Zero Immigration? Not in Europe

Article published on April 26, 2004
community published
Article published on April 26, 2004

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

Young European political representatives are distancing themselves from the prevailing restrictive approach to immigration. First and foremost, they see it as a resource for the EU.

A land of emigration for so long, Europe has now become a land of immigration. In 2002, it was estimated that the number of nationals from third countries living in Europe was 15 million out of 370 million inhabitants. Thanks to globalisation, migratory flows are becoming more varied, both in terms of destination and in terms of formation (an increase in skilled workers, female migrants and illegal migration).

Until now, European migratory policy has essentially been built around border control and the fight against illegal immigration. For Arnt Kennis, Vice-president of YEPP (PPE), this aspect is indispensable to fight against crime and terrorism but unsuitable for regulating the flow of refugees. Jacopo Moccia, standing for ecolo-j (close to the FYEG (Greens) in the European elections, denounces the counterproductive effects of these ‘repressive policies which focus on dissuasion, restrictions and forced repatriation’.

The requirements, the response: opening up borders

A consensus is emerging: closing borders in incompatible with the reality of the situation of European societies. All the representatives underline the need for a foreign work force, faced with a shortage affecting certain employment sectors. And then there’s the matter of Europe’s ageing population. Jacopo Moccia, the Greens representative, thus notes that the active population of a Europe of 25 will drop from 303 million to 297 million in 2020 and to 280 million in 2030. Thus, migratory supply appears to be indispensable to support economic growth, to correct the demographic imbalance, and to assure the survival of our social security and pension systems. For Ief Janssens, Vice-president of ECOSY (PSE) ‘immigrants are a source of cultural and social wealth for Europe.’

In this context, Aloys Rigaut, Treasurer of the LYMEC (ELDR) advocates ‘a controlled opening of borders’ while the YEPP encourages the European Union to make it easier for foreign workers to come ‘through the creation of a legal immigration canal, distinct from the political asylum system’ (like in Canada). Faced with this instrumental concept of economic immigration, the Greens representative maintains that Europe must also recognise that it is land of asylum.

But do these representatives agree on how this positive immigration policy should be enforced on a European level?

‘Europeanising’ migration and asylum policy

In the eyes of all the representatives, the European level is the most appropriate and effective to regulate migratory flows in the Schengen area. Their expectations converge on a common asylum policy which would harmonise the status of refugees and reception procedures for asylum seekers in the EU. The PPE sees this above all as a way of effectively combating the ‘asylum shopping’ phenomenon.

Community action should then aim to guarantee people allowed into European territory the same rights and duties as EU nationals, including the right to vote. This position is shared by the Liberals, the Greens and the Socialists. The Socialists also insist on respect for private and family life or even legal rights for migrants whether they are legal or not, and they advocate ‘positive discrimination’ to assure equal conditions and integration for immigrants.

The differences are more marked concerning the nature of this European migratory policy. Thus, the young Liberals appeal to member states to ‘harmonise their national legislation on admission and residence conditions of third country nationals’ by assessing their future needs on a Community level. As for the young Socialists, they support real ‘communitisation’ of migratory policy ‘which would share the political, financial and social costs of the prevention of illegal immigration, the opening of European borders, and the reception of migrants.’

For now, these positions seem rather unrealistic, taking into account the great disparity between national legislation and integration models.

What are the consequences and the risks of immigration for emigration countries? The Socialists conjure up a policy of solidarity but only the Greens representative brings up the crucial problem of the so-called ‘brain drain’. To stop this, he proposes establishing ‘co-development contracts’ and appeals to the EU to act on the structural causes of this powerful migratory request (inequality in development, increase of regional conflicts etc).

Despite these relatively consensual visions, don’t be mistaken: more than ever, immigration is a political risk and a challenge for a Europe of 25. The EU’s ability to reinforce and direct its common action will be decisive in escaping from the incoherence of a ‘Europe a la carte’ which plays into the hands of illegal networks and Mafia groups.

Ief Janssens, Vice-President of ECOSY

Arnt Kennis, Vice-President of YEPP

Jacopo Moccia, candidate for the Belgian organisation écolo-j, close to FYEG

Aloys Rigaut, Treasurer of LYMEC