Europe, Immigration and Sustainability

In the year 2021, the notion of security as an overarching concept in Europe centered on a critical debate on immigration and sustainability. Both themes were the subject of national, international, and European political debates shaped by more immediate fears and anxiety stoked by the COVID pandemic. These themes were being interpreted through politically correct perspectives among masses, elites, media, and academia. Climate change and illegal immigration, were being connected to development, sustainability, and future shortages of energy and raw material. 

For several decades the international system has seen a concern about the so-called North-South divide. This divide encompassed a gap between the advanced industrial world and the so-called third-world that encompassed Latin America, Africa, and much of Asia. In more specific terms it was an economic gap, best indicated by a much lower standard of living outside of Europe and North America.

Even before the end of the Cold War, the Mediterranean saw increasing numbers of illegal immigrants, asylum seekers, and refugees from war zones coming from the Middle East, North Africa, the Indian subcontinent, and of course Sub-Saharan Africa. Hundreds of thousands of refugees began crossing the Mediterranean fleeing from war zones, civil wars, and of course last but not least economic conditions that were not acceptable anymore given the opportunities that people in Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America saw in the advanced industrial democratic world. This gap was compounded by the fact that the demographic growth in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia was not economically sustainable. Rising expectations saw then millions of people trying to move into Europe. In 2019 alone, 2.7 million immigrants from non-EU countries entered the EU.

As refugee and immigration crises in the European Union have shown neither national governments nor the European Union institutions have been able to develop a systematic or coherent approach in dealing with constant conflicts in the Middle East or Africa. The end of the cold war had welcomed the idea of peace in our time, but as Samuel P. Huntington prophetically outlined in his essay and eventual book The Clash if Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, the international system was going to see a constant conflict between the secular democratic Euro-American world and as it turned out, the Islamic and Chinese world. The wars in the Persian Gulf, the Near East and the rise of Islamic terrorism in Africa, Europe and Asia followed the traumatic attack by a handful of radical Islamic terrorists on New York. By 2021 the consequences could be seen through the American retreat from Afghanistan. That country had been the breeding ground for the attacks on New York. The United States, Britain and other Western countries came to be humiliated by the Taliban’s victory. 

The Taliban victory in Afghanistan saw hundreds of thousands more refugees trying to enter Europe principally through Turkey and Belarus. Radical Islam wrote a new chapter in the history of the Islamic world. 

The constant international crisis that precipitated a flow of immigrants and refugees to Europe demonstrated increasingly the inability of the European Union and the United Kingdom to resolve an issue that challenged in the final analysis European culture, European economic wellbeing and societal sustainability. The rise of political parties that articulated the apprehension, fears and anxiety of widespread strata of the European population accepting non-European and Islamic newcomers, legal and illegal in France, Spain, Italy, Belgium and Germany for example, were symptomatic of future political instability. The inability of European countries to agree on common policies of protecting European borders and even developing a defensive mechanism outside the framework of NATO speaks of structural deficiencies in European strategic decision making.

Immigration was in the final analyses fueled by demographic growth in   Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. Governments in Europe were unable to respond to the increasing expectations of the populations of those regimes. The population of Egypt had reached by 2020 102.3 million, Pakistan 220.9 million, Bangladesh 164 million, Ethiopia 115 million, and Nigeria 206.1 million; these are examples of what Europe was going to face. Increasing mass communications and transportation allowed millions of people to enter Europe. 

European governments seem unable to coordinate a policy that could cope with the increasing movement of people from the developing world towards Western Europe and North America. The issue of illegal immigration was of concern to many societies in Asia, Latin America, and Africa to the extent that economic concern lead many people to move from one nation to another. For example, the case of Bangladesh stands out, hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshis were moving into India generating social, economic and social conflicts. And in the case of Africa, millions of people were moving across the continent with spill over into North Africa and Libya. In turn, hundreds of thousands of Africans were trying to cross the Mediterranean into Italy, Spain and Greece to reach the promised land: the European Union.

The sustainability of such movements did not and does not seem to concern international organizations and NGOs that were and are interested in bringing refugees to Europe. Inevitably, the issue of settling refugees, providing employment and preventing cultural clashes was the subject of much debate but with no solution in sight.

Critical debates on sustainability and climate change did not necessarily address themselves to the catastrophic problem of population growth and food supplies. In fact, the reluctance of some countries such as India, Indonesia and China to comprehend the anxieties of industrial states and European and North American activists was to be expected. Beijing, Delhi and Jakarta were by far more concerned with their populations and their standard of living. Rising expectations could not be postponed because they could be a cause of political instability. The demand for fossil fuels was not decreasing as energy was crucial to the creation of a higher standard of living for hundreds of people in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Immigration is bound to be the biggest challenge for the European Union and Britain. Illegal immigrants from the Middle East were coming to France to cross the channel as others were trying to come through the Italian peninsula to enter Switzerland and Germany. The soft underbellies of the European Union, Italy, Spain and Greece continue to be so. Countries such as Belarus and Turkey use the movement of immigrants into the European Union as a tool for gaining concessions from Brussels and individual European countries. The president of Turkey Erdogan had been successful earlier (in 2015) in gaining financial support from the European Union and Germany to stop the flow of Islamic immigrants into the continent. Hundreds and thousands of refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan could become a great tool for gaining concessions from the European Union and single European states whose power is becoming ever more marginal. 

The trend in international conferences shaped by Western powers and NGOs on climate change, sustainability, energy and food security, and human rights should be understood in the context of an overwhelming demographic shift that does not seem to enter into the political calculus of Western decision makers and their constituents.