Year XL, 1998, Number 1 - Page 3
Europe and Immigration
The recent disembarkation in Italy of large groups of illegal immigrants, and the tensions generated by these arrivals, prompt reflection on Europe’s inability to deal efficiently with both the causes and the manifestations of what is one of the biggest and most dramatic phenomena of our times.
The mass exodus, from economically weak countries to the industrialised world, of men and women hoping to escape poverty and find work is one aspect of the current process of globalisation. It is a phenomenon which, apart from being historically inevitable, is one which could, if approached correctly, be turned to the advantage both of the immigrants’ countries of origin (for these countries, emigration has the effect of relieving the socially destabilising pressure of overpopulation), and of the countries towards which the migration is directed, in particular the countries of Western Europe which are currently going through a phase of profound structural transformation and experiencing a serious population crisis. Furthermore, in the industrialised West, the workforce is no longer adequate to meet a number of requirements which could easily be satisfied by imported labour.
However, immigration can only be beneficial if it is directed and regulated by a political power which is capable of implementing a coherent economic policy, has a firm control over the territory and works in close collaboration with the countries from which the flow of immigrants stems. In the absence of these conditions, the migratory flow will be damaging to the economies of developing countries, depriving them of the most valuable section of their workforce without, furthermore, guaranteeing the migrants decent conditions in their countries of destination, where very often they become victims of social outcasting, thus contributing to the increase in delinquency and urban decay.
The fact remains that a rational system for managing immigration, one which brings out its positive and reduces its negative aspects, can only be based on containment of the phenomenon — not through restrictions, but through measures which target its causes. The migratory flow towards industrialised regions can only be reduced by the injection of capital and business initiative into areas where the workforce overabounds. This does not mean improving or reorienting state aid for foreign development, which in the past has been shown to be ineffective and often even counterproductive. There is, rather, a need to exploit a trend to which globalisation spontaneously gives rise and which, with respect to emigration, is a specular phenomenon: the so-called delocalisation of production, i.e., the setting up, by companies from industrialised countries, of labour-intensive production plants in countries where labour is abundant and inexpensive. This allows a section (sometimes the most skilled and most enterprising) of the population of less fortunate countries to avoid the inevitable trauma and uprooting of emigration and to begin, in tranquillity, working towards their own future wellbeing. At the same time, in the countries exporting capital, those companies which have invested in production plants abroad find themselves more competitive, thanks to the low production costs incurred in the social and economic areas to which they have transferred their activity.
However, this creation of employment opportunities abroad must have the underlying and concrete support of public powers able efficiently to direct and protect these operations. The absence or inefficiency of such support would, by creating uncertainty among entrepreneurs and increasing the risks inevitably involved in investment abroad, (especially in areas which are radically different, politically, socially and culturally), deter companies from investing and favour the unscrupulous approach to business which is based on high short-term gains: the result would be exploitation of the workforce and of the environment. At the same time, in the absence of an adequate policy geared towards internal investment and the retraining of the workforce, the de-localisation phenomenon would, in the industrialised countries which transfer their production activity abroad, immediately lead to an increase in unemployment in the sectors directly involved, affecting less skilled workers in particular.
In Europe, the lack of a coherent Union policy on immigration is dramatically obvious. The strategies on immigration adopted by the governments of the member states, (if they can indeed be called strategies), and their relationships with the countries from which the immigrants originate are, being weak and divergent, ineffective. In fact, the one thing that does emerge from these strategies is a policy of closure. To be effective, a policy for the integration and employment of immigrants would require an expanding economy, and thus the launch of a vast plan for restructuring the European economy and channelling investments into major infrastructures and advanced technology. Such a plan was, in fact, proposed in 1993 by the former President ofthe European Commission, Jacques Delors, but was never taken up. The European economy has continued to be conditioned by the so-called “competitive disinflation” produced, in view of the forthcoming creation of the single currency, by the need for convergence of the budgetary policies of the countries of the Union (which is, on its own account, an inexorable necessity). And, unless radical political changes come about, the European economy will continue to move along these tracks even after the start of Monetary Union, with the European economic policy based exclusively on the philosophy and the undertakings of the Stability Pact which excludes any European budgetary policy, rendering each of the governments of the Union exclusively responsible for the management of its national budget, with heavy sanctions imposable on those who fail to keep it balanced. As a consequence, the policy on immigration implemented by the governments of Europe has, in the past, been limited (and in the absence of radical political changes, will continue to be limited) to attempts to stem the flow by closing the frontiers. This is of course a policy which is, given the porosity of the European frontiers, bound to fail and one which, furthermore, has two disastrous effects: first, it prevents the governments of Europe from focusing on the problem of how to manage the flow of immigration (bringing out its positive aspects to the benefit of both the immigrants and their own economies) rather than on the unsolvable problem of how to stem it. Second, it presents Europe as an, exclusive and ungenerous association of rich countries which, jealously guarding their wealth, are reluctant to collaborate with the surrounding area.
