Special Issue on ‘Intra‐EU mobilities in times of crisis' published in the journal 'International Migration'

Posted on 25 February 2020

Dr. Manolis Pratsinakis, Onassis/Seesox Fellow, University of Oxford and Professor Russell King, Professor Of Geography, University of Sussex, co-edited the Special Issue ‘Intra‐EU mobilities in times of crisis' in the Journal 'International Migration'


Most of the articles in this special issue were first aired at a Workshop entitled “Exploring Intra‐EU Mobilities at Times of Crisis”, held at the European Studies Centre, University of Oxford, 20 June 2017. The Workshop was an output of the H2020 Marie Sklodowska‐Curie project EUMIGRE, on the New Crisis‐driven Greek Emigration, Grant No. 658694. Also involved in the workshop, and in this special issue, were selected papers deriving from the H2020 Framework Programme project YMOBILITY, on New European Youth Migrations, Grant No. 649491. Manolis Pratsinakis convened the Workshop with Russell King as discussant; respectively they led EUMIGRE and the UK participation in YMOBILITY.

The theme of the Special Issue 

Intra‐EU mobility has emerged as an ambivalent phenomenon. On the one hand, EU‐wide opinion polls still depict freedom of movement as the most positive aspect of European integration. On the other hand, with nationalism and xenophobia on the rise, migration and mobility are increasingly problematized and challenged. Shifting attention from the master narratives about intra‐EU mobility, the aim of the special issue is to bring to the fore the lived experiences of the key actors as recounted in a period of multiple European crises which, in turn, represent the visible and mediatized manifestations of more complex and deep‐seated processes of political and economic change.

Overview of the articles

The introductory paper entitled 'Exploring the Lived Experiences of Intra‐EU Mobility in an Era of Complex Economic and Political Change'  by Russell King and Manolis Pratsinakis provides a chronological periodization of intra‐EU mobility trends over recent decades and how they intersect with major geopolitical events, aiming to contextualise the special issue articles 

Ten articles follow this editorial introduction. All speak to the notion of “crisis” in various ways, bringing rich empirical detail to various national and comparative settings. Rather than attempt to summarize the articles – this is done by their abstracts – we offer here a very brief overview narrative which integrates the articles together as a coherent sequence.

The first four articles analyse different migration responses to the global economic crisis. For migrants from the peripheral countries most deeply impacted by the crisis, the main trajectory of movement has been outwards. Two articles exemplify this escape mechanism. The first, by Pratsinakis, King, Leon Himmelstine and Mazzilli, looks at how young adult South Europeans have been pushed away by the tightening labour markets of their home countries. Yet the participants, who were interviewed in London, also articulate non‐economic reasons for their migration, which are summed up by the authors as “post‐materialist motivations and pro‐migration dispositions”. This article can be compared with the succeeding one by Lulle, Coakley and MacEinri on young Irish migrants, also in London, which demonstrates how “post‐crisis” migrants mobilize both existing, inter‐generational mobility networks and a historically‐grounded Irish migrant identity to create a new migratory phase where “national” and “global” co‐exist.

For migrants from outside the EU15, the crisis has a somewhat different set of impacts, illustrated by the next two articles. Jolivet analyses the reaction of a sample of Moroccan migrants in Spain – onward migration to another European country, Norway. Apite‐Berina, Manea and Berzins look at the “return” option amongst Latvians and Romanians interviewed back in their home countries. For Latvians, the economic crisis intervenes in a double sense: increasing their outmigration from Latvia in the years post‐2008 (since Latvia was strongly affected by the crisis), but also provoking some return migration because of difficult conditions abroad. Romanians, who had mainly migrated to Italy and Spain, were returning because of the effects of the crisis in these two countries on their ongoing livelihoods. For both groups, return was seen as an ambivalent event, provoking continued uncertainty about their current and future lives.

The next article, by Genova, also addresses migration from an “Eastern” EU country, Bulgaria, and embeds this migration within two different types of crisis. First, the difficult democratic transition in Bulgaria, with its political volatility and socio‐economic fragility, produces a national “crisis narrative”. Migrants leave this crisis behind only to confront a new one in “Brexit Britain”, where they have to deal with ongoing uncertainty over their rights to stay, and a climate of anti‐immigrant, Eurosceptic sentiments. The result, among the participants interviewed by Genova, all highly educated students and professionals, was a kind of positive reinvention of their identities, either as “ambassadors” dedicated to presenting a positive image of Bulgaria, or as “enlighteners” bringing new ideas back to Bulgaria.

The article by Zontini and Però is set more centrally within the ongoing atmosphere and public discourse of Brexit, and focuses uniquely on the affective reactions and identificatory challenges of “European” – here, specifically Italian – children in the UK. Even without Brexit, such children are routinely caught between the competing pressures of rootedness and transnationalism. The authors see Brexit as a new movement of crisis for these children, who are provoked into further uncertainties about where they truly “belong”.

The final grouping of articles can be seen as a series of responses to the complex intersection between migrants and the general field of “welfare” – both in terms of the crisis of the welfare state in European countries facing an ageing population, and in the ways in which migrants negotiate their rights to welfare, shaped by state rules on citizenship. In the first article in this group, Bruquetas‐Callejo looks at the long‐term care crisis in the Netherlands and how migrants from the Eastern accession countries help the country to respond to this crisis within a neoliberal model of welfare reform based around recruiting flexibilized migrant labour. As the author points out, the migrants are caught between two crises, that of the Dutch welfare system and the socio‐economic crises in their home countries, where they foresee only a poor future. Next up, Aksakal and Schmidt examine the shortcomings in the provision of support for young Spanish migrants in Germany, where there are well‐meaning schemes which, however, fail to address migrants' cultural needs. Godin takes this issue one stage further by analysing how intra‐EU migrants respond to the challenge of accessing welfare and social protection schemes across borders, based on a study of Spanish and Polish migrants in the UK. Through a “bottom‐up” approach, including the novel idea of a “welfare elasticity corridor”, the author explores how, at different stages of a migrants life, the welfare systems of the host and destination countries play complementary roles. The special issue is concluded by a “commentary” article, by Barbulescu and Favell, which unveils the changing access to welfare rights in the EU at the nation‐state level, taking the comparative context of the UK and Germany. Their article portends a process, arguably a new crisis, through which the ideal of a “post‐national” European citizenship is being dismantled by the discriminatory actions of individual states, often responding to populist political pressures.

Access the Special Issue here


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