It is regrettably predictable that domestic tension about economic migration should be exacerbated by a xenophobic contribution (‘The migration explosion’). More surprisingly an expedient unconvincing response from the Conservative Government is the only conspicuous reply here, or within Europe?

However strongly we may support a general case for migration, it is reasonable that individual countries can decide how much economic migration to allow. Is there any intellectual rigour to underpin unrestricted freedom of movement as a sustainable economic ideology? It would be appallingly negative to reject economic migration purely because we are not good at absorbing different cultures (or because one female leader tells us that there is no alternative)!

Europe is a small and increasingly crowded continent, and the successful portion of our overall economy is mainly concentrated in densely populated countries. Within a closed Eurozone market there is an obvious risk that motivated, talented and entrepreneurial individuals will be attracted into the most vibrant sectors, which then have to prop up a depleted residue. If individual Euro countries get into difficulty, financial markets have shown clearly that they can respond much faster than political rescue plans can be negotiated.

Hence freedom of movement poses significant environmental risks. In the European Union the six most densely populated countries — excluding Malta — are Benelux, Britain, Germany and Italy. If we partition the European Union into two distinct groups, the totals are striking:

Six densely populated countries

Population: 46%

Area: 22%

GDP: 55%

Density : 232 per sq km

22 sparsely populated countries

Population: 54%

Area: 78%

GDP: 45%

Density : 78 per sq km

It is possible to be very positive about Europe in principle, without being confident that the European Union will always head in good directions. Rather than preparing to deal with inevitable challenges, it seems desirable to question this underlying economic dogma, by highlighting the potential environmental consequences.