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Has Europe Turned the Corner on Immigration?

In his book, the Origins of Political Order, the political scientist Francis Fukuyama grapples with the issue of building quality institutions, which he coins as ‘getting to Denmark’ in the sense that ‘For people in developing countries, ’Denmark’ is a mythical place that is known to have good political and economic institutions: it is stable, democratic, peaceful, prosperous, inclusive, and has extremely low levels of political corruption’.

Fukuyama traces the quality of Denmark’s socio-economic pillars to the Protestant Reformation. I am not sure he is right here, but that is a debate for another day. In general though, the model of the small, advanced economies (not just Denmark but also the other Nordics and smaller leading nations from Singapore to Ireland to the Netherlands) is the exemplar for policy making internationally, as David Skilling and I continue to stress.

Now however, there is trouble in the ‘Denmarks’.

Whilst the Nordic economies are famous for their socio-economic balance they are increasingly known for their struggles in integrating immigrants. Against a background of violence and gang led crime, Sweden’s prime minister has referred to a period of ‘political naivety and cluelessness’ and has even sought to involve the military in curbing violent crime.

Small, advanced economies

In this context the five Nordic countries (Finland, Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Sweden) have signed an agreement to collaborate more closely in deporting illegal immigrants (for example in pooling deportation flights). In the background, individual Nordic countries have been tightening their policies on immigration – towards the relatively tougher Danish approach.

Though this is a specific measure, it highlights a turning point in the Nordic countries’ tolerance and approach to illegal immigration, and potentially migration on a larger scale. As harbingers of socio-political change, this is potentially an important development on the European stage in that it signals progressive European countries have reached a limit in terms of the scale and nature of migration they are willing to permit.

If this is the case it may have several implications.

One is that in the context of very tight labour markets, European countries will try to be more selective in the immigrants they welcome. In Ireland for example, central bank data shows that Indian women are one of the best paid migrant cohorts in the labour market (they work in the IT sector), while even Hungary whose illiberal government rails against immigrants, needs to take in half a million migrants over the next two years. Broadly, it is worth emphasising the point that employment is considered the best means to integrate new arrivals in societies.

We may also see some European countries make labour markets more flexible, notably finding ways to involve older people in labour markets (in Denmark the retirement age is 67 and from 2030 will increase by one year every five years, depending on life expectancy), and it is also possible we see the EC study how Japan manages its economy with few immigrants.

Peak Denmark

Politically, the notion that we are at ‘peak Denmark’ may have at least three interesting effects.

In many European countries, immigration is the leading, and most contested political issue, with the tone set by ugly rhetoric from the far-right. Suella Bravermann’s offensive courting of controversy – from promising to send illegal immigrants to Rwanda to describing homelessness as a life-style choice – is an example. The fact that governments are reacting more forcibly to illegal immigration may well move the debate back towards the political centre and arguably, make it more policy focused.

At the same time, I expect that we will see many European politicians focus on the notion of European values, and what this means in terms of the responsibilities they place on both Europeans and immigrants. Robert Habeck’s impressive speech on this theme is such an example, and I believe that we will hear more voices from the political centre echo his words.

The other interesting trend, that is consistent with progressives reaching the limit of their patience with immigration is the rise of new ‘mongrel’ political parties. I say mongrel in the sense that they (Sahra Wagenknecht’s Alliance for Justice and Reason in Germany and Pieter Omtzigt’s New Social Contract party in the Netherlands) mix left wing economic policies with tough stances on migration and ‘values’.

It points to a major turning point in policy and politics in Europe, with serious implications for the developing world.

Source: Forbes



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