Immigration

It´s the emotions, stupid! or the politics of emotions

James Carville will be remembered as the strategist during Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign that gave us what has become the political mantra: “It´s the economy, stupid!” as a reminder of what to focus on. But a generation later, as we enter a new political phase, facts (e.g. the unemployment rate, GDP growth, exports, contribution of immigration, etc.) are no longer so important. Furthermore, expertise, evidence, independent analysis, etc. do not seem to carry as much weight as subjective feelings or emotions. This is the politics of emotions and perhaps it is time for “It´s the emotions, stupid!” to enter the political lexicon.

Post-factual politics / politics of emotions

The Brexit Referendum was the first serious and persistent post-factual political campaign in Britain. This was not necessarily something new but rather a culmination of a process which has been evolving for some time. It was already at an advanced stage of development during the Scottish referendum in 2015, where the emphasis of the campaign was very much on tapping one particular emotion: fear. The campaign was unrelenting in its focus on the negative implications of Scotland leaving the UK.

The fear-based campaign, mainly by those seeking to retain the status quo, did not go entirely according to plan. Despite the British government milking the fear factor for all it was worth, it was not sufficient to persuade the Scottish electorate to remain in the Union. The polls were fairly consistent in showing that despite the unrelenting emphasis on the negative, the majority of adults in Scotland were still tending towards voting in favour of seceding from the UK. It was only in the last few days of the campaign that a shift towards remaining part of the UK occurred, coinciding with the British government changing tack and unashamedly bribing the voters with all manner of concessions. Even so, it just about managed to gain a majority for the Union to remain intact. The highest recorded turnout (85%) in the UK resulted in a narrow vote (55.3%) against Scottish independence.

The recent EU referendum Remain campaign, led by Mr David Cameron and his then heir apparent, Mr David Osborne, clearly failed to learn the lessons of that narrow, last-minute turnaround in the campaign. The key strategy devised by the Remain campaign leading to the ballot on the 23 June 2016 was more of the same, otherwise known as “Project Fear”. All the possible negatives, especially the economic ones, of voting to leave the EU were magnified and pushed for all they were worth by the Remain campaign. Vast amounts of data analysis and facts were deployed with the tradition emphasis on “it´s the economy, stupid!” These arguments were reinforced up by various statesmen, such as Barack Obama, as well as reputable institutions such as the OECD, World Bank, IMF, economists, etc.

George Osborne, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer (Minister of Finance) was tasked with carrying out the economic analysing and publicising the Treasury´s assessment of the implications of Brexit. The basic conclusion was that Brexit would tip the economy into recession, 500,000+ people would lose their jobs and wages would decline, as would house prices. In 15 years, the economy would be 6.2% smaller, resulting in a loss of £4,300 for every household. The expectation was that this would put the fear of god in people and deliver a government victory.

It was plausible, it was fact-based and it preyed on people´s worst economic fears. No effort was made at all to make a case for remaining in the EU; I cannot remember a single discussion or comment or a positive nature that was ever pushed by the Remain campaign. The result is well-known: 52% voted to leave, 48% voted to remain. It was undoubtedly the single most momentous political result of recent times and will affect Britain and the rest of the EU for the foreseeable future.

The lessons of the Scottish Referendum, combined with the post-factual approaches deployed by Donald Trump across the Big Pond, were clearly analysed much more carefully by the Leave Campaign than by the Remainers. They too decided to focus on people´s fears but from a very different angle. It was not based on sophisticated econometric models that almost no one understands to magic a 6.2% reduction in GDP and thus a loss of £4,300 in the next 15 years. The Brexiters’ approach was very simple – it was exaggerated, it was not fact-based and it pandered directly to people´s fears and concerns today. If Remain’s focus was characterised as “Project Fear”, the Brexiters´ approach can be summed up as “Project Lies”. It was underpinned by a determination to dismiss and discredit all government and/or independent analyses, facts and expertise as being somehow biased because they had to be benefiting from EU funds.

The Brexiters concentrated primarily but not exclusively on the fears of the non-working, working and lower middle classes in the UK. Fears of immigrants (from the EU, though they account for less than 50% of all immigration), fears of job losses (though the UK has almost full employment – 4.9%) and stagnating wages (though almost all studies suggest otherwise), fear of losing control over our lives (i.e. the EU / European Parliament / European Commission making laws and regulations instead of the UK Parliament), all combined with a hefty dose of resentment towards the elites (taking more than their fair share of the economic pie). This was all combined with arguments about the NHS (an exaggerated £350m-a-week currently going to the EU which would be ploughed into the NHS instead – not a penny has been redirected so far), the housing crisis (blamed on EU immigrants and wealthy foreigners, though Britain has failed to build adequate housing for many decades), etc.

Emotions / fears / concerns galore

History has shown over and again, that strong emotions / fears / concerns can be exploited by those who offer change in the form of simple but evocative messages; Donald Trump has demonstrated the power of simplistic but populist messages, using Twitter, regardless of grammar or facts. The reason why these emotion-laden messages are so powerful is that they are not at all abstract (such as the Treasury / OECD / IMF / World Bank models) but embedded in people´s biases and/or experiences.

There is plenty of evidence that for decades the non-working, working and lower middle classes in many Western countries have been lost economic ground, while the elites have prospered from the ongoing forces of globalisation, greatly accentuated recently by the austerity drives (see below). Inequality has grown, wages have stagnated, tax policies have favoured the better off, while those dependent on key elements of the welfare state, including the middle classes (child benefit, tax credit, etc.), have systematically lost out as the impact of austerity has spread out. This has not been helped by the privately educated/ elites controlling successive governments, yet failing to recognise or deal with the problems faced by normal individuals and their families.

Referendums may work quite well for specific issues, such as whether to allow abortion or same sex-marriage but they are not at all geared to answering complex issues, such as whether to remain in the EU in the form or a simple “yes / no” answer. So when the opportunity arose to give the government / elites a bloody nose, it was obviously just too good an opportunity to pass-up, despite (or partly because of) the messages being put out by Project Fear.

Having gone through with the referendum, the new Conservative government cannot simply backtrack from the outcome of the vote. Doing so would fatally undermine democracy in Britain and unleash potentially far worse than what we are currently witnessing in the form of the current wave of populism. This populism seeks to take advantage of the fact that many people are no longer interested in facts and figures or weighing-up the pros and cons of different arguments. They are much more minded to follow their instincts or biases, as vented by people such as Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, Marie le Pen and quite a few others in Italy, Poland, Hungary, etc.

Raw emotions as politics (according to Home Office figures, 1,000 Syrian refugees were resettled under the Vulnerable Persons Relocation scheme in 2015. 1+ million refugees were accepted by Germany)

This strain of post-factual politics of emotions is not predicated on the traditional political dividing lines of left (Socialism/Social Democracy) or right (Conservatism/Republicanism) – it is cross-cutting in nature. The trigger issues are broad and generic yet connected with emotional impulses strong enough to transcend traditional party lines and similar allegiances. This was evident in the Brexit campaign, it was seen in the US Presidential election and strains of it are evident in France and other European countries. It is here to stay.

The emotive themes of the post-factual politics of fear are fairly common, regardless of which country is in question. This includes fear of powerful elites (e.g. Brussels/Washington D.C.), foreigners (EU / Mexicans, refugees, etc.), globalisation (trade deals, China, etc.), terrorism (Al Qaida, IS, etc.), cultural change (Islam, immigrants, refugees, etc.), etc.

No amount of logic, analysis or expertise can counteract the emotional triggers that many people have to such themes. A clear example of this was the deliberate dismissal of “experts” during the Brexit debates. Michael Gove made the situation crystal clear whenever confronted with facts/figures/experts that did not align with the case he was making for Brexit with the following: “People in this country have had enough of experts.” Truth be told, that particular soundbite had the ring of truth about it. People would much rather trust their own experiences / emotions / prejudices than listen to what experts have to say, unless those views conform with their world view and preferably in easily digestible messages (not exactly something that experts excel at).

The main themes include the following:

  • Control of own borders
  • European Union
  • Patriotism/Nationalism
  • Immigration
  • Refugees/asylum
  • Muslim culture
  • Terrorism
  • Trade / Globalisation
  • Elitism / 1%
  • Lower real incomes.

Other themes could have been added to the list, such as same-sex marriage, transgender, abortion, global warming, etc. which are all highly emotive, but the list illustrates the general issues. In the case of Donald Trump, a whole new set of additional issues could have been added such as racism, xenophobia, bigotry, misogyny, narcissism, etc. One can only hope that Trump´s particular strain of post-factual populism is not the future of politics, though I fear it already is.

Variations on a theme

Almost all the themes are negative in nature; they instill anxieties and fears in people. The only exception is nationalism / patriotism which, generally leads to positive feelings such as pride in one´s country. History is replete with examples of how easily both positive and negative feelings can be manipulated, misused and abused. Patriotism is particularly strong in the US, with its melting pot but less so in Britain, with its former empire. The Germans, the culprits of two World Wars, are rather more interested in forging a European identity, though this is has been slowly changing in recent times.

There are clearly variations. The European Union (EU) does not figure large in people´s perceptions in the USA but is something that the UK has been in two minds about since the formation of the EEC in 1958: there has always been an ambivalent relationship involved. The opposite applies to Germany: it has traditionally had an unquestioning stance to the EU where traditionally the French have made the strategic decisions (Marie le Pen would call for a referendum to pull France out of both the EU and the Euro) and the Germans have paid for them. This started changing during Gerhard Schröder´s Chancellorship and accelerated with the Euro crisis, and the advent of the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), which initially wanted out of the Euro but under new leadership has evolved into an anti-immigrant/refugee/Islam party and could eventually become anti-EU.

The perception in Germany was initially that it was paying for the economic and other economic mistakes of other EU countries, especially the Mediterranean ones. This evolved into concern over the dangers to the Euro risks for Germany itself, followed by a blistering critique of the European Central Bank´s policy of near zero interest rates and quantitative easing. The country is also experiencing angst about its capacity to absorb over 1 million mostly Muslim young men that the other EU countries (with the exception of Austria and Sweden) were completely unwilling to share. More recently, this has transmuted into concern about terrorism and attacks on German soil.

A clear trend is evident: the politics of emotions is tapping into fears and concerns about immigration generally and refugees and asylum seekers specifically. The key immigrants in the USA are the Mexicans, something that the US has a long history of, not all of it proud, such as the forcible deportation of 500,000 – 2 million people during 1929 to 1936. Trump milked this theme to the maximum extent possible with his talk of building a “big beautiful wall”, of making Mexico pay for it and of getting rid of illegal immigrants from day one of his Presidency. None of this was based on fact but it hardly dented his popularity among large segments of the population, including many of Hispanic descent.

The referendum debate on immigration in the UK has verged on the xenophobic and racist, despite the fact that EU immigration involves mostly white European migrants. Immigration was and remains the most vivid expression of people´s concerns. In this respect, Germany is different to other nations by virtue of its role in the past in respect to groups such as Jews, Roma, disabled, etc. For this reason, there is no indication at present of Germany reacting badly to EU migration (but see discussion below about recent influx of refugees), though it is happening on an unprecedented scale which dwarfs the immigration in countries such as the UK (1,13 million in 2015). This may change in time, though the ageing population structure of the country is a countervailing factor.

The ire of the Germans, particularly evident during 2015, was focused on the implications of Germany absorbing it 1.1 million asylum seekers and refugees and the still relatively large numbers expected in future (the forecast is 300,000 in 2016). It all started well, with Germans going out of their way to be welcoming but quickly deteriorated as the cultural and economic strains became apparent. To be fair, the wave of intense concern, particularly notable during the New Year period, has waned as the sheer numbers being received by the country have abated in 2016. A blip was still evident during the summer due to various terrorist and other incidents.

In the UK, known for its open racism during the 1950s to 1970s (recall private landlord adverts: No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish), recent anger towards EU migration started initially with a focus on the Poles and then extend to the Romanians (especially Roma) and pretty much all EU immigrants have implicitly been targeted during and since the referendum in June 2016. Who knows if and when this feeling may be extended to all other migrants, regardless of origin or the length of time they have lived and worked in the UK. The populists of the post-factual era are sure to milk this particular negative sentiment, especially during the drawn-out period of Brexit negotiations that will last at least until 2019. This is all the more likely because the British government still has no plan for Brexit and the other EU nations are highly unlikely to offer Britain a good Brexit deal. The risk of other countries following suit is just too great for this to happen.

Pressing the sore spot

The next two themes are particularly emotive, namely fear of terrorism and the influence on Muslim culture on Western societies. This is a particularly rich vein for post-factual politics, since this is probably where the most intense fears reside. I have shown that people´s perception of the size of the Muslim population is totally out of proportion compared with the reality.  The following illustrates the data for the three countries in question:

Country        Muslim Population % of Population % 2030
Germany 4.1 million 5% 7.1%
UK 2.8 million 4.6% 8.2%
USA 2,6 million 0.8% 1.7%

 

These data refer to 2010 as I could not find more recent comparable information for the three countries. Since 2015, there would have been an increase of approximately 1.1 million Muslims in Germany alone (i.e. 6.3% of the population) and this will continue, albeit at a lower rare. Overall, the Muslim share of EU´s total population was 5% in 2010 and is expected to increase to 8% by 2030. The fact that the Muslim population remains relatively small seems to cut little ice with many people, especially the older age groups. There is intense concern about the possible loss of cultural identity, combined with strong doubts about the willingness of the Muslim communities to integrate. This is and will continue to be a powerful emotion to tap into; many are intent on exploiting it.

Fear of terrorist attacks is at least as powerful, if not more so. The reality is that the chances of dying in a terrorist attack while on a plane is 1 in 25 million and the overall average chances of dying in any kind of terrorist attack worldwide is 1 in 9.3 million. There were at least 155 Americans killed by police officers in the United States in 2011, which means that people are about 10 times more likely to be killed by a law enforcement officer than by a terrorist. Worldwide, people are 517 times more likely to be murdered, 500 times more likely to die in a car accident, 41 times more likely to die in natural disasters and 1.8 million times by more likely to die of heart disease that being killed in a terrorist attack. However, none of this matters because negative emotions Trump facts (pun intended) – every time.

But I am falling again into the trap of talking about data / statistics / evidence in the post-factual political age.

The combination of fear of cultural change as a result of the perceived “Islamification” of Europe and the clear association with terrorism is such a potent mix in people´s minds and there is little antidote to it, other than public education. Unfortunately, not only is this imperfect, it also takes a hell of a long time to permeate minds and influence public perceptions, time which the proponents of post-factual politics will put to use in the pursuit of a simplistic but emotionally charged agenda.

The last set of themes listed above concern an amalgam of globalisation/trade deals/deteriorating incomes/elitism. In this particular case, I can relate to the panoply of emotional pulls what populists in the post-factual era are latching on to.

