On 13 December 2018, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) adopted an own-initiative opinion on the costs of non-immigration and non-integration. It focuses on the impact of immigration and of migrants’ integration on EU society in terms of practical life.
A flourishing EU society without (mainly safe, orderly, EU-supported labour) immigration is unthinkable. Available data suggest that a lack of migrants would negatively affect labour force and population growth and contribute to further rises in racism and xenophobia, the EESC says in the opinion.
“Let’s change the EU narrative on migration with real arguments,” says Pavel Trantina, rapporteur for the opinion. “A number of politicians have abused the topic of migration, but from the very beginning the Committee has declared the need to go back to a rational discussion – and action.” He maintains that myths can be best debunked by using fact-based knowledge.
The cost of non-immigration
The European debate often focuses on the disadvantages brought about by immigration, but the opposite scenario is rarely on the agenda.
The main issue at stake is the ageing EU population. In 2060, for every elderly person there will be two people of working age, whereas today there are four. This presents critical risks in terms of maintaining the European social model. And while immigration is not the ultimate solution for tackling the consequences of demographic ageing in Europe, it can be a remedy to shortages of labour in general and specific skills in particular.
According to the opinion, a non-immigration scenario in Europe would mean that:
– Member States’ economies would suffer substantially – job markets would come under possibly irreconcilable strain, whole industries would go bust, agricultural production would drop, and construction would not be able to keep up with demand;
– pension systems might become unsustainable, the health and care sector could collapse, depopulation of certain areas would proceed at a swift pace – in effect social cohesion would be undermined;
– racism and xenophobia would flourish even more than at present.
The EESC recognises that the skills gap, as much as the pension gap, currently faced by Europe, could be partly addressed by labour migration.
“Migrants can help bridge this gap but only once we recognise their skills and qualifications. Here the EU and Member States have still a big job to complete,” Mr Trantina warns. Recent figures show that the European economy loses more than 5% of productivity each year due to the skills mismatch.
At the same time, labour market shortages in the healthcare sector are a “ticking time bomb” in many Member States. Southern European care systems, in particular, rely heavily on migrant live-in care workers. This sector will grow as the European population ages.
Rural, mountain and island areas are becoming depopulated. In some areas of the EU, for instance in Ireland and in Brandenburg, Germany, this is being overcome by settling migrants.
The cost of non-integration
Migration cannot work well if migrants are not properly integrated in the host society. In its opinion, the EESC identifies the following risks and costs in the event of a “migrant non-integration” scenario:
– migrants’ exclusion from formal labour (and surge in undeclared work);
– migrants’ inability to fully realise their potential (often transferred to subsequent generations);
– lack of identification with and acceptance of the values and norms of the host country;
– aggravation of socio-cultural differences between the migrant and host communities;
– increased xenophobia and mutual distrust;
– spatial segregation leading all the way to ghettoisation;
– increase in hate speech and hate crimes;
– decline in law enforcement and possible increase in crime rates, particularly in socially excluded areas;
– potential radicalisation and increased support for extreme ideologies (by both migrant communities and the host society).
The EESC considers migrant integration to be “closely interlinked with a plethora of policies related to protection in the workplace, housing, healthcare, education, women’s rights, equality and non-discrimination – to name but a few”.
How to avoid these two scenarios
The EESC argues that “investment in migrant integration is the best insurance policy against potential future costs, problems and tensions”, and calls on Member States to make this a priority, recommending community-based and tailor-made targeted support, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. The EESC emphasises Member States’ responsibility to improve the regular channels of entry to Europe and points out that safe and legal routes may alleviate the pressure on the EU asylum system.
Member States should cooperate in the exchange of best practices for the implementation of a migration and integration system that works efficiently and benefits us all. For instance, in Sweden, companies that recruit labour immigrants grow faster than comparable companies. Annually, non-EU/EEA labour immigrants contribute over EUR 1 000 million to Swedish GDP and over EUR 400 million in tax revenues.
“It is necessary to face social debate with reasons and data against the fake news and stereotypes about migration”, adds José Antonio Moreno Díaz, co-rapporteur for the opinion. “Let’s show EU societies what immigrants are adding now and expecting to add in the near future to our societies. This is a collective and common task where all civil society sectors must be involved.”
Against the background of the adoption of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration in Marrakech, Morocco, the EESC’s call on Member States to give back to migration its importance and meaning is becoming even more pertinent . Extremist forces should not be allowed to turn the phenomenon of migration into a problem: migration is a resource, and it is up to Member States to use it accordingly.