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April 2018, Volume 24, Number 2
Some 707,000 foreigners applied for asylum in the EU in 2017, down from 1.2 million in 2016 and 1.4 million in 2015. Germany received 187,000 asylum applications in 2017. The leading country of origin was Syria, with 98,000 applicants, and there were over 40,000 asylum applications each from Iraqis, Afghanis and Nigerians in 2017.
The EU and Turkey held a summit in March 2018 to extend the March 2016 agreement that returns any migrants arriving on Greek islands without documents back to Turkey. In exchange, the EU is providing E3 billion to aid to migrants in Turkey, including schools for migrant children and housing for migrant families. The EU pledged to provide a second E3 billion.
Britain. Many of the migrants arriving in Italy from Africa want to get to Britain, where some have relatives and friends. Most such migrants aiming for Britain go to Calais, France, and try to slip onto trucks bound for Britain. Some go to Brussels, which has passenger train links to London.
Migrants in Belgium who want to go to the UK do not apply for asylum in Brussels, which would entitle them to housing and food. Instead, they destroy their papers and live in parks or shelters operated by NGOs while attempting to board transport for Britain. NGOs say that Sudanese migrants cannot be deported to Sudan, whose president is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and genocide.
Europe's largest construction project in 2018 is the $20 billion east-west Crossrail, a 73-mile underground tunnel that will use 1,500 passenger trains to travel from Heathrow through London and continue to the eastern suburbs on the Elizabeth Line with 10 new stations along its 41 station route. Crossrail 2 is a planned southeast to northwest project expected to cost $40 billion, but must compete for funds with HS2, a planned high-speed train connecting the capital with Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester expected to cost L56 billion or L400 million per mile.
Britain is the world's second largest market for outsourcing, after the US, reflecting an aggressive effort to have the private sector build infrastructure and provide care to the elderly. The largest private service provider, Carillion, went bankrupt in January 2018 after underbidding for contracts. Many of the other 5,500 private care providers are on the verge of bankruptcy, as providers find it hard to retain staff. Care providers say that government payments must rise.
France. President Emmanuel Macron proposed a law in February 2018 to make it more difficult to apply for asylum and to appeal rejections of asylum application decisions. Over 100,000 foreigners applied for asylum in France in 2017. The new law appears aimed at blunting the appeal of the National Front by requiring foreigners who illegally enter France to apply for asylum within 90 days, down from 120, and to appeal rejections within 15 days, down from a month.
French authorities would make decisions on asylum applications within six months, down from the current average of 14 months.
France operates an office in Niamey, Niger where asylum seekers can apply for asylum. Some 60,000 migrants passed through Niger en route to Libya in 2017, while 100,000 returned from Libya via Niger, suggesting that more would-be migrants are returning or staying home. IOM staff visit detention camps in Libya and interview potential migrants; French officials interview some of those who may qualify for asylum in Niamey. Those approved for asylum by the French asylum agency Ofpra are flown to France.
Macron is trying to reduce labor law protections and pensions for public employees, including rail workers. Macron's government reduced protections and benefits for private sector workers in 2017, and said that the "Statutory Society" that protect particular groups block "any prospect of mobility" and must be transformed.
The Statute of Railway Workers gives employees of train operator SCNF a lifetime employee guarantee and allows retirement at 52 with pensions based on their highest earnings. The SCNF has $68 billion in debt, and costs far higher than in other EU countries. The CGT union led a strike by SCNF workers in April 2018, and promised 36 more days of strikes in a bid to force Macron to back down.
Most of the 5.6 million civil servants have extra protections, and those who collect trash, and promise to strike to preserve them, setting up an historic showdown between unions and Macron.
Germany. A new grand coalition between the CDU-CSU and the SPD parties was formed in February 2018, five months after September 2017 elections. Chancellor Angela Merkel will stay in office after 66 percent of the 460,000 SPD members approved a new Grand Coalition or Gro-Ko with 399 seats in the 709-member Parliament. Polls conducted in March 2018 found the CDU-CSU with the support of 33 percent of voters, the SPD with 16 percent support, and the Alternative for Germany with 15 percent support.
Many contentious issues face the new Gro-Ko, including how to deal with asylum seekers. After August 1, 2018, up to 1,000 family members a month of foreigners who have been granted a temporary protected status in Germany will be allowed to arrive to unify families.
The new interior minister, Horst Seehofer, in March 2018 proposed that asylum seekers be housed in anchor centers to make it easier to remove them if their applications are rejected. Germany dealt with 524,185 asylum applications in 2017, more than the 435,070 in the other 27 EU member states.
