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.