The Migrant Issue: One Side of the Same Coin

Thousands of migrants will be able to be integrated into European societies; resulting in benefits in the process – says Phillippe Legrain, an analyst of this field, and teacher at the London School of Economics, who was also the advisor of the president of the European Commission (Barroso) for many years.
Legrain does not differentiate between economic and political migrants, since immigrants (and everyone else) seek a better and fairer life. He often refers to those Hungarians who fled from their country in 1956, or who left for England and Germany.
One of his main messages is that in the following years, migrants will affect the European demographic and labour force issues significantly and in a positive way; their numbers – according to him – is absolutely insignificant compared to the more than five hundred million inhabitants of the European Union.

Péter Zentai: According to your researches, how threatening is the flow of migrants to the European social systems?
Philippe Legrain: It is not at all. This year, 340 thousand people tried to illegally enter the EU which has 508 million inhabitants. So we are talking about 0.07 percent of the EU’s population. In other words: among every fifteen hundred people, there is only one, who is a so-called illegal immigrant.
Of course, these numbers do not matter to those smaller communities where the new immigrants ‘land’. There is a great pressure on the already crisis-hit Greece, especially on those islands where more than 135 thousands migrants arrived in the first seven months of the year. However, the majority of the newly arrived would continue their journey right away. You in Hungary know this very well. Hungary is not a destination country…

Do migrants and also illegally entering economic immigrants indirectly slow down the potential economic growth of the EU? For example, by the atmosphere of fear taking over the countries of the EU; the optimism of people and consumption declines…
This concern is unfounded. The exact opposite tendency will prevail: the migrants will take on jobs for which are difficult to find human resources otherwise. Immigrants will also increase the number of tax payers, and will contribute – in every way – to the development and growth of European societies.

There are enormous development, economic, and financial gaps between certain countries of the European Union. How could we allocate the burden caused by the immigrants in a fair way? How could the extreme burden be removed from countries, such as Hungary?
Refugees and migrants cannot be looked upon as burdens if they are allowed to work. Were those Hungarians who fled from their country during the WWII and the Cold War considered to be burdens in places where they finally settled down?

We should differentiate between migrant, economic immigrants, and refugees. How should we sort this problem out?
It is extremely difficult to draw a clear line between different immigrants. Some of them want to save their and their families’ lives, they flee from persecution, but they also seek a better life. Indeed, there is certainly a difference between those who are looking for refuge, and those who leave their home country in search for a more decent life. However, the latter ones do have the same right to a better life – just like Hungarians who work in Germany or the UK.

Why does Europe – in terms of economy and finance – need refugees? Especially, if we take into account the aforementioned development gaps between Northern and Southern, or Eastern and Western Europe?
Europe is in need for immigrants. The population of the EU is aging, the working population is decreasing; meanwhile, the proportion of retirees is extremely high, since the Baby Boom Generation (those born between 1950 and ’56) has reached retirement age. It would absolutely boost economic growth and development if young and hardworking tax-payers arrived. They could contribute to the more efficient distribution of the public burden, benefiting the current population. They would be the ones who would take on physically demanding jobs and skill shortage vacancies, such as elderly care, or harvesting. There are numerous migrants with convertible qualifications: engineers, health care professionals, computer engineers. Others are likely to start an enterprise.
Emigration itself can be viewed as an enterprise: it is a venture which can be profitable only by working hard. For those, who arrive to a new world without connections, this is the natural way of advancement.
And do not forget that immigrants provide dynamics and diversity to the society they are integrated to. And the future of Europe depends on such sources of new ideas.

Original date of Hungarian publication: 2 September 2015