Migration crisis in 2017 – challenges for EU solidarity

Changes in the political scene may lead to the reformation of migration policy in EU countries, and that in turn may be another impulse towards weakening the community as a whole.

Kamil Matuszczyk
25 April 2017

The European Parliament on April 6,2017,allows Ukrainians with e-passports the right to visit most EU states for up to 90 days, for tourism or business reasons. Artur Widak/Press Association. All rights reserved.The 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaties of Rome is a perfect opportunity for a debate on the challenges the EU is currently facing. Analysis of public discourse as well as of actions undertaken by the EU institutions, and the results of public opinion surveys prove that migration has become one of the key areas of European Union policy.

The question even arises of whether the increasing influx of refugees over the past couple of years could contribute to the collapse or the breakup of the European Union[1]. It is certain that the uncontrolled influx of the migrants from countries outside the EU and the blows to solidarity among member countries have contributed to the debate concerning both EU  immigration policy and the very principles on which the European Union is based.

The year 2015 saw the beginning of mobilization of Union institutions as well as of member countries concerning attempts to solve the so-called refugee problem. The uncontrolled influx of foreigners from non-EU countries applying for international protection was soon referred to as the greatest migration crisis since World War II. Soon it was clear that different EU member countries were characterised not only by a different scale of the influx of immigrants, but primarily by differing attitudes to the solution of the refugee problem.

At the same time there appeared the additional challenge connected with the influx of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians into EU countries.[2] Both those processes caused a polarisation in attitudes. On the one hand, countries such as Sweden or Germany proclaimed themselves in favour of accepting refugees, which was in accordance with international obligations. On the other hand, the V4 countries were definitely for tightening their boundaries and for helping the refugees only in the places they actually were.

From the most recent data showing the numbers of applications for international protection, in spite of the decrease of the influx of immigrants, it is clear that the crisis is not yet over. Just in the fourth quarter of 2016, in one of 28 EU member countries, more than 220 thousand foreigners applied for international protection. The IOM data tells us that in the period between January 1 and April 2, 2017, 29,369 persons were recorded as arriving by sea. The deaths of hundreds of people attempting to enter EU countries every month remains an unresolved problem[3]. At the turn of the first and second quarter of 2017 we can expect a more intense influx of the immigrants.

It is not possible to make a precise evaluation of EU activities in response to the mass influx of immigrants after 2015. There is also no appropriate set of actions which should be taken by the EU institutions and member countries in the area of immigration policy. I would however like to call attention to 3 problems that might allow a better understanding of the present dilemmas connected with the refugee migrations.

1) One problem with the management of the flow of  immigrants was bound to make itself manifest sooner or later because of the changing demographic situation, both in the EU member countries and in the countries from which the immigrants are coming (mainly eastern Asia and Africa).

Both the ageing of their societies and their depopulation have become real problems for the governments of most European countries. From the Eurostat prognosis it follows that from 2013 – 2020 the population of persons of working age will decrease by 7.2 million. One particular problem of filling the gaps in the labour market in EU countries will emerge after 2020. In as many as 21 countries a decrease in the number of persons in the age bracket 15-64 is expected[4]. At the same time the reduction of infant mortality in Asia and Africa, which took place at the end of the twentieth and the beginning of the twenty first century has generated a significant increase in the migration potential from those regions. This creates the necessity for a resolute and effective migration policy. Only a few countries are determined to treat the immigrants and refugees as a potential solution of the problem of gaps in the labour market. Negative reactions of part of the countries to the influx of immigrants have shaken the idea of immigration as one of a panoply of actions belonging to demographic policy.[5]  

What has to be taken into consideration too, is the growing demographic pressure in African countries. Thus the lack of stabilization in that region may result in the future in a still larger influx of immigrants looking for political asylum, for employment and generally for better living conditions. Demographic changes on a global scale should be a crucial consideration in determining the asylum policy of particular countries.

2) In the attempts to “manage the immigrant crisis” several strategic mistakes have been made, which have shaken the functioning of migration policy in the European community.

Particular controversy was stirred up by a plan for the relocation of 120,000 refugees suggested in September 2015. Some months later (April/May 2016), the European Commission came up with the idea of fines for those countries which would not receive the relocated refugees. The fine for one unaccepted foreigner was supposed to be €250,000. The attempt to impose a quota of immigrants on member countries together with high fines contributed to further divisions inside the EU. Freely accepting the migrants would be a much better solution. Distribution of refugees calculated according to host country population or gross domestic product was a gross simplification and unworkable. Possibilities of integration of the migrants in particular countries should be taken into consideration. Equally important is the dialogue of all the 28 EU member countries concerning common solutions for asylum policy.

3) The solidarity of Poland with the Ukrainians is contributing to the increasing wealth of Ukrainian society.  

Russian aggression against Ukraine at the beginning of 2014 has resulted in growing migration from eastern and southern Ukraine. The deteriorating living conditions of the Ukrainians push them out and force them to look for employment in Poland and other countries. Ukrainians are the most important group of foreign workers in the Polish labour market. Measures undertaken by the Polish government promote the search for employment by our eastern neighbours. The possibility of finding work for pay much higher than in their own country enables them to transfer earnings to Ukraine. Research by Polish National Bank shows that two thirds of the Ukrainians employed in Poland send money to their families. Each month every fourth immigrant sends a sum equal to €120-240[6] (which amounts to several minimum monthly incomes in Ukraine).

Analogous should be the activities directed to other groups of immigrants, namely those applying for international protection and those who have already got that protection. Both sides benefit from economic integration. Polish workers will not perceive them as those burdening the Polish social welfare system. The immigrants, if employed legally, will support their relatives who stayed behind in the country of origin or in transit camps on the borders of the European Union.

The next months will show if migration will become the greatest “cause for divorce” of the European Union. The results of the elections in Austria and Netherlands give some hope, but we must wait for France and Germany. Changes in the political scene of countries with the greatest migration flows in the EU may lead to the reformation of migration policy, and that in turn may be another impulse towards weakening the community as a whole.

[1] Duszczyk M., Matuszczyk K.. The beginning of the end. Will the migrants cause the EU to collapse? Central and Eastern Europe Development Institute, Warsaw 2016

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/word/2015/may/13/ukraines-refugees-find-solace –in –poland-europes-most-homogenous-society

[3] https://www.iom.int/news/mediterranean-migrant-arrivals-reach-29369-deaths-663

[4] http://ec.europa.eu/economy finance/publications/european economy/2014/pdf/ee8 en.pdf

[5] http://www.economist.com/news/special-report/21699309-refugees-cannot-solve-europes-demographic-woes-not-so-fast

[6 https://www.nbp.pl/aktualnosci/wiadomosci_2016/20161212_obywatele_ukrainy_pracujacy_w_polsce_%E2%80%93_raport_z_badania.pdf

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