Analysis & Opinions - The Boston Globe

Fears of Migration Add to Europe's Woes

| June 14, 2012

Helping countries' financial health is key to helping their citizens stay put

A paradox about globalization — that energetic, free-wheeling word to describe the shared experience of people, commerce, and ideas across borders — is that its success is not measured by movement, but by inertia. If the benefits of greater "one world" integration are tangible, then people will stay put. They will not vote with their feet; they will grab an armchair.

Today, the European community, and the world, grow ever more panicked over the future of their union and its debt crises. This weekend, Greece heads to elections whose results will determine whether Europe's bailout has any democratic support. The primary reason for this sense of urgency and unified effort is money; Greece, Italy, and Spain are all too big to fail.

But if ever there was evidence that this is about more than just money, it is in the behavior of euro-phobic Britain. Prime Minister David Cameron has spent considerable effort traveling the continent to shore up the much-maligned European Union and tacitly embrace "more Europe." This from a country that is not even a member of its currency. Britain wants Europe to succeed so that it can keep it at arm's length. It embraces Europe and a unified destiny to ensure that Europeans will stay put.

Nobody wants Europeans, panicked and desperate Europeans, to start moving. Workers in countries hardest hit by debt, and the austerity measures put in place to control that debt, may cross borders to seek jobs and wages. The United Kingdom, far from the poor Mediterranean states, will seem a safe haven. Already, in stable Britain, net migration is up, and emigration of British citizens is down.

Growing concerns that those "other" Europeans might keep coming suggests why Home Secretary Theresa May recently disclosed that the country was making contingency plans to deal with a potential influx of, well, Europeans. Emergency powers are being contemplated to void the European Union's foundation: one market under one border.

The controversy May's statement engendered was swift; even Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg had to quickly deny that Britain was pulling "up the drawbridge" though he conceded that all scenarios were being worked through. Nothing is wrong with planning, except it is unclear whether such a border closure is allowed under European rules.

Borders can be sealed only in a situation threatening security. In the past, these emergency authorities have been used against other European nations to deal with football hooligans or anti-globalization protesters. EU rules actually disavow border restrictions purely for economic reasons. This controversy is a window into just how much the whole notion of European integration is likely to be affected by the failure of Europe's single market.

Migration of the "other" is one of the most under-appreciated aspects of what drives foreign and national policy decisions today. In order for nations to keep people away, they must be invested in helping those who might take to their feet. Stronger nations often get entangled in global affairs to ensure that weaker nations don't just give up.

The potential consequences of mass migration, after all, are what motivated the NAFTA treaty; we would tie our trade with Mexico and Canada to elevate the economy and keep our southern friends at bay. It explains former French President Nicolas Sarkozy's focus on killing Libyan leader Muammar Khadafy; chaos in Libya would have meant more Libyans clamoring at France's Mediterranean borders. It helps to understand, beyond our humanitarian and historic responsibilities to Haiti, why the United States was so invested in ensuring a strong recovery after the 2010 earthquake; with no hope, Haitians may have jumped on makeshift rafts to come to Florida's waters.

The irony today is that all this talk of one Europe is actually grounded in motivations that are quite protectionist. Money matters, but the panic is also tied to a strategic effort to keep people from moving. Publicly, Britain may be hugging its European Union allies, but the motive behind it all is pure, and understandable, self-interest.

It's all a kind of theater of intimacy. It's the equivalent of a diplomatic air kiss.

For more information on this publication: Please contact the Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Kayyem, Juliette.“Fears of Migration Add to Europe's Woes.” The Boston Globe, June 14, 2012.

The Author

Juliette Kayyem