There is increasing evidence produced by academics such as Thomas Pikkety, who argues that the rate of capital return in developed countries is persistently greater than the rate of economic growth and that this not only causes wealth inequality, but that inequality will also increase in the future unless redistribution occurs through a progressive global tax on wealth.

This is intensifying the “them and us” divide and connects with a range of themes relating to the stresses and strains caused by international trade and globalisation, combined with growing social polarisation / inequality. This is the discourse of the 1% / elites taking a disproportionate bite off the economic pie compared with the non-working/working population (globally speaking, anyone with an income of EUR 30,000 p.a. belongs to the 1%). The lower and middle-income groups have also experienced the brunt of the effects of austerity, combined with the increasing job insecurity, resulting in deteriorating real incomes and state benefits. This led to a pronounced backlash against the elites, including the political and financial professions. These trends more than compensate for the countervailing influence of the remarkably low levels of unemployment (4.9% in USA/UK and 6.1% in Germany, September 2016) which pertain today.

What of the future?

So what does the post-factual, feeling based politics mean for Britain, Germany, Europe and indeed the rest of the world?

It means that are all in for a roller coaster political ride for the foreseeable future.

And it also means that the democracies discussed in this post are in deep trouble, unless the global economy not only starts growing strongly soon, but the resulting economic benefits are much more equally distributed in the future.

But the chances of both happening any time soon are about as high as the likelihood of being caught in a terrorist attack.

 


Brexit and the Politics of Wishful Thinking

It has been a little while since I last posted something on the AngloDeutsch Blog.

The reason is simple: the UK´s referendum decision in favour of Brexit was not entirely a surprise but it still came as a shock that the majority of my fellow Britons voted to leave the European Union (EU), a club that they had been part and parcel of for over four decades (Britain joined in 1973), even if it has always been a less than wholehearted member.

Since 23 June 2016 I have observed the unfolding UK-EU divorce while trying to come to terms with that it means for Britons, for Europeans and of course for me personally, a Briton who has lived in various parts of the EU and is a resident of Germany.

I remain as shocked as ever but unlike many Remainers who retain dim hopes that Brexit might somehow be averted, that Parliament could override the outcome of the referendum or that a second referendum could be held when the actual terms and conditions of Brexit have been negotiated, I am expecting Brexit to occur. Not only that, but I do strongly believe that having voted for Brexit, it must happen. The referendum was a democratic process, the decision was clear and democracy would be undermined, perhaps fatally, by anything other than Brexit.

Slow-burning Brexit fuse

This is not to say that I think Brexit is a good thing for either the UK or the EU, as I have made clear in my blog. I remain as convinced as ever of the opposite, even if a growing number of people are jumping on the bandwagon to claim that there has been no crisis post-Brexit. This is hardly surprising since Article 50 triggering the process of withdrawal from the EU has not yet been invoked, Brexit has not yet happened and the Bank of England has been very active in pre-empting a possible crisis by launching an aggressive “sledgehammer” stimulus package. The real Brexit impact will be medium- to long-erm in nature; it will have a slow burning fuse but it will eventually be more keenly felt in terms of investment, jobs, real wages and wealth.

The most notable thing about the three months since the referendum is how little progress has actually been made in terms of defining what Brexit actually means. Since there have been no notable decisions made, investors have not had anything substantive, positive or negative, to react to and are keeping a watching brief on what happens. This in itself is a negative, albeit not one that the Brexiteers would acknowledge.

The extent of the current policy position of the new British Prime Minister, Theresa May, boils down to a political soundbite: “… Brexit means Brexit, and we’re going to make a success of it.”

Beyond this, very little is clear about the British Government´s Brexit position in respect to fundamental issues such as:

  • When Article 50 will be triggered to officially start the Brexit negotiations (sometime in 2017);
  • Whether Parliament will have a vote on Brexit;
  • If the aim is to stay in the common market or not (hard vs soft Brexit);
  • When Britain will actually leave the EU;
  • How long it will take to sign new trade agreements with the EU and other countries;
  • What the rights and responsibilities of the EU citizens living and working in the UK;
  • What does Brexit mean for Scotland and Northern Ireland;
  • The same for the Britons living in EU countries, etc.

The only firm policy position is that the UK will not accept one of the EU´s fundamental requirements, namely the freedom of movement of people, and insists upon taking full control of the borders in terms of who is let into the country. These are non-negotiable for the government.

Wishful thinking

Theresa May said in advance of her first cabinet meeting as Prime Minister: “So we will not allow the country to be defined by Brexit; but instead build the education, skills, and social mobility to allow everyone to prosper from the opportunities of leaving the EU.”

However, Brexit will undoubtedly define her government´s work for the current political term. Not only that, it will involve nigh on Herculean efforts to unpick over 4 decades of close legislative, economic, trade, cultural, financial, environmental and other ties. Without a doubt, Brexit will define the next 2-3 UK governments´ policy agenda and thus the country´s destiny. Whatever the Prime Minister may suggest, Britain has already been defined by Brexit, certainly for the other 27 countries, and this will only intensify in period until 2019 when the divorce proceedings are likely to conclude.

The wishful thinking does not stop there.

The Eurosceptic knives are out and being sharpened; the Government already stands accused of not doing enough to bring about Brexit, as if it such a complex and critical issue in terms of Britain´s future economic wellbeing is something that could be decided upon at the drop of a hat. The Brexiteers may have gone into the referendum in a blithe manner in terms of their complete lack of post-referendum plan but at least they are being consistent.

The headlong rush towards Brexit is irresponsible. To be sure, Britain has the right to unilaterally withdraw from the EU at any point of its choosing but there is broad consensus that this would be disastrous for all concerned. The default position is thus the negotiated route to Brexit, despite the unrest among the hard core Brexiteers. However, choosing to enter complex Brexit negotiations without adequate analysis, preparation and forethought in respect to Britain´s long term interests would be the equivalent of tying both Britain´s metaphorical hands behind its back in the forthcoming marathon negotiations with the EU. Just as in the case of unilateral withdrawal, there would only be losers from such a process. The Brexiteers have won the debate, so whatever their ideological desire to head for the exit door host-haste, they will just have to rein their horses in the interests of their country.

There is a school of thought that Mrs May has made a strategic mistake by offering key ministerial positions to leading Brexiteers as Boris Johnson (Foreign Office), David Davis (Brexit Negotiations) and Liam Fox (International Trade). I think it has actually been a strategic masterstroke on her part. The political onus has been neatly shifted to the Three Brexiteers, who must now take responsibility for preparatory work, negotiations and whatever outcome Britain is able to negotiate with the EU. The Brexiteers cannot claim to have been undermined by the Remainers if the critical political posts are all held by the Three Brexiteers.

Row, row your boat…

The advantages of this approach are already becoming evident. Among the chaos and obfuscation (which might be characterised as Project Lies or Project Fear, depending on which side of the fence you sit on) evident during the referendum campaign, there were a few concrete promises made by the Leave Campaign, though the Brexiteers are busily rowing away from them:

  1. GBP 350 million per week will be invested in the NHS: Nigel Farage (UKIP) admitted that it was a mistake to make such a claim and that the NHS would not get the extra funds.
  2. Article 50 to leave EU will be immediately triggered: Liam Fox (Conservatives) has admitted that Britain is nowhere near being prepared to begin negotiating Brexit and that this will take time.
  3. Brexit is a relatively straightforward process that can proceed quickly: David Davis (Conservatives) admitted that the Brexit negotiations may be the most complicated negotiation ever and that they will start sometime in 2017, followed by two years of negotiations.
  4. Introduction of a points based immigration system to take back control of the borders: Boris Johnson (Conservatives) has abandoned the plan for a points based immigration system promised during the election campaign stating that what matters is taking control of the borders.
  5. A favourably UK-EU free trade agreement will be negotiated as the EU has more to lose than the UK: David Davis (Conservatives) admitted that it might not happen and that the UK might exit without a trade agreement, thus having to revert to less favourable WTO tariffs instead.

The above can be interpreted in one way: the loud and clear sound of retreat can be heard and the buglers are none other than the Three Brexiteers.

For her part, Theresa May is keeping her cards close to her chest, holding bilateral preparatory meetings with the French, Germans, EU, etc. and repeating her “Brexit means Brexit” mantra. The three leading Brexiteers are the ones having to do all the running, carry the weight of political expectation and toil under the pressure to come up with a coherent plan for Brexit.

They are not giving the impression having much of a clue about what they are doing, let alone being capable of coordinating the process among themselves in a manner which inspires confidence about an outcome that will be at least as much in Britain´s interest as is the case today. Their fellow Eurosceptics in the Conservative Party are increasingly restless and if the current state of affairs continues, Mrs May might just be tempted in the future to relieve the Three Brexiteers of their duties. If she were then to appoint more capable replacements, whether Brexiteers or not, that might not be such a bad outcome and the Brexiteers would only have themselves to blame.

Choppy waters ahead

It takes two to do the Brexit tango, so how is the EU preparing for it?

Firstly, the rest of the EU insists upon Article 50 being triggered as soon as possible for the simple reason that an indeterminate period of uncertainty can only be negative for Britain and for the other EU countries. Ironically, the EU is pushing much harder for a quick Brexit than the Three Brexiteers and the rest of the government. However, since it cannot do anything about it, the rest of the EU is resigned to the likelihood that the UK will not invoke Article 50 and enter the negotiation phase until sometime in 2017, possibly later 2017 once the French and German General Elections are safely out of the way. Furthermore, the EU is firm about the fact that it will not start Brexit negotiations, formal or informal, until Article 50 is triggered by the UK. The hard core Brexiteers must be as bitterly disappointed about this likely delay as the rest of the EU, but at least they have finally one thing in common.

Secondly, it is not feasible for Britain to remain in the Common Market or join the European Economic Area (assuming the existing EEA members do not veto the UK from joining this club – the early indications are that these relatively small countries might not appreciate the prospect of being joined by what would become the dominant country, resulting in very different political dynamics) unless freedom of movement of people is guaranteed. Since this is a Rubicon that will not be crossed by the Brexiteers and/or the British Government, this option appears to be out of the question. The EU is inflexible on this fundamental issue, as illustrated by its handling of the Swiss referendum and the failed attempt to restrict freedom of movement while remaining in the EEA / common market. The omens are not good and the implication would be “hard” Brexit – leaving the EU and single market altogether without a free trade agreement with the EU.

The EU members are also unusually strong and consistent on other important issues.

Firstly, to make the UK divorce too easy would be to encourage other EU countries to consider leaving the EU club. Put simply, this is the very last thing that the other leading EU countries want. The negotiations will not be a stroll in the park, whatever the Brexiteers may claim. This is wishful thinking on their part and is misleading to it.

Secondly, it is entirely out of the question for the UK to expect to have its Brexit cake and eat it too. In other words, whatever is negotiated with the UK cannot possibly be as good as the current situation as a full and (formerly) leading member of the EU, something that the three Brexiteers continue to imply. Forget that sort of wishful thinking; it simply does not add up. If you join a club, you pay your membership fees, live by the rules and reap the benefits. If you choose to leave the club, you do not pay the fees, do not abide by the rules but do not get the benefits either. Period.

Thirdly, Angela Merkel has made Germany´s view unusually clear by stressing that Brexit is irrevocable (a one way ticket and Britons cannot expect otherwise) and that it is not feasible for the UK to be part of the common market without the EU´s four freedoms, one of which is freedom of movement. She has also stressed that Brexit negotiations cannot be a “cherry picking exercise” of keeping the good economic, trade and finance bits and ditching the rest. For someone renowned for mincing her words, this is as clear a statement as the Three Brexiteers will ever hear; not that they are paying any attention in their delusion.

The British government will also wish to factor in other important considerations in securing a Brexit deal. Whatever it turns out to be good, bad or indifferent, it can be vetoed by any of the remaining 27 countries. Any marginal hopes that Britain might harbour to somehow remain in the Common Market while avoiding the freedom of movement of people can and most probably will be vetoed by Visigrad nations such as Poland.

Loaded dice

There is thus a whole series of pitfalls to be avoided and the reality is that it will be very hard for a deal to be agreed within the maximum prescribed period. The negotiations are loaded in favour of the EU due to the time limit to finalise negotiations once Article 50 is triggered. Two years (unless there is a unanimous agreement by 27 nations to extend the negotiating period) does not sound like ample time to complete “…the most complicated negotiation ever” (David Davis) and do so in Britain´s favour while also securing a qualified majority of the EU leaders and the 27 Parliaments across the EU (as well as the European Parliament – see below).

As if that little lot was not enough to give the Three Brexiteers and their ilk food for thought, the EU has just appointed its team of Brexit negotiators and no one can claim that the intention is to give the UK and easy ride. The European Commission (EC) has put a Frenchman and former EU commissioner, Michel Barnier, in charge. The UK media was pretty clear about the possible implications. The Sun branded him “anti-British” and the Evening Standard called him the “scourge of the City”, with important implications given the significance of the financial sector and the sensitive issue of the UK retaining financial “passporting rights” without which a chunk of the financial sector concentrated in London could shift to Frankfurt, Paris and other EU cities.

Furthermore, the European Parliament has selected the MEP and former Belgian PM Guy Verhofstadt as the lead Brexit negotiator, since any deal agreed by EU Leaders will have to be ratified by the European Parliament, an institution which has often been in the crosshairs of the leading Brexiteers. The media immediately branded Verhofstadt a “diehard European federalist,” the worst possible insult that could ever be levelled by a Brexiteer. Without approval by the majority of the European Parliament, there will not be a Brexit deal. Perhaps Nigel Farage was a little unwise to gloat about Brexit at the European Parliament while still holding on to his seat and salary as a MEP (17 years and counting). Some might have concluded that Brexit was mission accomplished, but obviously not our Nigel.

Dream on

So the Brexit battle lines are being drawn.

It is evident that the EU´s position is a lot clearer than that of the UK, where pretty much everything is still up in the air, other than the intention to control its borders (despite being an island and not being part of the Schengen area) and avoiding freedom of movement of people (despite having almost as many Britons living in other EU countries, benefiting economically from EU migration and receiving the majority of its immigration from non-EU countries such as the Commonwealth).

The UK has yet to come up with the semblance of a cogent Brexit plan (“soft” or “hard” for a start), let alone one which unites the leading Brexiteers (a substantial minority of the Conservative Party) while also satisfying the majority Remainers in the same party. This is going to be tricky in the extreme: the Conservative Party has a slim overall majority of 16 in Parliament and UKIP will continue to breathe down the Conservatives´ political neck (the Labour Party is even worth mentioning, given its ongoing chaos and disarray).

Britain will need uncommon diplomatic and negotiating skills (eh hem! – yes, I am thinking of our Foreign Secretary), as well as a hefty dose of luck in navigating through the choppy waters coming up in 2017 and still coming out of with a Brexit deal, let alone a favourable one, whatever the Three Brexiteers and the British government may claim.

