Yves here. The shock underperformance of Angela Merkel’s CDU block has her scrambling to form a coalition in the face of the rise of right wing parties, most importantly AfD. Even though Germany had managed to cut immigration from 2015 levels and impose more order on the process, the big impetus for the repudiation was unease with the influx of migrants. We’ll hopefully see more polling, but anecdotes suggest the discomfort among German voters was as much cultural as economic: they saw the magnitude of the arrivals from the Middle East (as well as the lack of even basic programs to help them integrate, like language training) as a threat to German culture.
With Brexit, immigration again helped drive a political backlash. It’s oddly been written out of popular narratives, but the UK pushed hard for the approval for the addition of new Eastern European members like Poland to the EU, and projected that the UK would only get 50,000 Polish immigrants per year. The first-year level was closer to 500,000. Not only did the arrivals reduce low-end wages, but it also put great pressure on housing, in an already badly underhoused country.
I’m not saying there are simple answers to the question of what a fair immigration policy might be. But it is important to note that a lot of the people who plead for the virtues of more open immigration are in lines of work that aren’t much exposed to competition from immigrants, or worse, choose to omit the fact that they benefit via having immigrants act a servant class: nannies, gardeners, hospital orderlies, cab drivers. And in the US, our immigration policy has as one of its major aims to keep wages down.
In an earlier period of large-scale US immigration, at the start of the 20th century, public sentiment was turning against it due to the concern over the impact on American culture. Business interests, most important, the National Association of Manufacturers, wanted to preserve access to cheap, hunger workers. They got in front of the problem by promoting language training and help with getting citizenship. Mind you, most of this was cynical window-dressing.
Rising inequality and the middle class living standards under stress mean immigrants will face even more hostility than if economic conditions were better. Those who consider themselves to be advocates of social justice need to consider: why should citizens who have typically faced stagnant to worsening economic conditions be asked to make sacrifices to provide for a better life for immigrants? They are usually the losers while the upper classes benefit.
Put another way, immigration is one way of implementing the Jay Gould strategy of hiring one half of the working classes to kill the other. Supporters of immigration need to confront this issue or they will continue to lose power.
By Julian Sayarer, who writes at (this is not for charity). He is the author of Life Cycles, an account of his record circumnavigation of the world by bicycle, and his latest book is Interstate. Originally published at Open Democracy
This letter is part of a “Looking at Lexit” series, edited by myself and Xavier Buxton. Over the next 12 months, as Brexit themes emerge in the news agenda, we will respond by posting our respective “commissioning letters”. Xavier questions continued free movement here.
If the debate over Brexit has often been little more than a debate over immigration, then the left-wing incarnation of the ideological struggle has been spared none of the acrimony. Where the arguments of the economic left have posited that some curbs on migration are necessary to protect the conditions of both UK workers and EU workers within the UK, the arguments of the social left have held strong in affirming that the borderless EU is implicit to the spirit of internationalism and liberal values to which any left worth its salt must commit.
The truth, of course, is not so simple. Non-UK, EU citizens working in underpaid and under-protected sectors make for a poor emblem of liberalism. The borderless nature of the EU extends only as far as the fortress frontier that defines the EU’s limits, and the liberal argument for EU freedom of movement holds little sway in the universities of Istanbul, Mumbai, Nairobi. The question, then, becomes whether the freedom of a veterinary surgeon from Timisoara, plying her trade – without barriers – in Devon, is a sufficiently virtuous opportunity for mobility that it makes worthwhile the enhanced barrier that her peer from across the border with Ukraine will face.
Doubtless, there is much identity at stake in these arguments around mobility, and the very presence of overseas workers have been used too freely, and without scrutiny, as synonymous with a sort of cosmopolitan virtue. Where should we start devising a fair, open and genuinely borderless immigration policy, befitting the values of the left? The answer, as ever, is probably not from here.
