Europe, a continent of immigration

Anti-Islam demonstrations in Germany, a resurgent Front National in France - the Right is enjoying a certain amount of success in Europe, perhaps because there is an ever-widening gap between winners and losers and a growing number of people who feel socially and societally disenfranchised. How can Europe move on from the economic crisis to create an inclusive immigration policy and a new European narrative that encompasses migrants?

By Isabel Schäfer

Recent decades have seen a steady growth in migration to Europe and in mobility within the continent. It has been largely overlooked that, during this time, the majority of immigrants in the EU (including Germany) have come from other EU Member States and not from other regions of the world such as those dominated by Islam. We are familiar with the dark realities of the restrictive and, to some extent, inhuman European policies towards immigrants from the countries of the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean. And, while it was hardly surprising that the political upheavals in North Africa and the Middle East since the Arab Spring in 2011 should spark a new wave of migration, the fact is often overlooked that the majority of refugees actually stayed in the region. It was neighbouring countries that bore the brunt of the movement of immigrants looking to escape from the civil wars in Libya and Syria. In reality, very few refugees have actually come to Europe.

And yet there is a new and growing wave of anti-Islamic and anti-Muslim sentiment spreading across Europe. This new, increasingly negative image of Islam is being fostered not only by reports of atrocities beingcommitted by the Islamic State (IS) in Syria, but also by the election victories achieved by Islamist parties following the Arab Spring. It is being advanced by images of disintegrating states amongst Europe's southern neighbours (such as Libya, Yemen and Syria) and Islamist-inspired international terrorism, which now poses a new threat to Europe in the shape of radicalized individuals returning from Syria.

Europe's foreign policy responses to these latest developments among its southern neighbours testify to a new sense of realism that has in part resulted in growing demands for the militarization and 'securitization' of European foreign and security policies. These developments raise the question: are we simply returning to the same old ways of thinking that were prevalent after 9/11 and during the war on terror? Authoritarian regimes in the Arab world that have either returned or indeed never fell are using the (supposed) Islamist threat to justify resuming or maintaining their repressive policies. Meanwhile, European governments are using the same apparent threat to justify restrictions on immigration from the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region, the ongoing secu - ritization of migration policies (Frontex), the expansion of security measures throughout  Europe and on its borders, increases in mi - litary expenditure and the ongoing delivery  of weapons to authoritarian regimes such as Saudi Arabia.

A return to the old ways

The very real danger posed by a small number of radicalized Islamists, Salafists or jihadists is not in dispute, but it should not be grounds for a disproportionate response. Would it not be better to provide constructive support to Europe's southern neighbours while they are struggling with their processes of transition? Or indeed to put our relations with the existing and post-Arab Spring regimes on a brand new footing and recognize these countries' cultural, geographical, political and economic proximity to Europe and the interconnectedness that exists between the two regions? This would mean adopting a more constructive approach aimed at identifying the common interests that exist between European societies and those of North Africa and the Middle East, rather than pursuing a restrictive, anti-Islamic, neorealist security discourse.

However, this is not necessarily easy at a time when Europe has some major problems of its own. The growth of right-wing populism and the spread of right-wing conservative materialism have resulted in the rest of the political spectrum succumbing to a kind of cultural pessimism and a fear of the spectre of European disintegration, as evidenced by Scotland, Greece and Catalonia. Right now there appears to be a certain amount of uncertainty in the face of phenomena such as the anti-Islam demonstrations organized by the German PEGIDA movement and of a new intellectual quality of hatred and racism on the part of the New Right that is particularly finding its expression on the Internet and in hate e-mails.

Pro-European voices are becoming fewer and fainter. The recent death of German sociologist Ulrich Beck means that Europe has lost one of its pre-eminent progressive thinkers. Why has it so rarely been possible to portray the EU as a positive narrative, as a "post-national constellation" (Jürgen Habermas) or to sell the idea of a European identity a form of cultural added value that exists in addition to and alongside other local and national identities?

The European project was built on the principle of open societies. This principle must not be eroded as Europe becomes a continent of immigration in the 21st century, especially as it is one of the key indicators of Europe's strength in the world. Fair, properly regulated, legal immigration should not mean only trying to attract the best minds to Europe, but should also involve giving opportunities to the more socially disadvantaged.

