Closed-door pol­icy un­help­ful for Euro­pean Union na­tions


Eastern Euro­pean mem­ber coun­tries of the Euro­pean Union (EU) have ef­fec­tively scut­tled the whole is­sue of sig­nif­i­cant Syr­ian mi­gra­tion to the com­mon mar­ket.

While this may prove pop­u­lar for the in­cum­bents in Hungary and other like­minded gov­ern­ments of the for­mer War­saw Pact, there is a down­side to this pol­icy.

If we are to go by what has been pub­lished by the “Man­power Em­ploy­ment Out­look Sur­vey for the third quar­ter of 2014, which is based on in­ter­views with over 65,000 em­ploy­ers in 42 coun­tries and ter­ri­to­ries,” the coun­tries ham­mer­ing for non-en­try of mi­grants into the EU are also some of the worst hit when it comes to find­ing enough work­ers to get their re­spec­tive economies mov­ing in the right di­rec­tion.

As pointed out in an ar­ti­cle in The Economist re­cently, “With their pris­tine rooms and green court­yard, the new psy­chi­atric clinic and geri­atric and der­ma­to­log­i­cal wards cost US$19 mil­lion. But what the hos­pi­tal in By­d­goszcz in north­west Poland does not have is enough nurses and car­ers. As a re­sult it can only fill half of its 236 beds. Such la­bor short­ages are com­mon in Eastern Europe. Con­struc­tion, man­u­fac­tur­ing and tech­nol­ogy firms are strug­gling to find enough work­ers. And short­ages are likely to get worse as pop­u­la­tions age rapidly.” That ba­si­cally sums up the sit­u­a­tion.

Eastern Euro­pean lead­ers like the Hun­gar­ian prime min­is­ter may be win­ning the “hearts-and-minds” game of the lo­cal elec­torate, as his gov­ern­ment erects a new fence run­ning the 175-kilo­me­ter (around 110 miles) Ser­bian bor­der, but the econ­omy in that coun­try, like many across the eastern half of Europe, has lots of va­can­cies for less-skilled jobs, which is ham­per­ing growth of var­i­ous sec­tors — va­can­cies that could be filled up by the thou­sands of rel­a­tively welle­d­u­cated Syr­ian refugees who have been barred en­try.

One can un­der­stand that the is­sue of immigration is a touchy sub­ject in the EU, which is still reel­ing from re­ces­sion. How­ever, to base ar­gu­ments on na­tion­al­is­tic lines is un­for­tu­nately not go­ing to re­solve the “ag­ing prob­lem” of these coun­tries.

Go­ing back to the Em­ploy­ment Out­look Sur­vey, we find that Poland is in need of 50,000 IT pro­fes­sion­als who have not been found, trans­lat­ing into two out of five firms be­ing un­der­staffed.

Czech (18 per­cent) and Slovak (28 per­cent) firms are strug­gling to find em­ploy­ees too. And here it gets in­ter­est­ing: Ap­par­ently nearly half of Hungary’s firms could not find req­ui­site em­ploy­ees (par­tic­u­larly engi­neers).

The coun­try’s in­sti­tu­tions do pro­duce good engi­neers, but then, given the eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties of­fered by other EU coun­tries, par­tic­u­larly Ger­many, the short­age isn’t be­ing dealt with. The sur­vey points out that although these la­bor short­ages have not ad­versely af­fected the growth of the re­spec­tive economies, they are ham­per­ing economies like that of Hungary to reach its full po­ten­tial.

Fill the Gaps?

Ac­cord­ing to The Economist, re­li­able data on how many of the Syr­i­ans hop­ing to get into the EU fall into what skill cat­e­gory is scarce. That they are rel­a­tively well-ed­u­cated means they could, po­ten­tially fill-the-gaps of sev­eral sec­tors in dire need of work­ers in sev­eral EU economies.

We are talk­ing about man­ual la­bor as op­posed to highly skilled oc­cu­pa­tions like en­gi­neer­ing. These in­clude con­struc­tion, agri­cul­ture, the ser­vices in­dus­try (shop as­sis­tants, bak­ers, car­pen­ters, etc.).

The “ag­ing pop­u­la­tion” fac­tor sim­ply can­not be wished away. This com­bined with a de­clin­ing birth rate is go­ing to force many EU coun­tries to start open­ing their doors to eco­nomic mi­grants very soon.

And although Poland has been for­tu­nate to get thou­sands of Ukrainian sea­sonal work­ers to come in, the de­mo­graph­ics will force pol­i­cy­mak­ers to re­think this closed door pol­icy to mi­grants in the near to mid-term.

The hos­til­ity be­ing dis­played is mis­placed at best. Af­ter all, the peo­ple seek­ing en­try and refuge to­day are not the “Mus­lim hordes” that swept through Europe cen­turies ago.

Whip­ping up such sen­ti­ments seems strangely out of con­text to­day, es­pe­cially given the hu­man re­sources crunch some EU coun­tries are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing.

Yes, there are se­cu­rity ques­tions, but none that can­not be dealt with through proper screen­ing. While Western Euro­pean na­tions like Ger­many have em­braced the op­por­tu­nity of beef­ing up their la­bor force by tak­ing some of the mi­grants, Eastern Euro­pean coun­tries are yet to come to terms with eco­nomic re­al­i­ties on the ground.

The po­lit­i­cal ram­i­fi­ca­tion of this “no en­try” pol­icy is that the EU is in dan­ger of los­ing the cred­i­bil­ity to ad­vise the rest of the world on hu­man rights. And that is not a com­fort­able sit­u­a­tion to be in. The writer is as­sis­tant editor, The Daily Star.

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