Migration as a solution to some of Europe's problems

03-10-2003

Across the enlarging EU People are asking: Just how many migrants will cross Europe's new borders, how many will want to stay, and for what reasons? In Europe the very word migration is often heard negatively. But many researchers and politicians think it will provide solutions to some of Europe's problems.

Photo: European CommissionPhoto: European Commission Thanks to a high standard of living, the population of Europe is steadily ageing. But it's also shrinking. Births in Austria have declined 42 per cent in the past 40 years - a trend echoed all over Europe, as well as in the candidate countries. As a result, both old and new Europe could face a severe shortage of labour within decades. But demographer Rainer Muenz thinks immigration policy can help solve the problem.

"Recruiting immigrants can have an immediate effect on the labour market, whereas having more babies only has an effect twenty to twenty-five years from now. Now, if there is a kind of hostile public opinion or hostile environment driven by xenophobic elements, then many qualified potential migrants will just not come."

Migrants are often considered unwelcome because they're perceived as a growing, uncontrollable threat. But EU statistics show that the percentage of migrants in relation to world population has only increased by 0.8 per cent since 1975, and that people actually tend to stay put. Head of the German Immigration Council Rita Suessmuth feels the danger to accession countries has also been exaggerated.

"I don't see the risks for the candidate countries. Already now Poland has between two hundred and four hundred thousand, especially from Ukraine. Ukrainians are working in Polish households, which already have the same problems for care-giving, children, elder people, sick people, as we have in Germany. So let us tell about what we know and not push the emotions."

Though she does consider illegal migration a burden, Hungarian Minister of the Interior Monika Lamperth thinks a public distinction between different types of migrants and asylum seekers is key.

"It is very important to provide information, so that people can make a clear distinction between those who actually need protection and who abuse asylum applications."

But many feel that European governments should also change by viewing themselves less as traditional "sending" countries and more as receivers. Czech political scientist Pavel Barsa believes the change will have to go even deeper.

"Ethnic nations in Central and Eastern Europe used to consider themselves descendants of forefathers who came to this region a long time ago, and it's anchored so to speak in the past. So I think we have to shift the centre of gravity to the future which we could share with other ethnic groups as well in this land."

With an eye on labour migration and boosting it's population, the EU is already taking steps to harmonize migration and asylum policies. If the experts are to be believed, instead of being afraid that masses will throng across its new borders, Europe should worry that they won't.

03-10-2003