The EU needs migrant labour, particularly skilled labour, and this is reflected at a member state level in the increasingly public debate over ‘managed migration’.
Politicians of all political persuasions are advocating that legal routes for migrants be opened up for the highly-skilled. The same politicians, however, promise the electorate a package of reform to deal with ‘illegal immigrants’, ‘fraudulent asylum seekers’ and to limit the access of both migrants and asylum seekers to the welfare state.
In the past year, in both regional and national elections mainstream parties have exploited issues of immigration and asylum, integration and security. And a similar trend may be found when the German and Norwegian general elections take place in the Autumn. In 2005, general elections are also due to take place in Austria, the Czech Republic and Italy, while the French presidential elections will take place in 2007.
‘Illegal immigration’ – a major electoral issue
While there are differences between the centre-Right and centre-Left approaches to irregular migration, these are not based in real differences of opinion on immigration, on morality or on concerns about race relations. Rather the differences revolve around which party can the more efficiently manage the phenomenon of irregular migration. This was very much the case in the UK general election in May 2005. The home secretary Charles Clarke announced a five-year strategy for immigration and asylum which offered identity cards (now the subject of legislation) as a way of targeting illegal immigrants, illegal working and ‘health tourism’. Clarke was accused of pandering to prejudice when he linked immigration to ‘those trying to abuse our hospitality and place a burden on our society’. In response, the Conservatives – who appointed the infamous Australian political strategist Lynton Crosby as its campaigns director – put up posters all over the UK declaring ‘It’s not racist to impose limits on immigration’. The Conservatives further highlighted the issue of border controls promising that should the Conservatives come to power they would test immigrants from outside the EU for HIV, tuberculosis and other diseases. Conservative leader, Michael Howard, justified the proposal by pointing to Health Protection Agency data which purportedly showed that 75 per cent of heterosexuals with the HIV virus in the UK were infected in sub-Saharan Africa. Howard also claimed that Britain could face a spate of race riots if immigration got ‘out of control’ and the public lost faith in the system, and refused to disassociate the Conservative party from Bob Spint, a Conservative candidate in Castlepoint, who issued an election advertisement stating ‘What bit of “send them back” don’t you understand Mr. Blair.' For its part, the UK Independence Party launched its immigration manifesto pledge under the slogan ‘We want our country back’. The whole tenor of the election campaign led the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, to point out that it is ‘racist to whip up anxiety over immigration’. The Jewish Council for Racial Equality, the Churches Commission for Racial Justice and the Muslim parliament issued a joint press release calling for an end to the use of xenophobia in electioneering.
The centre-Right Danish political parties, which had ruled Denmark in coalition since 2001, also stamped their anti-immigration credentials onto the February 2005 general election campaign. The Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen was actually first propelled to power in 2001 on the basis of his promise to crackdown on asylum seekers. In the run-up to the February 2005 Danish general election, at which he was re-elected, he accused his main challenger, Social Democrat Mogens Lykketoft, of being soft on immigration in contrast to the government which had presided over a fall of around 80 per cent in the number of asylum seekers arriving in Denmark.
Following the No vote in the French referendum on the EU constitution, the reconstituted French cabinet was quick to blame the No vote on fears over immigration. In May the (then) French interior minister Dominque de Villepin (now prime minister following a cabinet reshuffle) announced that an independent immigration control service would be created to coordinate the immigration functions of the police, gendarmerie, local authorities and various government departments.
Already immigration is dominating the run-up to the German general election. The CSU’s Günther Beckstein told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper that the centre-Right parties would conduct its forthcoming election campaign on an anti-immigration platform (this has been denied by the CDU deputy leader Christoph Böhr). Voters could choose between a policy of ‘massive immigration’ if they voted for the SPD/Green coalition, or one ‘without immigration, but with extensive family policies, life-long work and permanent education’ if they voted for the CDU/CSU. CDU politician Wolfgang Bosback (seen as a likely candidate for federal interior minister if the centre-Right come to power) says that a future Conservative government would prioritise ‘the quality of immigrants rather than the quantity’.
