Immigration: Europe’s Difficult and Perplexing Road to Reform

The Economist has a couple of useful pieces this week ( here and here ) comparing the politics of immigration in the US and the UK. Meantime US economist Richard Freeman has an NBER paper where he argues we should “Stop spending so much time thinking about the WTO. Technology transfer, international migration, and financial crises have orders of magnitude more important impacts on human welfare and the state of the economy”. In other words globalisation is not after all so much about trade as about labour migration and capital movements. And just how is Europe shaping up to the challenge? Well, by all accounts, not very well. But a surprising proposal has just surfaced from a very unexpected quarter. Immigrants in Italy may (eventually) get the right to vote. Even if this is a very limited proposal, it is certainly a positive one. I am just very surprised by its source.

Gianfranco Fini, the Italian politician who has spent the last decade orchestrating the transformation of a party that once claimed Mussolini as its ideologue, on Thursday got one step closer to his goal of refining that party into a moderate conservative voice.

His party, the National Alliance, presented a bill that, if passed, will extend voting rights in administrative elections to all legal immigrants who have resided in Italy for at least six years.

The bill, which will require the amendment of an article of the constitution, essentially gives non-European Union immigrants the same voting rights as their EU counterparts and allows immigrants to stand for municipal offices, though not for mayor.

Fini, deputy prime minister, was not present at the press conference Thursday, because he is at a summit meeting in Brussels with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and other European leaders to discuss the European constitution, nor did he sign the bill. “But without doubt the paternity of this law is his,” said Ignazio La Russa, National Alliance coordinator.

Fini’s absence could also be construed as diplomatic. His proposal, which came out of the blue last week, surprising even party officials closest to him, set off protests in the conservative coalition, most vocally on the part of Umberto Bossi.

So angry was the leader of the anti-immigrant Northern League that one of his aides suggested that Bossi was ready to pull out of the government and prompt a crisis should the bill be presented. Bossi later backed down.

National Alliance, which in 1994 began shedding its loyalties to its Fascist roots, has long campaigned on anti-immigration platforms. For most political commentators, Fini’s overture to immigrants has more to do with infighting in the governing coalition than with a sudden softening of heart. to synagogues and the Auschwitz death camp, and a planned visit to Israel, put off many times because of the uncertain political situation in the Middle East.

But he’s only been partly successful in rewriting his party’s history, at least in the eyes of public opinion, and National Alliance has never taken much more than the 12 percent of the vote it got in the 2001 election.

Fini’s personal approval rating, on the other hand, hovers around 36 percent, at times higher than Berlusconi’s. So many analysts and even members of his coalition suspect Fini of promoting great racial integration as a high visibility vote-grabbing gambit to build up support for a strong centrist party with a broader voter base.

If the center-right majority was caught off guard by Fini’s proposal, the opposition was no less surprised. A headline in the Communist daily Il Manifesto last week greeted Fini’s proposal with :”I can’t believe it.” The opposition, which has already has several proposals giving immigrants the vote in the works, has said that in principle they support Fini’s bill. But after an initial moment of perplexity, Berlusconi has not refuted the proposal, at least in principal, putting off, or at least postponing, the possibility of a government crisis.
Source: International Herald Tribune

This entry was posted in A Fistful Of Euros, Minorities and integration and tagged , , , , , , , , by Edward Hugh. Bookmark the permalink.

About Edward Hugh

Edward 'the bonobo is a Catalan economist of British extraction. After being born, brought-up and educated in the United Kingdom, Edward subsequently settled in Barcelona where he has now lived for over 15 years. As a consequence Edward considers himself to be "Catalan by adoption". He has also to some extent been "adopted by Catalonia", since throughout the current economic crisis he has been a constant voice on TV, radio and in the press arguing in favor of the need for some kind of internal devaluation if Spain wants to stay inside the Euro. By inclination he is a macro economist, but his obsession with trying to understand the economic impact of demographic changes has often taken him far from home, off and away from the more tranquil and placid pastures of the dismal science, into the bracken and thicket of demography, anthropology, biology, sociology and systems theory. All of which has lead him to ask himself whether Thomas Wolfe was not in fact right when he asserted that the fact of the matter is "you can never go home again".

