The discussion about Europe’s borders is gathering steam again. France and Germany recently fielded the possibility of interrupting the Schengen agreement in order to protect their national borders, just in case the external frontiers are not safe enough. In Greece, right-wing parties have gained a massive number of votes by taking a tough stance on immigration. Like Italy, Spain, and other “frontier” states, the Hellenes have to deal with a high inflow of refugees, especially from Africa. The questions is: How wide should Europe’s gates be open?
Europe should pursue a policy of cherry picking – accepting immigrants that are well-off and well-educated – in order to counter ethnocentrism. Receiving immigrants not only because they need asylum but also because they contribute to society would change the perception of immigrants. Additionally, this would benefit the economy in two ways: by increasing both the labor supply and the tax revenue.
Immigration to Europe increased from the 1980s onward, mainly due to the influx of people from developing countries who sought to escape war, oppression, or poverty. Consequently, Europe’s immigrants predominantly fall into two classes: refugees and political exiles. Accepting these asylum seekers is a noble approach that ought to be continued. However, it has also created the discriminatory perception that immigrants are stupid and lazy – and therefore a burden to society. This couldn’t be more wrong. If anything, Europe needs immigrants.
In the past twenty years, the number, size, and influence of right-wing parties all over Europe have been increasing. Their success as democratic parties is testimony to the fact that the electorate has grown increasingly antipathetic towards immigrants.
In 2005, major civil unrest broke out in France when French Muslim youths took to the streets, burning vehicles, looting schools and attacking police officers. However, this is only half the story. Right-wing radical violence has also spread across Europe. The worst example is the bombing and shooting of 77 unarmed civilians carried out by the far-right militant Anders Breivik on July 22, 2011 in Norway. More than ever, there is a need for innovative solutions to tackle the problem.
The European population is growing increasingly old, and our economies are suffering as a result. The working-age population in Europe will probably decrease by 16 percent by 2050, while the elderly population will increase by 77 percent over the same period. This is simply not sustainable.
In order to maintain the European welfare state there is a need for two initiatives. First, we must increase the labor supply in the welfare sectors. Second, in order to pay for this, the tax revenue must be raised by taxing the incomes of well-paid citizens. But because of the European demographic development there is a lack of both. Consequently, Europe would benefit from the influx of well-educated and well-off people, who would like to move to Europe to thrive and contribute to society.
Critics say that such policies are unacceptable because they give preferential treatment to specific groups. There is no sound counterargument to this besides pragmatism. Pursuing a policy of cherry picking is highly controversial. All humans should preferably be treated equal. Even though this should definitely be the idealistic long-term goal, nothing could be further from the real world.
If you can’t let everybody in, should you let somebody in? The answer is a resounding yes. Europe should accept and help refugees (inverse cherry picking) as well as highly skilled immigrants (the controversial cherry picking).
If Europe were to open its borders to knowledgeable and well-paid immigrants, ethnocentric arguments about foreigners being a burden to society would vanish. Europe’s right-wing parties would be deprived of their source of mobilization. Let’s therefore welcome these types of immigrants to settle in Europe – so that immigration can be seen as an asset, not a burden.