Migration As A Deeply Divisive Issue in Europe

Politics - September 7, 2022

Migration has become a highly divisive issue in Europe. By contrast, in countries like the United States or Canada, migration has served as the backbone for the economic development witnessed since these nations were established. European countries have a different history, of course, and one has to be cautious in making unwarranted comparisons.

Having myself been a migrant in the U.S. and Canada, I have seen firsthand the care put into assessing the potential fit of each new guest who arrives, from carefully measuring their human capital to thoroughly inspecting police records in all the countries one had previously lived or visited even for short study periods, to ensure no criminal background. Passport pages are also carefully inspected to detect whether the prospective resident may have accidently or incautiously visited any undesirable country, perhaps as a young tourist.

Europe, on the other hand, because of its geographical position, finds itself at a literal crossroads, with regions prone to waves of migration that can quickly escalate to crisis levels. Southern European countries, for example, provide a landing shore to migrants continuing on to other countries. Notably, these migration flows are typically illegal, with asylum seekers representing a modest fraction of the landing waves of migrants who, themselves, are often victims of criminal groups that profit from human trafficking.

Against this background, migration in Europe has become a contested issue on the grounds of legality, safety, and the actual contribution of new migrants to the society of the hosting country. The political debate has escalated between those who have pointed to ways of blocking human trafficking and eliminating incentives to pursue such outrageous activities, and instead resorting to legal ways of screening new migrants in compliance with applicable laws; and those who want to passively accommodate anyone who would land onshore. Yet, there has been little to no effort, among those who challenge the need for a more realistic and legally-minded approach, to come up with an alternative policy plan aimed not just to passively welcome but also to actively integrate migrants.

Furthermore, these challengers neglect or misrepresent what it takes not just to welcome new migrants but, especially, to integrate them in society. Italy is a case in point, with welcome centers running well at above capacity, migrants exploited and underpaid, and little or no effort being made to integrate them in society. Indeed, their integration in society has become a particularly relevant issue in several European countries.

Against this background, ECR has commissioned a survey on representative samples of the population of four different countries: France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. The survey examines how each country looks at the issue of migration and whether different age groups think of it in different ways. As it turns out, perceptions vary country to country, despite some overlap. Moreover, perceptions between young and older age groups, in particular, tend to differ systematically in their approach to this issue. In my next column, I’ll dig deeper into the survey results, highlighting some expected as well as surprising outcomes from the survey.