee, said last month there was little evidence that immigrants from eastern Europe had significantly depressed the wages or employment chances of British workers.
But the British public, whose concerns have been fanned by intense and occasionally hyperbolic media coverage of immigration, appear disinclined to believe such assurances.
The root cause of the cynicism was the massive underestimate by Tony Blairs government of the number of east Europeans who would arrive after 2004. Initial predictions of 15,000 had to be rapidly revised and by last August some 427,000, mostly Poles, had formally applied to work in Britain.
In response to these concerns, Britain agreed to impose temporary restrictions on workers coming from Bulgaria and Romania, which joined the EU on January 1.
FT Harris poll
Britain remains a popular destination for European migrants it comes second only to Spain and it is regarded by respondents as having the healthiest economy, alongside Germany.
The survey also shows that many Europeans are open to the idea of working in another country, providing encouragement to those who believe the EU economy suffers from a lack of US-style labour mobility.
However, the number of people who actually emigrate remains small.
The most resistant to the idea of working in another country are the French, whose pessimism about the chance of their lives improving is matched by their refusal to countenance moving abroad for a better life.
Such pessimism is widespread, in spite of Europe experiencing a significant economic upturn.
Only 10 per cent of respondents thought life in their country was improving, the highest number being in Spain (20 per cent) and the lowest in France with 5 per cent.
The FT/Harris poll was conducted online by Harris Interactive among a total of 6,561 adults within France, Germany, Britain, Spain, Italy and the US between January 31 and February 12.
FT Harris poll