Trump impeachment procedure (not EU-related, but still extremely important) and Brexit over (sort of), and the heads of states headed home from the new rounds of MFF talks, there is time to reflect on other news. Two of them are especially worthy of little consideration..
The first (and the one making it to the headlines all around the world) was the reason behind the resignation of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s successor Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (conveniently shortened to AKK by the media) from the Christian Democratic Party’s leadership. Her decision came after the controversial vote in Thuringia, where the regional branch of the party cooperated with far-right AfD to get a liberal candidate elected as state premier. This was against the wishes of AKK and central party leadership. And, according to various analyses, this was also the first time in Germany’s postwar history that a state premier was elected with the help of the far right.
The second news was not in the spotlight, but is still important. In the Netherlands, De Telegraaf ran a survey and, after that, published a lengthy article on Dutch population’s changed views on migration. It has been a long established fact that the country is one of the most open and welcoming in Europe, or at least, this is how it was. But with the recent surge of anti-immigration parties, first with Geert Wilders and his Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV), and lately with Thierry Baudet and the Forum voor Demokratie (FvD) party, one could have suspected that this impression might be false.
Now the survey clearly indicates that most of the Dutch had enough of immigration. The country’s population is expected to reach 18 million in 2024 (and 19 million by 2039). Of that, many will be immigrants: according to the Central Statistical Bureau (Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek), out of last year’s population growth (132.000 persons), a large portion were migrants (114.000) – but only 16.000 of them seeking asylum.
The results of the survey showed that 91%-of the surveyed think that there is no place for the population to grow further. The shocking part is that 77% of the population with non-Western background (themselves immigrants) had the same opinion. Only a meager 6% said that there are still possibilities. 40% are worried that overpopulation puts an unmanageable burden on housing, transport and healthcare.
This was also reflected on the views on migration: 65% of the surveyed (and 48% of those with non-Western background) are against letting further immigrants in the country. Even those coming to work should be rejected regardless of the economic consequences of this, said a shocking 44%. Even more surprising was that only a slight 10% said explicitly that there is no need for restrictions on immigrations – this means 90% wants some limits. Those with higher education and/or income tended to have more moderate views than those in the lower echelons of society.
And this is a warning sign for all parties ahead of the 2021 elections, as Prime Minister Mark Rutte has already acknowledged in an interview, saying that migration will be one of the key topics of the campaign. Many leading politicians (e.g. Hugo de Jonge, Mona Keijze or Wopke Hoekstra) hinted at possible restrictions recently.
Amidst more challenging issues (like Brexit or climate change) and without a large migration wave, the problem of migration doesn’t seem to be so pressing. This seemed to be reflected both in a 2019 European Council on Foreign Relations survey, which evidenced that EU citizens no longer appeared to regard immigration as their main priority, and the results of the 2019 elections with the surge of green parties across Europe.
But these news (and many during the last couple of months, for example President Macron’s declaration in last September on migrant quotas and Denmark’s quick appraisal of this) once again highlight the fact that the question is here to stay, even if the great chaos of 2015 is behind us, because neither the conditions that fuel it, nor the demands for entry into Europe have changed. The (almost) only thing that keeps the flood away from the EU is the EU-Turkey agreement: should that fail for any reason the gates of Hell would open once more. And if European people affected by immigration cannot hear satisfying answers to their problems and those problems are exacerbated or influenced by other intra-European troubles and infighting, they’ll turn to parties that promise exactly what they want to hear.
Whether we like it or not, we should find a humane, legal and responsible solution, but one that is also acceptable for the large parts of the population, that are currently against immigration. Even if it might be economically sound to let fresh workforce enter the market, we shouldn’t further alienate voters who think otherwise. Even if we are morally and legally obliged to help other people from the less fortunate parts of the world, pressing this issue down the throats of European voters might prove counterproductive.
To achieve a balance, orderly procedures and reasonable level of openness should be achieved, because, let’s face it, migration is not always a humanitarian and protection issue. We should also de-politicize the issue to a certain level, and acknowledge that not every measure applied were “xenophobic and racist”, as it was stated during the heated debate in 2015. Similarly, the populist slogan “every immigrant is a potential terrorist” is also grossly exaggerated. is.
Tackling the root of the problems, first and foremost the negative effects of climate change on the countries of origin (European Greens, come forward!) and the inadequate circumstances in refugee camps, could mitigate much of the consequences, but this would require a lot more from the EU and the Member States.
Though the Commission launched a new agenda in 2016, there is still some unfinished business left. Let’s hope that after the MFF and Brexit dust settles down, European countries will have the time and courage to develop a common political answer to migration based on the above principles.