France and the rest of Europe look at the United Kingdom with some envy: the UK is currently enjoying a three percent growth in its economy, unemployment as low as six percent, a paired down number of civil servants and the dynamism of the City as a world financial center. No wonder young entrepreneurs and students are flocking to Britain from the continent.
This week the spotlight was on Prime Minister David Cameron. On Nov. 28, he gave a resounding speech to an industrial audience in the West Midlands. The main thrust of his message was to stress the inability of his country to absorb hundreds of thousands of refugees and job seekers. He announced that, if reelected in May 2015, he will renegotiate the terms of the UK’s membership of the European Union (EU). In the case of refusal, he would organize a referendum on “Brexit” (the colloquial expression for British exit).
To control immigration, his demands include the expulsion of immigrants still jobless six months after their arrival in England and a four year waiting period for new immigrants before they can receive benefits, tax credits or social housing .
David Cameron’s position in regards to the surge of immigration should not be singled out. An increasing flow of migrants is taking place around the world, from Australia to America. In Europe, the phenomenon is compounded because of several circumstances: sub- Sahara persons fleeing for political or economic reasons, refugees escaping the Middle East military conflicts and finally, the recent surge of migrants from Eastern to Western Europe (228,000 this year — the highest number ever registered.)
According to the “Schengen Zone Agreement”, Rumania and Bulgaria, which joined the European Union in 2007, had to wait until Jan. 1, 2014, to enjoy full rights to travel and apply for work within the Schengen space. This explains the spectacular increase in the number of immigrants from those countries to England during the past nine months – increases respectively of 468 percent of Rumanians and 205 percent of Bulgarians. Government corruption, hard to integrate “Romas” and a lagging economy in both those countries explain why other EU members are reluctant to open the flood gates too soon. This week David Cameron sent a special message to the Polish Prime Minister, Ewa Kopacz, to reassure that his demands would not apply to job seekers from her country.
On Nov. 25, the Pope, speaking in the EU Parliament in Strasbourg, admonished the Europeans for being too egoistic and urged them to coordinate their immigration policies. The Mediterranean, he said, should not become a cemetery. Stressing human dignity, the Pope puts immigration at the center of his message. The choice of Lampeduza as his first trip out of Rome was symbolic.
David Cameron is under pressure from the Euro-skeptics and the conservative UKIP (UK Independence Party). It is clear he is ready to moderate his demands since he does not want to sever links with the EU. The desire to negotiate is also strong on the other side of the English Channel.
About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.