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Thursday, 7 June, 2001, 17:42 GMT 18:42 UK
Are Europe's immigration rules appropriate?
For decades Germany's politicians maintained that theirs was not a nation of immigration. But times are changing.

Parties across the German political spectrum are beginning to accept - some rather grudgingly - that, with an aging population and the resulting skills gap in the labour market, Germany needs immigration.

The debate has echoes all over Europe, not least in the British and Italian election campaigns.

How can the influx into Western Europe be managed - in blunt terms, who should be allowed in? Should EU nations be able to recruit and dismiss skilled workers at will from outside their borders? And is that as far as immigration can go?

For this week's Europewide debate, Europe Today's Katya Adler brought together the German Christian Democrat MEP Elmar Brok and the British author, Teresa Hayter.

This debate is now closed. Read your comments below.


If the European Union is to have any credibility, it has to take responsibility for asylum seekers. To allow hundreds of thousands of these people to migrate around as many member states as they wish is absolute nonsense. Why are applications for asylum not processed by the E.U. at the point of entry?
Terry, U.K.

Mass immigration to western Europe is inevitable and a defining 21st century milestone. The acid test for anyone coming to the UK (and Europe for that matter) should be "Do you want to work hard?" A yes answer should be qualification enough for entry and a right to stay and build a business/career. I believe the vast majority of immigrants to the UK are highly motivated and want to build a new life in a free country. I believe this to be a fundamental human right. Europe should open its mind and then its door. The results will be wonderful.
Steve, UK

Why should we crowd and already overcrowded land with more people when we have massive unemployment already? Let's spend our money on education and training of the unemployed before welcoming more unemployed people.
James Roberts, London, UK

As long as there exists rich countries with opportunities surrounded by poorer countries then the idea of building a fortress remains an illusion. As we continue to treat fellow Europeans as second class citizens it isn't surprising that we are having problems. The rich countries have their heads buried deep in the sand and do nothing. This is no new thing!
Mark, Scotland, UK

In the 1960's instead of importing cheap foreign labour from the Indian subcontinent, Britain's doomed textile industry would have been far better advised investing directly in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. We now seem to be repeating the same mistake at the beginning of the 21st century. In a global economy surely the West should be spreading wealth around the globe instead of creaming off the best resources from developing nations?
Anthony, Germany (UK)


I doubt that it will contribute to increased quality of life

Anthony, Germany (UK)
I fully agree with Stephen Kenney. The USA is often heralded as the best example of a country that benefits from large-scale immigration. While it is true that the US economy certainly benefits from the constant influx of cheap unskilled labour at one end and high-skilled experts at the other, Stephen is right to point out the environmental cost of inflating the population of the world's most wasteful nation. I firmly believe that the quality of life for Western Europeans far exceeds that of our US neighbours. Immigration might be required to keep up the never-ending lust for economic growth, but I doubt that it will contribute to increased quality of life. In overcrowded Europe, less cars, less people, and less pollution sounds like a very good thing!
Anthony, Germany (UK)

What right do we have to keep other people out of Europe, for fear that they will reduce our own prosperity? We are lucky to have been born here ourselves. We have no special rights to wealth and happiness, and immigration is part of the natural "free market" system that helps to reduce the injustice in this world. There is a reasonable case that immigration may be restricted if it really causes serious social problems, but otherwise the borders should be open.
Manu, Antwerp, Belgium

The immigration to any country should be highly controlled. A new set of people will bring in a new set of values and there is always a chance of a cultural clash. The sad reality is that the various factors like religion, race etc do matter even now for most of the people and it is just natural to get together with people who are like you and most of the time they turn out to be people of the same race/religion/region.

The percentage of immigrants in any country should be such that they are treated as guests when they are new and not look like a threat to the local population which is bound to feel strange when it notices a new set of people with new values coming in who are not open to mixing with them. Its very important to maintain a certain percentage of population as immigrants and try and maintain the ethnic balance by promoting childbirth in one's own country.
Aditya Singh, India

Europe has much to gain through immigration. Look at the example of countries such as Australia and even the US and the valuable contribution made by immigrant communities to their societies. Look at Britain and the economic contribution immigrant communities make to our cities. Particularly consider the dire need in Europe for a younger population, and that many immigrants are young people who only want the chance to earn a decent living and build a future for themselves and their families, thereby making a valuable economic and social contribution to their new home. Surely their contribution should be celebrated, as it is in many more forward looking and progressive societies.
Richard, UK

Perhaps more time should be devoted to ruling out ageism rather than immigration. Too many companies prefer to take on younger more inexperienced staff to save money on retraining older people who want the work. Immigration will just allow companies more exploitation of labour.
Ron. W, UK

If a European super-state is "on the cards" for Europe, Europe must tolerate increased immigration levels.
Peter Bolton, UK in US


There is plenty of room to build efficiency and free up people for use in other industries

Stephen Kenney, USA
Before opening the floodgates to immigration, you should seriously consider the down side, admitting say a million new people a year to Europe would make it impossible for you to comply with things like the Kyoto Accord, as is the case in the USA, which added 31 million in the last 10 years through immigration and domestic population growth. Perhaps you should first consider automation and commercial efficiency over immigration? Europe is mired in governmental red tape, there is plenty of room to build efficiency and free up people for use in other industries.
Stephen Kenney, USA

Could it not be possible to have a EU wide immigration points system similar to that in Australia where say a person with a required profession and language skills gained more points and therefore had easier access. We require the correct type of worker not an influx of people who do a job plenty of unemployed people are capable of.
Charlie, England

Selecting immigrants? Sounds like Europe in the 1940s. The West had a choice in the early 1990s: (i) support democratic transitions and open itself to the East or (ii) continue living as targets for Soviet missiles. I believe opening up Europe, with the consequences of immigration, was a lesser evil. But sometimes I think people in the West haven't realised that the 1990s were probably the best years to live in, of all the decades in the 20th century. Hopefully our sons and daughters will live in even better times, not forgetting to whom they owe European peace.
Pawel, Poland

I feel the immigrants have to carefully selected. We must recruit people for specific jobs needed in this country like nurses, doctors and teachers. It is a good idea providing it is handled correctly. Although letting in people from all over the world who have skills that British people have already will only lead to reduction in living standards.
Donald Franks, Scotland

I'll fill your skills gap! After university in NZ I was unemployed for six months before I managed to find a mediocre job. However, within days of coming to London I was turning down offers of good jobs left, right and centre so it seems that my skills are more valued over here than at home. I just wish my visa allowed me to stay to develop a career.
Josh, UK/NZ

It is true that the European population is declining. However, this is a social problem that should be solved through policies that benefit the family. Controlled immigration of skilled workers should be considered, but first we should put into effect policies that will train our own people to fill the gap instead of forcing students to pay for their education.
Stuart H, England

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See also:

10 May 01 | Europe
Bossi focuses immigration fears
09 Feb 01 | Business
Green cards spark immigration debate
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