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October 2018, Volume 24, Number 4
The EU committed E858 billion or almost $1 trillion to aid regions whose per capita incomes are below 90 percent of the EU average. However, EU-cohesion funds have not promoted positive feelings toward the EU, including the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France represented by Marine Le Pen.
The EU threatened to reduce cohesion funds for countries that refuse to accept migrants who arrive in Italy and apply for asylum. Poland is slated to receive more cohesion funds than any other EU country although it has refused to accept asylum seekers from Greece, Italy, and Spain.
Britain. The National Farmers Union says that there are fewer than 1,000 British-born workers among the 60,000 to 75,000 seasonal farm workers in the UK; most of the non-UK born are from Bulgaria and Romania. Farmers say that British workers shun seasonal farm jobs for many reasons, from low pay to living in trailers near their seasonal jobs. Fast berry pickers can reportedly early L100 ($130) a day.
Farmers in the southeastern county of Kent rely on Bulgarians and Romanians to pick fruits and vegetables. They want a new guest worker program that allows them to hire workers from Ukraine and other non-EU countries; the British government ended the SAWS program in 2013 when Bulgarians and Romanians got freedom of movement rights.
In October 2018, the British government announced a two-year Seasonal Worker Pilot to allow 2,500 non-EU workers to be employed on British farms in 2019 and 2020.
Local councils provide public services, and many are running out of money. Councils collect real estate taxes of six percent on homes, but most of their money is from the central government in London, which has been cutting aid to local government. As a result, many councils outsource the care of the elderly and disabled in their homes to private firms that relied on migrant workers from Eastern Europe.
France. France has 500,000 Jews and eight million Muslims, the largest number of both groups in Western Europe. Data are approximate because France does not collect data on religion from individuals, preferring to emphasize that all French citizens are equal regardless of religion. Some Jews are moving away from areas with Muslims, and some are emigrating to Israel.
France's unemployment rate is stuck at nine percent, and is 20 percent for youth. Almost half of the jobless have been unemployed for two years or more, even as some employers complain of labor shortages. Some 15 million people in France receive pensions, and Macron wants to keep increases in their pensions below the rate of inflation.
The Macron government took on rail unions and won changes in the 3,300 page Labor Code. National rail operator SNCF was converted into a publicly held company with no debt and no more special protections for SNCF employees. Union members are eight percent of French workers, but French unions are co-managers of health and social security systems and gain power from participating in firm-level works councils.
French unions have been effective at mobilizing protestors, but their street-level power may be diminishing. The number of SNCF employees on strike, and the size of demonstrations in their support, declined between spring and summer 2018. Labor minister Muriel Penicaud says that France is moving toward a Nordic-style labor market known as "flexible security" that protects workers rather than jobs. Nordic employers may hire and fire easily, but workers are protected by government programs that help them to find new jobs.
Germany. Chemnitz grappled with anti-migrant demonstrations in August 2018 after two migrants were arrested for stabbing a man who died. Analysts linked the violence in Chemnitz to the 2015 decision to admit a million Syrians, setting in motion events that are strengthening the anti-migrant Alternative for Germany party that won over a quarter of the vote in Saxony, where Chemnitz is located, in 2017 national elections. As in the US, the slogans of populist parties emphasize nationalism, such as Germany First and We are the People.
Germany is debating new immigration legislation promoted by the SPD, one of the three parties in the coalition government. The SPD wants Germany to adopt a Canadian-style points-based system to select skilled workers; one issue is whether rejected asylum seekers could apply under the points-based system.
A quarter of Germany's 82 million residents have at least one non-German parent. Most economists call for more skilled migration to fill job vacancies. A quarter of the adult foreigners who arrived in 2015 and were recognized as refugees were employed in summer 2018.
CSU Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, who caused a crisis in June 2018 by insisting that foreigners entering Germany from other EU countries be checked to determine if they had applied for asylum elsewhere, in September 2018 asserted that migration was the "mother of all political problems" in Germany and the major reason why established political parties were losing the support of voters. CDU PM Angela Merkel countered that the government was moving "step by step" to deal with issues surrounding immigration.
Germany and Greece announced an agreement in August 2018 under which Greece agreed to accept the return of foreigners who applied for asylum in Greece after July 2017 and then traveled on to Germany. Greece has 60,000 migrants who want to travel onto Germany, including a third living in camps in the Aegean islands. Germany is seeking similar agreements with Italy and Spain.
Mesut Ozil, a star of Germany's world champion 2014 soccer team, resigned from the team in July 2018 after criticism for posing in May 2018 with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and playing poorly in the 2018 World Cup. Ozil wrote: "I'm a German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose," setting off a debate about integration. France's soccer team, which includes stars whose parents migrated from African countries, won the 2018 World Cup.
