The refugee and migration wave that hit Europe two years ago had both negative and positive consequences. The negative consequence was the rise of far-right populism and Islamophobia among European citizens. It was a fact that was overly covered in the tabloids.
But the arrival of hundreds of thousands of young people in an aging continent, such as Europe, has also created some new possibilities for the benefit of both refugees and the European economy.
It is no secret that EU member states suffer from a constantly dwindling population. Germany, the leading economy in the EU needs, new brains and new hands. Denmark and other successful economies of the European North also need “new blood”.
Even the hysterically anti-immigration Slovakia and Hungary need foreign labour, according to reports published by local institutions.
Poland seems to face this need with the mass migration of Ukrainians following the crisis that hit the country in 2014.
In brief, if the European Union wants to be a strong competitive economy it needs to introduce new labour forces into its economy.
The problem is not new.
When the faster growing economies in Europe needed new labour hands, they would import them. Following the end of the Second World War, a mass immigration movement began from the South and the East towards Central, Northern and Western Europe.
In the 1950s and 1960s, several countries such as Belgium, Germany and Sweden, imported immigrants from the countries of the European south, many of them devastated by WWII, such as Italy, Greece and Yugoslavia, or by civil war, as was the case of Spain.
In the 1990s, the collapse of the communist world offered a solution to the problem. Hundreds of thousands of Poles, Hungarians, Bulgarians or Albanians arrived in European countries and played a role in the success of the European economies of that period.
Without any doubt those immigrants contributed to the European efforts to take the leap into the Euro era.
Now, even though Europe is still in a period of crisis, its economies desperately need new labour. And, since the former communist countries are now EU members, or are waiting in the EU lobby, there is not much to expect from European soil.
What remains is the vast land of the Middle East and Africa.
The first good news comes from Germany. The German Institute for Labour Market and Vocational Research recently expressed optimism about the integration of refugees in Germany’s labour market. Researchers predicted that about 50% of asylum-seekers in Germany would be employed within five years of their arrival.
In Italy, some municipalities, with Florence playing the role of pioneer, cooperate with refugees in the sensitive waste sector. This, was of course on a voluntary basis, but has proved that new options exist.
If we want to maintain our social policy standards and see pensioners living their last years in dignity, we should refresh the European labour force. This means the most suitable programmes would be those aimed at the integration of refugees in the European economies. These are programmes that could help local communities host newly arrived refugees – for the benefit of all sides.