Migration in Europe will be one of the main themes of Greece’s presidency of the European Union next year. Greece is obliged to move the debate forward because of a decision taken by the EU member states’ leaders in Seville in June, in which they decided on measures to combat illegal migration and steps to achieve coordinated management of external borders. The host in Seville, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, said that reducing illegal immigration was «the most important question in European politics at the moment,» and he urged the EU to develop a «concrete timetable that will effectively give a very clear message that Europe is committed to combating illegal immigration.» Athens is working on this, but Greece also wants to be able to present a broader range of proposals for immigration policy. In the past few months, the Foreign Ministry has been working with some of the most specialized academics and experienced consultants on the Athens Migration Policy Initiative. Formed at the initiative of Foreign Minister George Papandreou, it is building a coalition to help manage migration. This was decided in light of Greece’s EU presidency, but is expected to last a lot longer. «We need to be able to pinpoint what we as the Greek presidency can come up with, in feasible terms, to pinpoint what would be a feasible result for the Greek presidency,» Papandreou told a seminar organized jointly by his ministry and the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute. «This will be a major issue for the Greek presidency,» he added. It is fitting that the person who has been working closely with Greek officials is Demetrios Papademetriou, one of the world’s greatest experts on migration, who happens to have been a migrant himself. He left Patras to study in America and now, nearly four decades later, he is back to help Greece – and Europe – cope with a migrant influx of its own. Papademetriou, 56, a large man with white beard and broad smile, is an observer of an endless tide, the same one that once carried him from Patras to the United States, where he distinguished himself in academia and also as a top policy adviser to the US government before he became co-director of the Migration Policy Institute think tank last year. For him, migration is both a personal story and the area of his expertise. He sees both the local and the global aspects of the issue. Papademetriou spoke with Kathimerini on a recent visit to Athens. People on the move How many people are migrating across the world today? There are probably about 150 million or so who are on the move right now, out of a total population of a little more than 6 billion. If you do the math, that comes down to 2.2-2.4 percent of the world’s population. Interestingly enough, that was the situation in the 1980s, 1990s and 1960s. In the 1960s it was, of course, 2.1-2.2 percent of a much smaller number. But fundamentally, the number of people who have been moving has been steady. But why do things appear to be worse than in past years? Absent extraordinary events, which tend to be refugee flows, the proportion of movement of the population has been steady. In the last four or five years we notice a spike in the movement of people and we attribute this to the fact that it is much more organized. And I don’t mean organized on the part of the states but in the sense of the networks that move people around. This is market related… The other thing that has changed in the last four to five years is that the demand for these people has increased, at almost the same rate – which suggests that demand and supply relate to each other. So what do we expect in 2020? In 2020 you can count on over 200 million people on the move. How will this look? There is going to be more migration and it is going to be more spread out about the world. Japan, for example, which has been toying with the idea of its image for a decade and a half now, is probably on the way to becoming a country of immigration. Japan, like others, including Greece, thinks exceptionally of itself. These are the most difficult problems – to make the transition from a monocultural society to that of a multicultural, multi-religious society – that they can no longer think of themselves as a special race, the Japanese race, for example. In 2020, the number of countries that play the immigration game will be 60 to 80. Today they are 30 to 40. Twenty years ago you had about a dozen and a half. Suddenly Greece is part of the transition. In Spain, Greece and Portugal the transition happened in the 1990s, but the rate at which the transition took place, and the pace – the amount – have been extraordinary by any historical standards. How are they handling the issue? When you’re trying to deal with a difficult issue like immigration, the environment constantly shifts from under you. You think you have a fair sense about what is happening and you try to bring this into the political sphere, and then when you look up the issue has changed dramatically. You’re constantly behind the ball in trying to deal with migration. It makes no difference whether the government is of the left or the right or the center. It has to deal with governmental capacity rather than governmental will. It is very frequently the case in those three countries to somehow think that if we were a little tougher with immigration or a little stricter about migration, we could have done better in terms of managing it. But in my view, the task of managing migration in a period of vast change would be nothing less than Herculean, and to succeed would have required not only all of