The question that must be put to those advocating a left wing Brexit, on movement as with other issues, is what is the alternative to the mobility on offer within the EU? While, certainly, there is the potential to devise a fairer immigration policy than either that of the Tories or the current EU, it is negligent not to ask how great the likelihood is of such a thing coming to pass within the climate of Brexit.
This concern will likely be live even in those so-called ‘softer’ shades of Brexit. Single Market access, as the Swiss have discovered in their attempts to create worker quotas, will prevent the implementation of anything but acceptance of the EU’s version of mobility – a situation that returns us to the logic that the UK left, if it is concerned at EU policy on Freedom of Movement, is best-placed to influence that policy from inside and not outside of the EU.
Moreover, for all that the many EU stories of loving, learning and travelling at ease around the Union can be exposed as hypocrisies when placed side-by-side with non-EU citizen difficulties, these experiences might as-easily be regarded as the gateway drug to a borderless world, rather than only a nefarious double-standard. It is important to remember that visa-free travel can and does exist currently with scores of non-EU countries, and will all but certainly continue to exist as whatever version of Brexit or no unfolds.
What will be far harder to replicate than pure mobility is the reciprocity of standards, the mutual recognition of qualifications, that certifies a French law graduate to have undergone a standard of training that is recognised as making them fit to study local law and then practice in either Paris, Berlin or London. Basic movement is one thing, but roots and the right to establish them are another; the US grants visa-waivers to the majority of EU citizens, but denies visas of the citizens of Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania. Those same citizens are entitled to move to the UK, find a home, and begin work without any document beyond their own passport. Equally, the EU as a bloc can militate on behalf of small, predominantly poor countries that would otherwise be impotent in the face of US hostility.
That right; to arrive, settle and build a life, is of course also one that the US denies UK and all other visitors – the EU is unique in its facilitation of such a communion. The institutions of the EU are, in today’s world, a rare example of a bloc that empowers people, of different social and economic starting points, to try their hand at life in a country that would not otherwise have them. It is not perfect, no, but it is the right starting point.
Re your intro Yves, I am wondering what you mean by popular narratives? In the US press? Since the British press is obsessed with the topic, it was quickly noticed that the number of Eastern Europeans was far higher than projected. (Plenty of argument about the accuracy of figures, but the 2011 census confirmed hundreds of thousands.)
I think there is a problem of pro- and anti-immigration liberals/leftists talking across each other. You indicate you think mass migration can (or does) hold down wages (I’m inclined to agree): workers “asked to make sacrifices”. The reply you will often get is “no, immigration is good for the economy”. Up to and including the claim that mass immigration is good for per capita growth, not just overall economic growth (from a growing population). Now try convincingly proving it either way!
Since it’s so plausible that more immigrants means lower wages I don’t think the political problem will ever go away even if it’s economically false (I’m not saying it’s false). Europhiles should have realised this, we should have restricted the A8 immigration while we could. As usual New Labour’s first priority was keeping business sweet but it backfired. The right-wing press will use any weapon it can against the left and “immigrants are making us poorer” was too good to resist.
I wonder if mass immigration was responsible for preventing the US getting a powerful labour movement like in Western Europe. If so, the left in the EU should be very scared.
The part of the “popular narrative” that is omitted is that it was the UK that pushed for the expansion of the EU to include Eastern European countries. I never suggested anyone missed the rapid influx of immigrants, particularly the stereotypical Polish plumber.
oic. (I thought you might’ve been suggesting the US media missed it since I assume they didn’t care much about EU expansion)
This is typical selective blindness of the MSM in Britain. Britain and the US pushed for the expansion of the EU to eastern Europe as part of pushing NATO to the Russian border. Plus the EU warned Cameron to introduce a phased acceptance period for east Europeans into Britain but he ignored them. The result, Polish is now the second most spoken language in England, and there are plenty of other immigrants from the Baltic states, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia etc. This was one of the biggest factors in the Brexit vote. French, German, Italian etc., immigrants to Britain are educated and able to contribute, most of the east Europeans either take menial jobs, or become Big Issue sellers, which entitles them to all sorts of tax credits and other benefits.