Research showing that anti-immigration themes prove most receptive in communities with very few immigrants is borne out in Germany where the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD) has found a receptive audience in rural areas where there is no connection between the high proportion of immigrants and unemployment. Stephan Siegmund, leader of the Lutheran church in the Königstein parish, an NPD stronghold, says this kind of hostility towards foreigners is not new and that in our ‘East German past, there was also a latent racism.'
Some centre-Right feminist politicians are developing the theme that strong immigration controls are essential to protect the rights of western women. In this they may be influenced by the Norwegian journalist Hege Storhaug whose book Human Visas (endorsed by Bertel Haarder, education minister in the Danish cabinet) argues that strict controls on immigration are the best way to protect European values and Muslim women’s rights. Foremost amongst feminists advocating strong immigration controls is the Dutch interior minister, Rita Verdonk, a former prison governor nicknamed the ‘iron lady’. Verdonk argues that immigration controls directed at non-EU countries (principally Turkey and Morocco) are necessary to stem the tide of ‘young females who are not allowed to go on the street, who do not get the same chances as Dutch women.’ ‘We Dutch women fought for equal rights. What I will not allow, and will do my utmost to prevent’ is the return ‘to the time when women were inferior to men’. Interestingly enough, her concern over women’s rights does not seem to extend to immigrant women. Verdonk not only refused to allow six Moroccan women to re-enter the Netherlands after they had been abandoned in Morocco by their husbands who confiscated their passports, but she misinformed parliament, stating categorically that none of the abandoned Moroccan women had Dutch children living in the Netherlands. It later emerged that four of the women had Dutch children. Verdonk has admitted that she knew this at the time she assessed their case, and cannot explain how she came to ‘mistakenly’ inform parliament otherwise. Unrepentant at that time, Verdonk has stated that she will re-examine the issue on a case by case basis but she cannot agree with the argument that the women stranded in Morocco would necessarily be better off if allowed to stay permanently in the Netherlands.
Asylum: targets for removal
The numbers of asylum seekers entering Europe has long been an electoral issue – but now a number of political parties are vying with one another as to how many failed asylum seekers they can promise to remove. At the same time, though, the issue of forced deportations is threatening to break the electoral consensus on asylum – with an increasing number of politicians speaking out against the inherent human rights abuses, particularly when children are deported.
Despite the fact that asylum applications to most EU countries are falling, government ministers are announcing in parliaments dominated by anti-immigration sentiment targets for removal. The press then duly blazon such targets, while anti-immigration and extreme-Right parties urge yet higher targets and the removal of ever-increasing numbers. This new ‘culture of targets’ is particularly disturbing as it completely ignores humanitarian issues such as the impact of returning asylum seekers to war zones, or to countries that practise torture, as well as legal issues surrounding the proportionate use of force to effect a removal. These issues are discussed further in the IRR’s report The Deportation Machine: Europe, asylum and human rights.
In the UK, home secretary Charles Clarke’s five- year strategy for immigration and asylum (see above) included a pledge to step up the rate of removal of failed asylum seekers. Funds have been set aside to expand the capacity of immigration removal centres and increase the resources of police officers used to carry out deportations. With the Conservatives’ anti-immigration election campaign masterminded by the Australian strategist Lynton Crosby, what emerged during the election campaign was (in the words of Sir Bill Morris) a ‘bidding war’ to see who could be the nastiest to asylum seekers. The European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance also pointed out that the government’s constant changing of asylum policy was creating a ‘negative climate of opinion concerning asylum seekers and refugees’. It accused the government of deliberately attempting to deter asylum seekers from coming to the UK.
In France, in June, one of the first declarations of the new interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy was a promise to increase the expulsion rate for ‘clandestine immigrants’ by fifty per cent. ‘France can only remain generous if those who are here in violation of our rights and our laws are returned home’ he said. In future, asylum seekers will have to complete a dossier within five days; forms must be filled out in French and interpreters paid for by the asylum seekers themselves.