the elements of good governance but also a great deal of luck. How is Greece dealing with immigration? I think Greece is at the right point to be thinking seriously about immigration. Because it is past the point of self-denial, past the point of thinking this is somehow a temporary phenomenon. And it has internalized (at least according to my conversations with political leaders) an understanding that this is a structural need that migration serves; in other words, that migration does not just represent a failure of policy, a failure in determination, or anything of that sort. And they’ve already taken initial steps which are not at variance with the initial steps that other countries have taken in Europe. For instance, there’s a series of legalization programs or regularization programs. A regularization program is, in fact, the first acknowledgement by a government that indeed migration has happened and the beginning of a process of trying to manage it. However, unless a series of parallel steps are taken, the only thing the regularization programs will beget is more regularization programs. In other words, the regularization process now will need to be accompanied by, first of all, an assessment of the labor market needs of the country and on the place of migrants in the context of the overall labor market. Doing so would allow the government to begin to be in charge of migration, or manage migration, rather than simply react… An essential part of managing the issue within some degree of effectiveness must also include a series of law and order measures whereby the Greek government has the opportunity to choose those people that it needs to meet its international responsibilities in terms of the protection of, let’s say, refugees or asylum seekers, but also a series of policies that will try to control and minimize the number of migrants or immigrants who come outside of the channels that the state creates. To do the latter thing requires cooperation, initially with the states that are adjacent to you but gradually, within the overall context of the EU, and the legal and regulatory regimes that have developed within the EU over the past decade or so. What I understand from my conversations and my meetings in Greece, the government is taking steps to address all aspects of migration but it is at the earliest stages of doing so. In terms of the countries to which Greece compares most naturally, in other words the rest of the southern European countries, Greece is roughly where they are. Probably a little behind Italy and ahead of both Spain and Portugal. Ahead? Yes, Very much so. Ahead of Spain and Portugal. Future policies What are the next steps that Greece must take? The next steps are to develop a regime and the administrative infrastructure that will try to take full advantage of the opportunities that migration presents while controlling as much as possible the challenges that it presents. This means, use migration to the fullest economic advantage without undermining the labor and social systems of the country and understand at the very same time that being part of the world migration system implies a set of responsibilities down the road toward which most countries today have proved themselves to be unequal: Namely, to integrate newcomers and assist them to become full members of the society rather than just effective economic beings, or whatever. And this is going to be ultimately the challenge, not just for Greece and southern Europe but for all the European Union and, to a significant degree, all of the countries, including the US, that play in the migration game with relative abandon. How necessary are immigrants? On the side of our countries, you have a demand for some people across the entire occupational continuum. In the case of Greece, you are likely to be looking not only for the people who will pick your olives and grapes, but also the people who have specialized skills to allow Greek farms to remain competitive… I need 35 people who will help me tomorrow. Education systems can’t possibly meet these types of instant needs for people who are going to fill specialized niches. So, part of the economy – the knowledge and communication economy – moves much faster than the education system, thereby the need and the value for highly skilled people from abroad. At the other end of the continuum, there are services – waiters, couriers, all of these things – there is an extraordinary demand for people who are to a large degree expendable. This is not something that Greece somehow invented. The same situation happens in France, Germany, the United States, Australia and Canada – which becomes an extraordinary challenge for administrative systems, because administrative systems always seem to be playing with yesterday’s rules, trying to solve yesterday’s problems… There are two sets of global labor pools. The one has people who are specialized… The other is those of the services, of the production of goods that are sold in a world market, where competition – because of open trading, because of the world trading regime – is intense. This is in a sense the cause and the effect of the immigrant in all of the countries in the world. Has the US-led war on terrorism affected global migration patterns? An effort may be made to make it much more difficult for unauthorized immigration to happen, because of the security issue… As of September 11 and other events, we all realized that immigrant streams may also carry some potentially bad guys – terrorists, traffickers, human smugglers – people, in other words, who are undesirable and potentially