Give the Roma a Gnome

26 Feb

Europe is facing a demographic crisis that makes this story in the Christian Science Monitor all the more retarded:

In two months, the European Union will expand eastward, theoretically throwing open the doors of the rich 15-nation club to the 72 million inhabitants living behind the old iron curtain. Actually, Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Hungarians, Slovenians, Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians should not expect to be greeted with open arms.

From Berlin to Dublin, fears are rising that millions of Eastern Europeans will head west seeking work, benefits, and a higher standard of living – and thus aggravate unemployment, threaten economic stability, and bring out latent xenophobia.

All the current EU 15 are set to impose temporary restrictions on migration from the former Eastern bloc.

This raises the important question of why?

David Coleman, professor of demography at Oxford University, says the restrictions are a clear sign that enlargement has gone too far too soon.

"This accession of so many countries at once has been premature and far too big a bite," he says. "It's been driven more by political consideration than common sense."

Professor Coleman argues in favor of a moratorium on migration from the new countries on the grounds that their average standard of living is considerably lower than EU countries. "The incentive for migration is therefore far greater," Coleman says.

Unfortunately, Coleman's argument is based on a tragic misreading of history:

Those who foresee a mass influx of migrants should be reassured by past experience, say several observers. In 1986, when Spain and Portugal joined, fears of Iberian hordes surging north proved unfounded. "When they joined the Union, everyone expected massive flows and it didn't happen," said Cristina Pineda Polo, a policy analyst for the European Policy Centre, an independent think tank in Brussels. "Their economies got better and people took the opportunity to go back home."

Further, the influx of workers from the East is a good thing, especially for disadvantaged groups like the Roma:

Valeriu Nicolae, a Roma rights advocate in Brussels, rejects the idea that Roma – outcast and harshly treated in their own countries – will be rushing to find havens further west. "May 1 means nothing to them," she says. "It's just another day when they have to find means to survive." Even if there were a Roma migration, Nicolae says, Europe would benefit from it. Think of all the menial jobs that locals turn their noses up at, she says: "There would be lots of Roma willing to do this rather than scavenging on a garbage dump."

In the end, Western Europe needs workers to pay for social programs which are facing increased demands from an aging population and are payed for by a declining population. Rather then fearing the flow of Eastern Europeans, they ought to be fighting over them. Germany, while not entirely "getting it," seems to be the early favorite in such a fight having produced a new guide book aiming to make the country more comprehensible to immigrants, including a discussion of lawn gnomes. Now that's the EU that I know and love.

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