July 2009 Volume 16 Number 3
EU: Economy, Migrants
The EU economy shrank by 2.5 percent in the first quarter of 2009; the US economy shrank by 6.1 percent. The unemployment rate of 9.5 percent in the 16-nation Euro area in May 2009 matched the US rate in June 2009. The range in unemployment rates across EU member states is wider than that between US states, from three percent in the Netherlands to 18 percent in Spain in April 2009, compared to four percent in North Dakota to almost 13 percent in Michigan.
Every major European economy shrank in the first quarter of 2009. The European Commission in May 2009 projected a four percent shrinkage in the economy of the 27-member states in 2009, followed by no growth in 2010. The unemployment rate in the Euro area, 8.5 percent in February 2009, is expected to top 10 percent before the end of 2009.
The US moved aggressively to stimulate spending and economic and job growth in 2008-09. European countries led by Germany were more cautious, fearing that more government spending would increase inflation and government debt. However, investors have been willing to buy long-term US debt at modest interest rates, suggesting that they do not perceive risks of inflation and dollar depreciation. Meanwhile, exports are falling and unemployment is rising in many European countries.
The reduced demand for autos prompted sharper cuts in employment in the US than in Europe. Between 2001 and 2008, employment in the North American auto industry dropped from 1.1 million to less than 800,000, while employment in the European auto industry remained at about 2.3 million; 13 million cars were produced in North America in 2008 and 18 million in Europe. The 27-member European Union, home to seven percent of the world's people, makes 30 percent of the world's cars.
A Harris poll released in May 2009 found that most people in the major industrial countries expect the economic crisis to increase political extremism. Half of those polled expressed worries about losing their job or pension, and 60 percent expected strikes and demonstrations as well as "greatly increased immigration into your country," rising to almost 80 percent in Italy. Only in Spain did a majority think that "greatly increased migration" was improbable.
The EU launched a revised Eastern Partnership with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova in May 2009. Ukraine and Moldova face difficulties linked to the global recession, including reduced out-migration and falling remittances.
Blue Card. The EU formally approved the Blue Card program on May 25, 2009. After individual countries enact national legislation to put the program into effect over the next two years, they will be able to admit highly skilled non-EU foreigners and their families for one to four years. Blue Card holders will gain the right to move within the EU after 18 months in the EU country that admitted them. Britain, Ireland and Denmark are not participating in the Blue Card program.
To be eligible, non-EU foreigners must have at least three years of postsecondary education or five years of professional experience and earn at least 1.5 times the average gross annual wage in the country in which they will work, or 1.2 times the average wage if they will be employed in labor-short occupations.
EU member states are implementing researcher and student guidelines. When fully implemented, non-EU researchers admitted to one EU member state to work in a university or private lab will have the right to move within the EU to do their research. Similarly, non-EU students admitted to one EU member state will have the right to move to other EU member states and study there as well.
The EU also approved tougher minimum penalties on employers who hire unauthorized workers; national governments are to implement EU-wide minimum employer sanctions by 2011. Employers will have to make copies of the work and resident permits presented by the non-EU foreigners they hire. The EU set out minimum fines that escalate according to the number of unauthorized workers detected.
EU states naturalize about 730,000 foreigners a year, including 150,000 a year each in Britain and France and 125,000 in Germany.
Elections. Europeans in 27 countries voted for a new 736-member EU Parliament June 4-7, 2009. Conservative-leaning parties won 263 seats; social democrats 161; and national-conservative and mostly anti-migrant parties 35 seats (groups of at least 25 members can form a caucus). Turnout was low, as 43 percent of eligible voters voted.
In several countries anti-migrant parties received their highest-ever share of the vote. The Dutch anti-Islamic Freedom Party (PVV) won 17 percent of the vote and four seats in the new EU Parliament; the Hungarian Jobbik party, which focuses on Gypsy crime, won 15 percent and three seats; and the British National Party won eight percent and two seats. Italy's Northern League, with eight members in the new EU Parliament, accounts for almost a quarter of the anti-migrant group.
In Austria, the anti-migrant Freedom Party (FPO) and the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZO) combined to win 30 percent of the vote.
Nelson D. Schwartz, "Europe Feels the Strain of Protecting Workers and Plants," New York Times, May 26, 2009.