It’s been a long time since I walked the streets of Europe. Being here again both raises memories and creates contrasts. In one sense things don’t change. Its cities, many over a thousand years old, seem to withstand the tests of time. They seem ageless. Yet even in the 25 years since I last lived here, real differences are plainly noticeable.
The biggest shift seems to be demographic in nature. So much so that a valid question being raised is what is the future of Europe? What will it look like in a few decades? Is it on a path of irreversible change? Immigration is a major source of these changes, and it has made a huge difference in how Europe is developing.
Of course Europe (especially countries like Germany, France, Holland, etc) has had major inflows of migrants prior to the time I was last here. Amsterdam was already known as one of the most multicultural cities in the world some three decades ago. Much of this immigration started big time after the Second World War.
Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and other countries took in gastarbeiters (guestworkers) beginning in the 1950s, and during the next few decades a huge influx of people poured into these nations. Many came from North Africa, the Middle East and the Mediterranean. For example, Turks streamed into Germany and Algerians, Moroccans and other North Africans moved into France and other northern European countries.
They were needed to fill labour-shortages in post-war Europe. Many of these immigrants were Muslims, who reproduced at much higher levels than their European counterparts. Indeed, European fertility rates have taken a nosedive in the past several decades, while Muslim families continue to be relatively large.
So these two factors alone will guarantee that over time some major shifts will occur in Europe. And that is just what has been happening. Of course demography is an inexact science, and we are not even fully sure of the exact number of Muslims in Europe, let alone how many there will be by say, mid-century.
And of course there are many non-Muslims migrating to Europe as well, so the whole picture is somewhat cloudy. But we nonetheless have some general indications as to how things may pan out. A lengthy article by Adrian Michaels published in yesterday’s UK Telegraph seeks to spell out some of the details. He begins his piece with these words:
“Britain and the rest of the European Union are ignoring a demographic time bomb: a recent rush into the EU by migrants, including millions of Muslims, will change the continent beyond recognition over the next two decades, and almost no policy-makers are talking about it. The numbers are startling. Only 3.2 per cent of Spain’s population was foreign-born in 1998. In 2007 it was 13.4 per cent. Europe’s Muslim population has more than doubled in the past 30 years and will have doubled again by 2015. In Brussels, the top seven baby boys’ names recently were Mohamed, Adam, Rayan, Ayoub, Mehdi, Amine and Hamza.”
This will have many important ramifications: “Europe’s low white birth rate, coupled with faster multiplying migrants, will change fundamentally what we take to mean by European culture and society. The altered population mix has far-reaching implications for education, housing, welfare, labour, the arts and everything in between. It could have a critical impact on foreign policy: a study was submitted to the US Air Force on how America’s relationship with Europe might evolve. Yet EU officials admit that these issues are not receiving the attention they deserve.”
Consider the Muslim intake into Europe: “Birth rates can be difficult to predict and migrant numbers can ebb and flow. But Karoly Lorant, a Hungarian economist who wrote a paper for the European Parliament, calculates that Muslims already make up 25 per cent of the population in Marseilles and Rotterdam, 20 per cent in Malmo, 15 per cent in Brussels and Birmingham and 10 per cent in London, Paris and Copenhagen.
“Recent polls have tended to show that the feared radicalisation of Europe’s Muslims has not occurred. That gives hope that the newcomers will integrate successfully. Nonetheless, second and third generations of Muslims show signs of being harder to integrate than their parents. Policy Exchange, a British study group, found that more than 70 per cent of Muslims over 55 felt that they had as much in common with non-Muslims as Muslims. But this fell to 62 per cent of 16-24 year-olds.”
Of course immigration is far from uniform around the globe and throughout history. The millions who poured into America over the past century or two often did so because they liked what America had to offer, and they sought to achieve the American dream. Thus in many ways America really was a successful melting pot, where integration usually occurred naturally and successfully.
But that has often not been the case in Europe. “The population changes are stirring unease on the ground. Europeans often tell pollsters that they have had enough immigration, but politicians largely avoid debate. France banned the wearing of the hijab veil in schools and stopped the wearing of large crosses and the yarmulke too, so making it harder to argue that the law was aimed solely at Muslims. Britain has strengthened its laws on religious hatred. But these are generally isolated pieces of legislation.
“Into the void has stepped a resurgent group of extreme-Right political parties, among them the British National Party, which gained two seats at recent elections to the European Parliament. Geert Wilders, the Dutch politician who speaks against Islam and was banned this year from entering Britain, has led opinion polls in Holland.”
The problem of migrant ghettoes scattered throughout European cities is one illustration of this. Michaels examines some research conducted by the Pew Research Forum on this: “The fact that [extreme parties] have risen to prominence at all speaks poorly about the state and quality of the immigration debate. [Scholars] have argued that European elites have yet to fully grapple with the broader issues of race and identity surrounding Muslims and other groups for fear of being seen as politically incorrect.”
Says Michaels, “The starting point should be greater discussion of integration. Does it matter at all? Yes, claims Mr Vignon at the European Commission. Without it, polarisation and ghettoes can result. ‘It’s bad because it creates antagonism. It antagonises poor people against other poor people: people with low educational attainment feel threatened,’ he says.”
Again, how the changing demographics will influence Europe is not fully clear. Different directions are possible. But change is sure to occur. “Germany started to reform its voting laws 10 years ago, granting certain franchise rights to the large Turkish population. It would be odd if that did not alter the country’s stance on Turkey’s application to join the EU. [One US] study says: ‘Faced with rapidly growing, disenfranchised and increasingly politically empowered Muslim populations within the borders of some of its oldest and strongest allies, the US could be faced with ever stronger challenges to its Middle East foreign policies’.”
That change is occurring and will continue to occur is not being questioned. But just how it will impact on Europe, and what Europe will look like in coming decades is not fully clear. But politicians, policy makers, and others need to think long and hard about what direction the continent is taking, or more precisely, what direction it should be taking.