Tue, Jun 26, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Without end to poverty and conflict, pressure on West’s borders will not subside

Europe’s leaders have been turning on Merkel and her open attitude to migration — but neither resistance to immigration nor its causes are likely to change

By John Lloyd  /  Reuters

Illustration: Yusha

It is an increasingly hard world for those seeking a better life in richer countries. Immigrants are not welcome in most countries, even where demographic trends reflect the need to expand the labor force to levels able to sustain and support aging populations.

While both Europe and the US will have to face the need for younger workers in the coming decades, citizens in wealthy nations, no matter what their ethnic backgrounds, dislike mass immigration and punish politicians who allow it. In Europe especially, immigration is the main driving force for nationalism, for the rise of populist parties and for the decline of the center left.

There are exceptions. Spain, which has had relatively low immigration from North Africa, accepted more than 600 migrants from a stranded rescue vessel the Aquarius, which Italy and Malta had turned away. Ireland has been notably more sympathetic than most to the plight of Syrian refugees — although substantial minorities there worry about strains on health and welfare systems.

The devolved administration of Scotland — concerned about the country’s aging population and shrinking work force — has for some years proclaimed itself more welcoming to immigrants than the UK government in London.

However, the movement remains towards exclusion. In Germany, Europe’s leading economy and most powerful nation, German Chancellor Angela Merkel differs sharply with Minister of the Interior Horst Seehofer on the latter’s call to block migrants already registered other EU countries from entering Germany.

Seehofer is chairman of the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), which has been in a permanent coalition with Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union. The CSU has given her until early next month to come up with a compromise, which most Germans presently believe she will fail to do.

Such a failure would endanger her coalition government, but the CSU is hard-pressed by the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany ahead of October state elections in Bavaria and cannot afford to back away from its threat to unilaterally close German borders.

Merkel hopes to find an EU-wide agreement. An “informal” meeting of several leaders — including those from Austria, France, Germany and Italy, chaired by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker — took place on Sunday to seek some form of agreement before the monthly European Council on Thursday and Friday — a sign that the issue now dominates the politics of all of them.

Merkel’s closest EU ally, French President Emmanuel Macron, has himself hardened his stance on migrants, telling Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte that those requesting asylum should be handled by centers established outside of Europe.

Macron framed his comments in humanitarian language, saying that it is not right for those with no chance of getting asylum in Europe to die on the Mediterranean or live in “unworthy” conditions, but his proposal would mean that France follows Italy in banning entry to migrant ships.

However, at the same time, France criticized Italy’s decision to refuse permission for the Aquarius to dock — and accepted some of the migrants on board.

Insofar as there is European agreement on immigration, it is coming from the anti-immigration wing of the union. Earlier this week, a meeting between Seehofer and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz produced an agreement to create an “axis,” not so much, as Kurz put it, “of the willing,” but of those states — including Germany, Italy and Austria —unwilling to accept more migrants.

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