In Denmark, the February 2005 general election was, like its 2001 counterpart, dominated by the issue of asylum. The Danish People’s Party (DFP) set the lead in Autumn 2004 when it threatened to withdraw its support for the annual budget bill and for troops in Iraq unless there was a programme to speed up the repatriation of failed Iraqi asylum seekers. In attacking Iraqis generally, Kjaersgaard said that it was ‘unreasonable that Danish soldiers jeopardise their lives while Iraqi men smuggled into Denmark are refusing to go back’.
In fact, the ‘Danish model’ (as it is evolving) has set alarm bells ringing amongst refugee rights activists across Europe who fear the detrimental impact of the Danes’ increasing influence on EU asylum policy. Denmark has one of the toughest criteria in Europe for qualification for refugee status (this has led to a 43 per cent drop in accepted asylum claims). Now, under pressure from the DFP, the Liberals are advocating ways of linking development aid to repatriation agreements for those failed asylum seekers who, at the moment, cannot be repatriated from Denmark to their home countries as conflicts are still ongoing, they lack travel documents, or for other reasons.
Other EU countries are, indeed, showing signs of being influenced by the ‘Danish model’. The Belgian interior minister was criticised after announcing that he would visit Denmark to study its immigration policy. Legislation currently being debated in Switzerland permits cuts in development aid to countries which refuse to take back rejected asylum seekers. And the re-elected Danish Liberal prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen has urged his British counterpart Tony Blair (who currently holds the EU presidency) to use the Danish example as a model for the UK government’s five-year plan on immigration and asylum.
Electoral consensus broken
Policies of forced deportations of failed asylum seekers are not going unchallenged. As human rights abuses intensify, public protests increase – and such is the strength of feeling that opposition political partiers are breaking with the political consensus to back anti-deportation campaigns. In Ireland and Sweden, opposition has coalesced around the issue of the deportation of vulnerable children. Public protests supported by churches, schoolchildren and the opposition Labour party forced the Irish minister of justice Michael McDowell to bring back to Ireland the repatriated Nigerian student, Olukunle Eluhanla.
Swedish opposition parties are demanding an end to the deportation of asylum-seeking children who have lost the will to live (the phenomenon of the so-called ‘apathetic children’) and five Swedish political parties – the Christian Democrats, the Liberals, Left Party , Centre Party and Greens which together hold 150 seats in the 349 parliament – have joined forces to demand an amnesty for asylum seekers who sought asylum before the end of 2004.
In the Netherlands meanwhile, political pressure could force the resignation of interior minister Verdonk who is accused of repeatedly misinforming parliament about the deportation of failed asylum seekers to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In June, a special session of parliament was convened, after the current affairs programme Netwerk broadcast a report which suggested that Congolese authorities had official documents provided by the Dutch with information about failed asylum seekers, including statements they made against Congo and its authorities. During the special parliamentary session, Verdonk was forced to announce a temporary halt of deportations to DRC and the formation of an independent inquiry to investigate the claims against her department. Verdonk’s future is surely in jeopardy, as she had previously assured parliament that the Congolese authorities were not informed about asylum requests made by Congolese people being deported from the Netherlands. The refugee organisation Inlia has demanded public access to a government report detailing a 2002 agreement between the Netherlands and the DRC concerning the return of rejected asylum seekers. Some parliamentarians have alleged that the document outlines an agreement in which Dutch authorities hand over the statements of asylum seekers to Congolese diplomatic authorities in the Hague when a travel document application is lodged during the deportation of Congolese nationals. Since 2003, according to statistics, the Netherlands has deported seventy-two failed asylum seekers to the DRC.
Demonisation of protest
A knock-on effect of this new European-wide ‘culture of targets’ for removal of failed asylum seekers is a hardening of government attitudes to protests from asylum seekers or migrant workers. These protests, including increasing suicides and incidents of self-harm, are described as ’emotional blackmail’ and negotiated settlements to potentially tragic situations are ruled out. The French government has refused to negotiate with a wave of sans-papier hunger strikers. Dominique de Villepin declared that ‘When it comes to illegal immigration, the rule has to be firmness’. Alberto Fernández Diaz, president of the Popular Party on Barcelona City Council, advised the government not to be ‘blackmailed’ by immigrant sit-ins, and to act with ‘firmness’. And in March 2005, Austria passed new immigration legislation which allowed hunger-striking asylum seekers to be forcibly fed.
