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Immigration and the Idea of Europe

Navel-gazing can sometimes be a good thing. But, as the self-help books and articles advocate, looking at one’s achievements to date to boost one’s morale is always a good step forward before attempting to improve the mind and spirit.

Europe’s summit opens on Thursday. With immigration the central point on the agenda it’s going to be a big one.

So what is the central achievement that won the EU the Nobel Peace Prize six years ago? It’s the abolition of war among EU countries. Today Europe is the most peaceful part of the world with the highest human rights standards of anywhere. Europe used to be the most war-stricken place on earth. Between 1648 and 1789 Europe was the site of 48 wars. The British army was at war in some part of the world throughout the entire nineteenth century. The twentieth century saw two world wars, centered in Europe.

The united Europe of the present day, James Sheehan has written, came into being in the wake of World War 2 because “it was no longer full of national enthusiasm and patriotic passion but of widespread commitment to escape the destructive antagonisms of the past”.

Now for the hard part, when self-improvement must take a big step forward. It has to be at this summit. The slow slide back towards ultra-nationalism in Hungary, Poland and, most important, the UK, must be halted. Europe paid enormous sums of money militarily and financially to liberate the first two countries from communist government.

Today Europe still pours in money. Unless they shake up their political institutions back in a democratic direction their subsidies must be cut off. There’ll be a backlash, but the EU must ride it out knowing that these two countries have nowhere else to go.

As for Brexit, leaving the EU is drawing on a different kind of nationalism. Democracy and human rights observance are not threatened. But common sense is. Britain, after its leading role in the two World Wars, needs more than most to support the idea of European unity.  It’s common sense that a 52% victory in a referendum be not allowed to change the whole course of history. Prime Minister Theresa May in an interview earlier in the year was asked if the referendum were held again today how she would vote. She replied that she didn’t know. Yet it’s she who is leading the charge to exit, pursuing the hardest line of all the possibilities. This was not a very intelligent answer.

The nationalism that precipitated the referendum was first and foremost fired by excessive immigration. I wrote about the dangers of this back in 1974 in an Encounter magazine article, “The New Proletariat”. The immigration-control lobby was then dominated by conservatives. I was one of the few liberal voices.

Over the last 40 years immigration has increased both within the EU and from Africa. Policies being advocated today for Europe to really help African sending countries develop faster and to absorb their own labour were ignored in the 1970s.

So can Britain get itself out of the immigration imbroglio and stay in the EU? It can- by negotiating an agreement with the EU that it’s allowed to impose restrictions on the supposedly sacred tenant of the free-movement of labour within the EU. Personally I believe free-movement lifts all boats, but it can come later, not now, at least in the UK’s case.

As for the Syrian and African migration that has filled our television screens the last two years it is overstated. The massive Syrian flow was a panic attack. Now it has dramatically subsided. There is no reason to think there will be another such great influx from the eastern Mediterranean countries.

The African migration comes and goes. It was reported on 40 years ago, especially about the migrants from the French-speaking countries who went to France and illegally worked to clean the city streets and to do the night shifts and dirty work in the car factories. The French government largely turned a blind eye since the industrialists and city mayors pushed for that. It seems with all the awful boat stories from the Mediterranean that the problem has suddenly multiplied ten or twenty-fold. It hasn’t.

Because of the horrors of the Syrian war and the sea crossings, the TV cameras came down to the Mediterranean. Then they stayed on the lookout for new events. They filmed the crossings of Africans whose numbers seemed to be suddenly magnified. This is not to say there hasn’t been some increase in numbers, especially since the European economy started to bounce back.

Given the right political leadership the electorate can be guided into tolerance. Look at Spain and Portugal where racism barely exists and there are no nationalist political parties. Good leadership from left and right and the Church have achieved that.

It’s time to save the idea of Europe. That’s what this summit has to do.

Copyright: Jonathan Power.

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