The leader of the far right National Front, Marine Le Pen, winning nearly 20% of votes in the first round of the French election would be worrying in most circumstances. Le Pen, has pledged to cut immigration by 90%, to 10,000 immigrants, and pull France out of the Schengen zone — her party is against open borders, open markets, and the euro. However, her victory is all the more troubling given that Sarkozy has already taken a hawkish stance on immigration, and is pandering further to voters by promising to continue to tighten border controls.
Le Pen’s tougher stance on immigration policy clearly strikes a chord with people angry at the level of high unemployment. Both fear and frustration at the lack of options, and the stagnation of the economy, are enticing voters to look for new alternatives. In the midst of austerity and stalling growth, it is unsurprising that far right and populist groups are springing up across Europe.
And yet, Le Pen’s victory comes at a disconcerting time, just as the EU needs stronger fiscal union measures to stimulate growth. We have already seen what electing strong leaders that propagate xenophobia and segregation can result in during times of crisis: Germany elected Hitler as it struggled with hyperinflation and a humiliating defeat in the First World War. It’s time we learned from the lessons of the past.
Immigration policy has become one of the cornerstone issues of recent elections in the West, and its slant has grown increasingly rigid; Denmark and Sweden’s policies are being hailed as almost draconian. In the U.K., the Tories popular tough stance on immigration has already resulted in the government scrapping a range of visas, and promising to cut immigration to ‘tens of thousands’ by 2015 despite strong protests from the business and education industries. Similarly, Arizona’s immigration law is currently making headlines across the US.
In a globalized world, as western economies slump and jobs grow scarce, people understandably want to protect their livelihoods. Yet, further analysis of the effects of immigration is strongly needed for a more nuanced debate. To begin with, studies have shown that 85% of the world’s population will not leave their home countries. Secondly, economists have long argued that immigration encourages innovation and creates jobs. Immigrants have started almost half of America’s venture-funded businesses; more than 40% of the country’s Fortune 500 companies were founded by an immigrant or an immigrant’s child. Thirdly, when it comes to the argument of unskilled migrants and asylum seekers, 80% of asylum seekers are actually absorbed by developing countries, and not the EU even though the EU claims to welcome those fleeing persecution.
As economic power shifts to the East, and the West undergoes a long and painful deleveraging process while struggling with unfavorable demographics, the West needs to open its borders to encourage growth, not stymie it. It is also important to foster stronger communication between the regions by employing immigrants in order to strengthen trade relations.
There are already signs that the immigration trend has begun to shift the opposite way, as a series of articles points out the West is losing its best talent as reverse brain-drain occurs. People are moving to emerging markets to start businesses and take advantage of their booming economies as they fail to find employment in their own countries. The West must work harder to encourage immigration if it expects the East to welcome its citizens a few decades down the line.