But the MSM narrative is NATO protects us against Russian aggression, that immigration is harmless to the people living here, the housing issue is ignored. The fact is that east European expansion has been the biggest mistake made by the EU (along with the vassalage approach to the US taken by its politicians). But neither fits with the MSM narrative so radio silence.
Erm, Blair, not Cameron.
The EU is not NATO.
UK wanted to expand because it thought it could count on recruiting allies fearful of a re-unified Germany.
When Spain and Portugal and Greece joined in the 80s, the Mediterranean population in UK soared (and has remained stable). Notice anything? Most people coming to UK came from newly democratised countries, post Franco, Salazar, Junta and the post Communist Warsaw Bloc. We pose as the bastion of freedom and liberalism in the West, we just don’t want them to experience it here, it would seem. But they want to come here because of the propaganda we have blasted at them and because English is the 2nd language of most Europeans.
In many ways, the poorer Eastern and Mediterranean countries of the EU are just colonies, with resources to exploit for profit (their people). The EU should be glad we are leaving (although Germany will now find it very hard to blame us for everything that is wrong).
I think a key point to remember is that the EU never had an interest or a role in promoting free movement outside the EU. The EU is a club, originally of economically quite equal sized members, who were interested in promoting free movement and reciprocity of standards within that club. The EU always avoided the issue of immigration from outside Europe, leaving it to individual nations to decide on citizenship standards. As such, it was unusual as an organisation that sought to promote values that both left and right (or at least, centre-right) agreed on. Brexiteers always of course dodged the fact that a loose immigration policy was always promoted by the UK, it had little to do with the EU.
As Yves says, of the ironies of Brexit is that it was the UK that pushed very heavily for eastern European membership of the EU. One of the prime reasons for this was that the UK recognised eastern European countries as natural ‘allies’ against the corporate and mercantilist strain in the Franco-German alliance. It was also of course a desire for cheaper labour. Much of the stresses in Europe now are coming from having absorbed so many countries at very different stages of development. Free movement should not be an economic issue unless its between areas of very different levels of development, then it does raise very serious issues. But within Europe this is just a matter of scale – the difference in development between, say, Milan and Naples is not much different as that between Manchester and Gdansk.
A point the article does overlook is that much of the source of anti-immigrant wave is not about jobs – it is about welfare. When you look closely at the griping about immigrants, the core issue is not jobs or wages – it is the belief (hugely exaggerated usually), that immigrants are taking up housing and ‘handouts’, etc. If you look at Scandinavia there is a gaping split between the Swedish/Norwegian left, which embraces immigration, and the Danish left, which always believed that immigration was a threat to the societal concensus around a social democratic model of welfare support. The Swedish left is perhaps more admirable ethically, but I suspect the Danes are more pragmatic.
There is also, it must be said, a divide in this between young and old. In Britain and elsewhere, genuine free movement within the EU (with most importantly the right to work) is hugely popular with the under 40’s, as they benefit most from it and have grown up to see it as a fundamental right. The average 25 year old in pretty much any EU country finds it baffling that anyone would consider this a bad idea. But its the cliched 50 year old plumber who finds himself losing work to cheaper Polish plumbers who is likely to vote for a Eurosceptic party. I’m not really sure how you square that circle.
Might this be a possible interpretation? A whole host of USA goals vis Russia are made easier thanks to this push by the UK.
The irony being that the EU was seen by some of it’s members as a bulwark against economic and political domination/colonization/corruption by the USA.
I don’t think it was a case of the UK acting as a US proxy. The UK and the US have long shared particular ideological goals and also, it should be said, lacked the sort of direct history with Eastern Europe that countries like Germany and Austria have had, so its natural that they had similar policies.
