Update/Correction: A reports from The Independent on Thurs., Nov. 5, which we block quoted in this space, suggested that the EU Commission report projected that “another 3 million refugees and migrants will arrive in Europe in 2016.” But a closer read obtained on Monday via The Times and confirmed by inspection of the underlying document, indicates that this was the figure for the period 2015-7 as a whole. The increase expected in 2016 is still dramatic, and we believe our basic analysis as to its expected effect on European politics holds. But TAI regrets the error, and this post has been revised to reflect the new data.
European refugee and migrant claims will soar by 50% next year, according to new EU estimates. The AFP reports:
The Commission, the executive arm of the 28-nation European Union, said it expected one million migrant arrivals in 2015, soaring to 1.5 million in 2016 then decreasing to half a million in 2017.
If this is true, Europe will explode. This is 150% of the 2015 inflow, and the 2015 yearly rate of about a million was an over three-fold increase from the 282,000 that came in 2014. The current rate has already led to the rise of the far right, serious stresses on national and local governments, and the partial breakdown of the Schengen system. So far, many of these stresses have been manageable and perhaps reversible—but if things spike up even further next year, that will all change. Strong polls for the far right will likely become an election (or elections) in which a party like the Sweden Democrats or Front National takes office; Schengen hiccups could become an outright collapse of the system; and both inter- and intra-national tensions will skyrocket.
The majority of immigrants are streaming to Germany and Sweden, with the Germans expecting to accept this year 800,000 newcomers or more into a nation of 80 million. As we have noted before, that’s about the same rate as the U.S. took in during the “Great Wave” of immigration, our historic peak, in 1880-1924. That wave eventually resulted in a popular backlash in the U.S. that shut down immigration almost completely for two generations. If Europe, which is far less culturally, legally, economically, and popularly prepared to take in immigrants than the United States was then, is hit by a rate significantly higher that, expect politics as the Continent knows them to change dramatically.
What’s perhaps most worrying is that the Continent’s leaders by and large still seem to be in a bubble on the issue. On November 3, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven simultaneously asked the rest of Europe for help redistributing immigrants and accused Eastern European leaders of lacking “European values” and being bigoted against Muslims for not wanting to accept a redistributed share. But as Lithuania’s Deputy Chancellor has pointed out, the immigrants don’t want to be redistributed: No refugees in Italy or Greece would accept Lithuanian offers of resettlement because they all wanted to go to Sweden. Given this reality, it will impossible to offer the refugees both fully integrated citizenship status, to maintain the Schengen system, and and to enact redistribution at the same time. Fully integrated European citizens have the right to travel and resettle where they like within the Schengen zone, so either redistribution will be an empty letter, or the migrants will be treated as second class citizens, with the measures required to enforce this (i.e. a border patrol) likely in part to kill the Schengen agreement.
As for the countries that don’t share Lithuania’s helpful attitude, it’s hard to believe that more refugees will have a salutary, calming effect on their politics, no matter how much Mr. Löfven might tut. As Andrew Stuttaford has dryly observed, it’s rich for Sweden, which “has, in some senses, acted as a magnet for immigration into the EU [… to ask] other countries to absorb some of those it has attracted.” If south-eastern Europe sees a tripling of refugees transiting through next year, plus a substantial increase in redistribution, Orbanism will spread like wildfire.
And Löfven isn’t the only one intent on pressing ahead with pro-refugee policies, regardless of these consequences. Angela Merkel has waged war on her own coalition to prevent “transit zones” from being set up to screen newcomers at the border. Instead, in a victory for the Chancellor’s “refugees welcome” policy, migrants will be interviewed near the border and refugees will be rerouted to reception centers further inland. There are plans to detain and deport economic migrants, but since, as we’ve noted before, this is a hybrid refugee-migrant crisis (particularly when it comes to immigrants from Africa), this will likely prove quite tricky in practice.
Perhaps the most troubling signal from European leaders came in the form of economic projections, given in the same EU report that accompanied the revised estimate of three million arrivals in 2016:
In its autumn economic forecast released Thursday, the European Commission predicted the influx of migrants would help boost the bloc’s gross domestic product by 0.2-0.3 percent by 2020.[..]
“I think you have to say we are not quite sure about the figures,” Moscovici said. “So we can’t say the influx of the refugees is likely to have a negative impact or some kind of kicking people out of the labor market.”
He said the positive economic impact was dependent on “public policy that gives incentives and helps people and integrates them,” while the forecast also said growth depended on the skill sets of the new arrivals.
In other words, if we just spend a whole bunch on welfare for the newcomers, presto, we’ll have an economic uptick in a few years. This prediction likely buys into rosy notions about the newcomers education that, as TAI Editor Adam Garfinkle has pointed out, completely ignores the reality of education in the Middle East and Africa. It also misses out on Europe’s economic realities—which is to say, this is a Continent already beset with a stagnant economy and high levels of structural unemployment. Because Europe is badly under-prepared for the digital age economy, these problems are likely to grow, not shrink.
But most of all, the thinking from Brussels ignores European political realities. Refugees are coming without popular support and not much in the way of legal sanction. Europe is poorly set up to receive them, culturally as much as economically, and European citizens can see that the line of people in Africa as well as the Middle East who would like to get into Europe stretches as far as the eye can see. If Europe’s leaders do not present their constituents with a credible plan to address popular concerns, things are going to get very, very ugly in 2016.