A Migration Dilemma
by Alejandro Lorca
& Martin Jerch
Over the last decade, immigration from southern
Mediterranean countries has become a mayor challenge for policymakers in the
European Union and its member states. This is due primarily to cultural and
According to the most recent Organisation for Economic Co-operation and
Development annual report on Tendaces des Migrations Internationale,
since the second half of the 1990s migration flows continue to grow, despite
economic deterioration. A slight stagnation of international flows can be
observed during 2002. For the long term it seems very difficult to assess
the effect of the economic situation on migration flows.
The 1973 oil crisis can be considered a migration watershed. Before the
crisis, migration flows were explained as a response to fluctuations in
business cycles. As a consequence of the crisis, this relationship no longer
works. One reason may be that the liberalization of world trade increased
competition between industrialized countries. Higher interest rates as well
as the restructuring of the global labor market in the 1980s led to growing
unemployment rates and an increasing demand for qualified labor forces.
Simultaneously, the limits of the welfare state became more and more
evident. These changes in the labor demand and labor environment reduced the
demand for migrant workers. Meanwhile new social conflicts emerged between
immigrants and nationals, particularly in France. Indeed, a profound
transformation of hosting countries' societies can be observed through the
existence of immigrants.
If we compare the age structures of both shores of the Mediterranean basin,
a complementary demographic relationship can be identified. In southern
Mediterranean countries the societies are characterized by a very young age
structure (about a third of the total population is younger than 15 years),
while in the northern part we find an increasingly “aging” population (about
18 percent of the total population is older than 65 years). Population
growth rates affirm the continuation of this trend. Demographic growth in
Europe is nearly at a standstill, while the growth rates in North Africa
range between 1.09 and 2.39 per annum in Tunisia and Libya, respectively.
If we now take a closer look at the relationship between the demands of
European labor markets and immigration, it seems that the linkage between
economic security and migration--the perceived threat of competition with
nationals of host countries in the labor market--is now rejected by a
recently published opinion poll carried out by Eurobarometer. According to
this survey, 56 percent of the Europeans interviewed agreed with the
affirmation that we need immigrants to work in some sectors of the economy.
The breakdown by socio-demographic factors shows that education strongly
influences these opinions. Highly educated Europeans tend to agree more than
Europeans with lower educational levels, who presumably perceive immigrants
as more direct competition in the labor market due to the economic sectors
where immigrants usually are employed. As the survey stresses, self-employed
persons are more likely to respond positively to a question about the
necessity of immigrants in the labor market than for example manual workers.
It is necessary to underline that these are perceptions; other studies have
shown that most immigrants are doing jobs nationals often are unwilling to
The distribution of economic sectors where immigrants are employed varies
considerably. This is also due to the different economic structures of the
host countries. If we compare for example Germany and Spain, it is quite
obvious that in Spain there are far more immigrants working in agriculture
and tourism than in Germany, and in turn, the majority of immigrants in
Germany work in the manufacturing industries.
This recent survey does not break down the immigrants by their countries of
origin. Herein lies an important point concerning immigration flows from the
southern Mediterranean Arab states and the issue of racism and xenophobia
towards them. Another Eurobarometer opinion poll from 1997- -stereotypes and
attitudes can be assumed to change very slowly--reveals that nearly 33
percent of Europeans openly described themselves as “quite racist” or “very
racist”. Particularly after 9/11, these attitudes are above all addressed
towards the Muslim communities living in Europe, due to their different
appearance and cultural behavior. The case of Spain clearly shows this:
Moroccans are at the bottom of the list of sympathy towards foreigners
living there. The March 11 Madrid terrorist attacks and the link to Islamic
terrorists from Morocco probably will increase hostile attitudes in Spanish
society towards the Moroccan minority living in the country. In the
aftermath of the bombing some Spanish media reported xenophobic attacks;
more and more Moroccans in Spain expressed their increasing fear of
suffering such attacks.
We need to improve our policies and strategies of integration of immigrant
minorities into our societies. These policies should be based on
non-discrimination, the right to express cultural identity, and no
marginalization. Concerning the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, a cultural
dialogue in order to learn about each other is more necessary than ever.
18/3/2004 - Prof. Dr. Alejandro Lorca is professor for
economics and international relations at the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid.
Dr. Martin Jerch is research fellow at the Mediterranean Governance
Evaluation Project at the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid.
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