It appears to be impossible to read/watch/listen to the news without the interrelated topics of migration, immigration and refugees being raised. Whether it is people fleeing the wars of the Middle East, young workers of central Europe seeking greater opportunities or populist politicians calling the end is neigh like Chicken Lickin, the subject is most certainly topical. On one side are humanitarian calls to help those risking life and limb to make treacherous journeys to reach the European Union (“EU”) and then onward to preferred countries, while on the other the concerned calls of those who fear that public services will be overwhelmed, housing shortages exacerbated and wage rates undermined.
Is it possible to have a rational debate and look at matters in a logical manner in such an emotionally charged environment?
My first thought is that if ever there was a matter that is best addressed at an EU level, it is this. The movements of populations are multi-faceted. From outside the EU, there are refugees from war zones, those seeking relief from grinding poverty, while within the EU there are the young workers of the less-developed East and recession-ridden South seeking opportunities in the more economically buoyant countries of the North, while in the other direction many retirees (or semi-retired) from the cold, wet, bustling North seek sun and a slower pace of life in the countries of the Mediterranean. Even within the larger and more successful economies of the UK and Germany, there are significant internal migrations from the areas with fewer opportunities to those with more. Separately, but with long term relevance to the conversation, the EU native-born population is is in decline due to low birth rates concurrently with it ageing due to the post-1945 baby boom and the longevity benefits of first-class health and social services.
So what we see is not a movement of people in a single direction, nor a universal social situation, but something substantially more complex.
My question is why these issues are not looked at in the whole? While cities like London and Munich might be drawing in migrants from both within their own countries and the wider EU, how many a former Yorkshire mining village, industrial town of Thuringia or rural town in Limousin is slowly dying because it is being drained of those with ambition and energy as they head to the cosmopolitan delights of London, Berlin or Amsterdam? Notice must be taken of the flows of migration within the EU and within individual countries, but it is a fallacy that Europe is full and cannot accommodate these refugees. Would these communities not benefit from an injection of new blood, just as over many years London has benefitted from waves of immigration, and more recently, Leicester benefited from the entrepreneurial spirit of the Ugandan Asians who arrived in the early 1970s? However, such communities cannot be just left to their own devices; they will need support, and again, this needs to be delivered on a pan-EU scale if it is to be done properly. The quid pro quo for this is that those coming to Europe as refugees would need to understand that their residence within the EU would be predetermined until they had established their new economic position.
Migration is rarely an economic negative in the longer term; the people who have the determination to make such a journey will have the drive to make a positive life for themselves in their new home. Let us stop being and look at the opportunities instead.