SWITZERLAND HIGHLIGHTS EUROPE’S HUGE IMMIGRATION PROBLEM
This space has already touched on Switzerland’s anti-immigrant referendum vote,
pointing out how it holds up a mirror to Europe’s more general immigration problem. An
otherwise insignificant incident in the small Swiss city of Nyon shows how ugly that image is.
Last week, an elderly woman, waiting on a typically Swiss, disciplined line for a bus, stepped
out of her place specifically to berate an immigrant beggar. “We voted yes,” she shouted,
referring to the referendum. “Now go home!” All who are familiar with Europe’s attitudes
toward newcomers knows that such an outburst could have happened anywhere from
Scandinavia to Sicily. It announces that Europe cannot rely on immigration to relive the strains
of its aging demographics.
As the new book, Thirty Tomorrows, makes clear, this anti-immigrant feeling is a great
economic loss to Europe. Because low birth rates there, in the developed the world generally,
will starve these economies for qualified, working-age people even as increasing longevity
swells the ranks of dependent retirees, these countries, to protect their prosperity, will need to
supplement their producing, tax-paying, pension-contributing populations. Immigration offers
one answer to this need. Of course, even in the best of circumstances, immigration has limits.
Flows sufficient to meet the demographic shortfall will threaten enough social tension to erase
the otherwise favorable economic impact. The incident in Nyon, along with many other such
anecdotes from across Europe, tells just how close Europe already is to that point of the negative
economic returns it can ill afford.
Europe’s immigration problem is much more intense than America’s. German officials
have gone on record saying that their country is “not an immigrant nation.” Across the continent
in Ireland, one official not too long ago, flatly stated that additional immigrant flows would cause
“one million and one” problems. Surveys in the United Kingdom indicate that three-quarters
of the population want to send unemployed foreigners home, forcibly, while similar polls on the
continent suggest that negative feelings there are, if anything, more intense. Anti-immigrant,
political parties have gained ground in Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, and, of course,
Switzerland, while Italy has passed laws to make it easier to expel foreign residents, including
even other European Union (EU) citizens. France’s Ministry of Identity and Immigration has
proposed strict quotas and has gone so far as to insist on DNA testing for immigrant family
Perhaps even more damaging, vigilantism has increased as well. Reports have emerged
from Italy of neo-Nazi groups attacking foreign shopkeepers, shouting “get out bastard
foreigners,” even in Rome’s trendy Rigneto district. Anti-Muslim websites have proliferated,
one of which, Gates of Vienna, sells a cap with motto, in the language of one’s choice,
“Islamophobe and Proud of It.” A prominent German feminist, Alice Schwarzer, has concluded
that immigrant Islamic influences “probably and unfortunately can no longer be stopped with
only democratic means.”
The tension may have already reached the point where it is driving people out.
Particularly difficult for Europe’s labor needs, the emigration involves not untrained immigrants
going home but rather productive middle-class people seeking to avoid the bad feeling and the
growing potential for violence. Some 52 percent of German university students report a desire
to leave the country. The Netherlands tracks a net outflow of the educated, some of which have
explained their decision in terms of a “Trojan Horse of Islamism.” Belgium, and Sweden both
report annual rates of emigration picking up by 15 percent and 18 percent respectively. Should
this flight become more general, the destination countries – the United States, Canada, Australia,
and South Africa – would benefit, for these emigrants come from especially productive groups.
For Europe, such an outflow would only compound the economic problems associated with
aging demographics and the social tension surrounding immigration.