Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Can Europe afford to copy Japan on immigration?

As Europe becomes increasingly xenophobic and populist, perhaps we need an open debate on our options on immigration.

People are unaware of the numbers, figures, conditions, reasons, policies and benefits that immigration relies upon and understandably they fear it.

But have Europeans actually engaged and got to know anyone from their country's immigrant community? Just to try and share their concerns with them and see how they are coping in their society, or what do they have to contribute.

More essentially, do we understand why Europe's leaders have chosen apparently the multiculturalism option, rather trying to keep Europe ethnically "European"?

Apart from our continent's colonial legacy, Europe became multicultural because it chose to follow USA in its financial and social policies. After WW2 the European economy was in tatters and so it was forced to copy the American model, that based its economic boom on immigrants from all over the world, including Europe.

One by one, eventually most European nations adopted this model and for many years it proved acceptable and successful. Until the aftermath of the EU 2004 big-bang expansion to the East, combined with the euro-zone and refugee crisis that is.

Now that things got tough, Europeans are reconsidering. But what could be an alternative to multiculturalism? Well another rich, industrialized nation with a complete opposite approach of that of Europe's is Japan.

Currently the country's immigrant population counts for about 1.75% of the total population, when compared with the average 10% that most Western European countries are experiencing.

Nevertheless Japan is also under pressure to accept more immigrants as workforce shrinks. Ageing population and prediction of 8 million fewer workers by 2030 spurs calls for government to accept migrants and refugees. (The Guardian)

The debate of whether the country should loosen its immigration laws is becoming more vocal. Shigeru Ishiba, who is in charge of revitalizing regional economies, stated in 2015 that since Japan’s population is in decline, the government should promote policies that accept immigrants into Japan. “It is wrong thinking that foreigners must not come to Japan," he claimed.

“It is necessary for the government to implement policies that do not cause any discomfort for us or for immigrants in terms of language, customs and other areas,” he continued.

Taro Kono, the minister for administrative reform and head of the national police agency, said that relaxing immigration laws could help President Abe reach his target of boosting GDP from the current 491 trillion yen to 600 trillion yen (5 trillion US dollars) by the end of the decade. (The Guardian)
Some might still think that Japan is a very brave country that stands up for its culture and people, trying viciously to safeguard its way of life. And they will be right. Yet they are not aware fully about the country's economic model, or its citizens' working ethos.

Japan has a welfare system that in some ways makes even the new, dismantled American system seem a model of generosity.

Applicants in Japan are obliged to get help first from their families, and a poor person physically able to work is not eligible for help -- whether or not the person actually has a job.

From some perspectives, this system has worked brilliantly. The country's already strong family ties have been strengthened, and the main safety net is the family rather than the Government. The number of Japanese in the basic welfare program has declined sharply over the last half century, as people became better off and built up savings.

Today only 0.7 percent of the population receives benefits -- compared with the 4.8 percent of Americans who get grants from Aid to Families With Dependent Children or the 9.7 percent who receive food stamps. About 2.3 percent of Americans receive grants through the Supplemental Security Income program, which serves the elderly, blind and disabled.

To be sure, Japan's welfare system operates in a very different milieu from America's. Only 1 percent of Japanese births are to unwed mothers. That compares with a percentage that keeps climbing in the United States and has now reached 30 percent.

Japan also has a far lower percentage of drug addicts than the United States has, a much lower unemployment rate, a much more egalitarian distribution of wealth, a greater sense of family obligation and an abiding sense of shame that colors almost every aspect of life. (New York Times).

Europeans love their social benefits and they fight for them. As result, our economies need cheap labor which results in higher immigration numbers. Would Europeans accept to work longer with little benefits, to see fewer migrants entering their homelands and safeguarding their culture like the Japanese?

Perhaps we should give them the choice. We could either review our immigration policies and harmonize them across the EU, but we will need a strong leadership to make all member states agree. Or we could leave the governments of each member state decide their own, as it is done at the moment and seems to be accepted with most citizens.

The only problem is, that often EU migrants end up paying the price for each member state's irresponsible immigration policies. Each nation chooses the wrong ones, or implements them for the wrong amount of time, creating divisions among native or EU citizens, versus non-EU migrants. It is an unfair situation for all at the moment, but that is not the immigrants' fault.

Since there can not be single market without the free movement of people, then immigration from within EU is essential to maintain. It supports the "goose that lays the golden egg" for our continent and gives it relatively a competitive edge. No other region has managed to establish the biggest and such a successful market in the globe.

Most EU member states-especially the new ones, could be learning from the mistakes of other countries not repeating them. Sadly, this often is not the case.

In reality our governments are looking to import labor, to be literally exploited by doing the jobs that we don't want, with less money. Because in many cases, these people entered Europe because companies wanted them to come and so they pressurized our governments to change their immigration policies.

Yet when they go bust or they decide to move to another cheaper labor marker, these people are left in limbo, unwanted and with no job. They end up in ghettos, becoming a perfect scapegoat for any populist government.