The likelihood of actually securing a deal that is at least as favourable as the status quo is nigh on impossible (though the EU is first and foremost a political construct and since politics trumps everything else, the possibility cannot be completely excluded). The prospect of the UK having its Brexit cake and eating it at the same time appears to be a load of wishful thinking and delusion. Everyone but the Brexiteers can clearly see the writing on the EU wall… in capital letters, underlined and bold.

© Ricardo Pinto, 2016, AngloDeutsch™ Blog, www.AngloDeutsch.EU


EU health tourism and the breakdown of the National Health Service (NHS)

In addition to other issues connected with the EU referendum (e.g. EU immigration, EU benefits tourism and housing crisis and the EU), Britain is currently hotly debating the crisis in the health system or the National Health Service (NHS). It is not unusual for segments of the British media to lead with headlines such as “Migrants are pushing NHS to breaking point,” claiming that the NHS has been left “on its knees” by “uncontrolled migration” from the EU which has merged with the theme of “health tourism” or the practice of travelling abroad in order to receive medical treatment.

Prominent members of the Leave EU campaign, such as Michael Howard and others in the Vote Leave campaign have said: “We will be talking a lot about the NHS in this campaign because we believe that a leave vote is vital if we are to protect the NHS for future generations.” Priti Patel, the Employment Minister, claims that the health service is under threat because of EU membership: “Current levels of migration are causing unsustainable pressures on our public services and we can see that the NHS is creaking under the strain.”

The implication is that EU migration / benefit tourism is at the root of the problems of the NHS. So this post addresses the nature of the UK health crisis and the extent to which it is attributable to the EU migration and health tourism.

Challenges every which way you look

The National Health Service (NHS) is the largest and oldest single-payer healthcare system in the world. It is primarily funded through the general taxation system that is overseen by the Department of Health. The NHS is built upon the principle of comprehensive health service provision based on clinical need, not ability to pay. The NHS provides healthcare to every legal resident of the UK, with most services free at the point of use.

When created after WW-II, the NHS was the pride and joy of the pioneering British welfare state and served as a model for many other countries. But the fact is that the NHS has been in crisis for decades going back to at least the 1980s. As Britons are well aware, wave upon wave of health reforms have sought to cure its ills yet the NHS remains as sick as ever. The starting point in the health debate is to acknowledge that the problems with the health system predate the influx of EU migrants to the UK which started in earnest in earnest 2004 and continues to this day. The NHS’ problems did not begin with EU immigrant and will not end if migration were suddenly to end, regardless of whether migrants originate from the EU (less than half of UK immigration) or elsewhere (Britons returning home, Commonwealth, students, etc. – more than half of the immigration).

The second point is to recognise that the challenges facing the NHS are many and varied, not least connected with an ageing population and the impact of modern diseases such as diabetes, obesity, cancer, etc., combined with escalating costs of procedures, medication and so on.

The health professionals are in the best position to assess the issues and whether those issues are connected with migration or not. In a recent publication “Challenges facing the NHS in England: a guide for MPs and Peers”, the NHS Confederation (representing over 500 NHS organisations that commission and provide health services, including hospitals, community and mental health providers, ambulance trusts and independent sector organisations providing NHS care) set out the main health challenges facing the health system. These are illustrated in the diagram below.

Chart 1 NHS Challenges

Neither immigration in general nor EU immigration specifically figures as a health challenge. There is no reference to NHS creaking / breaking / lack of sustainability due to migratory pressures. This is hardly surprising since all the evidence is that EU immigrants tending to be younger, better educated and in better health than the average Briton in the labour force. We tend to consume disproportionate amounts of health services as babies/children and as pensioners, especially after the age of 75. Young adults – the typical EU migrants – put relatively few pressures on the health system.

Rather, the Call for Action focuses on areas about which there is little controversy among the 500 health professionals in the NHS Confederation. They stress the need for stability if the NHS is to tackle its challenges (endless reforms); the need to increase staff (too few); the necessity for social care funding for people with long-term illnesses; the need to make mental health services available and accessible, etc. The most critical issue by far is the finance challenge; this is the underlying reason for the continuing problems faced by the NHS. The point to note is that the UK is exclusively responsible for the resources that it devotes (or not) to the NHS. No amount of finger-pointing in the general direction of the EU will alter this particular fact.

Furthermore, the NHS funding challenge is nothing new: it predates and supersedes other factors such as EU migration. This is the fundamental reason why the NHS has been gradually overtaken by other countries, as illustrated in comparative research among OECD countries highlighted in the Table below.

Chart 2 OECD health indicators 2015

Health Care Resources in OECD Countries (OECD, 2015)

The UK’s performance compared with OECD countries highlights the NHS’ fall from grace. The UK ranks:

  • 19th in terms of health expenditure per capita;
  • 24th in terms of doctors per capita;
  • 19th in terms of nurses per capita;
  • 26th in terms of hospital beds per capita;
  • 29th in terms of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) units per capita;
  • 30th in terms of Computer Tomography (CT) scanners per capita.

Some countries, such as Germany, have even higher levels of EU immigration than the UK yet it comfortably outperform the UK in terms of the selected health indicators. Money, or rather the lack of it, is clearly an important reason for why the NHS is in the state that it is.

The UK’s austerity measures, which have been in place since 2009, included severe budget constraints with zero growth in health spending per person in real terms. On a per capita basis and as a share of GDP, health spending in the UK is slightly below the OECD average. Lack of financial capacity is clearly not the issue. Rather the UK government chooses to prioritize other public expenditure, such as defence, over the heath system. Furthermore, the situation is set to deteriorate: the NHS Confederation estimates that the gap between increasing demand for care and the funding available will be at least £30 billion by 2020. The key point is that other economies choose to put more resources into their health systems than Britain. The state of the NHS, by and large, reflects this particular policy prioritisation. Transferring the entire net budget that Britain spent in 2015 on the EU into the NHS, namely £8.5 billion (2014) would not make that much of a difference in the projected NHS deficit of £30 billion in 2020 for England alone. The Vote Leave campaign misleads in suggesting that cancelling one (EU contribution) will solve the problem of the other (NHS crisis).

EU health tourism: where’s the beef?

Health provision is clearly a national issue – the EU has no direct powers in this area except to support the common market. The Government’s audit of EU powers (the so-called balance of competence review) also covered health area and its official report concluded that: “…the UK Government believes that the current balance of competence is broadly appropriate.” It also noted that: “Industry were generally very supportive of the current position regarding competence.” It concluded that: “Evidence suggested that free movement of persons brings benefits for the UK health sector and for patients, but not without risk.”

There are “risks” perceived in some quarters, such as the EU’s Working Time Directive (WTD), which limits work to a maximum 48-hour week and lays down minimum requirements for rest periods and annual leave. But can critics really sustain the argument that the health profession should work longer hours than other professions? Most people would not agree. When it comes to a critical matter of life and death, most people would want a doctor / nurse / surgeon who is neither exhausted nor overworked (we all recall UK health workers, especially junior doctors, having to work absurd and dangerous numbers of hours in the past) when attending to their health needs. The WTD applies to all 28 countries and all professions; I see no reason for making an exception for the UK or for the NHS, though this does not preclude the possibility of fine-tuning the WTD.

There is also freedom of movement of doctors and nurses from across the EU working in the health system in the UK. This is actually a very good thing for the NHS, as acknowledged by the government’s official report: “In terms of health professionals, there has been a very positive impact for the NHS as 10% of NHS staff are from European Economic Area (EEA) countries, without whom there could be staff shortages.” For example, the Royal College of Midwives, has stressed that Britain would be hard-pressed to find enough midwives and nurses trained in the UK to replace the 33,000 from other EU countries who currently work in the NHS.

It is not only an issue of the damage that staff shortages might cause in such a sensitive area as the heath sector. The issue which those interested in improving the health system should be focusing on is exactly why Britain continues to be completely incapable of training a sufficient number of its own health professionals. I recall nurses and midwives being sourced from Ireland before the EU and the rest of the world became the NHS’s recruitment pool for health workers. No open-minded individual can fail to see Britain’s gain in this form of EU migration. If anything, other nations might well criticise the NHS’s beggar-thy-neighbour recruitment strategy (i.e. a policy by which one country attempts to remedy its economic problems by means that tend to worsen the economic problems of other countries) which basically mops-up experienced doctors, nurses, midwives, surgeons, etc. which other countries have paid to educate and train.

There is also the Cross Border Healthcare Directive which allows individuals to purchase health care and treatment from a provider in another Member State. This is supported by the health industry in the UK since it offers them the prospect of widening the sources of income by attracting EU patients and using excess capacity in the health system, for example in specialist areas such as diagnosis and treatment of rare diseases. Furthermore, under the current NHS arrangements, patients in one location of the UK are not free to seek treatment in another part where waiting times/lists may be shorter. However, the Cross Border Healthcare Directive enables them to seek treatment in other EU countries if they wish. This is a good thing: it allows patients to control their own health needs. Something that puts power in people’s hands over vast bureaucracies, for that is exactly what the NHS is, must be a good thing.

EU-related health costs: Britain only recovers 23% of what it could claim back

There is limited reliable data on the use of health services by immigrants and visitors, making robust estimates difficult. That said, the available evidence suggests that use of health services by immigrants and visitors appears to be lower than that of native Britons, as previously discussed, not least because immigrants and visitors are, on average, younger.

In 2014 an official report (Quantitative Assessment of Visitor and Migrant Use of the NHS in England), showed that EU (27 countries) and EEA (3 other countries) visitors and non-permanent residents cost the NHS an estimated £305 million, of which £220m is recoverable by England under the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) scheme. Every EEA country issues EHIC cards to their citizens, thus enabling them to receive healthcare whilst on a temporary visit to another EEA country on the same basis that is provided to its own residents. People go on holiday in the EU/EEA knowing that if they fall ill or have an accident they will be able to access health care without the need for separate insurance. This saves time, effort and money for all and is widely considered a good thing.

Department of Health data for 2012-13 show that only about £50m was recovered from the EEA countries compared with the £173m that the England pays for British visitors to EEA countries. This means that the NHS / Department of Health are not claiming as much of the money that they are eligible to receive from the EEA countries as they could.

Some forget that this is not a one way street; it is not only EU nationals that come to the UK and use health service here. Britons also make a good deal of use of the health services in other EEA countries and the costs more or less balance out: £220m worth of health services received by EEA people in England, compared with £173m worth of services received by people from England in EEA countries.

The low percentage of recovery (22.7%) is due to one reason and oner reason only: NHS inefficiency, which is an issue for the UK to rectify. Why should Britain need over a decade to set-up a working reciprocal health cost management system when the other 27 nations have long ago managed to do so? It has been argued that there is a lack of knowledge among NHS healthcare professionals as to who is eligible for free treatment. Can this really be so fiendishly complicated as to systematically defeat the British health care system with its new generation of sharp suited, MBA educated management? Surely it is not like expecting the NHS to crack the health equivalent of the Enigma Code.

Rather than voting to Leave the EU for a problem that can only be pinned on Britain itself, it might be more effective to set-up a system to check if an individual is from the EEA and train healthcare professionals to recoup the costs of EU patients, as Britain is fully entitled (but fails systematically) to do.

EU-related health costs: instead of 0.18% of the NHS budget in England, it costs 0.26%

Interestingly but not surprisingly the actual health costs of EEA migrants are very low, despite all the emotive talk of “EU migrants / freedom of movement pushing NHS to breaking point” and “NHS is creaking under the strain of immigrants” emanating from the Vote Leave EU group such as Priti Patel and others. The annual NHS budget in England was worth £116 billion in 2015/6, so EEA migrants used-up 0.26% of the annual NHS budget (£305 million). When the costs that could have been recovered from EEA countries are taken into consideration (on the assumption that the NHS ever gets its act together), the percentage would drop to 0.18% (£220 million). There would appear to be vastly bigger fish to fry when it comes to saving costs in the British health system.

When this analysis is extended from England to the UK, the same health competences report noted that in 2012/13 the UK paid a net £805 million to EEA countries to cover the healthcare costs of Britons, especially pensioners, living in other countries. This sum illustrates just how many UK citizens benefit from the EU health provisions.

The health competences report also stressed that: “… many more UK pensioners choose to live in other EEA countries than pensioners from those EEA countries who live here. Using Spain as an example, approximately 400,000 British pensioners reside there at any one time. For a great majority of these, the fact that the UK covers their healthcare is of great benefit. It should also be noted that, had those citizens remained in this country, the UK would be meeting the costs of their NHS care in the usual way and in some Member States the average cost of healthcare can be lower.”

In other words not only do more British pensioners benefit from the system than EU pensioners gain from using the NHS but it would cost the NHS more to provide health care to those 400,000 Britons currently living in Spain (and potentially many others, since there were about 1.4 million Britons living in the EU) if they came back. The Vote Leave EU campaign would find it hard to swallow the point that EU health provisions may actually be saving British taxpayers money (and/or that the savings are being recycled for the benefit of the health of the people in Britain).

It should be noted that the NHS (Charges to Overseas Visitors) Regulations Act of 2015 requires hospitals to charge overseas visitors (not ordinarily resident) for the NHS services that they provide in a hospital or provided outside by staff employed by a hospital. GP services and services provided outside hospitals are not chargeable. So it would appear that Britain is well on the way to meeting the public concerns about the costs of health for visitors, whether from the EU or elsewhere.

EU health tourism: much ado about very little

The UK’s competences review concluded that, on balance, the EU’s engagement in the health sphere is appropriate and noted the major advantages of EU health directives, including the IHIC card, the number of EU educated nurses and doctors working in the UK and the capacity to access European level health services. There are real benefits for health institutions and citizens across EU countries.

In terms of the major health challenges facing the UK in the future, the 500 NHS Consortium health institutions did not identify immigrants as an issue: money or rather the lack of it is the key issue in Britain. The evidence is that EU/EEA citizens use the NHS intensively less than native Britons. In any case, Britons make extensive of health services in EEA countries, especially those that retire in Spain, France and elsewhere.

The EU introduced health transfer arrangements to ensure that each EEA nation pays according to the health services absorbed by their nationals. This is fair but it is up to each country to introduce the necessary systems and procedures. After a decade, the NHS is still unable of charge its share, which means that instead of EU nationals costing the NHS 0.18% of its annual budget, it actually costs 0.26% in England.

Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and other Vote Leave campaigners may insist that the “billions spent on the UK’s EU budget contribution to be spent on the NHS.” That is fair enough but let us not pretend that this will solve the problems in the health system at a stroke. Even if the GBP 8.5 billion net EU contribution were poured in its entirety into the NHS tomorrow, nothing would change fundamentally because the financial need is much greater than this contribution. Can it realistically be argued that EU migration / health tourism is pushing the NHS to breaking point, especially when large numbers of Britons and British pensioners living in the EU are actually reducing the costs to the NHS since the costs of health provision in Spain and elsewhere are lower than they would have been in the UK?

I don’t think this is such a bad health deal for Britain and is not a sufficient reason for voting to leave the EU in the forthcoming referendum.

