- The Washington Times - Monday, April 24, 2000

Europeans soon will have to choose between their popular social welfare programs and a desire to preserve the cultural integrity of their societies.

The inflammatory anti-immigration rhetoric of Austria's Jorge Haider, Denmark's Pia Kjaersgaard and France's Jean Marie Le Pen has struck a nerve with voters, who resent the influx of foreigners that has come with the free movement among countries of the European Union.

But economists, demographers and statisticians point out that Europe needs more immigrants.

"The dirty little secret of immigration is simply that the work of these people is essential more essential today to guarantee the high standard of living to which Europeans have become accustomed," said Demetrios Papademetriou, an immigration expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

What Europe faces today is the loss of either the myth of cultural, racial and social purity, or of economic benefits, demographers say.

The fear of cultural erosion is real. One in five Swiss was born in another country. One in three people living in Luxembourg is foreign-born, and nearly 10 percent of Germany's population is now foreign-born.

The issue must be managed

Susan Martin, director of Georgetown University's Institute of Study of International Migration and a co-author of the book "Migration in the New Millennium," said the fear of losing cultural touchstones is genuine.

"It is impossible to be neutral. The 'haters' are tapping into legitimate concerns," said Mrs. Martin, adding that genuine political leadership would not concede the issue to anti-immigration demagogues.

Mrs. Martin said that when the government manages legal immigration and illegal immigration is under control the concerns do not become a hot-button political issue.

"Immigrants are here. Do we want them to stay at the bottom rungs of society, as street sweepers, or become university educated? Immigration must be managed," she said.

A cartoon published in a major Frankfurt newspaper in 1984 showed an elderly white couple caged in a zoo, surrounded by dark-skinned people.

"The word Uberfreundung [overforeignization] depicts the terror of submersion in difference the erasure of identity through racial inundation and saturation with foreigners," said Uli Linke in her study "Blood and Nation: The European Aesthetics of Race."

Fear and need collide

But the fear of "overforeignization" is running headlong into the reality of European globalization and Europe's economic union. While some Europeans may feel awkward with Serbs, Indians, Turks and Algerians as next-door neighbors eating unfamiliar foods, listening to different music and following little-understood religions demographers and economists say they are an economic blessing.

"Immigration produces net economic benefits for domestic residents," according to a U.S. National Academy of Sciences report.

European couples are having fewer children and the native population is getting older. That means more people are retiring and using social-service benefits they are entitled to, but fewer people are working and paying taxes that fund those benefits.

Analysts warn that a decrease in the standard of living or health care could bring more severe social adjustments than those required by growing numbers of immigrants.

Without the continued influx of foreign workers as many as 40 million in the next 20 years by one U.N. estimate the tax base in virtually every country of the European Union could crumble, leaving no one to fund the cradle-to-grave social services Europeans depend on.

The horns of a dilemma

Mr. Papademetriou said that if European governments fail to increase their tax bases by welcoming foreign workers, officials will have to make some hard choices in the next 20 years possibly cutting benefits or raising the retirement age.

"There will be a social revolution, but which is more likely to cause a social revolution a reaction to immigrants or to belt-tightening and a decrease in a standard of living and worse health care services?" he asked. "That is the price of no additional immigrants."

A U.N. Population Division report in late March examined demographics in eight countries France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, South Korea, Britain and the United States and two regions: Europe and Asia.

The report said Italy would need to raise the working-age limit to 77 if it doesn't accept the 2.2 million migrants per year to maintain the ratio of four working people for every retiree.

Even the United States, which has a higher birthrate than Europe, would have to accept 17.9 million immigrants over the next 50 years about 11.5 million more than currently forecast to keep its work force steady.

Despite a burgeoning Italian anti-immigration party, Italy's prime minister recently urged his countrymen to embrace immigration. Without immigration, the drop in the birthrate is projected to cut Italy's population from 57 million to 41 million over the next 50 years.

'Immigrants are a resource'

"We must not be afraid of immigration, because immigrants are a resource. If we close the door to immigration, we would make our country poorer," said former Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema in a February speech in Pescara, Italy.

There are more than 6 billion people on Earth, and 150 million, or 1 in 40, live in a country other than that of their birth, said Phil Martin, an immigration specialist at the University of California-Davis, and an co-author of "Migration in the New Millennium."

He said that remittances from foreign laborers are estimated at about $75 billion a year, or 1 and 1/2 times the amount of official development aid.

"From Afghanistan to Yugoslavia, labor is the No. 1 export of the developing world," said Mr. Martin. "In a world with lots of migrants, remittances have become a major force in global development."

Ireland, which saw generations of its people go abroad to seek their fortunes, is thinking of importing some 200,000 skilled workers for its booming economy over the next seven years.

Government officials estimate that Ireland, Europe's most dynamic economy facing skills shortages after several years of strong economic growth will require about 28,000 additional workers per year up to 2006.

Xenophobes remain vocal

In Germany, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder proposed in February a bill to bring in skilled foreign workers similar to one currently before the U.S. Congress. It marks the first time since Germany stopped labor imports in 1973 that the government has recognized that the country's economic growth depends on importing workers.

But xenophobes exist across Europe.

In Italy this year, the prosecutor's office in the northeastern town of Treviso recommended that Mayor Giancarlo Gentilini be tried for inciting racial hatred.

"Immigrants? Let's dress them up like rabbits so that hunters can train themselves," the mayor said at a news conference last fall. Mr. Gentilini, 70, is a member of Umberto Bossi's Northern League, a secessionist party that wants to expel immigrants and even send southern Italians home.

Politicians close eyes

Mr. Papademetriou said European governments are well aware of the problem they face. Despite what they admit behind closed doors, most, he said, feel it is political suicide to explain the facts to their people.

"The reality is that embracing immigrants is too costly politically, but privately some in government are beginning to understand," said Mr. Papademetriou. "These people have been here 45 years. They have contributed to Europe's economic prosperity. We must go into the future 'German and new German,' 'Dutch and new Dutch.' "

He said Europe invited "guest workers" after World War II people who helped create a prosperous Europe in the 1960s. When the "oil shocks" hit in the 1970s, sending European, American and Japanese economies into a tailspin, Europe lashed out at its foreign workers and instituted policies of "Zero Immigration" offset by "Family Reunification" which continued to bring in workers with family ties.

When the oil crisis eased, unemployment went down and strict enforcement was largely forgotten. While the U.S. and Japanese economies restructured after the 1970s, Europe's did not. Instead, Europe continued building its welfare state.

Europe lags on reforms

When the Berlin Wall fell, European nations went through a period of "can-do" euphoria and initially welcomed immigrants, but with the Balkans crisis, they were faced with hundreds of thousands of refugees they did not want.

Across the board, European governments changed asylum and refugee eligibility requirements and procedures and to slow the influx.

Now, while the numbers of asylum seekers and legal refugees is down from the 1980s, illegal migration is still booming. Europe is facing economic restructuring, unemployment is high, gasoline is costly and immigrants have become a handy scapegoat.

Mrs. Martin of Georgetown University, said that despite the Jorge Haiders, Europe is beginning to face its immigration predicament.

Europe's immigrants are not being managed properly, she said. Unlike the United States, which since its founding has been populated by immigrants seeking economic opportunity, Europe has never viewed itself as multicultural.

As a result, while the United States has an infrastructure for educating, assimilating and naturalizing newcomers, Europe is just beginning to come to grips with the reality that immigrants are not only there to stay, they are a necessary part of its future.

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