European Affairs

  • The fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 opened the way to human flows to the West. The numbers were particularly big from three eastern European states with large and growing populations: Poland, Romania and Ukraine. Two million ethnic Germans (Aussiedler) came to Germany from Russia and other places in the former Soviet empire (from the Baltic States to Kazakhstan). Hungarian minorities in Romania moved to Hungary, Turks went home from Bulgaria, Finns from Karelia.
  • Groups of displaced populations gravitated toward Europe after being uprooted by political crises in the 1990s including ethnic strife in the Great Lakes region in Africa (including Rwanda and Burundi), in the former Yugoslavia, in Kurdish-populated areas in the Middle East and in trouble spots as varied as Haiti, Algeria, Lebanon, Chechnya, Afghanistan and Iraq.
  • European media give people in less developed parts of the world images of a Europe that seems to offer not only freedom and security but also a higher standard of living, including access to consumer goods.
  • The black market in human trafficking (generating big profits for getting people across borders illegally) became a bigger, more lucrative business.
  • Immigrants often were prepared to take work and low wages spurned by the indigenous labor force.

This situation – with its push-and pull dynamic – has emerged in particularly acute terms across the Mediterranean because of the gap between the European northern rim and the North African southern rim. The imbalance in demographic pressures is reinforced by the contrasts in economic, political, social and cultural levels on opposite sides of the Mediterranean.

As a result, the European Union is now experiencing an unprecedented massive intake – roughly two million legal entries a year – that is larger than the flows to traditional immigration magnets such as the United States and Australia. The effect is unsettling in Europe because Europe has never thought of itself as a place for immigration. Traditionally, Europe has been a place of emigration, not immigration. National identities – and indeed the "European" identity – do not include a constituent belief that immigration can contribute to the process of building and redefining these identities.

In other words, Europe seems to have become a region of immigration largely in spite of itself. In trying to cope with this challenge, Europe has tried a range of measures aimed at containing or at least managing the largely unwanted influx.

The first reaction was an attempt to virtually close the borders to new immigration and step up the fight against illegal immigration and tracking, starting with the 1985 Schengen agreement, which includes all EU member states except Great Britain and Ireland. This agreement (now a convention) was designed to open internal European borders to the free movement of people while reinforcing the EU's external borders with a visa system applying to most non-European countries. (Labor immigration, encouraged on a comparatively limited scale in the post-World War II period, had been shut off a decade earlier, in 1974.) The next step in this policy was an attempt to coordinate asylum policies among EU countries via the Dublin agreements in 1990 (completed by a second agreement in 2003). Finally, a 1997 Amsterdam agreement restructured the EU's decision-making process in this sector to try to ensure that a common "EU approach" was applied to all the member states' policies of entry and asylum. This approach culminated in conferences on illegal migration and treaties designed to institute a regime of "zero immigration." (An exception was left for unavoidable flows arising from asylum, family reunification and humanitarian acceptance, which are safeguarded by international treaties and codes of human rights.)

In practice, these remedies have proved only partially effective because of the reality gap between the rules and the actual pressures of the new immigration. Even though the EU has experienced high unemployment over the last 20 years, the ranks of would-be immigrants have swelled at the EU's borders. In a now-familiar pattern, especially in southern European countries such as Italy and Spain, many such people manage to enter the EU as illegal immigrants – where they expect they will eventually benefit from a national amnesty for illegals and get permission to stay.

A second response to the problem takes the form of EU efforts to put forward development programs in emigrants' countries of origin in hopes that development at home would keep some of them from leaving. In this context, there are also "policies of return" that started in the mid-1970s and involve incentives for immigrants to go home – such as "reinsertion measures" and, more recently, support for decentralized development aid, often managed in cooperation with organizations set up by the migrants themselves. The "Euro- Mediterranean Partnership" (also known as the MEDA program) includes plans for subsidizing immigrant associations' work on development programs in their countries of origin – notably Morocco, Turkey and Mali, which have traditions of collective involvement in development projects. Other solutions involve helping to ensure that immigrants' remittances from Europe (€14 million in 2005) are increasingly channeled through banks instead of informal networks. These measures have had good results in the sense that they have helped immigrants' families in their countries of origin. But they have not had their intended effect of stopping emigration or even significantly curtailing it. In fact, they have sometimes created fresh dependence on migration in the very regions that have benefited from this emigrant- related help.

The third idea has been to negotiate with some of the countries that produce the biggest outflows of Europe-bound illegal migrants (Morocco, Mali and Senegal to the south and Ukraine, Belarus and Moldavia to the east) about a bargain aimed at controlling the traffic. The "exporting" countries are asked to agree that repatriation accords can be enforced regarding their nationals and to reinforce their control on their own borders. In exchange, the Europeans are offering inducements in the form of subsidies for stepped-up border controls, for temporary settlements or internment camps at Europe's periphery (for example, in Libya, Malta and Morocco) and for the costs of repatriating people to their countries.

Illustrative of this trend are a July 2006 meeting in Rabat between the EU and Morocco; similarly, after illegal Senegalese immigrants started arriving in large numbers during the summers of 2005 and 2006, Paris started talks on the problem with Dakar. The results of this approach have been meager so far. One problem is that these countries themselves, with their poor governance, corruption and disregard for human rights, can easily be seen as lacking legitimacy in trying to prevent their citizens from seeking better lives for themselves elsewhere.