Not surprisingly, it is the Dutch interior minister Rita Verdonk who has reacted most aggressively to the protest of asylum seekers and refugee support organisations to her policies. She seems to have been stung by the successful television protest campaign ‘26,000 gezichten’ (26,000 faces) in which film-makers had attempted to introduce a human dimension to the current debate by presenting five-minute documentaries focusing on individual asylum seekers whose claims have been rejected by the Dutch government. Verdonk has introduced an extraordinary measure, approved by parliament, whereby the personal details of failed asylum seekers, presumably contained in confidential interior ministry files, can be released if these asylum seekers, in her view, have exaggerated their cases in the media. Despite objections from the Data Protection Agency, parliament ruled that Verdonk’s plan was acceptable if the intention was to correct inaccuracies but that the plan should not place asylum seekers’ lives at risk. The Dutch government has also written to the humanitarian relief organisations ICC Novib and Plan Nederland to say they are not allowed to allocate government funds towards the 26,000 faces project. (The organisations had actually supported the project, but using finances raised independently and not allocated by the government.)
Managed migration and EU enlargement
The next French presidential election is due in 2007, and already there are signs that ‘selective immigration’ (the term is that of the ruling UMP) could become a central issue. Following the referendum on the EU constitution, the French cabinet was reconstituted in June. Introducing a package of reforms on immigration and asylum, the new administration argued that the No vote for the EU constitution reflected voters’ concerns about immigration and unemployment, issues which were fanned by the extreme-Right. For the new prime minister de Villepin immigration is ‘an area where the French have not stopped calling on us.' At the same time as promising to expel illegal entrants (see above) de Villepin announced that, in future, French immigration policy would be tied to economic needs with the introduction of a quota system for immigrants with professional skills. This would operate in a similar way to the Canadian system, with immigrants assessed according to their education, language skills, age, work experience and ‘capacity to adapt’. The new interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy characterised this as a movement away from ‘immigration by submission’ to ‘immigration by choice’.
How will the Socialists respond to the new ‘managed migration’ agenda? Malek Boutih, a former president of SOS Racisme and now a high-ranking official in the Socialist Party, has written a position paper – yet to be endorsed by the party as a whole – which presents the case for a quota immigration system based on France’s needs and ability to welcome foreigners. It has been criticised for reflecting the FN’s programme of national preference.
Protection of the labour market
While the economies of EU countries are dependent on unskilled migrant workers, particularly from eastern Europe, political parties are prepared to exploit public fears that eastern European workers will take jobs from indigenous workers at a lower pay, thereby bringing down wages as a whole. In fact, prior to the expansion of the EU in May 2004, government fears over public hostility to eastern European workers led most of the fifteen member states to impose restriction on free movement of workers from the eight new eastern EU states – the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. In most cases, countries chose to extend existing restrictions which require job seekers to obtain work and residence permits for a ‘transitional period’, most commonly two years. In Austria, the ‘threat’ posed by eastern European workers has long been exploited by the Freedom Party. Since the Joerg Haider orchestrated split, the newly formed Alliance for Austria’s Future has been highlighting the effect of low wage migrant workers from eastern Europe on the Austrian economy.
New immigration laws have either been introduced, or are about to be introduced in most European countries. The background to these laws is the debate over ‘illegal immigration’ as well as the EU criticism of the decision of the Spanish government to provide migrant workers an opportunity to legalise their status through a limited amnesty. In introducing new immigration legislation, the French and Greek governments made clear their opposition to regularisation of migrant workers, aka the Spanish amnesty model. The Greek prime minister Costas Karamanlis, highlighting the loss of social security revenue that arises from illegal work, promised that in future legal routes of labour migration would be established through Greek consulates, and a combined residence and work permit. In an article by French prime minister de Villepin in Le Figaro, the French prime minister specifically attacked the idea of a Spanish-style amnesty on the grounds that amnesties create ‘new pressures and new arrivals’.