"This would mean adopting a more constructive approach aimed at identifying the common interests that exist between European societies and those of North Africa and the Middle East, rather than pursuing a restrictive, anti-Islamic, neorealist security discourse."

The issue of immigration reflects the status of Europe's own integration and internal cohesion. Setting aside economic integration, mobility and harmonized mobile phone tariffs, which is the social project facing Europe's citizens and decision-makers? Which values and visions are showing Europe the way to a more inclusive identity project than that currently represented by the EU? Do we need a new European narrative and if so, what should this look like? Narratives are more often than not developed by elites and often have little or nothing to do with the day-to-day realities of the average citizen. And whilst these elites are racking their brains, isn't a new European narrative actually being developed and brokered from the bottom up? Europe’s crisis is not only about the economic and financial crisis. It is also a crisis of the legitimacy and credibility of European institutions and the European project as a whole.

Loss of confidence

Certain sections of the European population, including the younger generation, appear to have lost confidence in their political leaders or feel socially disenfranchised. We are particularly witnessing how right-wing populism has benefited from the crisis and how xenophobia in European societies is growing rather than declining.

The forecasts for the European Elections in May 2014 were alarming: it was assumed that one quarter of all seats in the European Parliament would go to right-wing populist candidates. As it happens, the result was not quite so dramatic, but right-wing, EU-critical parties still won 19 percent of the vote (enjoying particular success in France, the UK, Denmark and Austria). Right-wing populist parties stir up anti-European feelings and sentiments and fan the flames of xenophobia – not just against immigrants from outside Europe, but also against immigrants from other EU Member States. A good example here would be the propaganda and verbal attacks directed at immigrants from Bulgaria and Romania by Germany’s conservative CSU party.

There has also been an increase in the number of extreme right-wing acts of violence in southern Member States such as Greece. The reason why the Right might be enjoying a certain amount of success in Europe at the moment is because there is an ever-widening gap between winners and losers and a growing number of people who feel socially and societally disenfranchised – left behind by the relentless drive for modernization and globalization. In Germany and elsewhere in Europe, there are now whole regions that are drifting backwards. The gap between town and country is steadily widening, as is the gap between rich and poor. Meanwhile the middle stratum of society is starting to erode and fear of social exclusion is intensifying. Increased mobility is a central achievement of European integration and should be viewed positively. We are now seeing a new generation of young people for whom it is quite normal to study three months in one place, work six months in another and then complete a 12-month postgraduate study course somewhere else completely. In tandem, they are building a network of personal relation - ships all over the European continent. For this 'Erasmus generation' or 'EasyJet generation' or, more accurately, the children of the first Erasmus generation, (also called 'new Europeans' by the European Commission), having a European identity is quite normal. This young generation is mobile, well-educated, multi-lingual and at home anywhere in Europe. However, in spite of the democratization of the education system and more opportunities to travel, they still constitute an elite. In this generation, there are still plenty of young people who have never left their own neighbourhood, let alone spent a holiday in another European country.

It should also be noted that increased mobility is not necessarily always voluntary or desired. Many young Europeans (from Spain and Poland, for example) travel to other EU Member States in pursuit of study and training opportunities or to increase their chances of finding work. Given a choice, many of them would prefer to stay at home. There are also many young bi-national European couples, whose professional and personal plans fail to work out. Some of these real-life European projects are derailed by the administrative, personal and professional hurdles that they face.

The credibility of the EU must be called into question if governments encourage the process of Europeanization at societal level while falling back on traditional nation-state thinking and reasoning as soon as a crisis looms. The Spanish and Greek economic crises resulted in a kind of North-South conflict within Europe itself, as exemplified by Germany and Greece. Arguments raged about issues such as the harmonization of working hours, minimum wages, retirement age and education systems.

This raises the question of why, if there is a call for harmonization in these particular areas, the same does not apply to other policy areas, such as the banking system. Why, for example, should there be integrated markets within the EU but not integrated pan-European social policies? More regulation is required in this respect, but the EU’s two key Member States, France and Germany, hold very different views on this matter. It is not enough to simply rescue the euro. In light of the development of global markets, the EU should at least focus on introducing minimum standards into all European countries. Europe is not an island. The future of Europe will also depend on what happens in neighbouring countries. The crisis in Southern Europe is predominantly economic and financial, while the crisis in the Southern Mediterranean is more about politics and security, although there are socio-economic problems as well. The Mediterranean region is, of course, extremely diverse. And yet, from 2011 onwards, protest movements sprang up almost simultaneously all around the region, from Tunisia and Egypt to Libya, Spain, Israel, Turkey and Greece. Even though the causes and specifics of the various countries' complaints might have been very different, the types of protests were very similar and included a number of common factors, such as the use of social media to organize the protests.

