Keeping up appearances on migration

Migrant routes to Europe
The European Commission's plan to shower money on eight host countries in the Middle East and Africa will not stop the influx of refugees and migrants (source: macpixxel for GIS)

The focus in the refugee and migrant crisis is shifting. The European Union’s deal with Turkey is holding – just barely – as each side accuses the other of bad faith.

Meanwhile, on top of the eastern flow of refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, a wave of migrants from Africa is once again starting to sweep up from the south.

To Europe’s political class, both in Brussels and the national capitals, this is a problem that can be solved with money – lots of money. Provided free of charge by Mario Draghi, who has already shown a talent for spinning straw into gold.

In early June, the European Commission unveiled a revamped “Migration Partnership” with Ethiopia, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Tunisia. This plan to keep migrants from Europe by holding them in host countries (which will receive cash and perhaps limited travel privileges in return) is essentially the Turkish approach writ large.

These eight countries will receive 8 billion euros in direct payments from the EU budget through 2020, while an “external investment fund” with seed money from Brussels and the national governments is supposed to raise another 62 billion euros. In practice, the latter target will only be possible with tacit support from the European Central Bank.

This plan to keep migrants from Europe is essentially the Turkish approach writ large


At the same time, the program acknowledges Europe’s growing labor shortage, which could leave unfilled 750,000 positions in information technology and 1 million in health care, according to EU forecasts. In response, the European Commission proposes issuing so-called blue cards to admit skilled immigrants from Africa and the Middle East.

There is a sad and cynical irony in this scheme. No investment program based on keeping people in a country against their will can possibly succeed. The only hope is that some of the skilled specialists allowed into Europe will eventually return to build the economies of their home countries.

Even as a stopgap, this approach is not going to work. Experience shows that a large part of the funds provided will not be used productively; their main effect will be to further debauch the euro, to the detriment of savers and especially pension funds. And since conditions in the host countries will not markedly improve, the migrants will keep arriving on Europe’s shores, at best with a delay of several months.

None of this solves the migration crisis, which Europe still has a duty to address. All such policies accomplish is to give the appearance of doing something. Meanwhile, their unintended consequences pile up: more misery for migrants, more dithering by policymakers, more weakening of the euro and ordinary people’s savings.

The consequences for Europe’s future are daunting. In a few years or decades, the continent may be dominated by two groups difficult to integrate into the economy – a mass of immigrants and increasingly impoverished retired people. That is a recipe for inflation and social unrest.

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