Immigration, inevitable and indispensable

Immigration is good for Europe, according to a group of eminent personalities including Joschka Fischer, Javier Solana and Timothy Garton Ash. European leaders should heed their message, suggests Dutch journalist Hans Goslinga.

Published on 25 May 2011 at 14:48

In the midst of the European debate, a number of eminent personalities, led by former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer presented a report on May 11 called “Living Together: Combining Diversity and Freedom in 21st Century Europe”. The message of the report is that unless Europe learns to cultivate its diversity, it will always inevitably be at a demographic disadvantage. This is explained by a simple fact: without immigration, the active population will decline by a hundred million people in the next fifty years while the total population will increase and will age.

Europe will thus have to open up to immigration and to societal diversity. Immigrants cannot be asked to leave their religion, their culture or their identity at the border. According to the group, which is composed of eight people including former NATO General Secretary Javier Solana, former European Union Commissoner Emma Bonino and writer/academic Timothy Garton Ash, there is nothing wrong with immigrants bringing their cultural baggage with them – as long as they respect the law. Better yet, the arrival of new cultures can contribute to creativity, of which Europe is today, more than ever, in need.

The message is a hard sell. It goes totally against the grain of the populist approach which sees mass immigration as a threat to the West. Joschka Fischer and his supporters are calling on European leaders, not just in the sphere of politics, but also in the culture, media and teaching professions to rise up against these false prophets.

Illegals are welcome to do the dirty work in exchange for low wages

They consider that politicians from the major mainstream parties that bow to populism and thus make it more attractive in the eyes of the citizen are not fulfilling their duty as leaders. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angel Merkel should take note.

One after the other, European leaders have recently declared that the multicultural society has failed. Fischer and his allies, who are working at the behest of the Council of Europe, are avoiding the term because they say it isn’t clear if it refers to a real situation or to an ideology. They simply note that in Europe, diversity is a reality, that is has been a reality and that the continent cannot ignore that reality if it doesn’t want to betray the democratic rule of law and if it wants to maintain its role in global affairs in the face of powerful competition from China, South East Asia, India and Brazil.

It’s for the same reasons that a day before Fischer presented his report, U.S. President Barack Obama made a long speech in El Paso, Texas – near the Mexican border – calling for legislation to legalize an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants currently living in the U.S.. That doesn’t mean that immigration is not as controversial in the U.S. as it is in Europe, it is. Over there also it gives rise to violent hostility. Over there the same hypocrisy also exists: illegals are welcome to do the dirty work in exchange for low wages. And the availability of such jobs exercises a strong attraction.

Another point in common is migration from South to North. Today, in the United States, one out of six Americans is of Latin-American origin. This year, Latinos outnumbered the U.S’s black population and Spanish is the country’s unofficial second language.

A negative history dominates here

In Europe, the tiny island of Lampedusa is now the symbol of the attraction prosperous and democratic Europe exercises on the people of Africa and Asia. This migration from the South to the North will continue temporarily and, according to Obama and Fischer, this is a blessing – as long as it is kept under control. There is however, an essential difference between the United States and Europe. Obama can, for his part, place his call in favour of immigration in a major speech on the history and the strengths of his country.

“Look at Intel, look at Google, look at Yahoo, look at eBay. All those great American companies, all the jobs they’ve created, everything that has helped us take leadership in the high-tech industry, every one of those was founded by, guess who, an immigrant,” Obama told the El Paso crowd. Last month, I took a taxi cab in Washington, DC with a driver of Ethiopian origin. “The American Dream is for most of the people an illusion, but it keeps you going,” he told me, not without some sarcasm.

Europe lacks these types of stimulating success stories. A negative history dominates here and there on the continent and the economic and cultural arguments in favour of immigration are no longer a major theme – of either the news or of political debate.

From Spain

Immigration: a win-win situation

“Spain stands to gain” from immigration, write two academics, María Bruquetas Callejo and Francisco Javier Moreno Fuentes, in Madrid daily El Pais. “Foreign workers, demonised during the recent [Spanish] electoral campaign by a growing populism, bring more into the coffers of the state than they get in return,” they say. “The figures belie prejudice,” they add, because as regards social protection, immigrants are “net contributors” because they are young and their level of activity is higher than the native population. Today, although they represent 10% of the labour force, less than 1% of those benefiting from a pension in Spain are immigrants. Callejo and Fuentes also point out that the ratio of expenses on health and education devoted to immigrants has gone from 1% each in 2000 to 5% and 7% respectively, while remaining below the ratio (12%) of immigrants to total population. The academics also note that “the concentration of immigrants in certain neighbourhoods and urban areas has caused an imbalance in the supply and demand of social services and led to their deterioration, the responsibility for which is directly attributed by the residents to the immigrants”. That’s why, they conclude, “the intervention of public officials is crucial in order to lower the impression, which feeds the xenophobia, that there is a competition for rare resources”.

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