19 thoughts on “Immigration: Europe’s Difficult and Perplexing Road to Reform

  1. “And just how is Europe shaping up to the challenge? Well, by all accounts, not very well.”

    Sweeping generalization alert!

    Differences from country to country are huge. This is a subject where peoples’ opinion is shaped more by prejudice than information. Get informed, for example by having a look at this site:

  2. OK Chris. Point taken. But why don’t you spell out some examples of what you consider to be good practice that other countries can follow. Grey Davies was suggesting giving driving licences – among other things to help with obtaining bank loans – to undocumented immigrants: what do you feel about that?

    In fact here in Spain they give health cards. Should this be generalised?

    What we need is an agenda for change.

  3. I’m confused. Is this bill extending Italian citizenship to immigrants with six years of legal residence? Or is it extending partial sufferage to non-citizens?

    Some googling around on the subject seems to produce the conclusion that there isn’t any naturalization process in Italy. Is this the case?

  4. Heh,
    common-law citizenship after 6 years of legal residence. As long as there’s no requirement to give up citizenship in one’s country of origin, I like it.

    It could be an enticement to follow the legal procedures vs. ‘illegal’ immigration.

    I’m more circumspect about partial sufferage.

  5. In Spain, immigrants from countries that allow Spanish citizens to vote, in municipal elections, have the same right.


  6. It seems to me there that there are some
    practical problems that are not being addressed
    in the articles referenced or in this discussion.

    For europe as a whole — I realize the situation varies
    by country — employment is rather low. Doesn’t this
    mean that unskilled emigrants, and unskilled is
    what most emigrants are likely to be, doesn’t this
    mean that emigrants are more likely to be unemployed
    than natives? (I’m thinking here in particular of
    the example of france.)

    If we look at the net cost to society and compare
    taxes taken in versus expenditures on social services
    aren’t emigrants likely to end up being a substantial
    drain on the state?

    Most of europe, like the united states, faces a looming
    social security catastrophe where real after-tax income
    will have to significantly drop in order to pay for the
    retirement of an ever larger proportion of the population.
    I’ve often heard it asserted that immigration will
    somehow ameliorate this, but if we look at the details
    doesn’t this turn out to be a fantasy?

    I say the above suspecting that there are positives to
    emigration that I don’t know how to measure or articulate.

    It may for example be that because immigrants are a more
    resourceful sample of humanity than typical and perhaps
    because their attitudes carry forward to the second
    generation, then the second generation will be unusually
    productive and disproportionately drive the host nation

    Certainly the united states seems to have benefitted
    from something like that effect.

    But historically the united states has had fairly weak
    social service expenditures so that the cost to the government
    and the taxpayers was either minimal or negative.
    (Although this is not the case today; the $38 billion
    deficit that California faces is probably less than
    the net cost to that state of the millions of illegal
    immigrants it has experienced in the last decade.)

    Also historically and today the united states has been
    friendly to small business formation which is the typical
    path by which second generation immigrants have a
    disproportionate impact. Is the same true of europe?

  7. In as much I can say, immigrants on the whole are better skilled than natives. They are healthier too. Unemployment in the EU, and probably the rest of Europe, seems to me not due to excess of workers, but to the will of entrepreneurs. How else do you explain that a state like Spain has so high a rate of unemployment, low population growth, relatively low active population, relatively high GDP growth for an EU member, and high inflation?

    Krugman wrote on 7 of October about the fallacy of the lump of work. Edward Hugh had some story on ?Bonobo? about the way immigrants managed to get work. That was germane to the question, if I understood it correctly.

    What is more, most Europeans have little incentive to move, ot rather big incentives not to move, in comparison with immigrants, once you done 10000km, 2000km more are little consequential.



  8. Antoni: Your points are well-taken. But I’m wondering if unemployment in Europe is not due to excess of workers, but rather to the will of entrepreneurs, what kind of solutions would you suggest to increase the will of entrepreneurs?

