Saturday, October 16, 2010

Multiculturalism; how's it faring in Europe?

Multiculturalism in modern Europe seems to be the norm, but sometimes is misunderstood. It does not just about having foreign workers doing the jobs the natives do not want to do anymore. It is something that should add to the community and the country, not only it's economy.


We all know that immigrants in general "do the jobs that the natives do not want to do", thus contributing to the local economy, by being hard working. Having foreign workers gives a country an advantage in attracting multinationals' investment. It means that any company will be always able to find cheap workforce in the country and people that will be willing to work for less.

Comparing the impact of immigration in the two countries I am most familiar with, some observations are very clear. In Ireland the mix of immigrants and foreign workers is not just from poor or non-Western countries. We have immigrants and students from all over Europe both east and west, the USA, Canada,Australia,New Zealand, Japan etc.

Partly because the English language and the links to USA and the UK, the proximity to the main European markets and their low corporate tax system, Ireland attracts many multinationals. Thus people from all over the world, that have made a positive impact in the Irish society. Ireland from one of the most conservative nations in Europe, transformed and continues to be transforming fast to become one of the most dynamic. The majority of immigrants in Ireland are also legal.

We see quite the opposite in Greece, that has about one and a half million legal immigrants, but is claimed that there are as much as 3 times that number of illegals in the country. Due to its position on the borders of EU and the Schengen area, it is the entrance to Europe and EU for many illegal immigrants.

They contribute nothing to a host nation, not economically, or socially. Their goal is not to stay in Greece, but to move on to richer nations of Europe. Another difference between Ireland and Greece is that the vast majority of immigrants in Greece are from non Western countries, from poorer regions of Europe and the World.

The immigrants from western Europe are usually pensioners that are not as active socially and politically and contribute little to the local economy as they pay little taxes to the state. So in Greece the new-comers in their majority are from less progressive nations and although they contribute to the economy of the country hugely, socially they have  little or even sometimes negative impact.

It is not their fault, rather the Greek government's incompetence to create a fair and constructive immigration policy. But also the EU's, for its failure to create a pan-European immigration policy. So in Ireland they have a mixture of western and non Western immigrants, that contribute both economically and socially in the country.

The Irish coming in contact with French, Spaniards, Dutch, Scandinavians, Germans, Americans, Australians and other more progressive nations, have caught up with them in many social issues, they are open minded now and more progressive.

The Greeks on the other hand, not only they haven't had such an injection of fresh new ideas and brain power from more advanced nations, but due the huge numbers of immigrants, they are becoming more xenophobic and closed up as a society.

Greece only now is revisiting it's immigration policy, in the worse period it could happen. Since it's economy is in tatters, people are angry and stressed about their future To give more rights to foreigners and encourage immigration to a country that is sinking is simply mad. These kind of changes usually happen when the economy thrives.

Multiculturalism is not just having foreigners to work for us, or to see many people of different colors, religions and backgrounds walking among us in our streets. It should also mean an active citizenship, exchange of new, fresh ideas between the communities. So the host nation will not just benefit from it's immigrant population hard work and economically.

The nation could also benefit from multiculturalism with the exchange and interaction with it's new citizens culturally and socially, enriching their everyday lives and mentality. That of course requires a successful, functioning and reasonable immigration policy.

Immigrants should not be muted and deprived of their political or social rights, rather encouraged to have an active citizenship and be politically active in their adopted country. Any nation that will listen to their voices and fresh ideas on social issues, could gain an advantage. And not by just giving them a voice, but from also keep them active, avoiding their victimization, forcing them into a life on the social welfare.




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