Cultural Effects of Migration
Cultural Effects of Migration

The European Immigration Debate


Countries like the U.S, Argentina, and Brazil have always included large immigrant populations. Citizenship in those countries is based not on ethnic grounds but on a different sort of national identity in which commitment to certain values and ideas is paramount. But for many European countries, the nation is often defined in a cultural way—by a common language, heritage, and ethnicity. This raises important questions for countries that do not have long traditions of immigration. How long does an immigrant have to live in Germany to become a German? Can a person be French without speaking French? Should immigrants be forced to take citizenship classes that teach them “how to be Dutch”?

Indeed, cultural issues are a significant factor in the response of Europeans to global migration. In recent years, the European public has questioned the effect of immigration on culture and national identity. Fear and distrust of immigrants has fueled the creation and success of anti-immigrant political parties in several European countries. Many of these parties have linked social ills, such as unemployment and crime, to immigration.

The incorporation of many European countries into the European Union (E.U.) starting in the 1980’s (and continuing today) has streamlined internal migration policy in member states, so that citizens of these states may move relatively freely across national borders within the E.U.  Some of these national boundaries lack any border security whatsoever.  However, even within the E.U, states have maintained relatively inconsistent policies concerning “third-country nationals,” or citizens of non-E.U. nations (Givens and Luedtke, 2004). The amount of immigrants from outside the E.U. varies widely by nation, as do the laws that secure those migrants rights.  In many cases, legal status is tied to employment in E.U. member states.  This means that high unemployment rates resulting from the economic crisis have had the effect of stripping migrants of their authorized immigration status (Jonjic and Mavrodi, 2012).

In many European countries, including Britain, Switzerland, Denmark, Italy, and Sweden, opposition to immigration has become a central issue in many elections.  France has also followed this trend.  In 2007, Nicolas Sarkozy, son of a Hungarian immigrant, was elected new President by his French voters. In the words of Sarkozy: “Immigration will be among (our) priorities. […] In all the world’s great democracies, immigration presents the possibility of bringing in new skills, new talents, new blood” (The Economist, 2008).

Despite these words of acceptance, Sarkozy has been the main driving force behind the EU’s more restrictive stance towards immigration in the past two years. In October of 2008, Sarkozy’s political “pact” on immigration and asylum was adopted by the European Union, which seeks to not only make migratory entry into Europe more limited and selective, emphasizing the acceptance of more high-skilled workers, but also to repeal mass amnesties and unconditional asylum for illegal immigrants, through mechanisms as strict as enforcing departures, in an attempt to discourage incentives for illegal immigration (The Economist, 2008).

In May 2012, Sarkozy lost the presidency to François Gérard Georges Nicolas Hollande. Hollande’s new Interior Minister Manuel Valls wants to get rid of many of Sarkozy’s controversial immigration policies.  Valls wants to re-centralize decision-making on naturalization (as was the situation before 2010) so that there is one policy that applies to all immigrants. The learning of French culture and history will no longer be required (Hamza, 2012). However, as recently as June 2013, former French Prime Minister Francois Fillon has spoken out against what he considers to be an overabundance of immigrants in France, and resulting economic hardship and lack of “national cohesion” in the country (Bamat 2013).  This discourse demonstrates that even as the politics around immigration have slowly shifted to become more welcoming, anti-immigrant sentiments are still strongly felt by certain sectors of the French population.

Italy also lurched towards an anti-immigration stance with the 2001 electoral victory of Silvio Berlusconi, whose ruling coalition has gone as far as to stand solidly behind “one of the toughest anti-immigrant crackdowns in Europe, mobilizing troops to control crime attributed to foreigners”, according to Newsweek (Nordland, 2008). The government’s coalition partners and cabinet ministers include members of the Northern League, a virulent anti-immigration party. Despite the tough stance against immigration, inflows into Italy rose between 200 to 400 percent from 2000 – 2010 (Bozzo, 2012). Italy now ranks in the top 25 around the world for net migration (Bozzo, 2012).

In Greece,  a 2009 attack on a courthouse housing 600 immigrants by far-right protesters was allowed to occur unimpeded by police. This is a reflection of the Greek government’s policy of discouraging immigration and asylum-seeking through both discontinuing temporary work permits and social security benefits to those seeking work opportunities, as well as granting less than one percent of applicants immediate refugee status (thus relieving the Greek government of its responsibility to protect these asylum-seekers) (The Economist, 2009).

Despite the Euro Crisis, Greece continues to face illegal immigration problems that impact the rest of Europe as well. In 2011, 140,980 people entered Europe illegally, a 35 percent increase from 2010. Of those who came illegally, 40 percent came through Greece. The country’s economic problems and budget restrictions hamper its efforts to stem the tide of illegal immigrants. Greece’s border with Turkey is particularly problematic and many migrants come there fleeing Afghanistan or Pakistan (Stevis, 2012).

An ultranationalist/far-right party in Greece called Golden Dawn won seats in parliament for the first time during 2012. The party has since pushed a heavily anti-immigration platform, blaming migration for societal ills and even going so far as to draft a “racism against Greeks” bill in response to Grecian parliament’s anti-racism law proposals (Maltezou, 2013).  Members of Golden Dawn are implicated in racially motivated attacks against immigrants though no charges have been filed against the members. Greece’s immigrant centers are known for their deplorable conditions. Unfortunately, Greece cannot return illegal immigrants to Turkey because the EU and Turkey have no readmission agreement (Stevis, 2012).

Pim Fortuyn, a popular Dutch politician who was assassinated in 2002, had been amongst the most outspoken against immigration. Fortuyn was particularly concerned that immigrants—mainly from the Muslim world—were eroding Dutch national identity and threatening the traditional liberal Dutch tolerance for homosexuality and commitment to equality for women. Indeed, Fortuyn was not a “conservative” politician in the standard sense of the word; openly homosexual, he was actually a radical libertarian, who believed in no government regulation over individual citizen’s private lives (Carrera, 2013).

In response to these types of concerns, the Dutch government has embarked on a program called “inburgering” (literally “citizen-making”), in which potential immigrants cannot become citizens until they have passed courses in Dutch culture and societal norms. Tough policies toward immigrants are still in place in the Netherlands.  Immigrants must be able to speak Dutch to receive welfare and must be in the country for seven years before they can apply for nationality (Carrera, 2013).

With increasing numbers of asylum seekers, Britain is imposing stricter immigration and naturalization policies. With the austerity measures in place, many Britons would like to see immigration reduced, though socially beneficial immigrants would be welcome (BBC, 2012).

For additional information on the European Immigration Debate, go here:

- The New Europe

- Financial Crisis and Xenophobia

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