There is no doubt that the US pushed very hard for the EU to accept eastern European countries, but I think the US probably saw absorbing them into NATO as more important (as I think the US establishment have always been a bit ambivalent about the EU). But while the US wanted further integration in order to hobble Russia, the UK always had its primary motivation in weakening the Franco-German alliance and in introducing a more neoliberal tone to the EU. Bringing in the eastern European countries (which have generally been enthusiastic neoliberals) to the EU was a win win for the UK.
Thank you, PK.
A friend of a friend / colleague served at the UK embassy in Paris in 2013. He reported a big push by the US to improve relations with France, including the flattery about France being the USA’s oldest ally, as Brexit rose up the UK political agenda and get France to supplant the UK as that proxy, lap dog etc. He has since added that the election of Trump makes that US FP objective more difficult, but not necessarily impossible. Macron is an opportunist and could play Washington off against Berlin. This said, he’s no longer in Paris.
Its quite a difference for an aged 25 to move to some other EU metropole and work or if you have family and kids where both parents must work to make ends meet. It doesn’t matter what administrative barriers is removed. It’s still quite a task to move an entire family to another country with a totally alien language and culture. And then after a few years state of the market change and you have to root up the kids and move to another country with alien language and culture.
The issue in Norway is a bit more nuanced than that.
The problem is that both the mainstream left (labor party etc) and the populist/racist right conflate work immigration and refugees under the label immigration.
For most the issue is that we see more and more local jobs (construction in particular) bring in busloads of temporary workers from abroad, some of them that barely speak English, let alone Norwegian.
They come in, work, barely spend anything locally at all, and then leave again. Quite often on highly questionable sub-contractor contracts.
Thing is that as they spent a certain amount of time working here, so therefore they are entitled to certain benefits even though they do not live here (hello EU rules).
But because questioning this arrangement means questioning the EEA agreement, the mainstream (champagne) left is loath to touch the issue, instead hiding behind the idea that questioning this arrangement is anti-immigrant and therefore racist.
This then plays right into the hands of the populist/racist right, that actually do not have any problem with this as it means cheaper services. But they twist it so that they can use it to talk about refugees, mostly those from Muslim nations.
Plutonium, do you mean Gdansk and Manchester? I think the Poles are looking after their cities well and outstripping the North of England. There are any many parts of Manchester that the toughest Neapolitan camorra would look askance at.
In economic similar countries, it works well. The Nordic countries introduced in the early 50s a passport union, free mobility for the grassroots, any Nordic citizen that resident in any other country had in practice the same rights as any native to social welfare systems.
No common currency, no common flag and all the rest of EU:s superficial attributes. All countries were still fully independent, e.g. Norway could say that the Swedish MD education wasn’t on par with the standard they wanted.
A bloated EU system isn’t necessary to have high degree of free mobility for ordinary people.
This is, I think, a very difficult issue, which was indeed central to the Brexit vote.
The UK government in recent years has failed in a number of respects to address the issues posed by migration in a satisfactory way. It was one of the few countries which allowed migration from the new accession countries in 2004, while most other EU states availed themselves of a 7 year delay allowed to them. HMG also failed to make use of powers to return EU citizens who did not have employment, independent means or were students. It also failed to use funds made available by the EU to assist with the integration of migrants into the UK . All clearly serious mistakes in retrospect.
Having said that, I do think a major factor in all this is the use by the ultra rich of scapegoating of migrants to blame them for the greatly increased inequality in the UK which has been a feature of the last 40 years of government policy. The gullible are easily persuaded to blame foreigners.
The evidence in general seems to support the idea that at the very bottom of the income scale migration has put some downward pressure on wages but probably only by an average of 3% as a result of EU migration. Otherwise it has had minimal effect. The sad truth is that leaving the EU will probably reduce living standards in the UK for everyone by more than 3% so everyone including the low paid will suffer.
