Immigration: a resource for the Union

Article published on June 30, 2003
community published
Article published on June 30, 2003

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

History teaches us that although you can deflect the course of rivers and traffic, and join together oceans and seas, you cannot stop men fighting for their survival, even with cannons.

Immigration is not an option for Europe. Growing globalisation of markets and production, the IT revolution, the demographic crisis of leading societies, political instability around the world and the inequality of the distribution of wealth are inevitably provoking an increase in the migratory flow towards better destinations, of which Europe is the most coveted. Faced with this scenario, the Union seems to have closed itself off within its Schengen fortress, frightened of a phenomenon that it does not know how to control and that constantly reminds it that its future will not only be decided within its own borders.

Nevertheless, a well-managed immigration is necessary to respond to the future requirements of the European labour market. Europe actually needs immigrants for its production development and to compensate for the decrease in the young workforce linked to the demographic crisis. Indeed, in the next 20 years, according to the UNs latest estimates, people of working age in Europe (20-59) at net immigration, will fall to more than 13 million, equal to 6.4% of the total (1).

But in the face of all this the Union seems to close its eyes and to leave responsibility for disciplining immigration to nation states. So far, unfortunately, regulation of the flow of people has in fact been used by individual states as a strategic tool for national security, as if we are talking about a defence of the homeland from a foreign attack. An obvious weakness in the Union in the management of the immigration phenomenon springs from this. If Tampere in 1999 was the peak where they stated concretely the need for common policies on asylum and immigration, good intentions have been translated into increasingly hardline and decreasingly effective national laws.

In Italy, Europes avoidance of the issue has produced the Bossi-Fini law, an example of how the exhalation of repressive and controlling activities is useless in the face of the will of human beings. After months of silence, today the arrival of good weather and calm seas has in fact seen the reappearance of the boats laden with desperate immigrants requesting asylum and heading for our coasts. Italy responds with militarisation and patrols of areas of interest to clandestine immigration which produces only one effect: an increase in the risk of new tragedies; and new tragedies occur every day in the Frontier Sea, the Sicilian strait, which is transformed every year into a sort of underwater cemetery. History teaches us that although you can deflect the course of rivers and traffic, and join together oceans and seas, you cannot stop men fighting for their survival, even with cannons (2).

The EU will have to take on the management of the immigration phenomenon through the development of a common policy in terms of migration that mirrors an intensifying of the co-operation with third countries, both countries of origin and transit nations for migrants. The task is also not entirely simple because, for the societies of origin, migrants have, in the short term, double potential. On the one hand, they reduce the demographic pressure on an already overloaded society where young people are often underemployed or not employed at all, and, on the other hand, they increase the resources available to families through remittances. For these reasons the attitude of third countries does not lend itself to co-operation over migratory flows. In the long term, however, migration is not exactly an opportunity for development for emerging countries since even today the instruments that boost the financial stability of these areas, for example multi-lateral agreements that encourage a productive use of transferred resources, the return of emigrants to their own countries and development in high level businesses do not exist.

The EU will therefore introduce its own migratory policy within the already advanced stability projects that concern, for example, the Balkans, the Middle East and northern Africa. To be effective, the objectives of a common policy concerning illegal immigration must be inserted into the global context of the Unions relationship with third countries and not remain at the discretion of the bilateral agreements between Union and non-Union countries.

Clandestine immigration does not seem to be disliked that much. The illegal immigrant is making himself at home: he is satisfied with miserable salaries, he pays shameful rents, he doesnt protest, he adapts himself to any job, including those that Europeans no longer wish to do, and he can be locked up or hunted down at any moment. Filling the demographic debt in many areas of Europe in this way is not morally acceptable. Often Europe declares itself to be an example of the most just society. Facts must follow such declarations. Europe must regulate the migratory flow that it so greatly needs as much as possible, taking into account not only the situation of the countries of origin and the welcoming ability of individual Member States, but also, for example, the cultural and historical links that bind certain areas together. This could lead to a more incisive integration that would guarantee immigrants similar rights and duties to those of EU citizens. Also, in so doing, it would sensitively decrease the levels of discrimination, racism and xenophobia that so often invade our continent.

Immigration is a resource that Europe needs. It is up to us to manage it better.

(1) Bandarin Francesco, Europe in the face of the migratory phenomena, Europa, Europe, Fondazione Istituto Gramsci, number 6/2000

(2) This refers to an expression used by Mr Bossi in an interview with Corriera della Sera on 16th June 2003.