Foreign Policy Blogs


Indirectly we’ve talked about immigration repeatedly on this blog. I commented on the right-wing, anti-Islam reaction in a number of European states, it again played a role in my post on Tunisia and the tepid lack of European support for its democratization. Finally, as my co-blogger pointed out the other day: the overall immigration population [dilemma] begs to be tackled from Brussels.

To provide some context for this, the irony of the European immigration situation lies with the fact that Europe actually is suffering from a birth rate crisis. On average the European Union member states’ birth rates lie below the 2.1 children per woman rate considered necessary to  steady the current population size. In fact, no single EU member state is above said rate even the two statistical leaders Ireland and France are stuck at a rate of around 2. The limited population growth that takes place is based on people dying later and immigration. In other words, considering the increasing part of its population going into retirement and low birth rates the EU is in need of immigration. Keep this in mind when contemplating the different European policies.

Technically speaking asylum quota are not regulated on the EU-level but are to be tackled by the member states. Yet, the so-called Dublin regulation has played an important part in allowing most non-Mediterranean member states to avoid dealing with ‘illegal immigration’ (asylum seekers). Under these rules the EU member state where an asylum seeker first touches ground (or in whose waters he/she is found) is responsible for him/her under the Geneva Convention. This de facto means that Spain, Italy and Greece to varying degrees and at different points in time have become the focal points of the immigration debate.  The European Court of Human Rights recently ruled that due to the horrible conditions of asylum seekers in Greece, it is now considered a violation of human rights to send these people to Greece. It remains to be seen what this decision will do to change the overall system, my personal fear is that it will not do much good except provide for some cosmetic adaptations.

There is a second component to this system of the EU closing itself off to immigration. Apart from the Northern states basically having obliged a few Southern states to deal with it, there is also a system of (national and EU) bilateral treaties in place with countries such as Turkey, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco even as far South as Mauritania. These countries are being asked or paid to either take asylum seekers back when they are being picked up in the Mediterranean (sometimes even when they were already in, say, Italian waters) or to prevent them from ever debarking towards Europe. The EU thus works with and supports dictatorial and authoritarian regimes who mistreat their own citizens and have even less regard for the human rights of sub-Saharan Africans trying to pass through them.

Basically, the EU immigration system is thus build on a number of preventive walls protecting member states of people reaching Europe. It is the northern member states passing the buck to the southern states (who are poorer, smaller and have less influence over Council decision-making) and it is the EU as a whole leaving the (mostly) Maghreb states to do their dirty work for them. All this before the background of a Europe in dire need of immigration to sustain its economic prowess and future growth.

Sometimes politics just doesn’t make sense I guess.