One of the strange aspects of the Brexit vote was that regions which had experienced significant EU migration voted with some exceptions to stay in the EU while it was those areas and people who felt they had fallen behind who voted to leave. Were they worried that the migrants would move to their areas next? They probably need not have done.
What I find sad, having travelled in Bulgaria, is that, having seen for myself the poverty in the Balkans, I believe that the English, if they had seen the same sights, would have shown more compassion than they did in June 2016.
In principle and practice you don’t solve the poverty problems of eastern EU (or elsewhere) by moving the poor to the richer parts of EU. It was not how
Western Europe and OECD “welfare states” was achieved, it is an internal political and ideological democratic process. Island is an apart little country in the north Atlantic whose main export commodity have been fish, they have built a rather fair well organized welfare society on a little barren island middle of nowhere.
EU have a neoliberal economic ideology that is opposed to a fair and decent society. The brits may have voted for Brexit for other reasons but obvious EU is not the solution to eastern Europe’s poverty problem.
I think the EU is part of the solution to Eastern European poverty. Poland (another country i have visited ) has been greatly transformed in the last 25 years. This is partly because of boosted trade as a result of EU membership. But also as a result of remittances from places like the UK.
We all know the EU has faults but it does deserve to be given credit for the positive results of its activities when warranted.
More than trade, it’s structural adjustment payments and remittances.
Not to mention, before joining the EU, official Polish unemployment was pushing 20%; youth unemployment (and unofficial unemployment) stats were much higher.
Thanks to the free movement of labor, Poland has successfully exported its unemployment problem.
Oddly enough the UK refusing to join the single currency allowed it to keep unemployment down and with the exchange rate so much higher it made the UK a prime target for low skill workers who wanted to send wages back home.
I think /lasse has it about right, and funny you should mention Bulgaria — one factor keeping it in poverty is its rapid depopulation by emigration. And its govt is hostile to allowing more immigration to replace that.
Frankly I doubt many middle-class Remainers would want their pay to be cut by 3%.
On the geographical effect, Simon Wren-Lewis mentions this a lot. I suggest it’s similar to how polling always shows people think crime has gone up quite a lot nationally but only “a little” in their own area. In fact, crime has been falling generally since 1995. When immigrants are scapegoated for poverty in the press, readers in areas with little immigration may see this as a major national problem which just hasn’t reached them yet.
Bulgaria again — poverty is worse in India, sub-Saharan Africa, wherever. We don’t attempt to show compassion to such places by using open borders, because anyone who could afford the air fare would show up and the voters would lose their minds. The very poorest, who can’t afford the fare, would have to stay where they are.
I agree we do not yet show compassion to the whole world by opening our borders but I hope one day we will. To me one step in the right direction is better than nothing and Brexit is a step backwards.
Bulgaria was already plenty poor before joining the EU.
It was plenty poor, but depopulating it is hardly helping.
But people emigrate because there are no jobs, why would anyone want to immigrate to Bulgaria? When there are no jobs and were system is scant and meager.
In Sweden, we have plenty of people from Bulgaria who beg in almost every city, people who cant find any better income in Bulgaria.
Bulgaria have about 7% unemployment, but around 50% employment rate. This in a country with enormous developing needs, but maybe around 50% is so wealthy that they don’t need to work? They voluntarily choose not to be employed with something?
There must be plenty that could be done that primarily employ the countries domestic resources, aka no need to pay import with exports. In a free money (MMT) system the country can generally buy anything that is for sale from the domestic resources. But EU:s economic system don’t allow them to do that. But probably the corrupt leadership wouldn’t do it even if they could.
All eastern EU countries are on World Banks map where there are people living on at most $2 (PPP) a day. That is a scant ration to live on. I don’t know the structure but one can imagine it is not least poor pensioner how did get a sour deal when Soviet collapsed.
