Now, the new right to work anywhere is bumping against old prejudices about crossing national lines. There are new strains in the partnership, with some Germans fretting about the influx and Spanish and Greek policymakers worried that their best hope for recovery is vanishing one plane ticket at a time.
The movement into Germany — a flow that has become so intense that the country has halted a decade of population decline — is just the latest development in a process that has seen Europe’s richer countries strengthen even as the poorer ones become increasingly hollowed out. While Spain, Greece and Portugal struggle to create new prospects at home, the people and companies best able to help them are fleeing for more stable opportunities elsewhere.
The creation of the European Union provided workers in its member nations with freedom of movement. Citizens of West European countries can live and work anywhere in the 27-member union without special permits or visas. The same rights are rapidly being phased in for citizens of the new East European members of the union.
For Paula Bernedo, 37, an engineer from the Canary Islands, an autonomous region of Spain, the billowing snow in the Black Forest town of Tuttlingen has been the least of her adjustment worries. She is one of 100 Spanish engineers who flew to Germany’s industrial heartland for a visit over the summer. Thirty stayed. After losing a job in Spain, Bernedo decided to take her chances in Germany, where she had lived briefly as a student years before.
In Spain, “you’ve got 800 people, 900 people applying for the same job,” she said. Many German companies, by contrast, say they cannot find enough qualified workers at home.
In the prosperous southern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, where Bernedo’s firm is located, regional officials say companies could use 30,000 more engineers.
Germany’s unemployment rate was 5.4 percent in October. In Spain, it stood at 26.2 percent — and German-language courses at the Goethe Institute are overflowing. In Germany, overall immigration was up 17 percent in the first half of the year over the same period last year. Migration from Greece is up by more than three-quarters. From Spain and Portugal, it is up by half.
Those workers are plunging into a world of steady jobs and formal work relationships, where colleagues call one another “Herr” and “Frau” for years on end, rather than using first names.