  • Is the EU responsible for the state of British health system: the EU ensures that all EU citizens have access to health services in all countries at no extra cost or hassle.
  • Is the British government responsible for the state of British heath system: the UK is 100% responsible for national health provision and the health budget. The UK chooses to invest a smaller amount on health than other countries and this is the root cause of the health problems. Pumping Britain’s entire EU annual contribution in the NHS will not change the fundamentals of the health system, though it would certainly be helpful.
  • Should I vote to leave the EU because of EU health tourism: EU nationals make less use of the NHS than do native Britons. Also, there are more retired Britons living in EU countries and making use of other EU health systems than there are EU nationals living in the UK. Both save the NHS money and/or allow resources to be focused on health services in Britain.

© Ricardo Pinto, 2016, AngloDeutsch™ Blog, www.AngloDeutsch.EU


The British housing crisis: is EU migration also responsible?

Let us get down to brass tacks: Britain has a serious housing crisis. When demand for housing (people wanting to rent or buy) exceeds supply (the stock of housing) the effects are not good for society. House prices and rents rise, making it difficult for people to pay for their accommodation. This reduces the net income available for other things, makes people anxious and directly affects their quality of life.

If people migrate to the UK or wealthy foreigners invest in the housing market, this reduces the housing supply for the domestic population unless construction goes up. This drives-up house prices and the levels of frustration, especially when people have to share their homes with their parents/children, are priced out of living in their communities or see empty houses that are investments, rather than homes. This is especially so in Britain, a nation of home owners and this state of affairs leads some to conclude that the housing crisis is caused by the EU and its freedom of movement principle. It leads to a perception that perhaps EU mobility results in a lack of housing for the native population. This is powerful argument during the period leading up to the EU referendum in June 2016; it connects with the EU immigration and EU benefit tourism, topics I have previously written about, and is presented as another reason for Britons to vote to Leave the EU (i.e. Brexit). So it is important to address the nature of the British housing crisis and the EU’s role in it.

The first thing to be said is that there is no shortage of analysis of either the housing problems or the possible solutions, but the latter basically boil down to balancing housing demand and supply, together with the political will to solve the crisis.

My home is my castle: demand for housing

Numerous factors influence housing demand. A critical factor is price: at higher prices, real incomes fall and people will reduce their demand while alternatives to owning a property, such as renting, become more attractive. There is a multitude of other factors that are important, such as population dynamics (population size, migration, birth and death rates, age structure, etc.), incomes of households (some may shift from renting to buying, move to a bigger property, buy a second property, a holiday home, etc.), social and lifestyle trends (e.g. late marriages, divorce rates, decisions to remain single, etc. all increase single households and thus demand), availability of credit and interest rates (higher rates make ownership less affordable while lower ones achieve the opposite and restriction in the supply of credit reduces demand for housing and can lead to a fall in house prices) and other influences such as government incentives (to buy, to rent or to buy to rent) and expectations in terms of house /land price developments (speculation).

Since all the above influence housing demand, estimating future demand is a complex process. What is simple though is that immigration, whether from the EU or elsewhere, is only one factor among many others, the majority of which are more influential in terms of stimulating demand for housing in the UK.

Nevertheless, as far as the EU’s freedom of movement of people is concerned, there are two further issues to consider:

  • EU migrants are a sub-set of the migrants to the UK. In a separate post, I showed that of the 498,040 people who migrated to Britain in 2012, 80,196 or 16.1% were Brits returning home, 157,554 (31.6%) were from the EU and 260,290 (52.2%) were from the Commonwealth and other countries that Britain is entirely responsible for, rather than the EU;
  • EU migration is not a one way street and not all roads lead to London and the South East. In the same year, 321,000 people left the UK, a proportion of which migrated to other countries in the EU.

Consequently, even if EU migration was the only issue affecting demand for housing, which is clearly far from being the case, EU migrants do not constitute the majority of immigrants to the UK. Furthermore, the same process is happening in other EU countries that receive Britons.

A number of housing demand studies demonstrate the same trend in the UK: housing demand is increasing significantly and the government and the rest of the housing system, not least the planning system and the construction industry, need to respond in order to ensure that the supply covers the future demand. After all, it is not unusual for populations to increase and housing policy and system must respond in order to deliver affordable, quality housing. The public has the right to expect this irrespective of the particular set of factors that may drive housing demand (i.e. whether immigration is an issue or indeed whether it is from the EU or elsewhere) at a particular point in time.

A comprehensive estimate of housing need and demand in England was published by the Town and Country Planning Association. It estimated that England alone required 240,000 – 245,000 additional homes each year until 2031 in order to meet rising demand. Many similar projections have been made long before EU migration to the UK became an issue of debate post-2007.

Housing supply: decades of neglect = housing crisis

The issue then is how much housing is being built and is it sufficient to meet the demand for 245,000 new units per annum? The UK housing construction data (supply) are presented in the Table below.

Table 1 UK Housing Construction

Source: Gov.uk, Live tables on house building, Table 209

A few points are worth noting based on the Table:

  • Housing construction (permanent dwellings completed) in England have fluctuated between a peak of 170,610 in 2007/8 and 108,870 in 2011/11;
  • The point during which it was perceived that there was an acute housing crisis was around 2005 but since then, the trend in terms of housing supply, albeit fluctuating slightly, has actually been downwards;
  • By definition if the target for England is 245,000 new units per annum, the equivalent for the UK will be much higher. The last year of housing construction data (2014-5) shows a gap of 93,000 even against the lower target for England;
  • In a well-functioning housing market where the citizens, planning authorities, construction industry and the government jointly perceive a housing crisis, the normal response would be for housing supply to increase to reach the target of 245,000 new housing units per annum for England. If this does not happen, it adds to the affordability pressures experienced;
  • If here is such a systematic lack of construction, then surely the respective people in charge of housing policy, finance, planning, construction, etc. are responsible.

To Scapegoat or not to scapegoat (or holding a mirror to British policy makers)

A considerate British voter in the forthcoming EU referendum might reflect on the following issues:

  • The EU has no control in the housing sphere: this is exclusively the remit of national governments, in this case successive UK governments;
  • There are many factors affecting demand for housing, of which EU migration is only a secondary factor;
  • The EU related migration accounted for 31.6% of the migrants to the UK in 2012, but the UK also sent its migrants to EU countries – the EU freedom of movement cuts both ways;
  • The UK has systematically produced fewer housing units than it needs for a period of decades despite projections of massive unmet demand for housing ;
  • The UK, including its politicians, its construction industry and its planning system (local authorities) are responsible for ensuring that supply keeps-up with demand and that housing is affordable. This requires responding to changes in housing circumstances, regardless of what is driving them (e.g. prices, birth rates, speculation, constrained land release, immigration, interest rates, tax incentives, etc.);
  • Despite mounting pressure, regular public outcries, evidence of shortage and affordability problems, etc., the UK only managed to build a paltry 150,000 housing units in 2014-5. This is a damning indictment of Britain, not least its politicians, policy-makers and industry.

It is up to each individual to form their own opinion of where the blame for Britain’s chronic housing crisis should rest. Scapegoating EU migration (which took off from 2004) for problems which have been systematically neglected in the UK amounts to a disgraceful attempt to blame others for issues which Britons have failed to tackle over and over again and are still doing a miserably bad job with.

In this context, it is worth addressing two issues which policy-makers, politicians and the Leave the EU campaign will almost certainly raise in defence of the indefensible: the lack of adequate and affordable housing in the UK, which is a basic human right.

Clutching at straws 1: the crowded island myth

Many, if not most, Britons appear to be convinced that the UK is a very crowded island and that there is simply no space left for housing construction, let alone to accommodate migrants from the EU or anyone else. Certain segments of the media that are biased against the EU, as well as the general Leave campaign, including populist political parties, are keen to emphasize this argument, so let us examine the claim.

The most comprehensive analysis of this issue (UK National Ecosystem Assessment) concluded that only 6.8% of the total land area of the UK is urban (10.6% of England, 1.9% of Scotland, 3.6% of Northern Ireland and 4.1% of Wales). But being urban does not necessarily mean that it is built upon since such areas also contain gardens, lakes, etc. The most detailed analysis ever conducted found that only 2.3% of England is built upon, the rest is natural. Elsewhere in the UK, the figure is less than 1%. Contrary to popular misconception, only a tiny fraction of Britain has been concreted over. Britain is not a crowded island. It can and must build more housing for the benefit of its citizens.

Clutching at straws 2: EU preferential treatment in accessing social housing myth

Another common perception is that EU citizens are benefit tourists, and that they strain the welfare state by having a higher demand for social housing. But the data show that about 17% of UK-born and 18% of foreign-born individuals live in social housing. That means that foreigners are on par with native Britons when it comes to access to social housing. However, when it comes specifically to EU migrants, the popular perception is even more incorrect. Studies demonstrate that citizens of EU-8 countries who arrived in the UK after accession are 57% less likely to live in social housing than native residents. More recent studies indicate that over 90% of immigrants in the UK are in households that are eligible to apply for social housing (p.3) and confirm that EU (and EEA) citizens are less likely to be in social housing than Britons.  The research also shows that, once factors like the demographic structure, location and economic circumstances are taken into consideration, immigrant households are significantly less likely to be in social housing than equivalent native households. Another popular myth bites the dust.

Build, Build, Build

The housing crisis is fundamentally a matter of demand and supply and the policy choices each country makes about how to prioritize public investment and other policy decisions. For decades Britain has emphasized home ownership as the one and only housing policy priority. It has constrained social housing construction for ideological and financial reasons, while at the same time forcing social housing to be sold at discount. Its recent policies have stimulated a boom in buy-to-rent, which has increased private renting but also boosted house prices and exacerbated the affordability problem.  At the same time, policy makers have not stimulated the planning system to release sufficient land for housing construction, mainly due to the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) syndrome. In the meant time, the construction industry has shown much more readiness to speculate in order to accumulate, rather than increase construction efficiency, productivity and quality. None of this has stimulated housing supply greatly while housing affordability has declined.

Housing is a matter for each of the 28 nation states of the EU. Some countries, like Germany, build enough housing to meet the needs of their citizens whose quality of life is significantly improved by having sufficient, high quality, affordable homes to rent and/or buy (the recent refugee crisis could not have been planned for in advance. By definition, a surge of 1.1 million asylum seekers in 2015 was not part of the housing forecast). Others, like Britain, do not build enough housing. This is not because of insufficient land, EU freedom of movement of people or other handy excuses for systemic failures on the part of British politicians and their policies, the British planning system and the British construction industry. Any such interpretation amounts to the politics of scapegoating others for one’s own glaring failures and I, for one, will have no truck with it.

  • Is the EU responsible for the British housing crisis: The British housing crisis has been decades in the making. Strong EU immigration is a relatively recent phenomenon.
  • Is the British government responsible for the state of British housing: Its policies have focused almost entirely on housing ownership (tenure), rather than housing construction.
  • Should I vote to leave the EU because of the state of British housing: Britain alone is responsible for regulating demand and supply to deliver sufficient and affordable housing.

© Ricardo Pinto, 2016, AngloDeutsch™ Blog, www.AngloDeutsch.EU


How extensive is EU benefit tourism in the UK anyway?

A cursory reading of Britain’s most popular newspapers might leave the distinct impression that immigrants, especially from the European Union (EU), are beating a path to the UK specifically in order to take-up welfare benefits, live in social housing, avail themselves of the health system and generally live the high life on the back of the hard-working citizens of the UK (i.e. benefit tourism) who actually pay taxes and thus subsidise the lives of such EU citizens.

 Immigration generally is “the” issue of the forthcoming EU referendum and if the above characterisation of the situation remotely reflects the truth, I would be campaigning to leave the EU too. Not surprisingly this is one of the key arguments of Eurosceptics and Brexiteers in the debate over the future of the UK in the EU. So this post examines the extent to which the EU freedom of movement of people contributes to benefit tourism in the UK. 

EU migrants sponging off Britons?

There are four fundamental freedoms in the EU which are designed to create a common market in Europe, namely to: sell goods, sell services, invest and work anywhere in the EU. Britons have no issues with the first three freedoms but remain deeply concerned about the fourth. 

The first point to note, as discussed in the previous post on EU immigration, is that the freedom of movement of people is not possible for seven years upon joining the EU, unless a nation chooses to opt-out as the UK did (together with Ireland and Sweden) in 2004. So, for example, the Croats will not be able to work in the UK until 2020 unless a country, such as Germany, decides otherwise. This is to ensure that there is not a rush out of a country that joins the EU. The second point to note is that out of the 508 million people in the EU, only 2.2% of them chose to live in another country of the EU. There is clearly no mass exodus of people from one EU country to another. The third point is that though the UK is indeed a very attractive country to move to, it by no means the only one or even the main one in the EU.

In terms of net migration (those arriving minus those leaving), the countries with the largest net inflows of foreign nationals were Germany (452,000), UK (267,000), Italy (235,000) and France (71,000) in 2013. The reality is that the more economically dynamic a country is, the more it is likely to attract people looking for work or to improve their lives.

Turning specifically to the issue of benefit tourism, the evident suggests that EU citizens come to the UK to study, work or to join their families, rather than because of the allure of the UK’s social benefits. This is illustrated in the graphic below, which shows that family reunion used to be the dominant entry route. Student inflows became the main reason for entry, but this has fallen significantly in recent years, something which is connected with the Conservative government’s drive to cap net migration at 100,000 per annum. Most immigration from the EU is for work-related reasons, whereas most immigration from outside the EU is for study-related reasons.

Figure 1: Annual Inflows of Migrants by Reason

Figure 1 Annual Inflow of Migrants by Reason

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source: Immigration and the UK Labour Market, Jonathan Wadsworth, CEP, 2015

Furthermore, the same study shows that immigrants are better educated than their UK-born counterparts and that the educational gap is actually increasing over time over time. The “old” Europe or EU-15 migrants are twice as likely to be graduates and the “new” Europe or EU-8 migrants (the 8 Central and East European countries that joined the EU in 2004) are also more likely to be graduates than the UK-born, and most others have intermediate levels of education.

The conclusion of the research is unequivocal:

“There is still no evidence of an overall negative impact of immigration on jobs, wages, housing or the crowding out of public services. Any negative impacts on wages of less skilled groups are small. One of the largest impacts of immigration seems to be on public perception.” (2015, p.1).

But even if there is little or no evidence that EU immigrants to the UK reduce jobs and wages, housing or other public services (housing and health services are discussed in subsequent chapters), this cuts little ice with the Leave campaigners. They maintain the “benefit tourism” rhetoric in relation to EU migration, stressing that an unspecified proportion of EU migrants come to Britain specifically to take advantage of its generous welfare state.

To be fair, such belief is not unique to Britain. In Germany, similar pronouncements are regularly made by the CDU/CSU, the mainstream right of centre parties, as well as the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), a fast growing populist party. The AfD is the equivalent of UKIP. It wants to leave the Euro, rather than the EU, while also stopping benefit tourism and the flow of refugees to Germany. Both parties are aided and abetted by segments of the media in driving a general notion that EU benefit tourism is pervasive, unfair and must be stopped forthwith.