In fact, the Spanish Socialist government cited its desire to manage the labour market as the basis for its amnesty as it would allow the government to take control of the black economy, and raise the extra taxes needed to pay social security and pensions. The Socialists’ arguments were dismissed by the centre-Right parties which accused them of opening the floodgates, and putting Spain out of step with Europe. Ana Pastor, a spokesperson for the Popular Party, said the amnesty had been exploited by illegal immigrants from all over Europe; it was nothing more than a ‘campaign of massive illegalisation’ which would attract immigrants in their droves to Spain. An editorial in El Mundo supported the opposition’s arguments and stated that ‘On the horizon one can detect new avalanches of migrants – encouraged by this process – who could bring with them problems of crimes and integration’. On the other hand, El Païs, defended the Socialists on the grounds that ‘amnesties are justifiable because they are the only way to deal with situations that are humanely and socially unsustainable and which harm the economy’.
On a local level, the issue of immigration also provoked a political row in the Canary Islands with the Socialist Party calling for the resignation of Larry Alvarez, the Popular Party’s vice president of the Island Council of Gran Canaria on the grounds that he was racist, xenophobic and ‘irresponsible on a matter as complex as immigration’. Alvarez had accused the Spanish government of ‘abandoning the Canaries’ to its fate in the face of irregular immigration.
In Germany, where the federal elections have been brought forward a year to September 2005, the decline in the ruling Social Democrats’ popularity has been attributed in part to the centre-Right’s exploitation of the ‘visa scandal’ that surrounded foreign minister Joschka Fischer. His actions were the main focus of a parliamentary inquiry into allegations that the SDP/Green coalition government had broken the Schengen Accord by letting in illegal immigrants (principally Ukrainians) under a relaxed tourist visa regime between 2000 and 2003. The Christian Democrats and the Christian Social Union had demanded the parliamentary inquiry, accusing Fischer of overseeing a visa system which was left open to exploitation by people smugglers who brought in women for prostitution, drug dealers and workers seeking illegal employment. In June 2005, the Constitutional Court upheld a challenge by opposition parties and ruled that the parliamentary inquiry into Fischer’s visa policies should resume. As Fischer and other foreign officials may have to undergo politically-damaging questions in nationally-broadcast parliamentary hearings during the run up to the federal elections in September, it is safe to say that the visa scandal, and the labour/migration theme, will remain prominent electoral issues in Germany.
In the meantime, however, the SDP/Green coalition government has responded to the drop in its electoral support due to the ‘visa scandal’ by promising that it will better police the labour market and clampdown on low-wage eastern European workers who are circumventing EU labour laws by becoming ‘self-employed contractors’ in Germany. This move is tied up to the Social Democrats’ loss of support amongst blue-collar workers, and was specifically cited by Schroeder at an election rally in North-Rhine Westphalia. In the event, the SDP, which had ruled North-Rhine Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, for almost four decades, experienced a haemorrhaging of support in the 22 May poll. The opposition parties had blamed east European workers for bringing down the wages of German workers in construction and slaughterhouses. German butchers are said to be unemployed because butchers from eastern Europe declare themselves self-employed in order to work in the slaughterhouses at a much lower rate than German nationals who also demand greater protection in such dangerous and dirty work.
In Switzerland, the issue of labour migration was also an important topic, particularly after the government was presented with an 80,000-strong petition – orchestrated by the Swiss People’s Party (SVP), the Campaign for an Independent and Neutral Switzerland, the Swiss Democrats, the Freedom party and the Lega dei Ticinese – calling for a referendum on the question of whether the Swiss labour market should be opened up to the new members of the EU. The petitioners had opposed Swiss entry into the Schengen and Dublin Accords which was approved at referendum on June 5 by 55 per cent of voters. (The SVP cabinet member Christoph Blocher broke cabinet ranks, and the principle of collegiality, whereby cabinet ministers are expected to present a united front once they have agreed a common position, to oppose the Schengen and Dublin Accords.) Political analysts believe that the SVP might have reduced support for the No vote, by linking the referendum to fears about immigration, unemployment and crime. The SVP was accused of playing on people’s fears after it issued campaign literature stressing rising crime and job losses due to an influx of immigrant labour.
