On the 26th of October 2017, the Institute for Politics and Society, in collaboration with EUNIC held a debate discussing the question “What if… Someone held you back from choosing where you want to go and when?”. The event was focused on the freedom of movement both inside of the European Union and the areas surrounding its borders.
The panel was moderated by Mr. Jan Klesla, Deputy Head of the Economic Section for the newspaper Lidové noviny. The debate began with comments from Leo Lucassen, a professor of global labour and migration theory at Leiden university, who said that the views towards migration in Europe have changed drastically in the past few decades. In the 60s and 70s it was relatively easy for non-EU citizens to cross borders. However, Professor Lucassen stated that this is no longer the case. Instead, a visa is now required before crossing from many countries, and immigration has become exponentially more visible following the refugee crisis. He explained that during the 1990s, the number of refugees from the same regions entering the EU was greater than the numbers of today’s crisis, yet the public’s reaction was not as strong. However, during the 1990s, the EU’s external borders were also comparatively much weaker than they are now. Professor Lucassen concluded that this has made the current refugee crisis increasingly visible to public perception when compared to the very similar 1990s crisis.
Mr. Dorian van der Brempt, who co-founded Citibooks and was head of the Flemish-Dutch House for Debate and Culture from 2000-2015, responded with the critique that borders exist for a reason. He claimed borders exist as, historically, humans consistently try to create bigger territories until eventually, they must divide them. Van der Brempt went on to say that although in the modern day we talk about “European values and identity”, people tend to truly look out for themselves. As for the future, he focused on the fact that society will need to look for “new rituals” of how to live together, as the current system has not been working. As cultures evolve and change, Europe will need to learn how to be content with no longer leading, how to be smaller and humbler, and how to get along with its neighbors.
The third speaker was Jan Macháček, Chairman of the Board for the Institute for Politics and Society. In his comments, Mr. Macháček focused heavily on the sustainability – or lack thereof – of the current European Union border system. For him, it was very important to realize that the EU is a complex entity with no internal borders (via Schengen). In order to maintain peace and security within those borders, Mr. Macháček found that a strong outer border was needed. Soft internal and external borders are only sustainable during non-crisis periods, and the biggest issue currently lies with the disorganization of migration into the EU. He drew comparison to the US’ issues with Mexican migration, noting that the US spends substantially more than the EU on border protection, and that while it may be impossible to totally stop irregular immigration, governments must demonstrate that they are willing to show solidarity in a more open way.
The discussion then began focusing on Jan Klesla’s question of whether or not we need migration. In his response, Professor Lucassen noted that it can depend on the situational circumstances. However, the European Union, he stated, has benefited tremendously form labor migration, as it creates a balance for deficits and demand of labor. Additionally, Professor Lucassen raised the point that we should acknowledge that, despite concern, migration has been the historical normalcy in Europe for centuries.
Dorian van der Brempt brought up the fact that migration is particularly important now, as the population is quickly aging and migrants often take jobs that natives do not want. He emphasized that cultural migration has enriched us all, and that the influx of new people and workers also brought more money into circulation within the EU. However, van der Brempt also stressed the need for organization within migration systems if successful economic integration is to be achieved.
The final formal response was by Jan Macháček, who responded to an earlier comment claiming that if migrants were to go home all at once, the economy would fall. While he agreed that this was true, Mr. Macháček again stressed that control doesn’t mean the extreme of moving everyone at once, but instead consisted of a more balanced approach. Mr. Macháček concluded with an evaluation of the strong response towards migrants in many Central-Eastern Europe countries. He stated that it is important to keep in mind that this region has been re-educated after being isolated for many years, and that to totally change views is not an easy response.
The final discussion included the audience and panel, and covered a wide range of issues including the merging of cultures across Europe, cultural exchange, border control, sustainable models of migration, and social benefits. Attention was focused on the need for an increased organization of migration in order to manage the efficiency, economic effects, and social reaction to the migration we are seeing today.