What exactly is the scale of EU benefit tourism?

A detailed report (ICF GHK and Milieu Ltd, 2013) concluded that non-active EU migrants represent a very small share (0.7% – 1.0%) of the total population in EU Member States. The evidence is that non-contributory benefit payments to immigrants account for between 1% – 5% of all benefits paid in France, Sweden, the Netherlands, etc. and above 5% in Belgium and Ireland. However, the share of non-active EU migrants is very small, both in the UK (1.2%) and in Germany (1.1%).

Other research examining recent EU immigrants to the UK of working age who are not students, not in employment and not in receipt of state benefit, estimates that this group amounted to 39,000 people received any benefit, including child benefit. To put this in perspective, this is only 1% of all recent EU nationals in the UK who are of working age, not students, not in employment but in receipt of some kind of state benefit. Since non-EU immigrants typically cannot access benefits until they have been resident in the UK for five years, it is unlikely that they would migrate with the intention of accessing state benefits.

The latest official government information (February 2015) reinforces the previously mentioned studies:

  • 371,220 working-age claimants of UK benefits (7.2% of total claimants) were non-UK nationals. Of these 113,960 were EU nationals, representing 30.7% of non-UK claimants and only 2.2% of all claimants;
  • In terms of the people who are out of work and claiming benefits, 287,300 were non-UK nationals claiming out-of-work benefits or 7.4% of total claimants. Of these 91,700 or 2.4% of total claimants were EU nationals;
  • People born outside the UK comprised 16.2% of the working-age population but only 7.7% of working-age individuals receiving key out-of-work benefits were non-UK nationals;
  • 19,579 families had Child Benefit awarded for 32,408 children living in EEA states, around two-thirds of whom were in Poland. 7,026 families had Child Tax Credit granted in respect of 11,762 children in EEA member states.

The Government’s own authoritative Balances of Competences review on the Single Market Free Movement of Persons (2014, paragraph 2.55) observed that:

“… none of the evidence we received was able to point to specific research or analysis on the importance of access to social security benefits in the decision to migrate.”

Whatever the Leave EU faction and segments of the media may claim, EU benefit tourism, to the extent that it exists, is much lower than the native population’s own use of such benefits. This reinforces the point that EU nationals come to the UK to work, not to sponge off Britons. Benefit tourism is not worth getting worked-up about, unless it is for cynical political reasons.

A storm in an English tea-cup

People generally emigrate due to the prospect of employment and better wages, rather because of the lure of welfare benefits. The EU migrant population is younger and better educated than the average Briton; the unemployment rate among EU migrants is also lower than that of the average Briton. When the figures for both non-EU and EU migrants are analysed, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the benefits tourism hysteria affects very people from the EU living in the UK. This is a storm in a tea-cup whipped-up by those that seek to pander to popular misconceptions rather than standing-up to them.

Benefit tourism, whether from the EU or elsewhere is largely a myth. It is not only that not many migrants are eligible to get benefits in the UK. It is that the great majority of EU migrants actually pay more than their share and take very little out in the form of benefits of any sort. EU migration is good for the tax man and for the welfare state in Britain.

  • Is the EU responsible for the level of benefit tourism in the UK: No. It only guarantees freedom of movement and equal treatment of all EU nationals.
  • Is the British government responsible for benefits eligibility in the UK: Yes. For UK and non-EU nationals; partly for EU nationals, but the recent renegotiation has resulted in a decision to tighten-up eligibility rules for EU nationals living in Britain.
  • Should I vote to leave the EU because of EU benefit tourism: No. The numbers of people involved are small and proportionately much lower than the native British population claiming benefits.

© Ricardo Pinto, 2016, AngloDeutsch™ Blog, www.AngloDeutsch.EU


Is EU immigation so negative for the UK and is it out of control?

EU immigration has been possibly the single most topical issue in Britain since 2004, when Britain allowed various new members of the European Union (EU) such as Poland to come and live and work in the UK. When the economic and financial crises hit, the views on immigration hardened noticeably in Britain, with an accent on immigration from central European countries. The discourse evolved into “British Jobs for British Workers” under the Labour Party. Under the Conservative Party, the debate intensified further, partly due to the impact of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), resulting in a “cap” on annual net immigration at 100,000 and concern over Britain’s “uncontrolled borders” due to the EU’s freedom of movement of people. Attention then shifted to Bulgarian and Romanian migrants and EU “benefit tourism.” Lately, the surge of refugees and asylum seekers to the EU in 2015, on-going tensions in the “jungle camp” in Calais and the possibility of jihadist terrorist sneaking through EU borders have elevated anxiety to peak levels.

This is a very potent mix of issues to discuss. In the context of the British referendum on whether to remain in the EU or not, the key issue boils down to this question: to what extent is the EU and its freedom of movement of people the reason for the current level of immigration in the UK and it is good or not for Britain??

Is the level of foreign born population much higher than the EU average?

The first issue to address is whether Britain is somehow exceptional and has disproportionately higher levels of foreign born population living in the country. The answer is an unequivocal no. The UK and Germany had very similar levels of foreign-born inhabitants (12.3% and 12.4% respectively) as a percentage of the overall population in 2013. The latest figures would probably be around 14% for the UK but larger for Germany, following the entry of over 1 million refugees in 2015, an issue which I have written about.

The percentage of foreign-born populations in the UK is relatively modest compared with many EU countries such as Luxemburg (42.4%) and Cyprus (23.2%), well as others such as Belgium (15.7%), Ireland (16%), Austria (16.1%), Sweden (15.4%), etc. Indeed, given Britain’s not so distant colonial past, the level of foreign born population in the UK could have been a lot higher. At the same time, it is not only foreigners that have been beating a path to the UK. Historically speaking, a very large number of Britons emigrated to the rest of the world, especially the Commonwealth countries, though there is far less concern about British emigration as about immigration into the UK.

Focusing on the role of the EU migration and thus on the freedom of movement of people, the EU cannot be held responsible for any migration to Britain prior to joining the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973. Until then, Britain was entirely in charge of its immigration policies and the pattern of immigration reflected its colonial past and the rules established by successive British administrations.

The freedom of movement of people is one of the four economic freedoms that form the basis of the EU: free movement of goods, services, labour and capital. By voting in a referendum in 1975 to join what is now the EU, the British people accepted these four economic freedoms. The freedom of movement and residence for persons in the EU as one of the cornerstones of the EU was established by the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992 but the data show that the flow of EU citizens to the UK was a trickle until 2004, when larger numbers started to come to the UK.

Are Britain’s Borders out of control because of the EU?

Over time, the EU has grown to 28 member countries, a process that successive British governments have supported enthusiastically until recently. There is always a possibility that people will flow from lower income/employment economies to higher income/employment ones. This is the very reason why EU transitional provisions exist to restrict the flow of people from new member countries to the rest of the EU for a period of up to 7 years. This applied to Spain, Portugal, Ireland, etc. when they joined to the EU then Poland, Slovakia, etc. then Bulgaria and Romania (until 01 January 2014) and it applies to Croatia, the latest country to join the EU, until 2020. Each member country has a choice of either sticking with the 7 year transition or not. Thereafter the EU freedom of movement of people and workers applies in full to the new EU member countries.

The evidence shows that there was not a significant flow of people from the EU to the UK until 2004. Until that point the overwhelming majority of immigration to the UK reflected the policy of the British government, which in turn reflected Britain’s colonial heritage and its agreements with Commonwealth countries, as well as a strong flow of students to the country. These are not something which the EU interferes with. They are national decisions that Britain makes.

Furthermore, two issues reinforced the UK’s ability to influence migratory flows to the UK:

  • Schengen Agreement: this created the EU’s borderless space, enabling passport-free movement across most of the EU bloc. However, the UK opted out of the Schengen Agreement and unlike most EU countries, its borders remain intact and passports are essential to gain entry;
  • Britain is an island: unlike most other EU countries which have no internal borders and thus people can cross former borders unimpeded (this is changing following the 2015 refugee crisis), this is not the case in the UK. As an island, it has defensible natural and other borders. There are few entry points and every person seeking entry is checked by the UK authorities.

Therefore, the notion often repeated by the media and “Leave” politicians that Britain has “uncontrolled borders” because of the EU and its freedom of movement of people is little more than a fib. It has opted out of Schengen, it has natural borders and migrants can only come in via three routes: the Channel tunnel, the harbours and the airports, all of which under the exclusive control of the UK Border Force. It is only the people that are allowed in (or manage to sneak in) that get through.  This is the exclusive preserve of the British government. What it cannot hinder is the freedom of movement of EU citizens (once the transition period is over). However, this cuts both ways: Britons can and do leave the EU to other EU countries in large numbers.

If Britain is an island and is able to check every single passport of every single person coming into the country, you might well pause to ask what is so uncontrollable about the UK’s borders, other than EU related migration? Whose fault is that and is the EU element a reason to leave the EU?

Why did EU migration increase and is it detrimental to Britons?

The UK government (and Ireland and Sweden) chose to forego the EU transition arrangements and opted to remove the restrictions on labour market access from the onset of the EU enlargement in 2004. Other nations gradually followed suit, but like the UK, did not have to for 7 years. Germany and Austria restricted labour market access to the maximum period allowed.

EU-8 is the term used to denote the 10 countries that joined the EU in 2004 (Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Malta, Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia), excluding Cyprus and Malta. The UK decided of its own volition and with its national interests in mind, to allow the citizens of the EU-8 countries to live and work in Britain immediately. The rationale at the time was clear: Britain’s economy was booming and both the government and the private sector were concerned about a possible overheating labour market. The problem was solved by suspending the EU’s 7 year rule. Citizens from the EU-8 responded to the invitation to come to the UK, exactly as hoped by British authorities and industry. The key issue, however, was that neither foresaw just how many would choose to take-up the offer to come and work in the UK and Ireland.

But this was not an issue as the economy kept growing and all boats kept rising with the tide of employment and wealth being generated. British companies, British tax payers and British citizens benefited from the contribution of a young, healthy, educated, willing and industrious new source of labour.  When the double-whammy of deep recession and financial crisis hit, leading to unemployment and reductions in wages, the gear was thrown into reverse. History has a habit of repeating itself. The call for “British Jobs for British Workers!” was soon be heard, as well as increasing levels of criticism of Central European migrants, which then transmuted into criticism of the EU, the freedom of movement of people, Britain’s uncontrolled borders, etc. This was followed swiftly by the rise of UKIP as a political force, leading to a decision by the Conservative Party to cap net immigration at 100,000 per annum and culminating in the decision to hold a referendum on whether to remain in the EU or not on 23 June 2016.

The hardening of public attitudes in respect to EU immigration specifically since 2008/9 only makes sense if the EU migrants, and more especially the recent arrivals from the EU-8 countries, have been taking-up jobs which the British population would have otherwise have had, thus leading to higher levels of unemployment among the native population, as well as depressing their wages.

The evidence is that there are two types of EU migrant: those from “old” Europe (EU-15 such as France, Germany and Italy) who are slightly younger and more highly educated than the average Brit and those from “new” Europe (EU-8) who are much younger and also better educated than the average Briton. The old Europe migrants tend to find more highly skilled work than the average Briton. However, the new Europe migrants, partly because of the lack of language skills, found work mainly in low-skill, low-paid jobs such as skilled trades, construction and services jobs.

The evidence is that neither the “old” nor the “new” EU migrants put pressure on the wage and job prospects of the native British population. A review of various UK studies shows that there has been no, a small negative or a small positive labour market effect (wages, unemployment, etc.) in destination countries such as UK, while the long run impact is thought to be very small or none. By contrast, “old” EU migration has resulted in an increase in human capital, leading to higher productivity while also having a positive effect on British GDP.

The consistent conclusion from research into the labour market effects is that migration from the EU has been beneficial to the UK economy.

Is the EU freedom of movement a one way street?

It might be quite hard for some to comprehend this, but not all roads lead to London and the south east. The EU’s freedom of movement of people (as well as goods, services, capital) is a remarkable gift: it allows all EU citizens to travel across 28 countries (31 when Switzerland, Luxemburg and Lichtenstein are counted) to study, work, retire, au pair or just enjoy the richness of Europe whenever and as often as they like without “let or hindrance”, something which Britons should appreciate since these very words are engraved in our passports.

Many, if not most Britons, enjoy some or all of these freedoms in one way or another, not least in terms of their holidays. Indeed, 2.2 million Britons, such as me, have chosen to work, study, invest (e.g. holiday and retirement homes and pension funds) or retire in EU countries not least Spain (just over 1 million), France (330,000), Ireland (329,000), Germany (107,000), Cyprus (65,000), the Netherlands (48,000), Greece (45,000), Portugal (39,000) and Italy (37,000). It is not possible to claim anything other than that the UK and its citizens have taken full advantage of the freedom of movement of people in the EU: the numbers of Britons living in the EU almost balances the EU citizens living in the UK (2.3 million). Despite the somewhat hypocritical stance of many Britons towards the EU freedom of movement of people, this right is something which is taken for granted by a very large number of them, especially the elites that control the British media and the political parties (it would be good to know just how many of them own a holiday home and/or how frequently they holiday in the rest of the EU). Leaving the EU would be a double-edged sword for Britain.

Is the level of EU migration to the UK unstoppable?

Chart 1 Migration 1991 - 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source: Migration Statistics, House of Commons Library, Briefing Paper, 2015

Chart 1 shows immigration, emigration and net migration in the UK. During 1991 – 2014 immigration increased rapidly from 329,000 to 632,000. Emigration also increased from 285,000 to 319,000. Net migration (those arriving minus those leaving), increased from an annual average of 37,000 during 1991 – 1995 to an annual average of 232,000 during 2010 – 2014; this represented a significant and sustained increase in the level of migration.

However, the majority of immigration is not from EU countries, as the Table illustrates for 2014.

Table 1 Immigration 2014

Source: Migration Statistics, House of Commons Library, Briefing Paper, 2015

Historically, EU migration to the UK has been relatively low: during the period before the British government chose to allow EU-8 countries to enter Britain in advance of the 7 year transition period, EU migration accounted for 12.9% of all migration.

By 2014, 41.8% of annual immigration was attributable to the EU’s freedom of movement of people. However, the majority of migrants to the UK remain Brits returning home (12.8%) or non-EU nationals (45.4%). The decision by the UK to allow close to 60% of migrants to enter is not to do with the EU in any way, shape or form.

Of the 41.8% of the EU nationals entering the UK in 2014, almost half (20.4%) were from the EU-15 or “old” Europe such as Germany, Italy and France. As previously discussed, these are typically extremely well-educated, professional individuals who the British economy relies on to succeed and thrive. 12.7% of EU migrants were from the EU-8 such as Poland and Slovakia. The rest, 8.7% are from the rest of the EU, which is mostly Romania and Bulgaria. These are less well educated but still outperform the British average.