This should not be the case. We need clear cut, fair and fully functioning, ideally harmonized immigration policies across Europe. For the simple reason that if we should keep our internal borders open, one country's messy decisions on the issue, will inevitably become everybody's problem.

Europe should be looking collectively for the type of migrants it needs, by establishing EU immigration offices abroad, in the countries it seeks to attract migrants from. Essentially before they enter a boat to arrive illegally.

Finally, we should stop terrorizing the native population by scapegoating certain ethnic or religious groups. Recently Heinz Christian Strache, the head of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party, has called for a ban on all Muslim symbols, warning that Islam is a threat to Europe. (New Europe)

If that is what Europeans will decide then fine. But will they also ban Muslim doctors, waiters, nurses, small shop keepers that save lives, attend patients, and are staying up late in the convenience stores during Christian holidays, so Europeans can find things that forgot and ran out of, at any time? 

If yes, then maybe we should limit immigration from Islamic nations. But we can not encourage people to come over here to fill jobs that we need, yet don't allow them to practice their religion. Unless of course we want them to be forcibly converted or live in the shadows of our society as pariahs.

However oppression breeds resistance,clashes and a divided society full of hatred and inequality. There is no reason why we should see our capitals' streets, ending up like many of those in America when we can prevent it, by being fair, open and honest. 

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Dear Nationalists.

As Europe -and in fact the whole world- is increasingly gripped by successive waves of populism and nationalism, one can not be indifferent any longer.

I observe nationalistic people boast about their history, their country's economy, a very successful popular individual that comes from their country, their culture and lifestyle.

"Proud to be Irish, Greek, American, British" or whatever else is often used by people as a boastful expression for something they haven't achieved.

Or the recent "make America great again" and "taking back control," for Britain or any other euro-skeptic movement across the continent. " Greece for the Greeks, France for the French" and there is no space for anyone outside our tribe.

So all the above make me wonder; what are you so proud off? Your history may be part of your heritage and should be commemorated undoubtedly. But it wasn't you who achieved all these greatness, it was your ancestors, often numerous generations back.

Your national sports team winning, or one great athlete, actor, musician, artist or scientist excelling in international competitions or becoming successful, should not be making anyone "proud" apart from their nearest and dearest.

Except maybe your national sports team winning, which should give you some joy and satisfaction, there is little reason for such tribalism. Because that is exactly what it is; every nation uniting behind their "warriors" that beat and dominate over another tribe's. A bit primitive I think, the demonstration of such passionate emotion over a game.

Your country's economy is the result of successful financial policy decisions, that have been adopted often by previous generations. But not just that. Certain countries in favorable alliances. political blocks or geographic locations have positioned themselves as "elite" nations that have an advantage over other nations which less luck in their connections and "friendships".

So to be "proud" over often pure luck, is a bit daft. Finally, a nation's culture is often created by the constant mixing and influencing by other cultures from nearby nations, but also from countries far away since we live in a globalized world.

In an ever changing and hopefully uniting humanity, what should actually make a nation proud? Shouldn't be any development, policy or decision that positively influences and affects not only the citizens of this certain country, but also acts as a beacon that kick-starts a positive change for all human kind across the world?

Like when Ireland approved by popular vote to give same-sex couples, full and equal rights on marriage. That can stand as a beaming example, that could positively influence other nations to follow suit, extending equal rights for all LGBT individuals across the world.

Sweden is another case on its human rights activism and how it reacted on the refugee crisis that affects recently Europe. And not just this particular time.

Similarly, how many Greek islanders reacted to the scores of refugees being washed on their homeland's shores, the compassion and humanity they demonstrated, that is something that makes me proud as a Greek personally.

The above examples are just a few. Yet sadly, they do come fewer and fewer in our modern society. People need to be proud for something, to place themselves above others or other nations.

Well why can't these reasons be about the ways that your country stood as an example, pushing humanity ahead, modernizing and positively contributing in our collective global heritage currently, not just about its past achievements.

A bit of healthy competition acts as good motivation, but ultimately the goal should be focused on the greater good of the human kind.

If we keep looking back we can never move forward. If strive to look down on others, we can never be equal and develop together-or at all. If we only try to better ourselves, we leave many others behind. And this is not the way that humanity should be looking into the future, there is no benefit to live in an extremely unequal world.

We are making history as we speak. All of us, with our choices and policies we adopt, with how we treat other nations, minorities in our country and abroad. If we show our worse self towards everyone else outside our "tribe," what will future generations be "proud" of us after all?

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Europeans are shooting themselves in the foot with populism.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has warned that Europe will fall “over the edge” unless the European Union scales back its ambitions and mainstream politicians start listening to the demands of voters flocking to populist parties.

In an attempt to diagnose the populist surge that has dominated European politics in 2016, he stated that Europe cannot push its project over the edge by pushing for "more Europe.”

He was referring of course, to those who wish to shift powers from member states to Brussels. “We are losing the population in the process,” he added. (New Europe).

It is rather disappointing that Europeans chose to turn to so called "populist" parties, either Far Right or Leftist ones. Yet it is totally understandable.

