EUKN interview with Alfons Fermin

2 May 2016

This month we interviewed our own EUKN researcher, Alfons Fermin, who, for the past six months, has been working on the EUKN contribution to the IMAGINATION project on the urban implications and governance of intra EU mobility from CEE. Alfons Fermin has written the handbook for policy makers on the basis of the project deliverables and input from the IMAGINATION researchers. He is now active in organising the IMAGINATION conference of 23rd May in Rotterdam where the handbook will be presented and the policy-relevant insight will be discussed.  

 

EUKN: What exactly is the IMAGINATION project?

AF: It is a European research project on ‘Urban implications and governance of CEE migration in Europe’ (acronym: IMAGINATION), funded by JPI Urban Europe. The project is coordinated by Erasmus University Rotterdam (Prof.dr. Godfried Engbersen and Dr. Peter Scholten), and includes academic researchers from the Netherlands, Sweden, Austria and Turkey, while there are contributions from two countries of origin of these mobile EU citizens: Poland and the Czech Republic. EUKN has been involved to translate the research insights into a policy lessons and guidelines (the handbook) and to support the dissemination of the results (by a conference). The project offers research-based evidence about the increasing diversification of intra-EU mobility from Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) to EU-15 Member States and Turkey, the consequences for urban regions of destination, as well as policy responses to address these consequences. The research has been carried out between June 2013 and May 2016 in eight urban regions in four countries. For the past six months I have been working on the project Handbook and I also help in organising the conference itself.

 

EUKN: What is the current relevance of the topic?

AF: The project started in 2013, when the subject was still high on the agenda in several countries and cities. Currently, the attention for refugees overshadows the issue of mobile EU citizens from CEE. However, there are many reasons why intra-EU mobility of EU citizens from Central- and Eastern Europe and its urban consequences still deserves the attention of policymakers, and will continue to be an important governance issue in the near future. For example, the lack of adequate data and knowledge on intra-EU mobility and its consequences continues to be an obstacle for developing appropriate policies. There are still serious concerns regarding the perceived negative consequences in the receiving countries. These concerns are reflected in the use of terms such as ‘benefit tourism’ and ‘poverty migration’. To give an example, one of the main issues in the campaign for UK's EU referendum of June 23rd, 2016 is the agreement with the EU on the reforms concerning the social rights of mobile EU citizens from CEE in the UK. There are also concerns in countries of origin, about a shrinking population and shortages on the labour market. Many mobile EU citizens will also stay for a longer time than intended. This poses new questions to policymakers with regard to their integration.

 

EUKN: What are the concrete results of the IMAGINATION project?

AF: The concrete results are a set of deliverables (reports), published on the IMAGINATION website (www.project-imagination.eu),  scientific publications (an IMAGINATION book will be published), a Handbook of Urban governance of Free movement in the EU (compiled/edited by EUKN) and the conference (organised by EUKN). During the conference we will discuss the findings and recommendations presented in the Handbook with the researchers, urban stakeholders and representatives of governments. The results of the research fill a gap in knowledge, both scientifically and for policy makers. For example, the results focus on the impact of intra-EU mobility on urban domains such as the labour market, housing, social security, social and political participation, and education. Precisely these impacts received a lot of attention in media and political discussions.  The inclusion of the sending country’s perspective with case studies in Poland and (a smaller one) in Czech Republic makes it possible to see both sides of the issues.

 

EUKN: What are the obstacles concerning this topic?

AF: There appear to be many obstacles for the development of appropriate policies by local, regional and national governments. First of all there is the lack of adequate and comparable data and of knowledge in general, which hinders the development of adequate responses and policies.  For instance, in the Netherlands the dominant image of mobile EU citizens from CEE is that of temporary and seasonal labour migrants, while the reality has become much more varied. And then there is the issue regarding who is responsible. The lack of policies is partly due to the definition of mobile EU citizens as equal citizens to the native ones (thus no extra measures needed),  but also because of the complexity of free movement issues and the lack of clarity about who is responsibilities for what issues.  The mobile EU citizens from CEE also constitute a category that is highly diverse, and most of them integrate well or are only temporary in the host societies. However, there are vulnerable categories, like women working in private households, or invisible categories, working in the informal labour market. These are in need of support from governments and other urban stakeholders.  

 

EUKN: Media and politicians warned – especially before they has to open up their labour markets to the mobile EU citizens of new member states - about an uncontrollable influx of mobile EU citizens from CEE, that would puts countries, cities and labour markets of receiving countries under stress. Have these predictions materialised?

AF: Currently, the inflow of mobile EU citizens from Central and Eastern Europe receives little attention, except in the UK (in relation to the Brexit discussion). The IMAGINATION project collected data mainly by interviews with (and surveys among) stakeholders, thus qualitative data. Thus no new figures have been obtained. However, the advantage of this research method is that it offers an overview of a broad topic, with policy relevant insights because the stakeholders themselves are crucial for establishing effective solutions. The findings show remarkable differences between the countries of study. In Sweden, the attention of media and politicians is focused on destitute mobile EU citizens, mainly homeless and beggars. While in the Netherlands, neighbourhood problems (overcrowded houses), exploitation of mobile EU citizens (by employment agencies and slum land lords), and wage dumping received attention, resulting in a focus on regulation in labour market and housing issues.  And in Austria, the focus is on de-qualification, of CEE mobile citizens working below their level of qualification. In general it is remarkable that intra-EU mobility from CEE receives has received little attention in Austria, because they are accustomed to the presence of a mix of people from Central and Eastern European countries in their cities.  

 

EUKN: What are the recommendations that the Imagination project yields?

AF: There are quite a few recommendations. To list some of them:

  • Improve the local, national and EU knowledge base on mobile EU citizens

  • Harmonize the data on mobile EU citizens at EU level

  • Recognise the diversity of mobile EU citizens and give due attention to vulnerable and invisible categories

  • Control negative effects on urban regions and on mobile EU citizens themselves, including exploitation and wage dumping.  Offering support and information services to mobile EU citizens is crucial in this respect.

  • Ensure equal access of mobile EU citizens to migrant services, including language courses, training and education.

  • Collaborate with sending countries, to improve the information before and after departure and for instance to address problems of homeless mobile EU citizens from CEE.

The IMAGINATION Conference takes place on the 23rd of May in Rotterdam. Registration is now open. For more info on the registration or the preliminary program, click here.