The future of migration: the demography myth and the bigger picture

Once upon a time on a late January afternoon, students, politicians, sociologists and a Germanist came together to discuss the future of migration. Yet before concrete solutions could be found, scopes needed to be enlarged and myths required shattering. An overview.

 The myth: migration will solve the problems related to ageing European populations.

This argument, which is mainly uttered by individuals who are strongly in favor of migrants coming to Europe, is utopian. Although theoretically supporting population growth by welcoming migrants would reduce Europe’s demographic issues, the amounts needed to do this by far exceed the acceptance of the amount of migrants that are currently being discussed. For instance, to keep a constant level of individuals in Germany in the productive age (15-64 years old), 24.3 million people would need to be added to German society. This is more than a third of the current population. Considering the current political struggles about accepting migrants and refugees, letting in far greater numbers of people seems surreal. Are there other solutions? Harald Michel, a German expert for demographics, is pessimistic about this. There is not a family politics strategy that can be considered truly successful, he says. It is also questionable if a population trend which has existed for 100 years in Europe can be overturned by measures taken by politicians now.

The bigger picture: three more issues

In this globalized world, it would be naive to consider migration without looking at the multitude of factors related to it. For instance, how do we ensure jobs for both new and slightly less new Europeans? In the context of increased automatization and digitalization, specific types of employment will disappear. Traditionally, economic growth is necessary to ensure job opportunities, yet how can we do this when the European work force is steadily decreasing? Apart from quantity, a level of quality of employment needs to be ensured, too. Might the basic income be a realistic option to address this issue?

What about climate change? Increasingly, NGOs are pointing out the future threat of climate change-induced migration. While the Netherlands has both the resources and knowledge to simply develop stronger and higher dikes, many less wealthy countries will not be capable of sufficiently mitigating the effects of climate change-induced droughts or rising sea levels. How should this be accommodated? Should coming from a country considerably affected by climate change be a legitimate reason for asylum according to the Refugee Convention? Do industrialized countries have an added responsibility in this, as they have significantly contributed to climate change?

Taking into account the EU’s increased emphasis on addressing the root causes of migration, trade is one of the many issues intimately connected to this. Migration is often thought to be caused by poverty and violence. While some European companies contribute significantly to the EUs GDP through the international trade in arms, it is not unlikely that this indirectly affects migration flows. Similarly, if European trade deals with lesser developed countries cause more harm than good for the latter countries, this indirectly affects migratory flows to more developed countries. When Europe wants to encourage migrants to remain in their country of birth, how can international trade and economic growth facilitate this?

Demography, trade, climate change and economic growth were some of the many issues mentioned during one of the workshops of the Dutch-German forum 2017. How do you think we should move forward and what other issues need to be considered when discussing migration? Please comment and let us know!

Author: Maartje Geerlings

Photo: dpa/pa

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