Another aspect of coping with immigration has now emerged: the integration of "foreigners" who are already in the EU. They number 20 million if you include five million East Europeans who have "migrated" westward. This immigrant population is distributed very unevenly through the EU. Officially, Germany is the leader in this category with roughly 7.5 million "immigrants," but this number is artificially high in the sense that Germany was long reluctant to grant naturalization to Turks and other foreigners on the ground of being born on German soil or living there a long time. The relevant legislation was only changed in 1999 to move away from an exclusive view of rights based on ethnic origin (jus sanguinis) and give more weight to residency (jus soli). Behind Germany, France has 3.5 million immigrants in the country, followed by Great Britain with 2.5 million

The impact is even greater in some respects in southern Europe, where countries that were traditionally sources of emigration – Italy, Greece, Portugal and Spain – recently have been getting the brunt of the new arrivals. All have "legalized" large numbers of illegal immigrants in the last few years. Spain is the country where the increase of immigration has been the highest in Europe over the last five years: today, it hosts 2.3 million immigrants. (In comparison, northern Europe has a relatively small immigrant population because the countries there do not have legacies of transnational links with developing countries that are liable to foster immigration and also because these economies do not have big sectors with jobs where illegal workers can be readily absorbed.

In this new immigration, Islam has grown fast in Europe as a major complication and challenge. Estimates of the number of Muslims in the EU had risen to 12 million by 2000. France is the first country where the number of Muslims has reached five million. In many EU countries, immigration has made Islam become the second religion, a change that has raised practical questions about public life: the veil, Islamic meat standards, the status of the religious calendar (notably the month-long Ramadan fast), special places in cemeteries, arranged marriages involving boys and girls imported from the countries of origin, divorce and other sexually-related issues such as female circumcision. In France, consultations between the authorities and these Muslim associations have been proposed to solve such questions, with little significant progress so far.

Different European nations are reacting in very different ways to this challenge. A common thread is the effort of most immigrant Muslim groups to negotiate the terms of Islam's place and status in the European countries where they have settled – an effort in which an important role is being played by Muslim associations subsidized by the Gulf States. In many EU nations, the urban landscape is changing as mosques are erected: these are often considered offensive by parts of local public opinion, which view them as an attempt to alter Christian culture by a religion that these groups see as the faith of poor, uneducated people from Europe's former colonies. These groups cannot comprehend conversions to Islam by Europeans or decisions by young people, from the second generation in immigrant families, to become more assertively Muslim. (This more assertive trend seems to result partly from failures at integration in societies that assimilate Muslims poorly and partly from fanaticism imported from abroad, propagated by militant sects such as the Salafists. In reality, most Muslims in Europe want to practice their religion quietly without any radicalism.)

In a broader perspective, all these EU countries of the new immigration have had to redefine their notions of citizenship to make room for greater multiculturalism and to facilitate social co-existence. Two models have emerged: the "integration model" epitomized by France (which puts total emphasis on the social contract binding all citizens, without any reference to ethnic origins) and the "community" model applied in Britain. These "models" have been challenged by violent rioting in France's minority-populated "suburbs" in November 2005 and by the ethnic-linked domestic terrorism in Britain.

Multiculturalism and the limitations of the communitarian model have aroused severe criticism recently for their shortcomings, notably in Britain and the Netherlands. But some convergences are emerging between the two models. Most EU countries have modeled their nationality codes to give stronger weight to the jus soli in countries that have traditionally emphasized jus sanguinis. Many European governments are engaged in "best-practice" exercises in comparing their inclusion policies. Anti-discrimination policies were imposed at the EU level in the 1997 Amsterdam treaty (whose article 13 denied and prohibited several special forms of discrimination). Immigrants in EU countries are gaining voting rights in local elections, and their children and grandchildren, even if they remain dual nationals, are gaining voting eligibility (with rights in Europe by jus soli and in their countries of origin by jus sanguinis).

This is a new phenomenon that may have an impact on relations between countries of origin and European host nations in negotiations on matters such as Islam, visas and terrorism.



Immigration as a Response to Threats

A nation's appetite for immigration can grow if it believes that it needs more people to be stronger against other countries, according to Christopher Rudolph, a professor at American University in Washington. He puts forward a "threat-rally" hypothesis: an internal community will rally – and, crucially, accept more diversity – if it feels the presence of an external threat. As empirical evidence, he uses the post-World War II period when Western nations felt threatened by Communism: from his national case studies, he identified these patterns:
  • Germany imported "guest workers" partly to rebuild the economy, to reinforce itself against Soviet pressure and to show a liberal face to the world, particularly the United States. As the threat abated, immigration became a more complex domestic political issue.
  • Britain was more liberal to immigration from its ex-colonies in the war's aftermath, but in the last two decades racial tensions have emerged in the absence of any external threat.
  • France imported workers, mainly from its former colonies in North Africa, to rebuild its postwar economy. But starting in the mid-1980s, Islamic issues inside France overrode concerns about Communist threats.
  • The United States took in post-war migrants fleeing Communist regimes as a symbolic act, a factor tipping the scales in an uneasy ambivalence between the desire of businesses for more manpower and social resistance to ethnic changes.

In all these countries, immigration from European countries was preferred because it offered population growth with minimal risk of opposition on racist grounds. (Turks in Germany were an exception to this pattern.)

The context has changed dramatically since the era on which Rudolph concentrates, amid today's sense of threats arising mainly from "terrorism" both inside and outside a country's borders. But Rudolph's thesis is a useful reminder that immigration debates are decided not just by economic arguments but also by more diffuse perceptions of a nation's political course. His book, National Security and Immigration (Stanford University Press) documents the complexity of this inter-relationship in Western democracies.

Brenton Quinn, The European Institute


This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number 7, Issue number 3-4 in the Fall/Winter of 2006.