“I’m not saying there are simple answers to the question of what a fair immigration policy might be. But it is important to note that a lot of the people who plead for the virtues of more open immigration are in lines of work that aren’t much exposed to competition from immigrants, or worse, choose to omit the fact that they benefit via having immigrants act a servant class: nannies, gardeners, hospital orderlies, cab drivers. And in the US, our immigration policy has as one of its major aims to keep wages down.”
The thought has occurred to me recently that there might be a kind of cognitive dissonance at play from those who do support open (unlimited?) immigration. Such supporters are also often aware and accepting of climate change and in favour of moves to combat it. One of the oft-cited and generally accepted consequences of climate change is that it will create massive displacement and immigration. A consequence of that is that it could/would create social and economic instability in the countries that accommodate vast numbers of displaced people. Lamentable racist attitudes aside, is this not also a legitimate concern when there is a vast number of politically displaced refugees?
Further, would it be, as they say, problematic if 1,000,000 Andalusians fled to Algeria for instance as a result of climate-induced displacement (I’m not sure if this is geographically likely or even feasible, just raising a theoretical reversal of the standard dynamic of brown/black people fleeing to majority white countries)? I have a feeling that to a lot of people, an influx of millions of Europeans to non-white countries might start to look like colonialism.
I’m not sure how valid these points are but I’m interested in what others think.
One could argue that for climate change reasons, immigration should be encouraged only when it results in a shrinking carbon dioxide footprint for the immigrants (to any country) and their descendants.
For example, if an immigrant moves from a less developed country to the EU or USA, the amount of CO2 produced to support the new immigrant’s new lifestyle, summed over the new immigrant’s life and descendants’ lives, is likely to be much more than if the immigrant never moved.
One could suggest tor climate change reasons, governments should be encouraging high resource consuming developed nations citizens to adopt a lower resource footprint by moving to countries with lower resource consumption per capita.
In general, economists are de-facto climate change denialists in that they seem to assume economic growth and population growth can always be accommodated by mother Earth to the general betterment of all.
Projecting advanced technology will save the day is an article of faith in the economists’ creed, especially given that the world has only tiny Bhutan, population 800k, that is actually carbon-dioxide negative.
The problem I have, from a theoretical point of view is this: what gives one group of people the right to say, with regard to a particular area of land, ‘you cannot come to live here. We were here first’? I accept that there are arguments about the need to prevent or mitigate social dislocation which lead one to want some restraint of very large, rapid movements of people. But once that has been properly allowed for, I cannot see any convincing argument why any group of people can insist on monopoly habitation of a particular piece of land in perpetuity. I see read-acrosses to inherited wealth, which, if of any significant size, I also oppose. Why should someone have huge sums of money simply because one of their ancestors got rich?
Re:”what gives one group of people the right to say, with regard to a particular area of land, ‘you cannot come to live here. We were here first’?”
I don’t believe “rights” have anything to do with it.
Throughout human history (Great Wall of China, moats, walled cities such as Constantinople) people have attempted to keep possession of valuable territory by restricting “immigration” and it was not by asserting “I was here first”..
They fought to keep what they valued.
In the animal kingdom, territorial protection is paramount for an animal’s survival.
In the USA (and probably elsewhere) I believe citizenship and immigration are managed by TPTB to get the economic and political outcomes TPTB want, and this is not always for the general welfare of the typical citizen..
But humans have long asserted “;you cannot come to live here” and been willing to fight to make this so.
I suspect few successful attempts have been made to preserve/acquire territory via the statement that “We were here first” WITHOUT having adequate military or political power to make it so..
Which is tantamount to saying might makes right? Or that morals are irrelevant?
A world state does not exist, so democratic decision-making in economic policy is by sovereign states. They have the final say over whether to allow free movement of goods, capital and people, or not. I don’t accept that some moral right to free movement takes priority over that, not even if disruptive changes are properly allowed for: and what too many people currently think is that EU migration continues to be disruptive.