hurtful to our countries. That requires that all of our countries (Greece, the rest of Europe) that participate in the world system put a new variable, a security variable, as a filter to their migration system. The only way that you can do that is by emphasizing main gate – or legal – immigration. I mean regulated immigration, and minimizing, rather than just controlling, illegal or unauthorized immigration. I think that we are at this point of getting serious about unregulated immigration, but we’re at the point that we could go either way. And I suspect the traditional immigration countries – the US, Canada, and Australia – will probably be the tipping mechanism on this, going either way. The US has not yet taken a conscious political decision to truly control illegal immigration. I suspect if there is another significant attack in the United States it will do so. And everybody else will follow. Won’t this cause a pressure-cooker effect in the countries from which migrants leave? Undoubtedly, the system itself will adapt to the new realities. Considering the fact that supply and demand constantly relate to each other, that there is an economic and labor market and in the case of all of Europe demographic reasons for immigration, the only long-term choice for Europeans, as well as for the United States, will be to widen legal channels for migration. So, attacking illegal immigration and minimizing it, if it is done properly, will not significantly reduce international migration. Rather, it will regulate it more efficiently and in accordance with solving problems in each country or group of countries. How can the Greek presidency affect the EU? I don’t think that the answers to migration in the near future are going to be found in Brussels. I think most of the answers are going to be found in individual states taking major action along the lines that we have described. Over time there will be certain aspects of migration that can be done best at the collective level of the EU. Among these will be dealing with emergencies, the outlines for asylum needs and opening the way for the movement of third-country nationals within the union, and certain things that fall within the purview of member states; for example, whom to admit and under what conditions, developing the proper integration instruments, adjusting citizenship laws so that the citizenship issue gets resolved in the best possible way. And here is where the Greek presidency of the EU can make a difference – putting on the table and then persuading other member states that national interest can have a place in the developing of special migration relationships. Specifically, I mean that if Greece wants to have special immigration relationships with some of its neighboring states, as it already has with Albania and Bulgaria, it should be able to do so as long as broader European interests are not affected adversely by these decisions. For example, Greece and Italy give a certain preference to Albanians to come and work here. They should be able to continue to do so in the full understanding that the Albanians get no additional derivative rights to access the remaining EU, given the fact that internal borders are disappearing. That means that Greece should be responsible for managing the Albanian population that enters Greece under these conditions, through a system of work permits, residence permits and a managed entry/exit statistical or administrative system. In Europe, is the debate going to be taken from the xenophobes? Yes. But only if the non-extremist parties can demonstrate to their publics that they are handling the issue. What feeds the extreme-right parties in Europe, in my view, is the general sense that no one is minding the store, in this and other areas… The reason they latched on to migration so easily is because it has a face – it becomes something you can actually demand of your government. Typically, governments have responded in two ways: One is to ignore the extreme-right parties and dismiss them as extremists; the second way is by basically stealing part of their agenda as a means of denying them political space. Both responses have led to the same outcome: Parties of the extreme right have been strengthened. What I would like to see, if there is an embryonic extreme-right movement in Greece, would be for every responsible Greek institution (politicians, Parliament, the labor movement, universities, the Church) to challenge the very thesis of these parties while addressing the issue of migration directly… planning and executing some control policies and paying as much attention as is necessary to the issue of social cohesion: Teaching immigrants who are going to stay here Greek, allowing and encouraging them to become members of society and paying extreme attention to helping their children be members… Because, ultimately, the most immediate challenge of immigration – which is whether the receiving country (Greece, in this case) will continue to be a successful country – will be influenced to a great deal by the ability of the children of immigrants to become, for all practical purposes, indistinguishable from the children of Greeks. That is, in my view, the way that, at the end of the day, you measure success or failure in playing the international migration system. Is Greece going this way, with one in five children in public schools in Athens being the children of immigrants? I think it’s too early to tell. If the high presence of immigrant children leads to the stratification of the educational system, then Greece will have a much harder time to succeed with immigration.