New European Immigration Policy Trend



Between 1950 and 1975, the average annual rate of population growth in Europe was 8.4 per 1,000 inhabitants, a rate that has decreased to 2.9 per 1,000 inhabitants in the subsequent quarter-century. Statistics issued by the Council of Europe show a concerning population decrease in 17 European countries in 2000. In this trajectory, by 2050 half of the European population will be older than 50 years, and the share of the population aged 65 and older will spike up from 14 percent in 2000 to 30 percent. In the absence of considerable immigration flows, the populations of the EU-27 and the United States are likely to converge beyond 2050.

The population of the EU increased by an annual average of 2.7 million between 1950 and 1975, by 1.3 million between 1975 and 2000, and is expected to shrink by one million per annum in the first half of the twenty-first century. This phenomenon is exacerbated by the fact that out of the eight central European countries that joined the EU in 2004, five showed negative population growth, with the exceptions of the smallest EU Member States, such as Slovakia, Slovenia, and Estonia.

In a report published by the United Nations in 2000, it becomes clear that the EU has to tackle the issue of demographics and define a medium-term strategy for the admission of third country nationals. The report, entitled "Replacement Migration: Is It a Solution to Declining and Ageing Population?," states that a significant increase of immigration flows becomes a necessity if EU member-states wish to maintain the constant size of the working population.

The obvious next step for the technocrats of the European Union based in Brussels is to seriously consider the incorporation of Turkey. The conservatism of European baby boomers coupled with the unfounded fear of accepting a new Member State with a Muslim majority are two drivers that condition a positive outcome for Turkey. In the absence of incentives for EU-citizens to increase the fertility rates, and if the current reluctance on a future Turkish incorporation continues, the European Union's immigration policies could target skilled workers from developing countries.

The thirst to attract skilled migration in the European Union (EU) stems from low fertility rates that are leading to shrinking populations, particularly in Western and Eastern Europe. As Paul Demeny, Distinguished Scholar at the Population Council, points out:

Oswald Spengler's prophecy may turn out to be correct after all: depopulation may be slow, rather than precipitous; it could indeed last for centuries. If Europe would prefer a different future for its descendants, corrective action cannot be delayed.

Much has to be done in the EU in the first half of the twenty-first century if it is to cope with the expectations established in the summit of Lisbon of March 2000 and in view of the failed referenda in France, the Netherlands, and Ireland to approve the revision of the EU Treaty framework which culminated in the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty in December 2009. The European Union faces increasingly poor demographics that put it on the verge of economic stagnation, compounded by a potential inability to sustain its own welfare.

The EU Lisbon summit of 2000 established an ambitious goal of economic growth beyond the three percent mark. Average growth in the EU has been on average lower than three percent ever since. Economists agree that only a higher immigration rate can help the EU grow faster in terms of GDP, and the Lisbon target could only be reached if immigration inflows reach an unlikely three million individuals per year. Notwithstanding the need for foreign workers, the last decade marked a sharp turn away from the liberal ideology in citizenship and residence matters in Europe. The majority of EU Member States introduced even more restrictive naturalization policies and gave the misconceived idea of what they term as "integration of migrants" a priority. As a result of the new policies, becoming a fully-fledged member of society through naturalization, or, in some cases, even simply entering the territory with a purpose of establishing residence is made more difficult than ever.

This is not only due to the increasing costs of all the (un)necessary procedures and the sophistication of the language testing (which includes the languages irrelevant for the successful functioning of the migrants in the Union, such as Latvian, Dutch, or Luxembourgian), but also because of the fundamental shift from the multi-cultural vision of European societies to the mono-cultural fantasies. In practice, such shift means that not only naturalization, but also taking up residence in a number of European states has been made conditional upon the successful completion of "integration" tests.

Ironically, some governments, following the Dutch, which first introduced such approach, feel that becoming part of their society 'mentally' speaking should precede the very act of moving into their territory. Besides the misconception with regard to the nature of what society and culture naturally constitute, such governments, notwithstanding abundant evidence to the contrary, dismiss any idea of social learning through simple interactions by building one's life and social connections in the new environment. EU Member States came to regard new migrants willing to enter the Union as socially-incapable and generally uninterested human beings possessing inferior if not dangerous non-culture which is unable to enrich any of the European societies and has to be combated. In the EU we are currently facing a general trend towards the bureaucratization of prejudice.

The policies in question are clearly racially biased, targeting migrants from the most economically vulnerable parts of the world, people who also happen to look different from a popular ideal of what a European should be. While an American or an Australian would be presumed good enough to take up residence in Europe without any "culture integration tests" the same does not apply to a Malagasy, a Kenyan or even an Argentinean, whose culture is presumably not white enough to be possibly accommodated by the European societies without any purification rituals.