Since 2008/2009, trade relations between Southern Europe and the Southern Mediterranean region have been in decline as a result of the economic and financial crisis. The Southern European countries have been importing fewer goods from North Africa (including energy, consumer goods, textiles and food), which has only served to deepen the crisis in the Arab countries. The various political upheavals in the region have also disrupted production, which in turn has resulted in a drop in exports to the EU (with the exception of Israel and Turkey). The security situation in some North African countries has also led to a drop in tourism, especially in Tunisia and Egypt, and this has also fuelled the crisis. This has, however, had a positive effect on tourism in Southern Europe. Many holidaymakers who might have gone to Tunisia or Egypt opted to take their holidays in countries such as the Canary Islands, Spain, Greece and Cyprus instead. The crises in the two regions have been interlinked, but to the benefit of the Southern European economies. Southern European investments in North Africa have also declined significantly, partly due to the recession in Southern Europe and party due to the political upheavals in North Africa. Direct investment in Southern Europe by third parties has also declined, despite the drop in prices and wages.

When it comes to the aid given by the EU and EU Member States to Arab countries, we have seen the introduction of some new programmes and budget lines, but the total aid provided to the Southern Mediterranean region by Southern European EU Member States has fallen and some existing projects have had to be stopped or suspended for security reasons.

One thing is clear: the economic crisis has had a significant impact on migration. Many North African migrants in Southern Europe lost their jobs because of the recession (as happened in Spain) and some were forced to return to their home countries, which in turn increased the risk of potential conflict in North Africa. Another consequence is that the pull factor for migration has shifted, with many North African migrants now looking to move to countries in Northern Europe rather than Southern Europe.

"What has been largely overlooked in the heated debates over potential streams of refugees coming to Europe is that the majority of these refugees actually stay in their own region and flee to neighbouring countries (such as Lebanon and Jordan)."

However, the widely predicted mass migration of people towards Europe as a result of the political upheavals in the MENA region has failed to materialize. A fact that has been largely overlooked in the heated debates over potential streams of refugees coming to Europe is that the majority of these refugees actually stay in their own region and flee to neighbouring countries (such as Lebanon and Jordan).

Added to this is the fact that, before the Arab Spring in 2011, the Arab countries that were in transition consistently held up Spain, Portugal and Greece as role models, because these particular European countries had already successfully moved from authoritarian to democratic regimes, developed thriving economies and gained EU membership. Morocco had long viewed Spain as a positive example for its own development, but this has now changed in the wake of the recession and high levels of youth unemployment that are so prevalent in Southern Europe. Ultimately, the EU and its economic and foreign trade policies must take some of the blame for a socio-economic situation in the MENA region that has become one of the major triggers and push factors for migration into Europe. The vision of how the European Union might look in the future, both politically and economically, varies widely – not only between generations, political camps, regional and local actors, schools of thought and individuals, but also between Northern and Southern Member States. And yet all Member States are experiencing a general trend towards renationalization in response to the globalization, acceleration and growing complexity of world politics.

There are even some disagreements amongst Northern Europeans over the future of the EU. For example, the UK is against further integration, while Germany is in favour. Meanwhile, France would like to see a strong EU but is not keen to give up its own foreign and security policies. Southern Europeans are also experiencing some differences  of opinion. While Madrid is pursuing policies that are more nationally oriented, Catalonia is a separatist region which also happens to be very EU oriented. Italy under Berlusconi tended to be generally anti-EU and in favour of acting independently, and in Greece anti-EU sentiment has grown rather than declined on account of recent austerity measures.

Need for new immigration policies

The various crises within te EU do, however, also present some opportunities. They have prompted internal European discussions on a whole range of issues, from social injustice and redefining the social contract in Europe to vital reforms to the banking system, more equitable trading conditions, fairer wages (minimum wages, minimum standards for employees) and potential post-growth policies (such as the deglobalisation of supply chains). All these issues also serve to highlight the transnational nature of the challenges currently facing Europe.

