European migration statistics: Britons move to Spain, Romanians not to the UK

Bildschirmfoto 2014-02-10 um 17.01.27Only a comparatively small number of Romanians lived in the UK in 2011 when the Office of National Statistics last conducted a nation-wide migration census.

Find the interactive graphic here.

According to data from ten national statistics offices, only 80,000 had emigrated to the United Kingdom, compared to more than two million Romanians living in other EU member states.

Lifting all work restrictions for Bulgarians and Romanians on 1 January 2014 has caused fears that citizens of these countries might move to the UK to claim benefits, with David Cameron calling for limits to the freedom of movement.

Britons themselves make widespread use of their right to live and work in EU countries: Spain’s Costa del Sol and the Balearics attract the biggest number of UK expatriates (400,000), followed by 150,000 living in France and 100,000 in Germany.

In the UK: Germans and French outnumbered by Poles

On the other hand, roughly the same number of German and French citizens leave their home countries to settle in the United Kingdom in company of more than 100,000 Italians and Portuguese.

However, those four nations’ emigrants combined are outnumbered by more than half a million Poles living in the UK.

The most recent ONS figures also show that in 2011, three years before the freedom of movement was extended, just below 50,000 Bulgarians and 80,000 Romanians were granted permission from the government to legally live in the UK.

A far greater number of citizens from these two countries moved to other European countries, with around one million Romanians choosing Italy and more than 800,000 emigrating to Spain.

Bulgarians’ most popular destinations were Spain, Germany and Greece – countries that had lifted restrictions on the freedom of movement, which has come under critic from David Cameron, earlier than the UK.

Possibility of EU referendums arises in German coalition talks

Referendums reduce policies to "Yes or No" (CC Nils via Flickr)

Referendums reduce policies to “Yes or No”
(CC Nils via Flickr)

Negotiators in the German coalition talks have suggested to give German citizens the possibility to vote on major EU issues in referendums, a move aimed at restoring trust in the EU’s democratic legitimacy.

According to media reports, referendums could be hold when new countries join the EU, when Germany bails out other member states or powers are transferred from Berlin to the European Union.

Similar referendums exist in other EU member states, with Britons voting on transferring powers to the European authorities.

In contrast, Nicolas Sarkozy abolished the necessity of French citizens voting on new countries joining the EU.

Members from both negotiating parties seem to support the suggestion: Conservative interior minister Hans-Peter Friedrich (CSU) and Thomas Oppermann from the Social Democrats (SPD) put forward a paper saying Germans “should be asked directly on European policy decisions of special importance”, the Financial Times reported.

But outside the coalition talks many members of chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU oppose referendums on EU issues. “The proposal won’t see the light of day. We would be reducing ourselves to the level of British policymakers”, MEP Elmar Brok from the CDU told Reuters.

Are EU referendums the way to go?

Many Europeans feel disconnected from the European institutions and complain about a lack of democracy.

Direct democracy would certainly give citizens of EU member states a say about key issues such as new countries joining the European Union or powers being transferred.

However, it cannot replace the mechanism of finding compromises in political institutions in my opinion. I doubt that complicated policies can often not be reduced to a simple “Yes or No” question, but referendums require such questions.

The perceived lack of democratic legitimacy has to be on the agenda of EU institutions, but referendums in single member states should not be the way to solve a European issue. Instead, the discussions should move towards making the existing EU authorities and mechanism more democratic.

European Greens open online primary for Commission President candidates

EP elections wil be held in May 2014 (CC European Parliament)

EP elections wil be held in May 2014 (CC European Parliament)

The European Green Party has started its online primary election of candidates for President of the European Commission ahead of next year’s EU parliament elections – a process that could be distorted by the nature of online audiences.

In the Green primary election European citizens over the age of 16 can vote for one or two of four proposed politicians, who are then going to run as candidates for the President of the European Commission’s office in next year’s European Parliament (EP) election.

The four candidates the Greens have put forward for the primary election are José Bové from France, Monica Frassoni from Italy, Rebecca Harms and Ska Keller both from Germany.

The Greens are the first European party to put forward such a process. According to the party, it is aimed at giving EU citizens a direct say:

„We believe running the Green Primary will help reduce the gap between political institutions and the citizens. Increasing direct citizen involvement can bring European politics closer to the people.“

The flaw of online audiences

However, the unrepresentative online audience could distort the primary’s results.

According to a study, almost 50 per cent of European Internet users are younger than 35 years, a group that accounts for a much smaller percentage of the European population.

Moreover, citizens in some member states use the Internet a lot less than those in others.

The Internet is a convenient platform to reach a big audience, but the European Green Party cannot expect to get a representative result from its primary online election.

In my opinion, the European Greens’ primary can be a model for the future and open a public pan-European debate, with both regional and demographic Internet gaps hopefully closing in the future.

Revolution of the electoral process

Next year’s EP election (22-25 May) is the first one since the Lisbon Treaty, which asked for a stronger integration of European citizens as political actors.

The European Commission (EC) has recommended that the European parties decide on top candidates for the EC President, the highest executive power in the EU.

The EC’s recommendation was based on a survey that suggested that 62% of Europeans think having party candidates for Commission President and a single voting day would help increase dropping turnouts (I wrote about this earlier).

The European people’s party, the biggest party in the current EP, has yet to name a candidate. The second biggest party, the Party of European Socialists, announced last week that Martin Schulz is going to run for them.

The European Green Party’s online primary election runs till 28 January 2014.