Europe's Challenge: Migration, Jobs, and Union
If political parties skeptical of continued European integration -- called “Eurosceptic” parties -- continue to make gains across the European Union as they have in recent years, one of the largest causes will certainly be the ongoing influx of refugees. Last year, about 1.3 million refugees came to the European Union. To put this in perspective, the United States admitted only about 70,000 refugees in 2013, the most recent year for which there is data. Most of the new arrivals to Europe are coming from war-torn countries in the Middle East -- about a third are Syrian. As was recently mentioned by another Globe article, the only way to halt the flow of migrants is to resolve these conflicts, but unfortunately, there is not much chance of that happening in the near future. Migration is a crisis of the European Union rather than of individual countries because the Schengen Zone, which facilitates free movement of people across borders without passports or visas also facilitates the passage of refugees. This movement has led to Eurosceptic calls to close borders -- calls which have been heeded by governments of several member states. The question, then, is what EU countries can do to minimize the public backlash to immigration and to ease the burden of large numbers of migrants on their societies.
The EU is taking some steps toward managing its migration crisis in a deal recently reached with Turkey, but if this agreement is anything like previous attempts to deal with the challenges posed by the crisis, migration will continue unabated. The current deal is more far-reaching than previous ones, but the only thing everyone involved agrees upon is that it is far from perfect. The current plan is to resettle most asylum seekers in Turkey until their applications for EU residency can be processed, and then to admit those into Europe who are accepted, and to deport those who are denied. In principle, this is a good beginning, but there are significant challenges to any implementation of such a plan.
Firstly, the plan does not specify how the EU will decide which country individual migrants are sent to. By far, the most obvious solution to this problem would be some form of the quota system previously suggested to determine how many refugees each country is obligated to take, but this is complicated by the fact that such a system has been a contentious issue since even before it was officially proposed last September.
Secondly, one of the biggest concessions made to Turkey in exchange for its cooperation is visa-free travel within the EU and further progress toward its goal of becoming an EU member state. With Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan becoming more repressive, Turkey fits the profile of an EU member state less now than it did before progress on its accession to the union stalled several years ago. Furthermore, Turkey is still in a long-running conflict with Cyprus, an EU member state, which has been strongly opposed to Turkey’s potential entry to the EU.
Visa-free travel will also be contentious given that many European voters, seeing the recent attacks by Islamic State in Istanbul and Ankara, may be reasonably concerned that terrorists currently in Turkey will take advantage of visa-free travel to come to European countries and carry out attacks like those in Paris and Brussels. Of course, there are very few people among the refugees who may be terrorists, but there are certainly terrorists in Turkey judging from the numerous recent attacks (there have also been more terrorist attacks in Turkey lately because of renewed fighting with Kurdish separatists, but the recent bombings in Ankara and Istanbul were carried out by IS), and it would be foolish to assume that terrorists would not take advantage of easier travel when planning attacks. If the migration deal has provisions to prevent terrorists from using visa-free travel or entering with refugees, they have not been well publicized. Eurosceptics will pontificate about the risk of terrorism as a result of the migrant deal just as American nativists such as Donald Trump have advocated refusing to take refugees because of the (probably miniscule) risk of their being terrorists.
Of course, most asylum seekers are not radicals or terrorists, which makes it of paramount importance to keep them from becoming radicalized. To accomplish this, it is important to find them jobs, both to integrate them into European societies and to allow them to support themselves without government assistance -- the latter being all the more important because it will decrease the cost of migrations to European taxpayers. Some of this cost is already offset by the fact that refugees, like any other group of people, are consumers and need to buy things, potentially helping existing businesses in Europe. Furthermore, immigrants are more likely to start their own businesses, and becoming job creators themselves. At the moment, asylum seekers are not allowed to work until after their applications have been fully processed, keeping them out of work possibly for years. Advocating legal changes and new programs to help refugees enter the workforce is not new. On the other hand, these proposals overlook the problem that in many EU member states, there were not enough jobs to go around before the arrival of thousands of migrants, let alone afterward. Many EU countries have restrictive regulations regarding hiring new employees and firing old ones which discourage new employment. This has led to massive unemployment among the young, and presumably would do the same for refugees. In Hungary, which receives the most asylum applications per capita, the unemployment rate for people from ages 15-29 is 13.9%. For Sweden, which receives the second most, this number is 14.7%. Interestingly, in Germany, the youth unemployment rate is 6.6%, and the German economy’s ability to create jobs for its younger, less established workers may have been a factor in German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to take in large numbers of refugees in 2015, as well as in the decisions of many migrants to travel all the way to Germany instead of staying in places closer to their point of arrival.
Creating jobs for workers who have only recently entered the European workforce is of the utmost importance, not only to help the economic situations of Europeans themselves but to prevent new arrivals from becoming radicalised. As an important corollary, this will help the economies of nations like Greece and Spain, which are still in turmoil from the sovereign-debt crisis and decrease the likelihood of the need for future bailouts, another sore issue for Eurosceptics. Furthermore adequate safeguards against terrorists using visa-free travel or hiding among refugees are more important now than ever. It is important not only for these policies to be implemented but for mainstream, non-Eurosceptic parties to advocate them. During periods of large-scale migration and in the wake of terrorist attacks, support for nativist or xenophobic radicals often increases, as evidenced by the growth of the Dutch Party for Freedom, the French National Front, or the UK Independence Party. Mainstream parties do their best to make a good case for acceptance of immigrants, which makes it all the more important to implement policies which make migration more acceptable to the average European, thereby making it more sustainable over time through keeping power out of the hands of Eurosceptics.