GENEVAThe long-run importance of a war with Iraq may lie in its impact on the
biggest challenge facing Europe: migration and demographics. Will war widen the
rift between Europe and its past and prospective main sources of migrants? Will
it further delay rational consideration of the interrelated issues of asylum and
migration and adoption of a common EU policy? Or will it force Europe to start
to seriously consider new policies?
On current trends population will fall by
over 15 percent by 2050 and by 50 percent in 100 years. Only Albania now has a
fertility rate sufficient to sustain its population naturally. The aging as well
as shrinking population will inevitably create huge demand for migrant labor.
The issue Europe must face is how that
should be controlled or channeled. War inevitably will increase tensions between
existing Muslim communities and those among whom they are settled. Will that
mean more draconian measures against illegal migration, or recognition that
migration will happen anyway due to the demographic imbalance across the
Mediterranean? In any event, it is critical to relations with Muslim neighbors
who should be the main providers of new blood and muscle.
Explicit discussion of these issues would
help Europe explain its reluctance to join an American expedition to Iraq. But
even before Iraq moved to center stage, search for a viable policy was paralyzed
by two factors - the post-Sept. 11 security concerns focused on Muslim
communities, and the asylum seekers, many of them Muslims, whose exploitation
has determined elections from Austria to Australia.
The asylum system, designed to protect
the persecuted, has been abused by tens of thousands of economic migrants. But
however harsh the measures now employed to prevent abuse, there is no escape
from the fact of demand for labor in Europe, and of a supply of adventurous
young people from outside willing to take chances to better themselves. Europe
can no more stop the flow from the south than can the United States.
But it has yet to face that fact, or face
its coming demographic need for migrants, whether permanent settlers or contract
workers. The longer post-Sept. 11 developments impact its relations with the
Muslim world the more important a policy becomes – and the more difficult.
Iraq has shown two fissures. A secular
Europe which wants to at least partially integrate its migrants needs to be wary
not to stir up religious emotion.
Second, there is a split between the EU
candidates and most of the rest. This partly derives from their relative lack of
non-European migrants. Their demographic needs are even greater but if they open
up to migration, they may look for Slavs from further east.
Formal policies on migration similar to
those of traditional migrant-importing countries would help Europe deal with the
asylum-seeker issue, and provide a basis for pro-active policies to integrate
newcomers. But Europe has yet to acknowledge its needs, let alone face the issue
of determining immigration qualifications.
War may awaken Europe to its demographic
peril, or push its head deeper into the sand.