Framing Brain Drain: Between Solidarity and Skills in European Labor Mobility

Jacob A. Hasselbalch*

*Corresponding author for this work

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How do crisis perceptions interrelate with the emergence and re-constitution of policy problems? By using a novel combination of interviews with a content and network analysis of hand-coded parliamentary questions, this article maps the emergence of brain drain as a policy problem at the level of the European Union and follows the evolution of the issue over the last four parliamentary periods (from 1999 to 2019). I identify a skills storyline (emphasizing reform of vocational and educational training to address skills mismatches) and a solidarity storyline (emphasizing worker conditions, rights, and wages) as the main contending narratives that define the contours of the debate. The article analyzes how each of these storylines interacted over time with changes in the perception of crisis urgency facing the European Union in ways that run counter to what we would expect. I explain this by examining the capacity of each storyline to problematize or de-problematize the movement of labor, as well as their institutionalization over time. The article contributes to the study of the political economy of labor mobility with an original case study from the EU’s Single Market, and challenges conventional wisdom regarding the role of framing during times of crisis.
Original languageEnglish
JournalReview of International Political Economy
Issue number6
Pages (from-to)1333-1360
Number of pages28
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019


  • Brain drain
  • European Union
  • Labor markets
  • Crisis
  • Skills
  • Migration

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