Tighter borders no cure for EU

BRUSSELS – Alarmed by public support for populist right-wing parties, European Union leaders are preparing to tackle immigration the tough way, but experts doubt the coming clampdown will work. Britain, Spain, France and Germany are leading calls for swift action to tighten the 15-nation bloc’s borders and stop thousands of illegal immigrants entering the EU. Britain has announced plans to ban rejected asylum seekers from lodging an appeal while in the country. Denmark last week (May 31) adopted Europe’s toughest immigration laws and across the bloc there are renewed calls to create a common EU border guard to crack down on illegal migrants. Experts doubt this approach can work and say there are no quick fixes to European public discontent after years of what they call government mismanagement of immigration policies. Failed «zero immigration» strategies have left Europe unable to attract the skilled workers it needs and burdened by illegal migrants drawn by its informal economy and welfare system. «European states need to define what kind of immigrants they want or have to take for different reasons, political or human rights,» Rainer Muenz, professor of demography at Berlin’s Humboldt University, told Reuters. «Trying to close the door will lead to failure and politicians will look as though they cannot handle the problem.» According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), some 18 million non-EU citizens live in the 15 EU member states, whose total population is 375 million. But net immigration into the bloc in 2000, the most recent year for which figures are available, was just 680,000 people. After three decades of recruiting workers from abroad, many from former colonies, EU governments introduced so-called «zero immigration» policies during the mid-1970s economic crisis. Since Europe no longer offered legal job opportunities, family reunion, marriage or asylum seeking and illegal migration became the main ways of entering the EU, the IOM said. Immigration into Italy, for example, is dominated by illegals – mainly young men from North Africa or the Balkans – seeking work in the country’s flourishing informal economy. By contrast, most migrants to Britain come from south Asia through family reunions and marriages. «Because we closed our labor markets, the attraction for some migrants is the welfare in Europe,» Muenz said. ‘Overdrive’ EU citizens are increasingly wary of immigrants, fearing a rise in crime, unemployment and strain on welfare and schools. According to recent polls, 46 percent of Germans believe no more foreigners should be allowed to settle in Germany and 60 percent of Spaniards link excess migration to increased crime. The recent success of populist anti-immigration parties in France, Denmark, Italy and the Netherlands prompted EU leaders to prioritize the issue for their upcoming summit in Seville, Spain, on June 21-22. British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar want to push their counterparts to step up the joint fight against illegal immigration. Blair wants the EU to use its financial clout to force third countries to fight human trafficking and take back illegal migrants. He also wants it to help frontline states such as Greece patrol the bloc’s external borders more effectively. EU diplomats say all this is easier said than done. French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder have also called for a tightening of European immigration controls in an effort to stop the populist right exploiting the issue at the ballot box. The human rights group Amnesty International says the EU is more likely to fail than succeed in attempts to stop the influx of migrants. Worse still, such measures may seriously harm genuine refugees in need of protection, Amnesty says. «This is ‘Fortress Europe’ in overdrive. This talk… is indicative of how desperate they are,» Dick Oosting, director of Amnesty’s EU office told Reuters. «It cannot be a valid solution because you cannot close Europe like that,» he added. EU states have taken different approaches to integrating immigrants into society, Muenz said. Some had actively done so while others had failed to act. Large immigrant communities remain segregated in poor areas or housing projects in Europe’s larger cities, putting strains on underfunded education and health services. Last year towns in the north of England saw the worst race-related riots in 15 years, sparked by alienation between a white majority and Asian or black minorities. Jean-Philippe Chauzy of the IOM said many migrants could not integrate because they lacked access to European labor markets. «If you are here illegally, you cannot send your children to school or in any other way be part of society. There is less incentive for migrants to integrate if they are stuck on the fringes of society or in the informal sector,» he said. The EU’s own racism watchdog has urged member governments to fight the segregation and marginalization of immigrants to stem racism and xenophobia in the bloc, which have worsened since the September 11 attacks on the United States. EU migration policy? Both Chauzy and Muenz said the only solution to the EU’s problems was to somehow manage migration, not stop it, because Europe needs immigrants. «We have aging and shrinking populations,» Muenz said. «But for economic reasons, we need another kind of migrant.» Europe’s aging problem is so severe that immigration alone cannot offset the growing burden on the bloc’s pension system or solve labor market problems, the European Commission says. Even doubling fertility and immigration rates would not be enough to reverse a trend in which a growing number of elderly Europeans are dependent on a shrinking pool of workers, the EU executive said in a report last week. Immigration is therefore no substitute for labor market and pension reform, and definitely no panacea, the Commission said – a message that will strengthen the hand of EU leaders. Chauzy said there was an urgent need to separate illegal migration from asylum seeking, because economic migrants using asylum systems were giving genuine refugees «a bad name.» Muenz questioned whether EU governments could agree on a common immigration policy. «Member states are also competing economically and how would they agree on sharing out the brains?» he said, referring to high-skilled migrants.