If we want the living standards of the poor countries to converge with our own we must do it in ways other than importing their people, which is an ineffective kind of redistribution. The poorest and neediest can’t move. Fairer trade and foreign aid is the way.
Usually when a nation adopts a defensive position, one does not confuse this with “might”.
So no, it is not tantamount to saying “might makes right.”
When Germany invaded Poland in WWII, one could look at this as Germany’s attempt to appropriate Polish land and property, maybe even promoting it as a German right.
Rather than welcome the Germans, Poland attempted to fight back.
As a thought experiment, imagine Germany had simply transported many hungry Germans into Poland and demanded Poland provide for them, asserting the right of Germans to migrate to Poland was a human right.
Would you argue that Poland and its citizens should not/would not attempt to defend their borders and property in both cases?
Yep. Who would argue the Polish economy has to accept dumping, for example, or that Poland couldn’t get out of any arrangements that permitted it? Why would social dumping be different? Immigration was not responsible for the Great Recession in Britain of course, or even the slow recovery, which was caused by austerity. Scapegoating is morally wrong, but control itself over migration is not.
As I said above the social dislocation argument has some force and therefore the authorities have some rights and responsibilities to maintain social cohesion. That already having been said, I am afraid nothing that has been said above persuades me that, this apart, nation states have moral rights to prevent migration.
One of the main critics of EU:s economic model in the beginning was the lack of mobility in the workforce. Where there where shortage of jobs people should move to countries where there was demand for labor. US was the role model. But that require that there are parts with higher demand, during GFC mobility was low even in US due to general lack of jobs.
EU use this mobility concept to foster its ideas of structural adjusting the labor market and crush “exorbitant” social welfare. There is nothing “natural” about EU:s mandated neoliberal economic model where finance oligarchy have been given the right to veto democratic economic development desires.
There is no resemblance of the force and speed that the post war economic model was rebuilding and expanded general wealth in western Europe compared to EU:s economic model for eastern Europe now. Not even in Germany is there any resemblance in making the ossie part equal to west.
EU have a remarkable economic system, low GDP/capita China is building infrastructure and railroads all over the world including Europe (with US fiat-$) while one of the richest countries in the world, Germany, can’t “afford” to maintain its basic infrastructure.
Well there is also mobility of capital, not just labour. Both could be used to hurt workers. The EU allows an HP sauce factory to move to Eastern Europe, as well as low-paid Eastern Europeans themselves to come and work at a meat packing plant in England.
Much has been said already, but, as someone who was there at the time, I can confirm that the UK backed EU enlargement from the start, because it wanted to dilute the power of the Franco-German axis, and, bluntly, make the EU less effective in areas where the UK had major strategic interests. There was a phrase in Whitehall at the time about “out-widening the deepeners” which described the policy: create an EU that was too large and cumbersome to interfere with UK objectives in the security field and elsewhere.
“Free movement” was not really an issue because it was assumed to exist already (after all, movement as such within the old EC was pretty easy) and because membership of the EU and the magic of the market would rapidly bring these new members up to our level of prosperity. And of course “free movement” had been one of the virtues the West prided itself on after the start of the Helsinki process in 1975. But the idea that very large numbers of people from the East would come to work here didn’t really feature in the calculations. To the extent that it did, elite reaction to it was based on two erroneous and dishonest assumptions which are still used. The first was that “labour would move to where it was needed”, which only holds if there is a shortage of labour elsewhere (as was true after WWII). But there was already mass unemployment in 1992 and, outside some specialist areas, there was no general shortage of labour. What there was was a shortage of people prepared to work for starvation wages, and so displace others. The second is the assertion that the issue is “free movement”, when in fact it’s the freedom to be moved, by poverty and lack of prospects, and to settle at least temporarily in a wealthier country, so replacing indigenous workers. Moreover, the weight is not spread evenly. Immigrants, throughout history, have tended to concentrate in poorer areas that are already overburdened and underfunded, where schools have a high percentage of non-English speakers, and social services are already cracking. The elites, with their cleaners and child minders are not, of course, affected by this.