Guillermo de la Dehesa, Chairman of the Center for Economic policy Research, summarizes the main economic and demographic challenges faced by the EU in his book Europe at the Crossroads. De la Dehesa heads the European think-tank, the Centre for Economic Policy Research. For De la Dehesa, the following underlying motives represent a concerning evidence of a worsening economic environment:

• Age dependency ratio will more than double between 2000 and 2050, spiking up from 24 percent to 49 percent. • A majority of the new member states coming from Eastern Europe are bringing lower than average fertility rates, contrary to what has historically happened with previous expansions (Greece, Portugal, and Spain). • De la Dehesa states, that "the The likelihood of a big population increase in the fully enlarged EU is much lower than in the United States unless the EU sees a massive influx of African immigrants." • Life expectancies in the EU have been increasing and are only likely to improve, pushing up dependency ratios even further and putting pressure on the welfare state, that which relies on pay-as-you-go pension schemes in a majority of member states, except perhaps for the United Kingdom.

A solution for the EU would be to become more immigrant-friendly and aspire to replicate the successful model of Canada, Australia, or the United States, all of which have and are expected to have lower dependency ratios. Instead, the wave of restrictive regulation has been rising in recent years, demonstrating a definitive turn towards right-wing populism on (inter alia) the immigration matters in a large number of the Member States of the European Union. The idea of a multi-cultural society is announced "to have failed" in a situation where discrimination against those who fail to sound white and Christian on the phone is overwhelmingly strong. Instead of showing an example of openness and reason to the rest of the world, the EU, which is by far the largest economy and one of the richest spots on Earth is moving towards upgrading its "fortress Europe" idea in the most ugly of all possible ways: by denying those from 'outside' (with an exception of a handful of the citizens of other richest countries) their culture and humanity, should they be willing to come to the EU.

As already mentioned above, this move is particularly illogical in the situation when the European population is aging at an increasing pace and when plenty of sectors of our economy are bound to suffer from the shortages of work-force in the nearest future, making the retreat into the shell of nationalism particularly harmful for all possible interests concerned. Besides long-term interests that are clearly undermined by the new neo-racist policies of pre-entry purification, the social cohesion within EU Member States flirting with nationalist ideas of mono-culture is bound to be severely harmed. Already now we witness cars burning in the banlieues and 'migrant revolts' in Southern Italy. Until the latest turn to the right acquired its shape those from 'the inferior world,' although constantly discriminated against, were at least tolerated rhetorically. Now the situation has changed: the new times moved the threshold of generally accepted intolerance to previously unimaginable heights. Legal immigration to the EU is made virtually impossible in a situation when illegal immigration is increasingly getting criminalized.

The latter is a highly debated topic and one of the main concerns in the industrialized world. The current income gap and the increasing inequality between developed and developing nations allows for the intensification of human flows between adjacent, yet dissimilar regions in the United States and Europe. Yet while there is a regime of regular migration in North America, the European Union fosters the accumulation and residence of foreigners in an irregular situation. Accordingly, the debate in the developed nations has shifted gears and now focuses on illegal immigration, illegal workers, and their impact and consequences. In the current discourse being foreign (i.e. coming from a country which is not a Member State of the Union) is often marked by a presumption of illegality.

Leading representatives acknowledge the need to focus a greater deal of effort on immigration. Britain's home secretary at the time, John Reid, was reported in the Economist saying that managing immigration is now "the greatest challenge facing all European governments." Former French President Jacques Chirac said to listeners of the 2006 Bastille Day address, "Africans will flood the world and we have an immense problem, which is that of development".

Illegal immigration is viewed from an angle of concern from Europe towards North Africa and beyond. The poor integration of some immigrant communities and the turmoil caused by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, in New York, March 11, 2004, in Madrid, and July 7, 2005, in London, have exacerbated the problem of illegal immigration. This should not, however, undermine Europe's commitment to human rights and refugee protection.

In this lack of political consensus on the issue, policies within countries vary significantly depending on what party -- either right or left -- rules the government. The absence of a continental regulation leads to the absurd scenario of different approaches undertaken by any two nations in the European Union. Populist messages are thus turning popular among an aging European population that needs migration (whether legal or illegal) to sustain an economic growth able to feed its retirees.

Populist messages are increasingly frequent in Europe. As a matter of fact, 2007 polls showed how a quarter of Denmark's voters support the anti-immigration Danish People's Party; the Swiss gave 29 percent of their votes to the xenophobic Swiss People's Party; Norway's second political force is anti-foreigner; and a fifth of Belgium's Flemish population now votes for the far-right Vlaams Belang. In June 2010 general elections 15.5 percent of Dutch voters gave their support to PVV -- the party of notorious Geert Wilders.

