The armed conflicts in the Gulf and the Middle East have added considerably to the migrant flows coming from the African continent as the result of pre-existing conflicts, and hardship (i.e. in Nigeria, Somalia and Sudan) has exacerbated the situation. Thus both these factors have contributed to the demographic changes in Europe. Europe is confronted with a mixed-migration flow, comprising economic migrants as well as asylum seekers (Park 2015). In 2014, EU member states received about 650,000 asylum applications, followed by over 1,015,078 migrant arrivals in 2015 (Park 2015). In 2015 the highest number of first-time asylum applications was in Germany (497,110), Hungary (202,330) and Sweden (175,490) (Eurostat 2016a). In 2016, Europe received over 262,935 arrivals by sea, mainly from Nigeria (5%), Eritrea (4%), Gambia (3%), Côte d’Ivoire (3%) and Guinea (2%) (UN High Commissioner for Refugees 2016, for main migratory routes into the EU, see Figure 1). During the first few months of 2016, the highest number of first-time applicants was registered in Germany, with almost 175,000 first-time applicants, followed by Italy (22,300, or 8%), France (18,000, or 6%), Austria (13,900, or 5%) and the UK (10,100, or 4%) (Eurostat 2016b).
Migrants from Africa as a possible solution for the ageing labour force in Europe
Demographic pressures, such as those caused by the ageing labour force in Europe, increasing critical labour shortages and deficits of skilled workers in developed countries, have resulted in the growth of mixed migration, both regular and irregular. The migration crisis presents a big challenge for Europe and is steering discussions among the member states on the issue of demographic pressure as the result of the ageing European society, concerns over national identity and migrant integration, and questions regarding the economic impact of migration on the member states, as well as the importance of finding a common asylum policy and sufficiently managing the external borders of the EU. Europe is facing the worrying demographic trend of an ageing and shrinking population. The EU’s total fertility rate is not much more than 1.5 children per woman. According to The 2015 Ageing Report of the European Commission, the population of the EU member states will reach 523 million in 2060, with the working-age population (15–64 years old) falling to just 202 million (European Commission 2015c). As the EU’s working-age population will decrease by 17.5 million (European Commission 2015a) in the next decade, there will be a high dependency ratio, most probably resulting in reduced pension and welfare systems and a scarcity of labour by 2035 (International Migration Institute and University of Oxford 2011). Germany, for example, having the oldest population of all countries in Europe, is facing increased labour demands, as jobs in the country are being created so fast that the native society is unable to fill them. In the long term, migration could significantly contribute to maintaining the sustainability of the welfare system and ensuring the sustainable growth of the EU economy by filling niches in both the fast-growing and the declining sectors of the economy. Thus incoming educated migrants are assets with regard to the future European labour market (European Parliament 2015). To a large extent the future of economic growth in the EU will depend on whether young migrants arriving in Europe possess the skills needed to contribute to the efficiency of European labour markets compared to the native population. More highly educated migrants could affect the labour market outcomes for native workers as they could have an adverse effect on the wage and employment levels of existing workers and affect the labour supply. An increase in the population could also increase the demand for goods and services and thus affect aggregate demand (Aiyar et al. 2016a). The level of education and the labour status of the migrants in their countries of origin is often a decisive factor when seeking further employment in the European labour market. However, even highly skilled migrants often face discrimination, as a large number of migrants with higher education qualifications experience professional downgrading after entering the European labour market; this is the result of a lack of recognition of qualifications from third countries and the poor transferability of professional experience (European Research Area 2013).
Less-educated low-skilled migrant workers may increase pressure on public services such as health care, housing and education systems, and this poses a risk of depression in public wages and increased unemployment (Ellyatt 2015). Low-skilled migrants are willing to work for lower wages than native workers and thus this puts downward pressure on wages, temporarily lowering the wages of incumbents and reducing the capital–labour ratio. Such migrants also create a less favourable net fiscal position because as households they contribute less in taxes and social security (Dadush 2014).
Migration steers political divisions across Europe
Europe is currently experiencing political divisions on the issue of migration, with the conflicting views of member states, driven by economic, social and cultural divergences, creating a highly fragmented environment, endangering future European integration. The inflow of refugees is likely to continue for years, if not decades, and therefore Europe has to find a common solution and take coordinated policy action. The Schengen system of open borders lacks the ability to cope with a crisis situation of this scale (Aiyar et al. 2016b). The uneven exposure to the migration crisis has caused diversity in societal attitudes towards migration, with the largely globalised societies of Western and Northern Europe open to accepting migrants, while the societies of Central Europe are much less willing to deal with the influx (Lehne 2016).
Anti-immigration sentiments are also a rising concern across Europe, with political parties such as the UK Independence Party, Alternative for Germany and France’s National Front enjoying increasing popularity (Ellyatt 2015). Many member countries are hesitant to accept large numbers of migrants from the Middle East and North Africa due to security concerns, which have been heightened by the terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels. Immigration and terrorism are the two main concerns of the European population. According to the latest Eurobarometer survey conducted in spring 2016, over 48% of respondents cited immigration as one of the two most important issues facing the EU at the moment, with concern about terrorism reaching 39%. Terrorism was cited as one of the most important issues in all member states, with the highest figures in Ireland and Cyprus (50%), Romania (49%), Croatia (48%), Luxembourg (47%), France (39%) and Belgium (35%) (Maurice 2016). Although with rising migration many Europeans express an increased fear of terrorism, there is no evidence-based link between the two phenomena. The lack of agreement on burden sharing regarding migrants has caused many EU member states to consider the reintroduction of internal borders within the EU (Funk and Parkes 2016). In 2015 Germany reinstated border controls, and it was followed by Austria, the Netherlands, Slovakia and Hungary. These actions are impeding the free movement of cross-border EU workers and the exchange of goods, and are endangering the very idea of the Schengen area.
The EU is taking several measures to effectively overcome the obstacles and negative effects of the increasing migration crisis. In April 2016 the European Commission adopted a Communication launching the process for a reform of the Common European Asylum System, which would meet the need for options that ensure a fair and sustainable system for allocating asylum applicants among member states (European Commission 2015b). The EU has also launched Common Security and Defence Policy operations in the Mediterranean and strengthened the role of Europol, both with the aim of continuing to dismantle the human trafficking networks. Furthermore, the new concept of hot spots will allow the European Asylum Support Office, Frontex and Europol to work on the ground in the EU member states concerned, providing identification and fingerprint registration in order to maintain a better system of control for arriving migrants (European Commission 2016).