On this basis, although EU migration to the UK is undoubtedly significant, it is beneficial to the economy and only 21.4% of overall migration is from countries that Britons have become sensitive to in recent years. The UK could reduce the levels of migration from non-EU countries (45.4%) overnight, if it chose to do so, without reference to the EU or anyone else. Presumably it prefers not to hinder Britons from returning home, students paying pretty good money into the British higher education system or close-off access by Commonwealth countries (or presumably cut-off the supply of highly skilled employees from “old” Europe).

The rest (from the EU-8 and EU-2) amounts to 21.4% of the immigration experienced in 2014 or about 1 in five of the migrants entering the country. Is this worth leaving the EU in order to stop this group from the EU entering the country? And is it worth doing so despite the evidence that such migration does not depress wages and does not reduce the employment prospects of native Britons? I don’t think so, despite the media negativity and the claims of UKIP and Leave faction.

However, it might possibly be worth it if the EU citizens, whether from old or new Europe, were in the UK specifically to take-up the social benefits, rather than coming to work and thus contribute to the British economy. I shall address the issue of EU “benefit tourism” in the next post.

The EU immigration debate – much heat, little light

Migration from the EU was relatively low until 2004 when the UK decided, in its own interest, to allow immigration from the EU-8 accession countries such as Poland a full 7 years before the EU transition period officially required it. The UK benefited greatly from this decision, as did the many migrants that responded to the UK’s invitation: they did not come illegally to Britain. When the economic and financial crises struck, the mood turn ugly in the UK towards migrants generally, and those from the EU specifically. The freedom of movement of people is routinely criticised but the facts are that Britain has opted out of the Schengen Agreement, is an island and is in full charge of policing its own borders and deciding who comes into the country, not the EU. The latest information shows that immigration is running high but 12.8% are either Britons returning home or non-EU nationals (45.4%), mostly from the Commonwealth countries, over which the UK has full control of but rightly, chooses not to stop.

This means that less than half (41.8%) of the UK immigration originates from the EU. But even here, the situation is not as simple as UKIP and the Leave campaign pretend. Almost half (20.4%) are from the “old” Europe comprising top professionals which the British economy depends upon. Only 12.7% are from the EU-8 such as Poland and Slovakia and 8.7% are from EU-2, namely Romania and Bulgaria. However, in both cases, the evidence is that they are neither reducing the wages nor the employment prospects of native Britons.

Furthermore 2.2 million Britons benefit from the EU freedom of movement of people compared with 2.3 million EU citizens living in the UK. A decision to leave the EU would be a double edged sword for Britain, since it not only benefits economically from EU immigration, but also exports pensioners, student and workers to other parts of the EU.

Is this a case of the British media and populists politicians eating the EU cake and having it too? Form your own opinion.

  • Is the EU responsible for the overall level of foreign born population in the UK: No
  • Is the British government responsible for its own borders and the majority of migration in the UK: Yes
  • Should I vote to leave the EU because of the EU freedom of movement: No

© Ricardo Pinto, 2016, AngloDeutsch™ Blog, www.AngloDeutsch.EU


In Praise of Freedom of Movement of People in the European Union

MoveMapper™ helps you move to another country quickly and painlessly

MoveMapper Android App

In these days of mass movements of people connected with the refugee crisis, it is rare to find recognition of the European Union’s (EU) freedom of movement of people, let alone any commendations. Rather, the media and politicians tend to focus on the stresses and strains connected with migration and freedom of movement within the EU in general and the volume of refugees heading to Europe specifically. In this article, I argue against the grain of current discourse, fully acknowledging populists’ ability to set the tone of public opinion. I make the argument that the single most important achievement of the EU is the principle of freedom of movement of people across 28 countries. This fundamental right is under attack from many quarters. This article and the MoveMapper™ app presented below, represent my effort to counteract this trend. Freedom of movement of people has the capacity to improve people’s lives, while also raising standards of living for all. We should not allow it to be undermined by short-sighted, populist agendas.

The Nation State: freedom of movement lost

Before there were dukedoms, fiefdoms, principalities and eventually nation-states, human being roamed the earth and settled where they chose to. Freedom of movement of people existed in its purest sense: we could go anywhere we liked and the world was our oyster. After the establishment the nation state we became Germans, Britons and so on. Fences, borders, visas and other obstacles restricted the ability to live and work severely and the arena of life was telescoped into national boundaries except for a lucky few, such as diplomats, the military and the well-to-do.

The EU: freedom of movement regained

At the heart of the European Union (EU) is the establishment of a common market. This in turn required overcoming a number of restrictions and led directly to the establishment of the four fundamental freedoms at the core of the EU:

  • The free movement of goods: this right allows free flow of products between EU countries free of import/export duties/charges and common customs tariffs for non-EU countries;
  • The free movement of services (and of establishment): this ensures unrestricted rights to create firms/self-employment in any country and freedom to provide cross-border services;
  • The free movement of capital: this allows capital flows (finance, property, etc.) within the EU countries;
  • The free movement of people: this allows the relocation of citizens between EU 28 countries to pursue their activities, including the abolition of discrimination based on nationality.

The EU is dedicated to realising these four freedoms, subject to exceptions where a Member State can prove that they jeopardize a public good (e.g. public health) and are safeguarded by EU Treaty. Of the four freedoms, the most important to the 500+ million people living in the EU, is the freedom of movement of people throughout 28 countries (actually 32 in the European Economic Area countries, which includes Switzerland, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway).

Up-Close: Movement of People

For me, this is the most fundamental freedom and greatest achievement of the EU. It guarantees every EU/EEA citizen the right to move freely, visit, live, work and retire in any member state without restriction. It applies to all EU/EEA citizens, regardless of nationality and does away with discrimination in the common market. Furthermore, it ensures that certain rights can also be extended to the family members of the worker, including benefits, pensions, etc.

None of us believes that we should be disadvantaged in the labour market because of our religion, skin colour or other factors. This freedom means that discrimination on the basis of nationality, residence and/or language is not permitted, while also securing equal treatment in employment conditions, remuneration, dismissal and the receipt of social benefits.

If you believe in transparency and fair treatment, there is absolutely nothing that anyone should fear from the freedom of movement of people. On the contrary, this is an achievement that Europeans should be proud of.

The pros and cons: movement of the people

At the most basic level, the freedom of movement of people means that you and I have access to 32 EEA countries, as well as Switzerland, at the drop of a hat. Not only that, we have automatically the same rights (and responsibilities) as the citizens of those countries. What does this mean in practice?

  • You can visit all 31 countries when you like and as often as you like without cost, delay, restriction, etc.;
  • You can study / au pair, etc. in any of these countries using the same procedures and incurring the same costs as the national citizens of that country;
  • You can work in all countries without constraints or fear of discrimination due to nationality, residence, language, etc.;
  • You do not need a visa or a qualifying period before you can start working or your family can join you;
  • You can do not need to fear being treated differently in the form of the contract, holidays, wages, pension, benefits, etc. just because your nationality is different;
  • You can retire wherever you choose and transfer your pension without fear of being penalised or restricted by virtue of choosing to live in another EU/EEA country.

These fundamental rights are just the tip of the iceberg. Yet this degree of freedom to take greater control of your own destiny would have been considered to be a utopian dream not so long ago in Europe. It used to take hours to cross borders and the long, costly and uncertain bureaucratic nightmares involved in moving countries, getting a job, buying a property, establishing a company, etc. made it a remote dream, except for a small minority. No longer; this particular freedom have been hard won and it is worth fighting tooth and nail to retain.

The above are not the only benefits of the freedom of movement of people. It can play an important role in other respects, contributing to individual, national and EU well-being:

  • Ageing Population and pensions: the ageing population structure in the EU is a major challenge: of the 28 countries of the EU, only Ireland, France and the UK are remotely close to being able to replace their population. Politicians may seek to increase the female participation rate in the labour market and raise the pensionable age, however, the serious demographic challenge cannot be overcome without significant positive net migration for a sustained period of time, even beyond the levels currently being experienced due to the refugee crisis;
  • Reducing unemployment: some cities and regions of EU countries experience much higher levels of unemployment than others (e.g. London vs Liverpool). In the same vein, some countries experience higher levels of unemployment than others (e.g. Greece and Portugal vs Germany and the UK). If economies are growing and labour is attracted to more dynamic cities, regions or countries, this is advantageous to all concerned, not least the unemployed, their dependants, the employers, as well as the tax man;
  • Economic contribution: if economic growth is restricted due to lack of employees or absence of certain types of skill, a labour market of 500+ million makes it possible for economies to continue growing without overheating and resulting in recession. This applies not only to the top, professional jobs. Low paid, dirty, dangerous, dull, flexible and insecure work is the very type that many nationals of the wealthier EU countries are very content to leave to others.

There are few things in life that only entail benefits and no costs; freedom of movement of people is no different. The main potential disadvantages include the following:

  • Cheap Labour Depressing Wages: it is possible that inflows of people willing to take even lower pay than the going rate for certain jobs depresses the wage levels. However, the case either way (depressing or increasing wages) is hotly disputed by economists. Most studies find that there is almost no effect either way but many people remain fearful of this issue, especially the less educated/skilled;
  • Already High Unemployment Levels: it is possible that migrants will flow to areas with already high levels of unemployment. However, migratory flows have an internal logic – migrants want to find work, not to move from being unemployed in one location to being unemployed in yet another. As a rule, they seek out high employment areas because they want to work, they want to save and they want a shot at a better life for themselves;
  • Welfare Tourism: it is possible that a proportion of migrants will seek to improve their lives by migrating to a country offering higher social benefits in than in their own nation. However, research suggests that a tiny proportion of EU migrants fall into this category (less than 1% of all beneficiaries in six EU countries and 1%-5% in five others). Despite the great song and dance about this issue by the populists, no government has come up with any data corroborating the overblown claims of cross-border welfare tourism;
  • Brain drain: freedom of movement of people can lead to skilled people leaving countries that paid for their education and training to be benefit of the receiving country. This is certainly an issue for the emitting country. But there is also the prospect that many choose return to their country of origin, bringing with them higher levels of human capital, know-how, investment capital and an entrepreneurial mind-set that can contribute to national development.

While recognising the pros and cons involved, on balance, most conclude that the freedom of movement of people is a great boon for the individuals concerned, as well as for the emitting and receiving countries. Migration across localities, cities, regions and countries has the capacity to unleash economic development and raise living standards, while also delivering greater satisfaction and happiness at the individual level. It is not a one-way street, but it is worth defending.

The Reality: movement indirectly hampered

The reality however is that governments, to varying degrees, are sensitive to the issue of freedom of movement of people. While recognising the great potential and actual advantages of migration, politicians are extremely mindful of emotive public opinion. They are fully aware of the demographic ticking-bomb that is the ageing European society. But short-termism is inherent their profession (4-5 year election cycles) and populism (winning the next local / regional / national / European region election) is the name of their game. They and the media feed upon people´s concerns and fears, regardless of whether these are well-founded or not. Fear, not hope, is their basic working material.

The consequence is that none of the EU and EEA governments (the European Commission included) make it easy for people to get access to the information that they need to have a sound basis for deciding whether to move to another country or not. A lot of information is available, but it is fragmented, outdated, uncoordinated, etc. Moving to another country may be something that we consider but we usually do not get far. It takes weeks of research effort to connect up the fragmented dots and build a clear picture of what is involved in moving from one country to another with the EU. We typically lack the time, skills, energy and patience to do this.

Relatively few people make use of the single most precious gift of the EU to its 508 million citizens: only 11 million EU citizens have taken advantage of the right to live, study, work or retire in another EU country (or 2.2% of all people in 28 countries). It is clear that some countries are more attractive than others, but the low level of general migration within the EU is not something to fear and deny.

Moving people: MoveMapper™ app

Through the EU’s freedom of movement of people, we have almost utopian rights to live our lives how and where we want. If we choose to, we can change our minds and go back home and pick-up where we left off. I am a serial migrant. I have lived in several EU countries and worked in almost 40 countries worldwide. I have benefited enormously as a human being and as a professional. I do not fear migration or migrants. On the contrary, I embrace other cultures, languages, traditions, history, art, ideas, cuisine, and yes, also our differences and our sameness as human beings, whatever our skin colour, language or beliefs.

The beauty of the freedom of movement of people has inspired me to develop the MoveMapper™ app, which is designed to bring to together key information in deciding whether to work / study / au pair / retire, etc. in another EU country, starting with Britain and Germany.

The MoveMapper™ app covers the formalities of moving to another country, how to get accommodation, how to find employment, how to deal with financial issues, how to integrate your family, how to gain education / language skills and other issues. By pulling the relevant information together, the app provides you with the capacity to enrich your life.

I do not claim that this is a perfect app, that it has all the possible information or indeed that it is 100% up-to-date. The situation is constantly evolving and maintaining information is not easy.

But I believe that it will provide you with sufficient information with which to enable you to decide whether and how to take advantage of the EU’s greatest gift to its citizens. The rest is up to you.

The MoveMapper™ app offers information for two countries to start with: Britain and Germany, the countries closest to my heart and which form the focus of my blog: the AngloDeutsch Blog.

The free version can be tested for free. The premium version costs Euro 0,99 + VAT per country.

When the MoveMapper™ app generates sufficient interest and revenue, I plan to add other countries and update and improve the information available, as well as the app experience.

Test MoveMapper™. Rate it. Share it by forwarding it to people who might be interested.

Do not fear the freedom of movement of people within the EU; instead, recognise it for the incredible opportunity that it offers to those that choose to make use of it. This amounts to real power, real freedom to shape our lives and those of our families.

© Ricardo Pinto, 2016, AngloDeutsch™ Blog, www.AngloDeutsch.EU


The refugee backlash – pulling-up the European drawbridge

© Ricardo Pinto, 2016, AngloDeutsch™ Blog, www.AngloDeutsch.EU

2015 was another tumultuous year for Europe. Over a million refugees found their way into the European Union (EU), but already a new dynamic is evident in early 2016: the refugee backlash has begun and Europe is pulling-up the drawbridge on refugees and economic migrants. The broad contours of the dynamic evident can be summarised as follows:

  • The EU countries have accepted too many and cannot continue to absorb refugees at the same rate;
  • Germany was irresponsible in allowing so many refugees;
  • Without proper checks, the refugee will include a radical element that will pose a threat to the EU´s security, as illustrated by the terrifying Paris bombings in November 2015;
  • Once in Germany, or wherever, they will spread to other parts of the EU, so the freedom of movement of people principle may need to be looked at again;
  • Further sexual assaults on women and robberies by young men from “the African or North African region” are to be expected following the shameful New Year’s Eve experiences in Cologne, Hamburg and other cities;
  • The current levels of migration will destroy Europe as we know it; the borders must close, only legitimate applications up to a predetermined cap can be accepted and the rest sent back.