The situation where virtually no regulation, let alone coordination of long-term migration and citizenship matters, happens at the Union level is particularly illogical in the light of the recent developments which marked the rise of European citizenship as a meaningful concept. Since an ever increasing number of rights is enjoyed by the nationals of EU states in their capacity of EU citizens and comes directly from the Union, the Member States of the EU have irreparably lost virtually any legal ability to control, let alone to prohibit the moving in and settlement of EU citizens and their family members of any nationality. The absence of national borders for European citizens inside the Union is amplified by a strict prohibition of discrimination on the basis of a Member State nationality in the EU. In practice this means that no 'integration' or 'culture' testing can possibly be applied to any EU citizen moving from one EU Member State to another.

What does this mean in practice? Entirely random divisions have been created by the rise of European nationalism which distinguish between those whose culture is 'good enough' and the others, coming from poorer regions of the world, whose culture is viewed as deficient and potentially harmful, disqualifying them from settlement until they pass profoundly arbitrary 'integration' tests at the embassy of the country they wish to immigrate to in their country of nationality. Imagine how many Dutch language and culture teachers a Sri-Lankan capital can boast, allowing any citizen of that country to pass an arbitrary test to purify herself to become tolerable, her skin-colour notwithstanding. At least the tests are moderately priced at the level of several monthly incomes of the locals. Worse still: as a consequence of the new policies a Moldovan and a Romanian, having identical socio-cultural background, speaking the same language and going to the same Church end up in opposing invented categories.

Once branded as an outsider of deficient culture, any newcomer from outside the EU is most likely to be stigmatized after resettlement, making the whole process, which involves a cardinal rebuilding of one's life and is thus potentially damaging per se, even more difficult to go through. The new nationalist turn, harming the interests of European economy, social cohesion and obviously contradicting common sense, is also deeply stigmatizing for the potential migrants. This is too high a price to pay, for flirting with the neo-racist sentiments of the huge chunks of EU population. The perceived need of "cultural integration", even be it before flying to Europe is an overwhelmingly poor cover up for racist policies relying on the messianic idea of superiority inherent in European culture, which any new comer is to be aware of before boarding the plane. This situation is very wrong but, unfortunately, is unlikely to change in the near future.

The public opinion in many European countries drifts to undecided on the debate of how to approach illegal immigration. Different countries suggest different policies. The package adopted on July 19, 2006, by the European Commission helps identify the EU's priorities on how to approach and cope with illegal immigration. Tackling illegal employment represents the punch line of a joint effort that should target and help eliminate situations of exploitation of illegal immigrants who work in poor and unsafe conditions in industries such as construction, catering, or the textile sector (EurActiv 2006).

Spain's massive legalization process of some 547,000 undocumented working adults in 2005 triggered a sentiment of discontent in France. Former French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy blamed the Spanish Administration for its lax policies on immigration. Spaniards show most tolerant vis-à-vis immigration among European peers, with 55 percent of respondents believing that immigrants are good for the economy, whereas only 42 percent of Britons share the same view.

Jesús Caldera (IMM) was Spain's minister of labour and immigration at the time. How can a country like Spain sustain the millions of migrants who were losing their jobs in 2009 and provide them with the same welfare state Spaniards can access in times of economic crisis? For Caldera, the immigration model he embraced attracts foreign labor when there is demand and closes the borders to foreign migration when the demand for labor shrinks, as was the case in 2009. Caldera notes that immigrants should have the same rights and obligations as Spaniards. In times of economic bonanza immigrants helped strengthen Social Security. In times of economic turmoil, immigrants are entitled to the same rights they earned while they contributed to the maintenance of the welfare state. It is an approach that dignifies the country.

On practical grounds, it's all about demographics or in other words: It's the demographics, stupid. Europe's native-born workforce is forecast to shrink by 44 million by 2050. As a result, skilled workers will be in short supply. The continent will therefore become increasingly dependent on foreign labor. Closed borders are a threat for Europe's own aging population. A common European policy based on the restriction of unskilled workers could prove detrimental for certain countries. Denmark is in strong need of unskilled labor due to the shrinkage of its population participating in the labor force. Germany has kept its economy closed to workers from new EU countries until 2011, but now promotes it due to a skills shortage.

After all, Demetrios Papademetriou, president of the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute, explains, "Illegal immigration is part of the vital lubricant of our societies. It wouldn't be happening if so many people's interests were not served by the status quo."

Co-written by Dimitry Kochenov and Jaime Pozuelo-Monfort