Politics and Analysis

A glimmer of light in the Brexit darkness


It is not easy to maintain optimism regarding Brexit. Boris Johnson is on a self-proclaimed, do-or-die mission with all the consequences that entails. The consequences are not just negative on paper, but in fact are already tangible, and this is being manifested more clearly with every day that passes. Not least for the British people. The British economy shrank 0.2 percent in the second quarter of this year.

One thing is certain though – even though a hard Brexit will affect the British people the most, it will also have substantial negative consequences for Denmark. Great Britain is our fourth largest export market, so it should come as no surprise that many company owners are starting to get a bit nervous.

However, there is a glimmer of light in the Brexit darkness. One of the major challenges facing Danish companies in the short and the long term is the shortage of labour. And, if we play our cards right, Brexit can potentially be beneficial to us in this regard.

Shortly, we may be faced with an enormous group of Europeans who have already shown willingness to up sticks and move to another country to work. However, these people are facing an uncertain future in Great Britain after Brexit. Qualified and mobile labour – skilled and highly educated. That is exactly what we need here in Denmark.

It is estimated that 2.4 million EU citizens are currently living and working in Great Britain. Seven percent of all employees in Great Britain are EU citizens, and in the fields of industry and construction, 1 in every 10 employees holds a passport from another EU country. Even the prospect of Brexit alone has meant that these people are preparing to leave.

We are currently in a situation, whereby in one of our closest neighbouring countries, there are hundreds of thousands of qualified mobile Europeans, who may be looking for a new country to work in.

The latest figures from Eurostat show that 166,000 EU citizens left Great Britain between 2017 and 2018. That is in one year alone. More people are leaving, and fewer are arriving. And those who are leaving are possibly searching for a new country to work in.

Furthermore, there is apparently a match between the mobile EU citizens’ competencies and those industries in Denmark that are most dependent on foreign labour. The Danish construction companies, who must decline orders daily because of shortages of labour, could indeed hire some of the more than 300,000 EU citizens who are working in the construction industry in Great Britain. The same is true of the more than 200,000 EU citizens who work for British industrial companies.

Thus, we are currently in a situation whereby, in one of our closest neighbouring countries, there are hundreds of thousands of qualified mobile Europeans who may be looking for a new country to work in. And that country could, for instance, be Denmark. It looks very much like what is termed in political language as easy pickings. The challenge is, however, that Denmark is far from being the only country that wants to capitalise on this.

Fierce competition for qualified European labour

So far, the Eastern Europeans have helped companies in Denmark by being able to deliver the qualified labour. But today, the Eastern European countries need their own labour. Therefore, they are actively campaigning to attract their citizens back while simultaneously implementing initiatives to prevent any further brain drain. For instance, Poland implemented an act earlier this summer which completely exempts 2 million young Poles from paying income tax. The purpose of this act was explicitly to retain the young Poles who otherwise could have moved abroad in search of better working conditions in countries like Denmark.

In short, the competition for qualified European labour is becoming fierce. And when it comes to competition like this, we as a country are faced with a number of pros and cons. On the one hand, we have a well-functioning and attractive labour market with good salaries and desirable working conditions. This is also apparent in comparison with our European neighbours.

On the other hand, Denmark is not necessarily at the forefront of other Europeans’ minds. We are a small and not particularly well-known country. If Denmark wants to be in the race, it is crucial that we draw attention to what specifically makes us a good country to work, study and live in. And that process cannot come quick enough.

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