Monday, 30 July 2018

Europe´s migration trilemma*

According to the latest data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 68.5 million people were on the run at the end of 2017 - around three million more than in the previous year and more than at any time since the end of the Second World War. Overall, the countries in the global South bear the main burden of receiving refugees: 85 percent of all refugees registered by UNHCR worldwide have found refuge in developing regions. 
Africa's future migration potential is of particular concern to politicians. The first worry is of demographic nature as the decline in birth rates is painfully slow south of the Sahara. According to UN projections, Africa's population will double to 2.5 billion by 2050. Although medical progress and the expansion of health systems are increasing life expectancy, the standard of living has remained low, not least because of high birth rates.
The second worry are, despite improvements, much of Africa´s economic perspectives: Low training and labour market opportunities for a young growing population feed migration. According to the IMF, 85 percent of African migrants are economically motivated.
The proportion of African migrants who actually leave their continent has increased from a quarter to a third in the last quarter of a century, to six million today. Population growth and the increasing proportion of intra-African migrants suggest that their number will rise to 20 million in the coming decades. Most of these Africans nowadays want to migrate to Western Europe. Sure, actual migration to Europe has declined since the peak in 2015/16. This is due to Frontex, border closures, drowning and enslavement of migrants - but it says little about Africa´s future migration potential.
According to Dani Rodrik's globalization trilemma, democracy, national sovereignty and global economic integration are mutually incompatible: combine any two of the three, but never have all three simultaneously and in full. Politics can only choose two of three options: full global market liberalization (hyper globalization), national sovereignty or democracy. If it accepts unrestricted globalisation, politics must abandon its own course. A good example is the gold standard prevailing until the beginning of the 20th century, to which an independent monetary policy had to be sacrificed. Alternatively, autocratic or technocratic governments could decree that full market liberalization or the globally harmonized rules negotiated by the government must be accepted by all. Finally, a fairly unrealistic alternative would be a world government: democracy and the global market would be maintained, national sovereignty renounced. An international government and a global parliament would correct the mistakes of globalisation.

Analogous to Rodrik's Trilemma, Europe looks increasingly confronted with a migration trilemma. Only two out of three options can be achieved at the same time: mass immigration, a self-determined social contract or democracy with respect for human rights. In his much maligned book Exodus: How Migration is Changing Our World, Paul Collier discusses a limit beyond which immigration could be harmful to a society's complex social model due to alienation and erosion of public trust. In his long essay After Europe, Ivan Krastev argues how massive immigration promotes populist parties and threatens the future of the entire European project. In her 1943 essay We Refugees, Hannah Arendt had already pointed to the dilemma between mass refuge and respect for human rights. Allowing massive refuge means respecting human rights but, according to Arendt, losing national sovereignty, i.e. self-determination.
These trade-offs of the migration trilemma certainly lack rigour. But they cannot be denied. It is possible to promote immigration and become a melting pot, just as in the past in Argentina, Australia, Brazil and North America, all sparsely populated areas before settlement. The multicultural melting-pot perspective is quite tempting and shows its appeal not only in France's soccer team. The settlement strategy requires immigrants to identify with the host country and to feel that they belong to their new country. Historically, inclusion of immigrants has worked best with the help of compulsory military service, the right to vote and, above all, patriotic education and training. However, the urban ghettos of, say, Brazil, France or the United States also testify to blatant integration deficits that are intolerable for socially homogeneous societies.
From an ethical point of view, the global governance of migration would be a possible way out of the migration trilemma. This route remains unrealistic as national jurisdiction on migration would have to be subjugated in a legally binding manner. The recently adopted draft 2018 global migration compact - signed by all UN member states except the USA – has so far not passed that legal threshold and remains a legally non-binding document laying down principles for dealing with migrants and refugees.
Thus, akin to national capital controls under the Bretton Woods compromise in Rodrik's globalization trilemma, a realistic option remains the control of migration flows through national immigration laws that legalize a selection of admitted immigrants. As suggested by former Mexico-US border evidence, regular migration (if paired with ´robust enforcement´) can reduce the inflow of clandestine migrants. To be sure, the offset between legal and illegal immigrants is one only if all migration is regularized. Migration laws can attenuate the trilemma presented here; they cannot solve it.

*Originally published in German:

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