Can Europe Make It?

We agree free trade creates prosperity...why not free migration?

Christoph Heuermann
17 February 2014

Schengen has brought Europe great successes. The freedom of movement within Europe, both of products and people, is one of the core principles of the European Union. While free trade is commonly regarded as a good thing for creating prosperity, free migration is not. One may ask why - open borders would help so much!

Although free trade, especially when it comes to the current negotiations with the US, is not fully accepted by both public and politicians, its economic argument makes it clear that both sides of the trade will profit. In the case of free migration different politicians and political parties all over Europe foment fears that only one side will profit - mostly the immigrant who is going to exploit social security systems.

Recent commentaries, for example by British Prime Minister David Cameron, follow in this direction. Of course, he emphasizes that everyone who is willing to work is welcome. This might be true, but as the emergence of new nationalist right-wing parties all over Europe shows, there is growing fear in the public against even this. In Greece, racist tendencies have led to an insecure situation for both African- and Asian-looking people, while the recent ballot of Switzerland has brought a narrow win for restricted immigration, thus fanning the flames of the debate.

Tolerance for foreigners however, is not something you can achieve by force. The unofficial plans of the European Commission - to forcefully embrace a culture of tolerance in Europe - are definitely the wrong way. Rather it should embrace all the benefits of open borders and free migration - and should start at its own borders, where almost daily, people die trying to cross them.

Actually, it is hard to understand why open borders are still so unpopular. Many different worldviews, if egalitarian, libertarian, utilitarian or even conservative embrace open borders with their moral arguments. For egalitarians, ending global poverty might be a goal worthy to achieve. Usually migration leads to higher incomes, which often flow back to the respective home countries. As research by the Center for Global Development suggests, 82% of Haitians escaped poverty by leaving their home country. According to their paper "Economics and Emigration: Trillion Dollar-Bills on the Sidewalk" (2011) open borders could more than double world-GDP in one go - clearly something utilitarians also would love.

From a libertarian natural rights perspective it is argued that the right to migrate cannot be legally restricted unless there is a high possibility of violating other natural rights. While immigrants are often scapegoated for crime, this is rarely true. Mostly, it is governments prohibiting them from working or moving, which sometimes lead to this. Even conservative arguments for open borders can be made: restricted migration undermines the rule of law and leads to corruption of law enforcement officers. Moreover, the often bureaucratic and arbitrary mechanisms for choosing which immigrants go or stay should concern every conservative.

From a more practical point of view, different arguments can be added. As free migration in Europe has brought us a long time of peace, open borders can repeat this at a global level. People can go where their ideas and skills can be most productively employed, and this will definitely lead to higher levels of innovation in the world. Most important of all, however, are the better lives for people able to cross borders they could not cross before. They are not only able to earn more money in less time, but they can overcome the crime, war and oppression that has beset them under the auspices of their home country governments.

For Europeans it is time to get used to this. The fear of the foreign, unfortunately even within Europe, is gratuitous. While several arguments against open borders can be brought up, none, in my opinion, stand up to scrutiny. I would like to appeal to every European: remember your luck to be born in relatively prosperous countries with the possibility to move anywhere you like to do the things you like within Europe. Why would you want to deny this to people not blessed by this luck? At least, give them their opportunity to pursue their happiness where they think they can find it. Fight for free migration! Open Borders now!

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