In recent weeks, the tragic sinking of a vessel carrying hundreds of Europe-bound Africans has brought the issue of migration into sharp relief. The dominant media narrative in many European countries – which at times seems to portray those on the makeshift ships as quasi-desperados seeking to flood into Fortress EU – has remained broadly unchallenged by these events.
But after some contemplation, we at Mediolana believe that the uncritical internalisation of this narrative is resulting in policy without vision. By viewing the ultimately miniscule number of Africans who make it to Europe’s shores at all – let alone those who end up remaining in what is at least in part an increasingly unlikely promised land – in such an innately negative light, Europe risks missing out on an historic opportunity:
1. Demographic Crunch. As a continent, Europe – and not just parts of the Western, (post-)Catholic segment – is proving incapable of reproducing itself. In countries from Spain to Russia, replacement rates have fallen well below the 2.1 necessary to maintain stable populations for industrialised nations. By most estimates, Western Europe alone is going to need to import tens of millions of workers over the coming decades simply to stave off large declines in tax receipts, public services and living standards. Not being able to mentally handle the prospect of admitting a trickle of Africans suggests that many in Europe are content to choose degeneration over diversity.
2. Spurning Dynamism. The sheer courage and willingness to undertake insane levels of risk demonstrated by those heading to Europe from Africa is only beginning to get the recognition it deserves: leaving their families and home environments behind, they are confronted by everything from extraordinarily venal smuggling agents to the genuine prospect of rapid, anonymous death on the high seas. Given half a chance in a ‘normal’ system, these human beings could be celebrated and wildly successful entrepreneurs – who contribute copiously to European treasuries.
3. Nothing is Forever. Africa is presently undergoing a significant transformation in which record levels of economic growth are beginning to have a tangible impact on people’s welfare. This can be seen in everything from Internet penetration levels to the number of brand new universities being inaugurated across the continent. At some point – as has already happened in some of the developed world’s traditional external sources of labour, such as Mexico and Turkey – it will not necessarily be worthwhile for the ambitious to gamble everything on passage to another continent, and migration flows may begin to reverse. Will that be the point that Europe recognises the potential it let sink to the ocean floor?