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Looking for growth. What really moves migrants around Europe?

Freedom of movement is one of the four pillars of the European project: yet only a little over 3% of European citizens work in a country other than the one where they born. This is an increasingly educated population – according to OECD data, 41% have a tertiary education level – and can contribute to the knowledge society and international competition.

In the essay Economic Freedom as a Magnet for intra-EU28 Migration (part of the volume 21st Century Migrations: Fluxes, Policies and Politics, edited by Raffaele De Mucci and Silvia Cavasola for Luiss University Press [1]), Rosamaria Bitetti and Ornella Darova try to pinpoint the reasons that push European expats to choose a country over another. In economic theory, some “magnets” are traditionally identified, meaning forces attracting voluntary migrants (because those who run away from wars and dictatorships are not in the position to choose as freely in which country to live).

Migration literature shows three main models that are key to understanding these magnets: models exist that are built on networks, so it is cultural or geographical proximity, historical affinities and the existence of a large number of migrants to attract new migratory flows. There are also migration patterns driven by economic conditions, where migration results because of the difference between income (or other economic conditions, such as GDP, average wage and unemployment rates) in the country of departure and arrival. There are, lastly, models based on the so-called welfare magnet: here, the idea is that migrants go where the state is more generous in welfare offerings.

Although these hypotheses are studied and respected in research literature, it is mainly the one tied to the welfare magnet that has more impact on public debate, newspapers, and on the declarations of politicians who wish to counter immigration. In the article, Bitetti and Darova add a further variable: the quality of the institutions, measured by an economic freedom index drawn up by the Fraser Institute, the Economic Freedom of the World Annual Report [2]. Checking for economic variables (GDP and unemployment rates), affinity (linguistic and geographical), and public spending for social purposes, it turns out that economic freedom has a significant capacity to attract voluntary migrants.

For a better understanding, a further percentage point in the Fraser Economic Freedom of the World index has the same magnet effect as the increase in social spending by 15.98%: European migrants therefore move not towards the places where they will be more aided, in which they will absorb more resources, but where they will have more opportunities to grow. Not only they go towards countries where there is more wealth and more job opportunities at the moment, but towards more open and competitive markets, where it is easier to become entrepreneurs and contribute to economic growth.