The Swiss have just voted to bring back strict quotas for immigration. Also, in the EU there are calls for restrictions on the free movement of people. Why does this debate provoke so much emotion? Are moves towards immigration control justified?

(Florian Richter/Flickr/Creative Commons)

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  1. Andrey Makarychev 4 years ago

    This is a very contextual question. The recent Swiss vote has to be understood as part of a broader picture of the growing disillusionment with the EU and its modus operandi both domestically (the Eurozone crisis) and externally (EU policy toward Ukraine). Like it or not, but we have to face the reality: in most European countries anti-migration sentiments are on the rise, and in certain cases they might take radical and even extremist forms (Anders Breivik in Norway). This issue might eventually become the most divisive in political debates in many countries. Public authorities in many of them have already admitted the failure of multiculturalism, which has serious foreign policy implications: the consequential reluctance of the EU to lift visa constraints with Ukraine or Russia can be explained by the sensitivity of migration matters for the Europeans. Therefore, de-bordering in many cases remains a nice academic concept that has to be tested against reality on the ground.

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  2. Barbara Dietz 4 years ago

    Actually, it is a puzzle. Although scientific studies tell us that European Union countries and also Switzerland profit in general from the free movement of people, citizens are nevertheless reluctant towards the inflow of foreigners. Well-known anti-immigration arguments, such as that labor migrants take away jobs from natives, depress wages or take advantage of receiving countries’ welfare systems, find in the overall perspective no empirical support. Occasionally, immigration has redistributive consequences impacting negatively on the more vulnerable groups of society, i.e. on unskilled persons and workers in insecure positions. However, immigration increases the cultural and ethnic diversity of host countries, which is considered a threat by a number of natives. Nevertheless, a more sustainable solution for dealing with immigration in a globalized world is certainly to foster and support the integration of newcomers than to install migration barriers.

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  3. Theodoros Tsakiris 4 years ago

    Controls on the free movement of workers within the EU inherently contradict one of the fundamental principles of the common European economic space. The provisions on Bulgaria and Romania were specific derogrations that will be annulled in due time. Each EU member-state, when examining the pros and cons, has the right to demand and impose partial derogations and this is common practise for many EU member-states who are not also part of the Eurozone. What happens in Switzerland is irrelevant to this discussion.

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  4. Manfred Steger 4 years ago

    The unfortunate outcome of the Swiss referendum to tighten national immigration restrictions is yet another reflection of a paradox at the heart of globalization: inanimate objects such as goods, money, and images have a far easier time crossing political borders than flesh-and-blood human beings. The principal reason for this paradox is quite obvious: the defense of a cushioned life of privilege against undesirable ‘Others’ from ‘alien’ places that supposedly reek of poverty, crime, and religious and cultural differences–in other words, all those ‘foreign’ qualities decent Swiss citizens don’t want to have anything to do with. Though an extreme case, Switzerland is hardly the only place where we can find such a plethora of such discriminatory and deeply unjust attitudes and practices. In fact, ‘Switzerland’ could be seen as a metaphor for ‘purity’ and ‘orderliness’, powerful buzzwords of the murderous 20th century that are still eagerly seized upon by the forces of national populism around the world in their desperate struggle to stem the rising tide of globalization. But human migratory flows–one of the most awesome social forces in human history–will not only continue but increase dramatically if we don’t tackle the serious push-pull factors at its very core: widening global disparities in wealth and wellbeing.

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  5. Frauke Austermann 4 years ago

    Free movement is at the heart of European integration. The latter has helped avoid another war on EC/EU territory since 1945. For that, the European Union was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012. It is true that this idea was implemented in a top down manner and that there are many questionable policies, not least since Lampedusa. The democratic deficit is real and there is increasing awareness about this. However, since 1979, European citizens can vote for a common Parliament whose role has been strengthened over the years. If it is the will of the majority of EU citizens to limit or to roll back European integration, then this must be accepted. But is this really the case? Many EU citizens have come to take for granted the achievements of European integration such as peace and also the daily advantages related to freedom of movement.

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6 Comments

  1. Boris Markovic 4 years ago

    The debate is so emotional because it´s all about identity. People feel really affected when they don´t understand their neighbours anymore (because they speak another language) or when they see people having different habits (wearing a headscarf). Being on vacation in another country, most people embrace those differences. At home, people feel quite irritated. It seems to be a natural reflex. It doesn´t justify racist and xenophobic attitudes. But we have to calculate them in when we talk about immigration.

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  2. Julia Romero 4 years ago

    I totally agree with Manfred Steger. What´s the reason people leave their home, their families, and their friends? Mostly, it´s socio-economic reasons, poverty, lack of opportunities, that drive people to look for a better life somewhere else. Like the mass exodus of Europeans to the Americas that lasted for hundreds of years. A lot of people think that economic migrants are bad. Well, they´re just the norm. So when we talk about migration control, we should also talk about global wealth distribution – and how to change that.

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  3. Martin Kindvall 4 years ago

    I can´t take most EU politicians criticizing the Swiss referendum too serious. It´s pure hypocrisy. Just look at the EU borders. They´re forcing poor African refugees back into the sea. Every year there´s hundreds of Africans dying in the Mediterranean. It´s actually more than ever died along the infamous Berlin Wall and the inner-German border. And whoever gets in faces harsh oppression. In countries like France, the Netherlands or Hungary racism and far-right parties have entered the mainstream. The situation in the refugee camps in Greece or Malta – we don´t even have to talk about that. And in Italy a lot of refugees are living in slums, working under horrible conditions, mostly in agriculture. At least it helps having cheap tomatoes and lettuce in our supermarkets.

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  4. Droit au but 4 years ago

    For each society to function, you need social cohesion. But the effect of being around people who are different from us is to make all of us uncertain. Unfortunately, this means less solidarity.

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  6. John 3 years ago

    The whole issue of immigration debate is in itself a paradox. Western European nations are expected to allow others to come to their countries and not have to assimilate. Yet, when Western Europeans travel to foreign countries, they are expected to follow the tradition, culture, rules, laws, etc. of the vacation country. If I were to move to Japan for work, I would have to learn Japanese and eventually assimilate into the culture. Same goes for almost all countries except Western European nations. The double standard is so obvious, yet completely ignored by those who scream racist, etc.
    It is completely natural for a people to want to keep their ideas, culture, etc. However, if you move to another country, you should assimilate. Not because the host country’s culture is better than yours, but rather you are now in a different country! Western European countries have a problem with immigrants because the immigrants refuse to assimilate. It has nothing to do with race. This is a very logical and rational take on the issue.

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