For decades their opinion was being ignored, both by their national elites and governments and the EU itself. Only recently the European institutions really opened up and reached out to the public, in an effort to make themselves approachable and offer the public greater knowledge about their function.

On the other hand, national governments were often scapegoating the EU, using it to appropriate any successful developments and policies. There was rarely any considerable effort in engaging the public with a pan-European movement of civil society.

In addition each of them, in a desperate effort to promote not their country's interests necessarily-rather their own and of those who fund them, they adopted disastrous financial and social policies that brought Europe in economic decline.

The citizens not only were inadequately informed, but even when they were given the option to vote in referendums, their opinion was largely rejected until they voted again for the desirable outcome. That has inevitably created a growing mistrust and suspicion among the European electorate, mainly on the EU's undeniable democratic deficit.

When the economic crisis exposed the euro's weaknesses, another blow to the confidence of Europeans on the continent's most ambitious project has been delivered. A single currency was set for Europe, without a common taxation system or political integration. It was certainly not a functioning monetary union.

The result was a near collapse of the euro, which required massive and painful sacrifices from the voters, to stabilize the continent's banks and save the single currency. Yet, it is becoming obvious that all the measures that have been adopted, haven't decisively solved the problem. Because ultimately, in order the euro to survive it needs further political integration.

As if the economic crisis and the austerity measures that followed were not enough, the prolonged war in Syria and other regions in Europe's neighborhood, resulted in a massive refugee and migrant influx in the continent.

That further challenged the European public's openness and tolerance. Populist groups and figures took advantage of the situation and promoted scaremongering and further confusion, in order to gain more power and influence to satisfy their ambitions.

In some countries they are currently doing very well, threatening the established parties. And while it is great to see the governing elites, finally being punished for their corruption, bad choices and disastrous policies they've adopted, the alternatives are also horrifying.

It is sad to see that we are running out of options in Europe, to really transform our continent. The establishment parties have lost the trust of the voters, yet their challengers give few solutions too.

Apart of course from populism and knee-jerk reactions like abolishing the euro, withdrawing from the EU and restricting immigration and the free movement of people within the EU.

The citizens need to understand that migration, the euro as an idea or the EU with its single market and the free movement of people, are not the real problem. If there were properly dealt with or established, then their impact on our everyday lives would be minimal or even positive.

And it is not that the electorate totally rejects the idea of "more Europe", rather that it lost its faith in it. Yet that is the fault of the national establishment politicians.

They have purposely disconnected communication between the EU and the citizens, with result the ever growing discontent of voters about EU affairs. 

More Europe, aka more transparency, democracy and less inter-governmentalism is the solution to the EU crisis.

But sadly our elites don't want to lose power, by handing power to a fully functioning European democracy. 

So we go in circles and the whole European project and the continent itself is on the brink of collapse. It is disappointing that the people will chose to abandon what we have achieved over the past decades, to go back to what we had before that, while thinking that we will maintain the same benefits.

If the euro goes, then the transition back to national currencies may not be as smooth as we wish it to be. Are Europeans ready to pay the price of further economic depression that a eurozone dissolution could bring?

The free movement of people is one of the few real benefits that we citizens, get with our country's EU membership. Why would anyone want to see it gone, just because our outer borders are under pressure from refugees and migrants? A decisive, comprehensive and unanimously adopted policy to tackle the problem should be preferred, but again our governments are the problem.

They are failing to agree on how to deal with the issue, plus they haven't done anything to establish a closer policing collaboration to safeguard Europe internally. Instead they chose the easy option to suspend the Schengen Agreement.

In addition, they are underlining the issue of migration and the refugee crisis, way too much to distract the European public opinion from other burning issues that we should be focusing on; like the state of our economy and the political deadlock that we find ourselves in.

In other words, for a national politician to draw caution on pushing for "more Europe," as it may harm the EU as a project is really misplaced. If our governments wanted it, "more Europe" would have been a reality already and it would have been successfully established.

All it needs to gain the hearts and minds of the voters, is to be fully functional, beneficial to them, transparent, democratic and offering solutions to their problems. Something that our national governments also want to offer us, to prolong their stay in power and relevance. That is the real reason why it hasn't happened already.

Thus the problem is not that the citizens are afraid of "more Europe," rather that they are unaware of how it will be shaped and how it will affect them. But that is something that our national governments should be responsible of clarifying and working on, yet they are not.

Citizens need solutions to the problems they are facing. Ultimately they do not care where they will come from. Let us not shoot ourselves in the foot by limiting our potential and opportunities, taking away our achievements and benefits, when we really want to punish our national governments.

We may think that anti-establishment political parties will offer us solutions, but these won't come by reversing what we have achieved so far. And are we sure that their policies that include the limitation of rights of minority groups, won't later be applied on us gradually?

Allowing more opinions and voices in Europe's political reality is always beneficial and our continent certainly needed new ideas.

The problem is, these parties in their majority are not placing anything new on the table, rather want to take us backwards to what we had previously, prior the creation of the EU; that is more than 50 years ago.

Change should always bring us forward, to prepare a Europe for the future reality of a multi-polar world. But they have nothing to contribute towards that.