This all seems logical and it plays well as a populist theme. This certainly applies to parties such as the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) in Germany and the UK Independence Party (UKIP), but it also goes down equally well with the mainstream political parties such as the Conservative Party in the UK and the CDU and especially CSU in Germany. This is without even mentioning the more radical right wing movements that exist throughout Europe. Not surprisingly, shrill criticism of the migration issue and the EU’s apparent inability to manage the situation is particularly evident in the UK, as it gears up for the forthcoming referendum (the exact date of which has not yet been announced) on whether to remain in the EU or not.

It is very difficult to unpack and analyse what is clearly a highly emotive theme, let alone have a sensible debate about it, which is the very reason why certain political parties are making hay with the refugee issue. Previously, their favourite theme was the Eurozone/Greece crisis, now it is migration but the overall gloom and doom narrative does not change very much.

I should stress that there are clearly legitimate public concerns throughout Europe about the migration issue, both within the EU and from outside. However, the use of scare tactics to gain political or other advantage is not something I enjoy witnessing so I aim to address a sub-set of issues, such as Germany’s alleged irresponsible behaviour, the argument that Europe simply cannot cope and the refugee backlash that is in full swing before the first month of 2016 is finished.

The blame game

I will start with Germany’s role in the European refugee crisis. There is certainly a messy situation, but did Germany act irresponsibly in 2015?

Any way you choose to cut it, Germany has played the key role in the refugee crisis. Germany accepted 1.1 million refugees in 2015, a number than could rise further on by the time the counting is official. Germany had in any case been experiencing significant flows of migrants, mainly from the EU. For the last few years this has been running at over 400,000 net migrants per year. Add this up and Germany received at least 1.5 million net migrants last year, which is an astonishing figure. Furthermore, under the German asylum law, refugees may be allowed to bring their family members, resulting in a significant and unquantifiable flow connected with 2015.

By any reasonable criteria Germany has been an incredibly good country to accept so many people. This is not just about the cost involved, which is undoubtedly significant albeit one which Germany is in a position to absorb. Being a good country is first and foremost about the willingness to recognise the human suffering cause by the migration crisis and to try to do something about it, rather than turning a blind eye to it all.

The contrast with many other EU countries could not be greater. Countries such as the UK have agreed to accept 5,000 Syrian refugees per year for the next five years. It has to be borne in mind that even this paltry number was only agreed to following a public outcry from British citizens appalled by their government’s hard heartedness, which bounced Parliament into agreeing to do more.

Germany is not alone in being a good country: about 90% of the refugees have been accepted by three countries out of 28 in the EU: Germany, Sweden and Austria. What about the response of the other 25 countries of the EU?  Following months of unedifying political squabbling, which continues to this day, the best they could come-up with was to agree to relocate 160,000 asylum seekers from Greece and Italy over the next two years: this is an average of 5,700 per country over two years, though very few of these transfers have actually occurred so far (less than 500 were achieved in 2015 and only 3 out of 10 “hot spots” have opened according to some estimates).

Is “pitiful” too strong a word to summarise the EU’s collective failure in the face of a mass humanitarian crisis? I don’t think so. It is not the first time that the EU has failed miserably to stand up to be counted and it will almost certainly not be the last. It is not as if the refugee crisis was some sudden, unexpected act of god; this is the result of steadily growing pressure and reaching its natural and inevitable conclusion. There was nothing about it that could not have been predicted by the civil servants of the European Commission or of the EU member states.

Germany’s decision to act more or less unilaterally in accepting 1.1 million refugees must be seen in the following context:

  1. This is the worst crisis since WW2: the number of forcibly displaced people, often due to wars, reached almost 60 million worldwide at the end of 2014, including over 14 million refugees. This was an increase of about 25% compared to the previous year and is mostly due civil war, violence and oppression in Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, etc. although other regions, including northern Africa and the Balkans, are also major sources of migrants (IMF, 2016 / The Refugee Surge in Europe: Economic Challenges). This is nothing short of a mass human tragedy, which Europe is neither immune to nor can afford to simply turn its back on. Globalisation entails many new developments, including the capacity of large numbers of people to move in the direction of Europe. It may take time, but sooner or later, it does reach Europe.
  2. This was not a crisis of Germany’s making: it did not chose to invade Iraq in 2003 and played little or no part in setting in chain a series of events which have destabilised parts of the Middle East, in an attempt to bring about democracy through regime change. Of all the European nations it is the UK, France and Italy (together with the USA) that bear the greatest responsibility for any resulting instability in the region. All are now conspicuous for their efforts to obfuscate causality and deny moral or other responsibility (if you break something, you should fix it) to deal with the resulting mess that they helped to set in chain.
  3. The EU failed spectacularly: the utter inability of the EU to find common ground in dealing with the huge volume of people heading towards Europe is what resulted in Germany’s more or less unilateral action. Just as in the Greek/Eurozone crises, it is proving extremely difficult for 28 countries to make decisions quickly and act in unison. This should not be in the least bit surprising. The EU is very far from being a United States of Europe; this simply reflects the fact that the nation-state is alive and well within the EU, despite exaggerated claims of its demise. Each nation retains the ability to follow its own mandate and block changes that it does not agree with. The Central European (Visegrad countries) and Western Balkans states have made their views crystal clear in respect to taking a share of the refugees, but they are not alone. Just as in the case of Greece and the Eurozone, finding a common solution to an unexpected large-scale problem is a slow, messy and costly process. In the end, to misquote slightly the famous words: Europeans Will Always Do the Right Thing — After Exhausting All the Alternatives. The 28 nation states plus the various Candidate Countries (i.e. Western Balkans including Turkey) will find an imperfect compromise and Germany will pay a disproportionate amount of the cost arising. Such is the iron rule of the EU. No other scenario is possible if 28+ nations are to continue to play broadly for the same team. How many other international agreements are you aware of that take a couple of weeks or months to resolve? Climate change agreements? International trade agreements? These things take years or decades, not weeks or months to sort out and are always and everywhere an uneasy compromise. 28+ countries finding a way to deal with the worst humanitarian crisis in 70 years takes time but in 2015, time was of the essence where people are involved, rather than just economics.

Cometh the hour, cometh the country: Germany chose not to sit on its hands but to act in alleviating the growing pressure along the Turkish-Greek-Balkan-Central European corridor.

Refugees in Miratovac, close to the border between Serbia and Macedonia. Photo by Djordje Savic / EPA

Refugees in Miratovac, close to the border between Serbia and Macedonia. Photo by Djordje Savic / EPA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You are free to form your own opinion about whether Germany has acted irresponsibly or not. I personally think that not only has Germany acted incredibly responsibly, but as tax payer and resident of the country, I am proud of living in such a country. No doubt, Germany has already changed as a result and ordinary Germans are deeply unsettled about the implications, an issue which I plan to write about in the future. This is a reflection, among other issues of the fact that the scale of the problem is so great that no country can possibly solve it all on its own – not even Germany.

Europe Cannot Cope! Really?

The next issue is whether Germany and/or Europe have relevant experience and if they can absorb the numbers of refugees.

For a start, I can distinctly remember (since I was part of it) a small, poor, broken European country of 8.5 million absorbing about 1 million people from its former colonies during the mid- to late-1970s. While there are major differences with the current situation (common language, culture, religion, etc.), Portugal was not part of the EU but absorbed those numbers and did not collapse despite its politically chaotic and economically precarious post-colonial situation at the time. In fact, it thrived as a result of the influx. Don’t get me wrong: I am not suggesting that Europe should fling open its doors to all and sundry with no questions asked, but I am saying that Europe is much more robust than many would seem to believe.

After a short-lived spike of international approval for its decision to take on the refugees, Germany has since reaped criticism, direct and indirect, most of which has been leveled at Angela Merkel, the Germany Chancellor. The gist of the argument is that she has gambled Germany’s long term interests for personal hubris: she wanted to cap her career with a Nobel Peace Prize and/or improve Germany’s international image after the Greek crisis. Others of a more analytical bent sought instead to justify Germany’s actions (and presumably the inaction of their own governments) by pointing to Germany’s ageing population structure. It seems to me that almost all 28 EU countries are suffering from the same problem, albeit to varying degrees. Did others facing the same demographic situation jump to take their share of refugees? I don’t think so.

It is certainly true that Germany and many EU countries have a rapidly ageing population structure (fertility of around 1.5, which is below the replacement rate of 2.1) that would greatly benefit from significant immigration of the scale that happened during 2015. But I take issue with the implication that the German authorities naively failed to foresee the likely stresses and strains that would be generated by taking so many refugees in one year (the estimate at the time was 800,000 – 1 million refugees). The reality is that Europe generally and Germany specifically have plenty of experience of large scale refugee crises and indeed of Muslims culture.

Firstly, Germany has a large number of Muslims. According to the 2011 Population Census, there are just under 6.2 million foreigners in Germany and Turks alone accounted for the largest group (1.5 million people or 24.4%). In all, some 2.5 million people are of Turkish origin. It is not as though Germany is not aware of the stresses and strains associated with the religion, gender, education, labour market and other dimensions connected with integrating populations, including Muslims. The same applies to many countries of the EU but unlike others, it still went ahead with what is often described by its critics as its “open door” policy.

Secondly, it was not so long ago that Germany had to respond to a refugee crisis of similar proportion. During the 1990s, a large number of asylum applications were lodged due to crisis in the ex-Yugoslavia, though the peak of that crisis in 1991 (around 700,000) has been exceeded in 2015 (see first Figure below). That said the second Figure below illustrates the point that the numbers were relatively low compared to those of the 1990s, though the diagram does not take the 2015 influx of over a million refugees into consideration. It is probably not a coincidence that then, as now, Germany absorbed the lion’s share of refugees.


IMF graphic 2016

Source: IMF, 2016, p.11

Thirdly, to put things in context, Europe had only absorbed 1 out of the 14 million refuges worldwide in 2014 and this increased to 2 million in 2015. Whoever believes that what has happened in 2015 is the end of the matter and that the EU can simply put-up the fences, close the borders and turn its back on the rest of the world is deluded. A proportion of the 12 million other displaced people are heading our way in 2016 and beyond: the current estimate is that another 1 million will aim for the EU this year and possibly more. The way to end this catastrophe is not by pulling-up the drawbridge to Fortress Europe; if the conflicts in the countries in question are ended and if this is combined with a major reconstruction programme, in time, the human tragedy and the migratory process will also abate. Putting-up fences and closing borders will restrict some of the flow, but will also add to the human desperation without actually dealing with the root cause.

To conclude, in my view Germany did not saunter into the current situation blithely and Mrs Merkel was right in saying “Wir schaffen das.” We can do it: I agree with her. Other, much smaller and poorer countries have in the part or are currently absorbing the same or higher numbers of refugees. Germany knew, more or less, the implications of opening its borders to about a million refugees, even if the general public could not have predicted the exact consequences, including the outrages in Cologne and other cities. It is most unlikely that Europe’s pre-eminent politician would not have sniffed the potential political, social, religious and cultural implications of undertaking such a radical step. The numbers absorbed by Europe are relatively small by comparison with the numbers being absorbed by other countries, including Turkey. If they can do it, so can Europe. Indeed, a cursory reading of European history proves that it has coped with wave after wave of migration.

Refugee backlash

To ask if the refugee backlash is coming would be to pose the wrong question: it is already here.

The mood in Germany and the rest of Europe started turning ugly long before the Paris terrorist attacks and the mass sexual and other crimes in Cologne and other German cities during the New Year’s Eve celebrations that went wrong. Pensioners are up in arms about the way they perceive their country is changing. Parents are concerned about their children’s education as gymnasia are requisitioned as temporary accommodation and class rooms begin to take the strain of absorbing the influx of non-German speakers. House prices and rent levels are being pushed up in an overheating housing market where affordable accommodation is scarce.  Region and local authorities remain deeply concerned about practical matters in addition to shelter, such as state benefits and labour market opportunities for refugees. The issue of integration and whether it is possible to achieve or not, is “the” topic of conversation. This applies to Germany and it applies equally to other EU countries.

Angela Merkel has gone from being Europe’s pre-eminent politician and practically politically unassailable in Germany, to being under siege. Make no mistake about it; she is fighting for her political future.  Yet despite the ratcheting of pressure, even today, she is refusing to put a cap of the number of refugees that will be accepted by Germany in future (the CSU is openly advocating a cap of 200,000 per annum, which itself puts the UK’s response in the shade). There are probably two reasons for this. Firstly, German asylum law is based on individual assessments so caps would not be workable without changing the law (but we know laws can be changed at the drop of a political hat). Secondly, the huge numbers of forcibly displaced people out there (14 million and counting) are desperate and there is no end to their travails in prospect. What would you do in their shoes? Which safe harbour would you try to reach, possibly at the cost of perishing on the way? A cap would be a meaningless promise without a workable EU arrangement.

Mrs Merkel is displaying the hallmark of true leadership: political courage and acknowledging moral duties beyond her nation’s borders. That is the essence of being responsible in a European and global sense, though I recognise fully that many would much rather put national and personal interest before anything else, including in Germany.

Merkel probably expected the rest of Europe, especially the largest countries, most of which have had more than a hand in the unfolding disaster in the Middle East, to take a much greater share of the humanitarian burden. Despite the lessons of Greece, she has miscalculated in relation to most of the EU and is now in the middle of the biggest political crisis that she has ever faced. She also appears to have greatly overestimated the Greek and Turkish capacity to manage their borders.

But she is nothing if not a pragmatic leader. She has recognised that the whirlwind is not just gathering, it is already blowing. A change has already been signaled that 2016 will not be the same as 2015. The scale of the challenge means that Germany cannot shoulder the burden mostly on its own for much longer. All three of the most generous countries have introduced border visa checks (three others have also and many more are threatening to do the same). A closure of national borders has so far been resisted by the EU, but this could change. Sweden has announced that 80,000 of the 160,000 refugees it accepted will be sent back because they are economic migrants, not refugees. The EU has reinforced the message by stating that 60% of the applicants are not refugees at all but economic migrants mainly from the Balkans and North African countries such as Morocco and Tunisia. It has also threatened to suspend Greece from Schengen for systematic failures in the migrant crisis. In turn Greece is pointing its finger at Turkey for allowing migrants to “swamp” their border and islands.  Reports are piling up that in addition to anti-refugee demonstrations and hostels being set on fire in Germany, violence is erupting in Sweden and other countries.

A common EU approach is the only way forward, combined with a serious and concerted effort to end the conflicts and reconstruct economies, since these are the drivers of mass population displacement. But just like the Greek and Eurozone crises, which are also far from over, it will not happen miraculously or overnight.

So, get ready for a much more hard-nosed European approach to the refugee crisis, with an emphasis on only accepting people from conflict zones (true refugees and asylum seekers) and rejecting all others (i.e. economic migrants). The EU drawbridge is being pulled-up. The wider societal backlash is already underway and those that are leading it will not be pausing to distinguish those that deserve to be helped from those that do not.


I found refuge in the EU. You helped me. Now, let’s help the others.