As in Switzerland (where the SVP is now divided on the issue of labour migration), the issue of ‘managed migration’ is leading to schisms in Denmark between the Conservatives, Liberals and the Danish People’s Party (DFP). The Liberals want to introduce a point system to attract more educated foreigners to Denmark but the DFP oppose this.
In Italy, where a general election will take place in 2006, the Northern League has been campaigning on the issue of the protection of the Italian business class. At his first speech at the annual Northern League congress after suffering a stroke, Umberto Bossi attacked the EU for failing to defend the businessmen of northern Italy from the impact of Chinese textile and shoe imports. He called for tariffs to be introduced.
Protection of the welfare state
Arguments about the need to protect the labour market also extend to defending the welfare state – from immigrants. This is particularly the case in the Netherlands where there is growing concern that the reform programme of the Dutch interior minister Rita Verdonk institutionalises racism and discrimination. The Dutch cabinet is considering introducing reforms to limit immigrants’ access to social security and old age pensions. The cabinet is also investigating the possibility of forcing would-be immigrants to take out insurance to guarantee a sufficient pension; they would have to pay a lump sum prior to gaining permission to enter the Netherlands.
Other reforms, particularly reforms to residence rules aimed at discouraging ‘underprivileged risk youth’ from the Antilles from entering the Netherlands, are even more controversial. The main rationale given by interior minister Rita Verdonk for the reform of residence laws so as to permit discrimination against young people from the Netherlands Antilles (who as Dutch citizens have a right to live in the mother country) is the young people’s so-called propensity to crime (discussed at greater length in the section on crime and insecurity). However, it should be noted that Verdonk, in arguing that it is legally permissible to impose separate entry procedures on a specific group of people, in this case Antillean and Aruban ‘risk youths’, has defined the risk they supposedly constitute as that of turning to crime or abusing the welfare state.
Equally worrying is the fact that Verdonk has given her backing to a plan by Rotterdam Council to establish separate lists for native and immigrant primary schoolchildren in order to manufacture a ‘better ethnic mix’. The Education Inspectorate and the education minister Maria van der Hoeven have described the plan as ‘potentially illegal’. According to Rita Verdonk Rotterdam Council’s plan amounts to a ‘positive contribution’ to education.
Other political leaders justify the introduction of yet more asylum legislation on the basis of protecting the welfare state. The DFP leader Pia Kjaersgaard, whose position was considerably strengthened in the February 2005 general election, has called refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants a financial burden, while Danish citizens, primarily the elderly, are targeted for welfare cutbacks. The Swiss asylum law, approved by the Senate but rejected by the Federal Court in Lausanne – seeks to extend existing restrictions to welfare benefits to all those whose asylum requests have been turned down, including those still going through the appeal process. According to justice minister Christoph Blocher, social assistance has provided too great an incentive to rejected asylum seekers to remain in the country. But Switzerland’s highest court has ruled that refusing social aid to rejected asylum seekers goes against the constitution. Blocher first threatened to amend the constitution, but later announced that while Switzerland would let ‘nobody die of hunger’ he had other measures in mind to achieve the same effect (ie reducing asylum seekers’ access to the welfare state). In an interview with the Sonntags Zeitung and Le Matin Dimanche he announced the formation of a special commission, chaired by Hermann Weyeneth.47 Public opposition to Blocher’s latest assault on asylum rights showed itself in Bern on national refugee day in a demonstration against the xenophobia of political parties. Former Cabinet minister (Socialist), Ruth Driefuss called on the thousands assembled to ‘remind our parliament and our government of their responsibilities’.