All this is compounded by the problems generated by the application of the Schengen Agreement and of the provisions of the so-called “third pillar” of the Maastricht Treaty. The issue of visas and residence permits to citizens of non Community countries, the maintenance of public order, the fight against criminality and drug trafficking, and common policies in the field of justice and home affairs are considered by the governments of the Union’s member states to be problems directly pertaining to national sovereignty and which must, through their exclusion from those areas decided by majority vote within the Council of Ministers and controlled by the European Parliament, remain firmly in the hands of the national states. However, as things stand at the moment, the governments’ attachment to their national sovereignty has a rebounding effect: their refusal to relinquish any part of their sovereignty has created a situation in which, following the removal of internal frontiers, the control of migratory flows, decisions on the concession of political asylum and residence permits, and the deciding and carrying out of measures for the expulsion of aliens become the competence of the state through which the immigrants entered the territory of the European Union in the first place. This means that each of the governments of the Union has no choice but to renounce the possibility of implementing a policy of its own to regulate the flow of migrants into its territory, and relies on the capacity of its partners to apply the rulings decided at European level, bound, furthermore, to the interpretation of these rulings applied by each of these partners. Thus, instead of being controlled by the Union, the position of all the governments which entered into the Schengen Agreement depends, in this sphere, on the actions of those countries whose external borders are more extensive and more difficult to control. As a result, all the states forfeit any effective control over their own territory and thus relinquish totally that sovereignty which they so jealously wanted to guard.
The closed attitude of the European Union towards the question of immigration goes hand in hand with its incapacity to draw up a coherent foreign policy plan that would allow it, among other things, to create the conditions for a rational policy based on the transfer of production activity abroad and the development of the countries from which the migratory flow originates. A plan for a foreign policy of this kind should include the rapid realisation of the planned enlargement of the Union to embrace the countries of eastern Europe and a firm undertaking to promote, through active and carefully targeted collaboration, the peace process in the Middle East with the ultimate objective of stimulating in that area the implementation of a plan for federal unification. However, this enlargement can only come about if the Union proves able, through a radical strengthening of its own decision-making capacity, to deal with the many, and difficult, problems which this will generate: failing to do this, it will remain trapped within its current borders, or will dissolve into a vague free trade area, the member states forfeiting, instead of sharing with new members, the benefits that integration has bestowed on them. And in Middle Eastern affairs, Europe, despite investing more heavily than the United States in this region, will nevertheless remain subordinate to the action of the US (which has, moreover, proved incapable of setting the peace process in motion once again). On the other hand, the impotence and selfishness of the Union were, in December 1997, harshly exposed by the despicable treatment which Turkey received at the hands of the European Council at Luxembourg: the Council even went so far as to exclude Turkey from the list of the countries which are candidates to join the Union (in spite of the fact that Turkey is tied to the Union by a treaty of association stipulated as far back as 1963). The drive towards modernity and democracy which is currently strong in Turkish society runs the risk of being frustrated by Europe’s short-sighted and mean-spirited attitude, and were this to happen, it would lend strength to the forces which favour, instead, authoritarianism and Islamic fundamentalism.
The fact remains that, regardless of which aspect of Europe’s inertia and irresponsibility is in the spotlight, the roots of the Union’s incapacity to act always lie in the absence of the democratic and federal institutions needed to give voice to the general European interest and to assist, at the same time, those peoples with which Europe, due to its geographical proximity, should be collaborating most closely. Until now, the periods of stalemate, slowing down or crisis in the process of European unification have been justified by the governments responsible for provoking them as being in their national interest. Now, however, the creation of Europe (through the transfer of national sovereignty into the framework of a European federal state) represents, for all the states of the Union, the only real national interest that remains. That which is nowadays declared to be “in the nation’s interest” is in fact that which, preserving the institutions to which their power is linked, is in the interests of only a section of politicians, civil servants and diplomats, and of the most parasitical sectors of society which depend on them for survival. Europe’s problem is that these interests can now be expressed through well-established political and institutional channels, while the common European good does not have such instruments at its disposal and is thus destined to remain within the vague sphere of ideals. Fighting for Europe means making sure that these ideals become tangible, provoking concrete action on the part of men.