  9. Markku:
    If an enterpreneur has an incentive, he will hire workers.
    And the incentive for enterpreneurs is the chance to make profit.

    Possible solutions, which would increase the chance that hiring an additional worker is profitable:

    -Lower the costs attached to hire someone. For instance: Lower social security costs, less red tape in the labor market.
    -Lower the risk, that a new worker will prove a burden for the company. For instance: Make it easier to fire someone, when sales are down (in some European countries, it is much easier to divorce from your wife than to divorce from your employee).

  10. Florian – You know what they say about great minds thinking alike?

    By a magnificant coincidence, the first leader article in this Saturday’s The Economist has:

    “rigidities in labour and product markets in France and Germany, aggravated by high tax and social security contributions, have discouraged investment and the hiring of labour, keeping growth down and unemployment high.” – from:

    There is also this useful summary, produced by the British Treasury, of the relating OECD Jobs Study (1994):

    And this paper reports on the national labour markets of the major Eurozone economies:

    An illuminating EU Commission report on the functioning of Community product and capital markets is at:

  11. Mitch,

    This would be for immigrants with six years of legal residence. The naturalisation situation is the following:

    “Naturalisation on the basis of residence is possible after ten years of regular residence in the country. This period is reduced to five years for refugees and stateless persons, four years for EU citizens and three years for descendants of persons born Italian citizens and for foreigners born in Italy. Further requirements stipulated in the law for obtaining naturalisation on the basis of residence include sufficient income and payment of tax duties. However, even when these criteria are met, the attribution of citizenship remains a discretional act of the Italian authorities. Although knowledge of the Italian language is not a requirement provided for by either the law or regulations, there are indications that it is taken into account in the exercise of this discretionary power. The procedure for naturalisation on the basis of residence lasts from one to two years.”

    This extract comes from an interesting document released by the Council of Europe, Commission Against Racism and Intolerance in April 2002.

    Part of the Executive summary reads as follows:

    “In the present report, ECRI recommends that the Italian authorities take action in a number of fields. These recommendations cover, inter alia: the urgent need to take measures to improve the situation of the Roma/Gypsy communities in Italy; the need to counter the exploitation of racism and xenophobia in politics; the need to fine-tune the legislation to combat racism and discrimination and to ensure a more effective implementation; the urgent need to adopt a comprehensive law on asylum; and the need to further strengthen the efforts towards mutual integration of majority and minority populations in Italy, including through ensuring that the existing opportunities in this respect are used in practice.”

  12. “London, which has both ethnic minorities and refugees in abundance, used to be a place where the far-right enjoyed a toe-hold. Now the capital consistently displays the lowest levels of intolerance of any region in the country.” – from:

    “AN IRAQI yesterday spoke of his terror at being hunted ‘like a fox and hounds’ through the streets of Hull by a gang of men in cars in an incident police are now treating as attempted murder. The 31-year-old told police he was chased before being hit from behind by one of the cars and thrown into the air ‘like a rag doll’. He fell into the path of a taxi, which stopped and helped him. But even as he lay injured cars stopped menacingly across the street to stop help arriving, their occupants shouting racial abuse at him before finally driving off.” – from:

    By official reports, half of all ethnic minorities in Britain live in London where together they comprise about 30% of the resident population. The Census profile for Hull reports the resident population as 97.7% white. But then London always was a melting pot since its foundation by the Romans after their invasion in 43 AD. We still celebrate that tradition of openness in a regular Xmas pantomime based on the true story of Dick Whittington from the fourteenth century:

  13. Thank you, Edward. It’s better than I thought, worse than I could hope for. “Discretionary” is not a word I ever want to see in conjunction with a bureaucracy, but it sounds like Italy isn’t a pure racial-citizenship state.

    As such, I have to wonder why in the world they’d want to give non-naturalized immigrants voting rights, if there’s a naturalization process. Better to rationalize the naturalization process (IE, get rid of the “discretionary” language, standardize the period of residence, etc) than to invent some sort of half-citizen, half-resident chimera.

