Thursday

13th Dec 2018

Interview

UN calls for EU 'courage' on immigration

  • Refugee camp on Jordan-Syria border: there are more displaced people in the world today than at any time since WWII (Photo: EUobserver)

The UN special envoy on migration has urged EU leaders to show more “courage” in the face of growing “nationalism” in Europe.

Peter Sutherland, who was also Ireland’s EU commissioner in the 1980s, told EUobserver from New York on Wednesday (27 May) that European politics is stuck in a vicious circle.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

“What doesn’t help is that arguments in favour of migration aren’t being articulated because politicians are fearful of being labelled ‘pro-immigrant’,” he said.

“It’s a circular situation, where you get more and more anti-immigrant feeling based on wrong information”, he added.

“There’s no question that anti-immigrant parties are gaining support. But does that mean you surrender your beliefs and your principles? People who disagree with this [nationalist rhetoric] should show more courage and should fight for their values in their own constituencies”.

Sutherland spoke amid a backlash by several EU states - including France, Poland, and the UK - against European Commission proposals to share the burden of asylum seekers and refugees.

Their reaction comes amid the rise, in recent years, of anti-immigrant parties such as Ukip in Britain or the National Front in France.

“I don’t want to point fingers, but some are doing better than others”, the UN envoy noted.

He said Germany and Sweden are positive models of countries which take in large numbers of refugees and which make the case for immigration.

Both of them have witnessed popular resentment.

The Sweden Democrats, a Ukip-type party, won 13 percent of votes in the last election. In Germany, which also hosts the EU’s largest Turkish community, the anti-Muslim Pegida movement holds regular torch-lit rallies.

But Sutherland said their leaders “still have appetite” to bring in more foreigners.

“They welcome people and try to make them part and parcel of society”.

He also praised commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and his right-hand man, Dutch commissioner Frans Timmermans, for confronting national taboos.

“They’ve taken a bold step forward, which deserves credit”, he said.

Economic argument

Sutherland, a former businessman, said the economic argument in favour of immigration is an open and shut case.

“It’s proven over and over that migrants’ contribution to tax income far exceeds the cost of welfare benefits”.

“The economic capacity of migrants tends to be greater than that of the native population, unemployment rates are lower, but these figures are rarely discussed.”

Sutherland also held up the US as a model of a “new society” which absorbs migrants “without feeling an absence, a loss of its own culture”.

For his part, John Skrentny, a scholar of migration at the University of California at San Diego, recently told EUobserver that it’s dangerous to dismiss popular concerns.

He said the Western elite has “cosmopolitan values” but most of society “isn’t like that”.

“It’s easy to dismiss people as racists … [but] they feel powerless when they’re told they’re xenophobes. That’s what creates far-right votes”.

Age-old problem

Sutherland had little sympathy for the Ukip-type point of view.

He said that “at the end of the day, it [anti-immigrant discourse] is just the age-old problem of nationalism”.

Citing George Orwell, the British novelist and left-wing polemicist, he added: “Orwell said that nationalism just means thinking that you’re better than other people”.

“These are not the kind of values which underpin the European Union or the United Nations”.

Lampedusa in the Alps

In the last few days, migrants have been forced off trains and stranded near the Italian-Austrian border in a situation dubbed ”Lampedusa in the Alps”.

MEPs and EU staff hid from Strasbourg gunman

MEPs and others hid in restaurants and alleys in Strasbourg during a gunman's rampage on Tuesday which left at least three dead and France on emergency alert.

News in Brief

  1. Hungary votes to create new court overseen by government
  2. Polish PM calls confidence vote in EU judicial clash
  3. MEPs urge Russia to free Ukrainian prisoners
  4. No renegotiation of Brexit deal, MEPs say
  5. Italy to spend less than EU feared: report
  6. May: new leader would have to delay or rescind Brexit
  7. Brexit chaos as Tory MPs to vote on May's leadership
  8. EU set to spend 3.2 percent more in 2019

Opinion

EU parliament vote strengthens whistleblower protection

We must not undervalue what a massive step the European Parliament vote represents. The hard work has paid off. We can take a moment to celebrate, but the hard work begins again for finalising strong protection for European whistleblowers.

Opinion

Interpol, China and the EU

China joins a long list of countries - including Russia - accused of abusing Interpol's 'Red Notice' system to harras activists and dissidents.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General

Latest News

  1. COP24: Vanuatu in 'constant state of emergency' on climate
  2. EU awaits May's future, insists on no renegotiation
  3. Deja vu: Bulgaria pipeline to face EU scrutiny
  4. MEPs and EU staff hid from Strasbourg gunman
  5. 'Trumped Up': The curious case of Babis' conflicts of interest
  6. EU rules out Brexit changes, but could help May
  7. Lead MEP on Morocco resigns as her report passes
  8. UN text not yet ready for ministers, says EU climate czar

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  2. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  3. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  5. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  6. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  8. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  10. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us