About how many are using the right to reside to move within EU to actually move:
The short of it might be that while many might see the right to reside as a good thing, not so many are using it. (the right to reside is often conflated with visa-free travel which may or may not affect peoples opinion on the right to reside)
The impact of migration is linked to the phenomenon of price being set on the margin. Even small changes in supply and/or demand can affect the price a lot. Be it cost of housing or wages. People in the precariat, with friends or family in the precariat might oppose the right to reside more than people in secure employment.
Ultimately, the responsibility for an enormous amount of emigration has to be laid at the feet of Europe and the United States. Through colonialism and the endless wars and debt-burdens that have followed, the West has gained incredible wealth and power at the expense of people who now struggle to even survive in their home countries, countries whose borders were themselves usually drawn by Western powers. I think its irresponsible to not include this history when discussing contemporary immigration to the West.
This does not, of course, conflict with Yves’ main argument, but if we’re talking about what the Left in the West needs to consider and address in order to overcome the neo-liberal/rightist tide and improve the lives of all peoples, I suspect we’ll have to acknowledge how this history is playing out in contemporary times.
Just as elites (and professional class strivers to elite status) welcome immigration’s negative impact on wages, it has been the elite that has most obviously benefited from historical and contemporary forms of colonization. I hope it doesn’t dilute or derail this article’s discussion string to suggest that it is this power imbalance and consequent economic and social inequality that the Left needs to keep front-and-center as it addresses immigration and its relation to labor. If we on the Left are not developing a narrative and relevant actions that confront this historical and contemporary power imbalance and seek to replace it with democratized and anti-racist economies and polities, I fear we will continue to lose ground to both right-wing nativists and neo-liberal exploiters.
(And increasing climate-change-induced migration is just yet another example of this still-living history, as it’s the West that holds historical responsibility for climate-disrupting carbon emissions, even as the rest now catch up.)
This entire conversation would be fine but it misses a key element here and that is the cultural one which IMO is the most important of the lot because its not young Polish men or other European immigrants that rape European women or groom ‘easy European’ children for sex. Its also not Poles or other Europeans who are intent on imposing their vastly different and IMO inferior cultural norms on their host countries.
I’ve just finished reading the well researched and written book ‘The Strange Death of Europe by Douglas Murray’ who isn’t afraid to call a spade a spade and has the facts and figures to support his argument. I’d recommend it to anybody.
Douglas Murray. Yuck. a man who rides his anti-Muslim hobby horse every week in The Spectator, especially after any terrorist attack that looks like it might be down to someone, who besides being a nutter, is also a Muslim. He exploits that with sickening regularity.
And he’s just about always right. Sorry ’bout that…
Can you please indicate which factually inaccurate statements he’s made?
Surely the socialist response to mass immigration has to be:
-workers should have the right to move to where they can work and live a decent life e.g. standards of pay and conditions must be protected from any tendency for these to be degraded by immigration – strong unions (the most important), good labour laws (that allow effective union action) that are enforced
-proper arrangements for immigrants e.g. language classes etc, not being pushed into already distressed areas
-decent housing, education, health care for all
-improve conditions in the poorer countries so mass migration for people to live decent lives is not necessary
All this is especially applicable to the EU where this needs to be the socialist position across the EU. This is the only way to fight the populist right. Practical measures could be implemented in the EU right now, if there was the political will to accomplish these aims. Socialism in one country is nonsense. Workers of the worls unite, not fight each other over immigration. Lexit is in no way a socialist position, I suppose it a kind of outdated reformist socialism in one country position despite those small groups in the UK who advocated Lexit calling themselves revolutionary and marxist. They are not. Anyway, we got (right wing) Brexit not (left wing??) Lexit (whatever that is).