Just a few days ago, the OECD published the 2012 edition of its Economic Survey of the European Union. Overall interesting reading: though the European Commission was consulted and could comment on the draft version, this represents a welcome outside view of EU's current situation and challenges (as is known, Brussels has a tendency to be inward-looking and to see itself as the centre of the universe; thus, it is always good when different pertinent perspectives make their way).
One particular finding has drawn my attention, one that situates Romania as a striking outlier: emigration to the old EU members after accession. While there has been lots of converging evidence about the massive migration out of Romania in recent years - including the recent census in the country, and anecdotes about the massive presence of Romanians across Western Europe -, it is striking to see how it compares with other new members of the EU in this regard.
As per the chart above, the rate of emigration post-EU accession is more than double from Romania compared to any other country that joined the Union in 2004-2007. Compared to Poland, the other populous country among new EU members, Romania's emigration rate is four times higher, which considering that Romania's population if about half that of Poland, means that - notwithstanding the legend of the omnipresent Polish plumber - roughly twice as many Romanians as Poles have emigrated to Western Europe.
This is consistent with the figures from the following chart, which show that by 2009 the stock of migrants to old EU member states (the so-called EU15) from EU2 (Romania and Bulgaria, which joined the EU in January 2007) had exceeded the total from EU8 (the eight post-communist countries that joined in May 2004). Consider also that Romania and Bulgaria joined later, and signs are that the same trend continued after 2009. And since Romania's population is roughly three times that of Bulgaria, and Romania's emigration rate is the double of Bulgaria's (see above), it means that around 85% of the EU2 migrants are in fact Romanians and just 15% Bulgarians.
This is far from trivial. And it becomes even more salient when noting that, for much of the post-EU accession period, Romanians (together with Bulgarians) have been subject to more restrictions on the West European labour markets than citizens of any other new member state. Last year, Spain even went as far as introducing restrictions just for Romanians (discriminating between the two countries was a premiere), citing their huge numbers.
To be sure, relative poverty and income differentials play a significant role in this East-West migration. But in the case of Romania, this fails to explain the magnitude of the migratory movement (see quote below): even if Romania does slightly better than Bulgaria on GDP/capita (at purchasing power parity), it still has a double emigration rate; and it has four times the migration rate of Poland and Latvia, though the difference in GDP/capita (at PPP) is not that big.
So what makes Romanians pack and go is not just relative poverty. There seems to be something else at play, and much more powerful than poverty, in Romanians leaving their country. It would be interesting to research what that could be. Needless to say, there are numerous implications - political, social, economic - of this massive population movement, both for Romania and for Europe at large.
Let's just note for the time being that, since their country joined the EU, Romanians are by very far geographically the most mobile EU citizens, standing out even among the high emigration post-communist countries.