This is the third in a series of slightly longer posts drawing on some of my academic work. Following up on my last post, here I propose an alternative to current failed EU immigration policies.
As Europeans we stand before a caesura. Our unity, our democratic institutions, our belief in the inviolability of human dignity, and our Charter of Fundamental Rights – including the right to asylum – are under severe attack. Yet again, the Other is to blame.
In the United Kingdom, the Johnsons, the Farages, and others instigated the Brexit by stoking racist prejudices and a fear of open borders:
- 5.23 Million Immigrants are Moving to the UK!
- Turkey is Joining the EU! Turkey has a Population of 76 Million!
On the continent, the Le Pens, the Orbans, the Kickels, and countless others promulgate a similar toxic mix of xenophobia, nationalism, and closed borders.
- Sozialstaat statt Zuwanderung!
- Vous êtes les branches de l’arbre qui est la France!
- Mehr Mut für unser Wiener Blut!
Overlooked in these inflammatory slogans is the fact that we cannot survive without immigrant workers. If this was not clear before the COVID-19 pandemic, the effects of the coronavirus have blatantly exposed how great our dependency is.
On April 23rd, 2020, the European Commission released a report which examines the EU’s need for both skilled and unskilled key workers, such as ‘personal care workers, agricultural workers or cleaners and helpers.’ One key finding: ‘… EU migrants are essential in filling vital roles [and] keeping European economies functioning: On average 13% of key workers are immigrants in the EU.’
Admitting vulnerability, however, does not win elections, especially in times of perceived crisis. As political theorist Wendy Brown notes, theatricality, rhetoric, and ‘visual emblems of power and protection’ do. Walls ‘as theater pieces for national populations specifically unsettled by global forces threatening sovereignty and identity … function brilliantly as icons of potency and protection.’
In addressing migration, the EU has displayed a bungling ineptitude it its inability to obtrusively employ safety and fortification symbolism to placate a fearful populous on the one hand, while concurrently and subtlety following a calculated Realpolitik of reduced immigration bureaucracy on the other. This has led to our current disgraceful and contradictory situation of migrants languishing in inhumane refugee camps while we wring our hands and wonder how we can solve our acute labor shortage.
The German journalist and activist Arne Semsrott has proposed abolishing the first point of entry stipulation of the Dublin Regulation and allowing refuges to apply for asylum at consulates and embassies. In an extensive paper, the economists Margit Osterloh and Bruno Frey have suggested leveling a migration fee or tax. I believe that taken together these policies could offer a viable way out of our current migration quagmire.
In tandem, they could assuage the anxieties of wary EU citizens while concurrently upholding our mandate to protect humans rights and providing a pool of needed workers. By effectively ending the financial incentive and opportunity for human smuggling, they could serve as a bulwark against another wave of mass immigration and end the unpleasant news footage of refugee camps and migrants in rubber rafts which for many is a constant reminder that Fortress Europe is under attack.
With a well-crafted public relations campaign, the EU could promote this strategy as the cornerstone of a new security policy – a strong yet porous wall, permeable only on conditions we define and only by those who financially contribute – while simultaneously allowing more migration and effective integration. I believe this tactic could meet with broad acceptance and is one we should pursue.