  14. Mitch, not all immigrants are from states that allow for double citizenship. Giving them voting rights, specially at the local levels, help in devising the best way to accomodate them, avoiding ghettoization.


  15. Personally, I think that LEGAL immigration to the U.S. is pretty much a road full of obstacles. This is why I cannot really agree with statements like ‘the U.S. has progressive and positive immigration legislature compared to Europe.’ I just graduated from an American university with a B.Sc. in Business Administration and a GPA of 3.84. This grade point average puts me in the top 5% of the graduating class of my college. Yet, I do not have a chance to legally work in the U.S. A temporary work permit (H1B – specialized worker) would cost any potential employer several thousand USD in legal fees and a lengthy application process. If I were awarded this work permit, I would be bound to the employer who helped me arrange it. If my employer decided to sack me one day, my work permit would be void.

    Seriously, I do not want to be in the position of an Indian programmer in Silicon Valley today. Back in 2000 they were lured into the U.S. with H1B visas and they are now the first ones to be kicked out of the country.

    I think that when talking about immigration, a distinction between the high road of LEGAL immigration and illegal immigration is absolutely necessary. One cannot compare the cases of a highly trained professionals with low-skilled sweatshop workers from Mexico. Ironically, the legal system is exploitative for both: The foreign professional in the U.S. lives under the constant fear of his or her visa being revoked and the illegal immigrant fears being detected which deprives him from any social advancement.

    I know this view is probably perceived as pretty much negative. But if you think that I got an attitude against the U.S. in general, I can only say: (IRONY ON) Yeah, right, I studied at a U.S. college for three years living among American and foreign students only because I disdain the United States. (IRONY OFF)

    Compared to the U.S. immigration dilemma, the temporary work permit and even the immigration legislature of Canada is cutting edge. Canada has a rating system to assess a visa applicant’s potential. Points in this system are awarded for language skills, education, work experience, etc. If you have the necessary qualification, you are invited. Now that’s a progressive immigration legislature tailored to the country’s needs!

    Well, as for my personal perspective, I am really glad that I have EU citizenship and that the EU legislature promotes economic factor mobility within the union, including labor. Isn’t it nice to think of yourself as being an economic factor?

    Chris Scheible

  16. “Back in 2000 they were lured into the U.S. with H1B visas and they are now the first ones to be kicked out of the country.”

    Yep, but this is now causing a very nasty kick back for the US.

    I’m still working on this and trying to sort it out, but the story goes a bit like this.

    Is the ‘brain drain’ good for you? Well yes and no.Obviously you lose talent. So this is bad. But the success of this talent encourages others. So this is good. To cut a long story short, from very small beginings (isn’t this the whole complexity/chaos idea?) you can generate a very big process where everyone copies everyone else.

    This seems to have happened in India, with even people from relatively small villages saving money to send their children to college to learn about IT. An enormous education and training industry developed.

    Then comes the crunch. The Nasdaq crashes. No more H1B’s. But there is a river of people as big as the Ganges training up ready to go. So what happens, the water in the river ‘backs up’, and gets diverted into tributaries locally. Then the ‘boys on the bench’ start to arrive home with nothing to do and plenty of experience.

    So some intelligent entrepreneurs (Schumpeter had it sooooo right) step-in and start the ball rolling. The next thing you know, Silicon valley is dying.

    Incredible thing globalisation, isn’t it?

  17. Chris’ link is a nice one. Interesting to find for example that until recent the Inflow of foreign-born population into the Netherlands was bigger than the one in the US for example (but of course there is some (..) difference between the immigrants.
    I think it should be a good idea for the fistful to collect (and review) reliable and relevant databases.
    On the environment I found for example of the world resources institute. Seems reliable. offers possibility of comparisons. (disadvantage: not all data are up-to-date).

  18. I would like to know what is a qualifications to be UK citizen?please email me let me know them thanks a lot!

  19. dear sir / madam,

    i’m mailing from pakistan i’m 25year old single.

    i would like to take immigration of any one country of europe.

    kindly advise me the all process of immigration .

    best regards

Comments are closed.