© Ricardo Pinto, 2015, AngloDeutsch™ Blog, www.AngloDeutsch.EU

The Grexit crisis has blown hot and cold many times in recent years and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. However, by common agreement, there is now an even greater crisis affecting the European Union (EU) and its future, namely the current refugee and asylum seeker crisis. It is not about economic migration; it is a humanitarian crisis.

A Refugee Crisis of Mega Proportions

I have been commenting on the issue of migration on the AngloDeutsch.EU Blog so I cannot but discuss this crisis of mega proportions. I would like to briefly summarize the points of the current situation before presenting a personal perspective below:

  • There is a variety of different types of migrants. The two main categories are “asylum seekers / refugees” who are fleeing something which makes them fear for their lives/safety and “economic migrants” who are seeking a better life for themselves and their families;
  • The difference is fundamental. Each EU member state makes its own decisions in relation to the issue of asylum seekers/refugees within the framework of broad international agreements which appear to be difficult or impossible to enforce. The same applies to economic migrants from outside the EU. Within the EU, a fundamental principle is that of “freedom of movement” of capital, goods, services and people. Consequently, there is no restriction of migration within the EU, except for recently joining countries, such as Croatia. Restrictions remain during a „transition“ period for some countries such as the UK, but other, such as Germany, have chosen to abolish such restrictions even before the transition period lapses;
  • Many politicians and some mainstream media, especially those with an ax to grind, deliberately or otherwise, lump the refugees/asylum seekers, economic migrants and freedom of movement into one giant, emotive issue: this is spurious, confusing and contributes to a heated debate in the EU and elsewhere. In an atmosphere of anxiety about migration in general, this is not helpful;
  • Most EU citizens, British and Germans included, make a clear distinction between economic migrants (there is concern about the level of migration in some countries) and genuine refugees / asylum seekers, where there is generally a good deal of sympathy;
  • The current levels of refugees / asylum seekers must be put into context: it is the highest level since World War II and is the direct result of various conflicts in Africa and the Middle East, not least in Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Somalia, etc. This is first and foremost a humanitarian crisis. For the first time since World War II, there are more than 50 million refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people worldwide;
  • Some of the people joining this wave of desperate humanity are taking advantage of the situation. Having worked in Albania, Kosovo, Serbia, etc., all of which are making strides to join the EU, there is little doubt that the vast majority of these applicants are being opportunistic. If this sort of thing is allowed to continue, it may discredit the overall refugees/asylum situation and undermine the willingness to help others;
  • The latest development, since this blog focuses mainly on Britain and Germany, is that the German government has issued what is nothing less than an unprecedented commitment of take in at least 800,000 and possibly a million refugees/asylum seekers this year, not counting other forms of migration, which has been running at very high levels in recent years. By contrast Britain has taken 5,000 Syrians since 2011 and there is a major political debate about whether a target of 10,000 refugees / asylum seekers would be acceptable. The British government, under increasing pressure from ordinary citizens, has just announced that it will accept 20,000 refugees/asylum seekers over five-years (4,000 per year);
  • The main political explanations for this imbalance is that one (Germany) has a shrinking population and therefore needs to take in people but that the other (UK) is an overcrowded island that cannot absorb any more than are already coming in. There is a prominent political view that taking in refugees would not solve the problems in the relevant countries and would simply encourage even larger numbers to come to the EU;

It is up to each person to reflect on whether their respective governments’ policies are appropriate in the face of this human catastrophe, bearing in mind the costs involved as well as the potential knock-on effects on social, health, housing and other services, including the downstream integration issues. There will certainly be implications in the short-, medium- and long-term, since most refugees/asylum seekers that are accepted are likely to remain, even when the crisis is over.

A personal perspective

In the rest of this post, for a change, I shall not focus on the definitions, statistics and policy responses, etc. but the human element using my own migration experiences and those of my family. The point has been reached in this humanitarian crisis where everyone must pin their colours to the mast.

I was born in Mozambique. When I was nine years old, the civil war that quickly followed the war of independence reached stage where by parents finally decided that they had no choice but to abandon the country. There were a series of issues leading to this decision, but the straw that broke the camel´s back was a bomb that blew out the windows in the surrounding buildings. Fear for our safety, combined with a sense of growing injustice, led to a decision to leave everything behind, except for our lives and the clothes on our back. This is the “refugee / asylum seeker drive“ and it is this which is at the bottom of the crisis we are witnessing.

By the time I was 11, my parents had decided that living in Portugal was not for them and that they preferred to leave for the UK, where they felt they could rebuild their lives and offer their children better prospects. This is the „economic migration“ drive, which I shall leave for another day. My family and I have experience of both the “push” drive to get out of a country, as well as the “pull” element of a prosperous country like the UK (Portugal was not a EU member in 1977). As such, I can sympathize with the stream of people heading towards the EU.

Each of these families seeking the safety of Europe will have their own catalyst, but they are generally similar: fear of safety/life/well-being reaches a point where the extremely high barriers to leaving are overcome. Those barriers include family and friends (you leave the people you grew up with behind, probably for ever), possessions (home, furniture, mementos of life, etc.) and communities, traditions and all the other things that make-up everyday life. Only the bare minimum can be taken: people, clothes, food and money.

The decision amounts to rolling the dice that will determine their fate. They know that they may be turned back at any of numerous borders. They are only too aware that they will experience all sorts of privations. They come to terms the stark fact they or members of their family may perish on the way. Yet they are determined to head for Europe and more specifically the EU. Most will do what they are allowed to do, not least where women and children are involved. Some, especially single young men, may do whatever it takes to reach their goal, as the scenes in and around the Channel Tunnel prove.

But even if their drive, courage and determination (for that is exactly what is involved) is rewarded with success and they end-up in the EU and preferably in countries with the resources to successfully absorb them, they also know that it may all be in vain. After all, there is a high chance of being put on an aeroplane and sent home sooner or later, once the crisis is over.

And still they roll the dice, often taking their young children on this incredibly arduous and sometimes lethal journey. Imagine this, if you will, and reflect on what it would take for you to reach such momentous life and death decisions. I ask you:

  • Would you take these sorts of decisions without a very good reason?
  • Are the people who manage to reach Europe´s shores worthy of sanctuary?
  • And if so, are such people likely to have the drive to integrate and thrive in the EU?

Follow your instinct. Form your own opinion.

I am not just a migrant to the EU, I am a serial migrant within the EU. This is not a source of shame. On the contrary, it is a source of great pride which has given meaning to my life. Every country I have lived in had enriched me and, for my part, I have contributed to every country I have had the good fortune to experience. Migration has been and remains a constant feature of humanity.

There may be some seeking to reach the borders of the EU purely for economic reasons, rather than being driven by misfortune not of their own making. It is not so easy to separate out the genuine cases from the bogus ones. But the sheer scale of the crisis, the types of people involved and the risks that they are taking demonstrate that these are, in the main, fellow human beings in desperate need of our help. For them the EU is a beacon for all the things that we take for granted. There can and there will be a win-win situation for them and for the countries taking them in. Europe has absorbed countless waves of immigration in the past and benefited from them; it will continue to do so in the future.

Let us be humane and thereby reaffirm the fundamental values that EU countries are right to be proud of. You helped me. Now, let’s help the others.


Predicting the British General Election Result and the next few years

A humorous but apt Danish proverb is that “Prediction is difficult, especially when dealing with the future.” As the politicians finally stop pushing the merits of their policies and the British voters reflect on which way to cast their vote on 07 May 2015 general election, I will hazard some predictions about the likely general election result, as well as the political priorities that are likely to be pursued in the next few years in Britain. Most if not all of the predictions will probably come back to haunt me, but here goes nothing…

And the winner is…

My main prediction is that the Conservatives will win more seats than any other political party, even if the polls suggest that the election might be a close call. I also predict that the Conservatives will gain an overall majority, rather than a hung parliament. The main reasons for this prediction are all to do with Labour, rather than the Conservatives or their policy initiatives:

  • Labour is going to be decimated in Scotland and the other political parties will have almost no influence there. The clear winner is going to be the Scottish National Party (SNP) and with this development, the dynamics of Westminster-based politics will change dramatically, especially for the Labour Party.
  • The British public, including many traditional Labour voters, remain extremely sceptical about the final Blair / Brown years, which they blame a lot of the issues confronting society, not least being drawn into recent wars, immigration trends and the state of the economy. Many voters will switch to the SNP in Scotland and the Conservatives and/or UKIP in England.
  • Large segments of the general public neither relate to nor trust either Ed Miliband or any of the current crop of Labour leaders. In this respect, I cannot help but experience a sense of déjà vu in respect to the Michael Foot / Neil Kinnock era which bodes ill for the Labour Party.

The Conservatives will profit from the above and will form the next government. This is particularly the case because the UKIP vote, though significantly understated in the opinion polls, nevertheless does not seem to be as much of a threat to the Conservatives as previously anticipated. This is as much to do with the current electoral system as UKIP’s almost wilful self-destruction through incompetence combined with persistent gaffes by its candidates that undermine the message that it is neither anti-immigration nor racist. Despite it all, UKIP retains strong support in parts of England.

My other two predictions concern the issue of austerity and its implications on British society, as well as the future of Britain in the European Union.

EU Referendum: plus ça change…

Regarding the in-out EU referendum scheduled for 2017, the Conservative Party will finally have to break cover and clarify whether it belongs to the yes or no camp. If the Conservatives are able to form a majority Government, as the traditional party of business, it will ultimately side with remaining in the EU, whatever the pressures of UKIP or the antics of its noisy Eurosceptic wing. After all, the Conservative policy of offering an EU referendum in 2017 was a strategic move calculated to defang UKIP and yet placate the more rabid anti-EU Tories; it was not a decision to leave the EU per se.

Their shambolic position on the EU reflects the fact that David Cameron and other senior members of the Conservative Party, on balance, favour remaining in the EU.  The political price to be paid for campaigning to remain in the EU is that this will prove to be the second and final term of office for David Cameron as the Prime Minister and possibly as an MP. The SNP, LibDems and Labour will campaign in favour of remaining in the EU. Moreover, the business sector will make its views in an increasingly vocal and forcible manner and the wider pro-EU voice will be more pronounced than has been the case hitherto. Unlike the present time where few speak up, others, such as art, culture and sport personalities will do likewise as a means of counteracting what will remain, in the main, a strongly anti-EU media.

Should a coalition Government arise, the LibDems would have to perform much better than anticipated to have a chance of running the country. The other possible coalition partner to the Conservatives, despite protestations to the contrary, is UKIP. If the latter coalition government were to emerge, the political price to be paid to UKIP will be a Conservatives campaign to leave the EU and to hold the in/out referendum in 2016, rather than 2017. A combination of the Conservatives and UKIP running to leave the EU would be a disaster for Britain (as well as the remaining EU countries already battered by the travails of Greece and holding the Eurozone together), which would be very hard to counteract, especially with the majority of the British media supporting their position. Britain would come to regret the likely outcome in the medium to long-term.

Under any scenario involving a referendum, the EU will have to show flexibility and do whatever it takes in to facilitate the UK remaining in the EU. As I have previously argued, there will not be fundamental EU treaty amendments for the sake of keeping Britain in the EU boat, such as a reform of the freedom of movement or the other three fundamental freedoms of movement, namely of capital, services (which is extremely underdeveloped) and goods. However, the EC and the EU will be more flexible in areas such as benefit entitlement in the EU area, which in any case is almost entirely determined by nation states, rather than EU directives and regulations.

If the referendum were to be held today, I believe the outcome would be an outright rejection  of the EU. The great majority of British media is extremely anti-EU and anti-immigration and would contribute to a no vote. However, there could be up to two years for business, society and voters to reflect on the not insignificant advantages of being part of the EU, as well as the potential consequences of Britain going it alone in an increasingly globalised world. A re-orientation towards the old and new Commonwealth and North America is no longer adequate to guarantee current, let alone future prosperity. An emphasis on trade at the exclusion of everything else that the EU brings simply does not cut the mustard in the modern era, where problems such as environmental issues and tax agreements require regional or global responses, rather than national ones. Turning our back on 27 other next door neighbours around us in Europe is simply not sustainable in an economic, social, political or any other sense.

I retain great faith in the capacity of the British public to eventually do the right thing. The following Winston Churchill quotation springs readily to mind: “The Americans will always do the right thing… after they’ve exhausted all the alternatives.” Substitute “Brits” for “Americans” and you get the gist of what I mean. The outcome of the EU referendum will be a narrow “yes” majority to remain in the EU. The alternative does not bear thinking about.

Austerity ad nauseam

The last prediction is that the squeeze on the public sector is set to continue for the next few years and it will further transform Britain and its welfare state, resulting in a more divided and fragmented society. There will be a repeat of the pattern set in the previous Parliament, namely a dramatic public expenditure squeeze in the first two years, followed by a gradual let-up as the term of office peters out and politicians look to be re-elected.

The Conservative Party does not deny that further cuts in the order of GBP 12 billion  in social expenditure are in the pipeline, even if it is rather coy about how exactly this will be achieved. If the last Parliament was anything to go by, the brunt of the cuts will continue to be borne by the more vulnerable members of society, while corporations and the wealthy are spared.

There will continue to be a lot of talk about benefit scroungers (British and EU) to justify the cuts which will fall disproportionately on the working poor and non-working segments of British society. The austerity agenda continues to offer handy political cover for a significant reduction in the size of the state and the social and welfare infrastructure, including local government. This is set to continue, spreading more deeply to areas such as police, judiciary, military, etc. since the other options have been largely exhausted. The alternative would be to put the squeeze (e.g. means testing benefits of various sorts, higher taxes, etc.) on the middle classes, the retired and the wealthy; this will not happen if the Conservatives hope to be re-elected thereafter.

In the meantime, some of the things that Britons are most concerned about such a shelter (sufficient, affordable and good quality housing), health (NHS, access and quality) and education (primary, secondary and tertiary) will continue to experience gradual deterioration. These are simply not great priorities for the Conservatives. Their traditional supporters are capable of by-passing any current or future shortcomings in state provision and directly accessing the highest quality services that money can provide, though the phenomenon of the “squeezed middle” will ensure that political capital and financial resources will still be devoted to these fundamental themes.

Instead, the (EU and non-EU) migrants will continue to act as the lightning rod for people’s frustration with a slowly crumbling system, while those that have been running these very systems for decades or generations are largely spared the British citzens’ ire. After all, if housing is unaffordable and private renting is insecure, the normal response in a modern wealthy country would be to stimulate significant additional supply and/or ensure that appropriate protections are enacted. This will not happen. If there are not enough school places or hospital beds, then public investment should deliver greater supply while still maintaining standards. This is highly unlikely to happen either. Yet it is Westminster that is responsible for recognising, responding to and securing these changes over the medium term, not individual citizens looking to access these services, regardless of their nationality, race or creed.

We shall know the result of the general election soon enough. I sincerely hope that most of the above predictions prove to be wrong, in which case I will gladly eat my hat.

Ricardo Pinto, AngloDeutsch™ Blog, www.AngloDeutsch.EU