One controversial topic we’ve not yet covered on Debating Europe is the thorny issue of immigration. At a time when European demographics mean a shrinking young population must support a growing number of eldery people, there are those who argue that only an increase in immigrant labour will be able to maintain standards of living. Debating Europe interviewed the Prime Minister of Malta, Lawrence Gonzi, and asked him about the experiences of his own country when it came to EU immigration policy.
Prime Minister Gonzi has spoken in the past of an “enormous immigration crisis” triggered by the Arab Spring and the intervention in Libya, and about the need for EU countries to work together to cope. We had a comment sent in from Christos, who criticised the EU’s approach:
We saw with the immigration problem, after the Arab revolution hit North Africa and thousands were loading themselves on a boat to enter the EU through Spain, Italy, Malta or even Greece, the Northern states ‘ducked’ once again and said that responsibility lay with the states where immigrants were entering into the EU.
But the immigrants do not want to stay in the poor South, they want to move on to the rich North… So why don’t the rich nations of Europe act as one with the states that are on the borders of the continent and assist them? Instead they decided to choose the easy option and suspend the Schengen agreement, like France and Denmark! If they had any problems with how Italy, Malta and Greece handled the situation, then why didn’t all our governments take action together?
How would the Prime Minister respond? Was he satisfied with the support Malta had recieved from other EU countries during the height of the crisis?
Well, I think that progress has been registered compared with three or four years ago. Malta’s immigration problem started even before the uprisings; we’ve been facing this problem for a long time. Most immigrants would target mainland Europe, never wanting to come to Malta. They place their lives in tremendous danger making the crossing, and sometimes their boats are forced to stop at Malta. The numbers have increased, and have continued to increase for several years.
In absolute terms, we have a very small number of immigrants. Following the Libya uprising, we received over a thousand immigrants. It was a very small number, but when you consider we have a population of only 400’000 people, this has an enormous impact.
Progress has been made. The EU accepted a pilot project especially for Malta, with ten member states agreeing to participate and accept a number of immigrants from Malta for resettlement. The total number is in the region of 250 people. It’s a good number, but not enough. The US, for example, has taken over 700 illegal immigrants from Malta for resettlement. If the US is able to do this, I expect more solidarity from EU member states.
Christos also made a comment more generally about the Arab Spring, saying: “As for our involvement in the Arab spring… well, we cannot just watch, but we cannot interfere too much either. We must support the civilians, [and] I am not in favor of military actions anywhere… Aid and sanctions are my ideal ways of intervening.” How does Prime Minister Gonzi feel about the sudden political instability in his region?
We look very positively on these developments. The birth of democracy will not happen overnight, of course. The uprisings themselves closed one chapter, and a new chapter is now opening. The challenge is giving birth to democracy whilst respecting the Arab culture; our responsibility is to contribute and support, not to impose our own models for democracy. We should be shoulder-to-shoulder with them and what I’ve seen so far is encouraging. I think what’s happening in Tunisia, for example, is moving in the right direcction. It’s still early days in Libya, but we are confident things will move in the right direction.
What do YOU think? Should EU member states help “shoulder the burden” with border members when it comes to immigration? Does immigration threaten social cohesion in Europe, or are the demographic challenges far more pressing? And has multi-culturalism “failed” as so many politicians claim? Let us know your thoughts in the form below, and we’ll take your comments to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.