In light of Europe’s ageing population and the lack of skilled employees and employees in general in certain sectors, and given that the population of the Southern Mediterranean region is generally much younger, there should be potential for a win-win situation on both sides of the Mediterranean. Europe needs to start thinking in broader, more global terms, especially when it comes to its neighbours to the East and South. The aim should always be to maintain the principle of open societies. Open societies are not a luxury, but an inherent part of Europe's own idenity and history.

Euope needs a new policy on immigration that reflects the realities of the 21st century. This means an EU immigration policy that is non-discriminatory and provides better protection for refugees and people in distress on the seas; a policy that is more humane towards refugees in general and is consistent with the requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. But the EU also needs to intensify its efforts to promote opportunities for legal immigration. At the end of the day, there needs to a common European narrative that goes beyond the basic principle of 'Unity in Diversity'. For a long time, it was the United States and Australia that were seen as examples of successful modern immigration states. Superficially at least, these two countries demonstrated that they were capable of assimilating immigrants – irrespective of their national, religious or ethnic backgrounds – into their melting pot. They then used superordinate patriotic symbols and universal references and discourses to create social communities in which every immigrant enjoys the same opportunities and rights. Although some ethnic groups of US citizens, such as African-Americans and Latin Americans, still face racism and discrimination despite multiculturalism, post-colonialism and the 'politics of identity and difference', there is no evidence to suggest that they feel any less a part of the America as a nation.

A legitimate criticism of this melting pot integration strategy is that the original intention was to promote integration through cultural assimilation, which is to say the mixing of different cultures and values to create a common, integrated national culture. The aim was to create a kind of homogenous national culture that would engender a strong communal spirit rather than the respectful coexistence and cooperation of the different traditions and religions of the immigrant groups.

Another alternative is a system in which cultures are not coalesced but where each group lives in their own separate culture. Examples of this include the 'salad bowl' concept or the 'multicultural mosaic' in Canada, which is based on the principle of promoting specific cultural practices and languages. The Canadian model of pluricultural coexistence firmly embraces the principles of equal opportunity and tolerance towards cultural differences. Ignoring the fact that there have been some conceptual and practical shortcomings in implementing the different systems, it would be fair to say that the USA, Australia and Canada have been successful over the centuries in accepting people with different religions, cultures and traditions from around the world and assimilating them into essentially democratic societies.

It could be argued that when it comes to education and culture, Australia and the United States have had education systems that for years now have been much better developed than their European equivalents, especially with regard to early childhood, primary and secondary school education. From a very young age, children are taught cultural tolerance and how to deal with cultural differences and cultural diversity on a social level, so that it becomes a natural part of everyday life. The concept of community is actively promoted and put into practice. German educational institutions still lag behind and often leave very young children and the school generation to fend for themselves when it comes to dealing with questions of identity and numerous new social, multicultural, pluricultural and intercultural issues. While the cultural and social coexistence of people with different migration backgrounds is no longer unusual, national identities, clichés and prejudices still exist and genuine cultural exchange can often be very limited, despite people's best intentions. We also lack an inclusive European transnational concept of society that might be able to provide a philosophical superstructure upon which to build the foundations of new educational concepts of a similar nature. The shortcomings that exist within Europe are ref lected in our dealings with the outside world and especially in our relations with the Mediterranean region. We should be thinking of this as a common space and not as a border. There is also a pressing need to rethink and redefine Euro-Mediterranean relations in terms of shared prosperity (trade policies), sustainability, mobility, good neighbourliness, relationships of equals, cooperation at a civil society level, a more balanced distribution of power between the EU and the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean countries and a new vision for a long-term EU strategy aimed at integration and inclusion of the Mediterranean region in general. If this fails to happen, the socio- economic situation in the Southern Mediterranean region is likely to get worse, with the potential for more social unrest and more migration into Europe.

Europe: Closed Doors or Open Arms? Culture and Migration / EUNIC, ... (Hg.). – Göttingen: Steidl , 2015. – 300 pp. – (Kulturreport, EUNIC-Jahrbuch)

Europe: Closed Doors or Open Arms? Culture and Migration / EUNIC, ... (Hg.). – Göttingen: Steidl , 2015. – 300 pp. – (Kulturreport, EUNIC-Jahrbuch)
Order of ifa Media

Isabel Schäfer is a Political Science graduate and Senior Research Fellow and lecturer at the Institute for Social Sciences of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, where she also heads up the Mediterranean Institute Berlin (MIB) project