‘Brexit’ and the destiny of Europe
With public opinion about the EU bitterly divided, few dare to forecast the referendum’s result. What can be safely predicted is that British exit from the EU, “Brexit” as it is known, would be hugely consequential — and not just for the United Kingdom. Thanks to the deepening refugee/migrant crisis confronting the whole of Europe there is widespread loss of faith in the capacity of governments to control their own borders, to stem what many perceive as a terrifying tide of humanity flowing toward Europe from the Muslim world. The very dynamic of the EU, its borderless open labor market, threatens its survival.
“Brexit” would galvanize the forces of the right, those across the entire continent who favor rigid borders, a reversion to the old Europe of sovereign states. In Europe, the manufacture of the razor wire required to make border controls a fearsome reality, is now a booming industry. Already the Europe Union has canvassed the possibility of sealing off Greece, the main point of migrant entry to Europe, from the rest of the European land mass. The proposal — a recipe for turning that desperate country into a combustible prison camp — casts shocking light on the European elite’s poverty of mind.
In truth, border controls afford no answer to the refugee crisis. The desperation born of acute adversity that is driving people to flee Syria and other destabilized places will not be quickly alleviated. This is an international emergency — one, it should not be forgotten, that bellicose western foreign policy played no small part in fomenting. If it is to be effectually addressed, it will require a coordinated international response based not on razor wire but hard thinking and imagination.
Before she became vilified for allowing in more refugees than Germany could easily handle, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, was reported as saying that Germany, with its aging population and stagnant birth rate, needed immigrants. Now it has become taboo to raise this issue. Yet it may be that without replenishment of its human stock, Europe at large faces a long-term biological crisis. It is noteworthy that while Europe abounds in the elderly, the Middle East abounds in the young.
Frank discussion of immigration never has been possible in the UK. In recent times, British demography has altered dramatically, mainly thanks to migrants from Eastern Europe — though this has not stopped public debate on immigration from being dominated by fears about national “security” and the threat of “Islamization.” Successive British governments have confronted an aging society handicapped by skills shortages and proliferating job vacancies in the “service sector,” which forms a large part of the UK economy. Immigrant workers have been a boon to Britain — not least because of the tax revenue they generate. Declining to admit any of this, Britain’s rulers commit themselves to ever more stringent targets for reducing immigrant numbers — targets which, over and over again, they have curiously failed to reach.
There is black comedy in the prospect that many British pensioners will vote to leave the European Union in the impending referendum — even though Britain’s National Health Service, much concerned with the care of the old, would long ago have collapsed had not Britain benefitted from the free movement of labor that has defined the European Union — and at an earlier stage from the labor market furnished by its former colonies.
In an engrossing new book, This is London, the British journalist Ben Judah evokes a UK capital transformed by immigration, an ultra- multi-ethnic city in which the white British are becoming a minority. Yet Judah says little about the genesis of a situation that he finds both fascinating and alarming. With its extreme social heterogeneity and stark inequalities, latter-day London can indeed seem a bubbling pot, but without the infusion of youthful energy supplied by migrants it might be struggling to sustain itself as a 21st century metropolis with complex needs. Imported dynamism has saved it from atrophy.
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