The AfD received 13 percent of the vote in September 2017 elections and 92 seats, and has become the second-largest party in many former East German states. The AfD's "pro-coal, pro-diesel, and anti-immigration" message resonates with many workers who traditionally voted for the SPD. The efforts of other political parties to ostracize the AfD may strengthen its support among workers who feel shunned by elites. The AfD, which wants to preserve the German welfare state for Germans, says "open borders and the welfare state don't go together."
Greece. There are almost 8,000 asylum seekers on the Greek island of Lesbos just west of the Turkish mainland. Since March 20, 2016, those arriving on Greek islands without documents may apply for asylum and, if they are rejected, they are to be returned to Turkey and go to the back of the line for resettlement.
The flow of migrants from Turkey to Greece has slowed but not stopped; an average 900 migrants arrived on Greek islands in the first quarter of 2018. However, only 20 migrants a month were returned to Turkey, so migrant camps on Lesbos and other Greek islands are overflowing with people who want to move to Western Europe.
Italy. Italians went to the polls March 4, 2018 and gave half of their votes to the populist Five Star Movement, which got 32 percent, and the anti-immigrant League, which got 18 percent. Italian election law gives a majority of seats to a single party or coalition that wins at least 40 percent of the vote, something neither Five Star nor the League-Forza Italy coalition achieved.
If Five Star, which says it does not want to form a coalition government, combines with the League, Italy could have a government that resists domestic economic reforms such as raising the retirement age and opposes EU limits on deficit spending. Five Star advocates a universal basic income, while the League called for a 15 percent flat tax.
The three major political parties are the Five Star Movement, the Democratic Party, and Forza Italy, which is led by three-time former PM Silvio Berlusconi, now 81, who cast himself as the grandfather, or nonno, of Italy; Forza Italy received 14 percent of the votes. Berlusconi was widely condemned for hosting bong-bong sex parties and was forced to resign as PM in 2011. He was convicted in 2013 of tax fraud and barred from holding elective office until 2019.
Immigration was a hotly debated issue; a third of Italians citied migration as a central concern. Berlusconi called immigration "a social bomb ready to explode." Matteo Salvini of the League (previously Northern League), a Berlusconi ally who led the anti-migrant campaign, said that migration "brings chaos, hatred, social disputes...drug dealing, rape, robberies and violence."
Some 750,000 migrants arrived in Italy between 2011 and 2018, most in boats from Libya. Italy has one of the highest shares of migrants from outside the EU: 45 percent of its 8.3 million foreign-born residents are from non-EU countries, and almost half of Italians say that migrants represent a danger to public order and people's safety.
Italy has several structural problems, including low fertility and few Italian women returning to work full time after having children because of employer preferences for full-time employees and a thin support network of day-care facilities and kindergartens. Paternalism remains rife, so that men with families advance while women are held back. Business complains of a poor-performing judicial system and inefficient public administration.
Turkey. After an attempted coup in July 2016, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued an emergency decree that allowed for the arrest and detention of persons who spread terrorist propaganda and incite hatred. Many dual citizens have been caught up in the drag net, including Turkish-German journalist Deniz Yucel of Die Welt, who was jailed for a year without charge, freed in February 2018, and then charged. Six Turkish journalists were sentenced to life in prison for undermining the constitutional order.
Between July 2016 and February 2018, the Turkish government has jailed more than 50,000 people and suspended over 140,000 from their jobs, including half of Turkey's judges. Over 120,000 fired government employees, 86 percent, have applied for their old jobs. Turkey's constitutional court ordered the release of the Altan brothers, journalists, but a lower court ignored this decision and sentenced them to life in prison for writing articles that the court concluded incited violence.
Turkey's authoritarian turn, combined with disputes with Germany, have slowed Turkey's bid to join the EU. Accession negotiations have been frozen, a contrast to EU plans to admit six Balkan countries by 2025.
Erdogan remains popular, making two or more speeches a day that attack enemies of Turkey in the often coarse language of his supporters. The speeches are carried on television, making Erdogan omnipresent in homes and public places. Erdogan studied Islamic preaching, and is widely considered a master orator.
Israel. The government, trying to remove 35,000 Eritreans and Sudanese who were not granted asylum, offered them $3,500 each and a ticket to a third country in Africa or jail in Israel beginning April 1, 2018. Some 60,000 African "infiltrators" arrived before Israel completed a 150-mile fence on its 150-mile border with Egypt in 2013. Over 20,000 have left, often for Rwanda and Uganda.
Many African migrants live in southern Tel Aviv, where there are competing demonstrations in support of allowing them to stay and to expel them. Naftali Bennett, the education minister and leader the Jewish Home party, strongly opposed a short-lived deal with the UNHCR in April 2018 to resettle half of the Africans in other countries and allow the other half to remain in Israel.