Turks are the largest group of foreigners in Germany. In a play on #MeToo, the #MeTwo movement aims encourages Turks to think of themselves as both Turks and Germans.
Greece. Almost 3,000 migrants a month arrived on Greek islands off the coast of Turkey in the first nine months of 2018, far fewer than the 100,000 a month in 2015. However, instead of traveling on to Athens and then to Western Europe, asylum seekers must remain where they arrived until their asylum cases are decided.
A profile of the Moria camp in southeastern Lesbos with 9,000 asylum seekers reveals many complaints from the Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan residents who must wait hours in line for meals. New arrivals wait six months or more for an interview with asylum officers, and then longer for the results of appeals when the first decision is that they are not refugees.
The EU has provided Greece with E1.1 billion since 2013 to care for migrants and process their asylum applications. The EU money is allocated to 20 recipients in Greece, and there is limited accountability of how it is spent.
Greece exited its eight-year bailout program August 20, 2018 after receiving E290 billion ($330 billion) in loans. The Greek government's budget deficit was 15 percent of GDP in 2009. Creditors insisted on raising taxes and decreasing government spending, which gave the government a surplus of one percent of GDP in 2017, when growth was 1.4 percent.
Many Greeks are disappointed; an estimated 50,000 people a year emigrate. Greece's VAT is 24 percent, income tax rates are 45 percent, and employers and workers pay 27 percent in social security taxes. Critics say that high taxes fuel the gray or informal economy that is estimated to be 25 percent of the Greek economy.
The unemployment rate is 19 percent, and the quality of jobs has deteriorated: over half of new jobs added in 2017 were part-time or shift work. Employers and workers pay high payroll taxes, and Greece still has one of the most difficult business environments in Europe.
The Syriza party won elections in 2014 and agreed to creditors' demands. The New Democracy party is leading in polls to replace Syriza.
Italy. Some 654,000 migrants arrived by boat in Italy between 2013 and 2017 to apply for asylum. There are five million legal immigrants in Italy, and an estimated 500,000 unauthorized foreigners, including rejected asylum seekers.
The EU offered member states that accept migrants who were intercepted at sea and taken to an EU member state E6,000 each to process asylum applications and integrate foreigners deemed to be refugees. Italy rejected the offer, saying that each asylum seeker cost the government E40,000 or more.
Italy closed its harbors to rescue ships operated by NGOs that pick up migrants off the Libyan coast, but said in July 2018 that military ships of the EU's Operation Sophia will be able to bring migrants to Italy.
Two traffic accidents killed 16 African farm workers in August 2018, prompting a strike by hundreds in Foggia, an area with a peak 50,000 farm workers. Labor contractors organize crews of tomato pickers and charge them E5 a day for transportation to and from the fields. The vans involved in the accidents were outfitted to carry 14 migrants each.
The collapse of a bridge in Italy that killed dozens highlighted the dangers of the country's aging infrastructure. However, modernizing infrastructure often lacks political consensus and funding, allowing the status quo to persist.
Spain. Over 600 African migrants climbed the 20-foot fence surrounding Ceuta in July 2018 and applied for asylum. Spain received an average 3,000 asylum seekers a month in the first half of 2018.
Sweden. Swedes on September 9, 2018 gave the anti-migrant Sweden Democrats 18 percent of their votes, making the party Sweden's third largest. The Social Democrats received 28 percent of the vote and the Moderates 20 percent. With coalition partners, the Social Democrats and Moderates each won 40 percent of the vote.
Crime and immigration were major issues. Sweden, a country of 10 million, received 163,000 migrants in 2015-16, mostly asylum seekers from Middle Eastern countries.
The unemployment rate for persons born in Sweden is 4.4 percent, but over 15 percent for those born outside of Sweden and 23 percent for those born outside Europe. The Sweden Democrats called for a reduction in non-European migration and more efforts to curb gang violence and crime in the areas where Middle Eastern migrants are concentrated.
Turkey. President Trump in August 2018 imposed new tariffs on Turkey after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan refused to release an American pastor who has been accused of supporting terrorism. The value of the Turkish lira fell by half, from $0.30 to less than $0.15, before recovering.
Turkey's debt-fueled economic growth is threatened, as many firms with debts in dollars are struggling to pay them from earnings in lira that are now worth less. Turkey followed the same policy that led to the Asian financial crisis in 1997, that is, borrow in dollars and make loans in local currencies to fuel construction booms.
Then-PM Erdogan in 2009 signed a decree allowing Turkish firms whose revenue were in lira to borrow in foreign currencies if the loan was $5 million or more. Nonbanks now have over $330 billion in debt. Erdogan became PM in 2003 and encouraged more building. There were 19 high rises in Istanbul in 2003, and 98 in 2018.
Turkey has a large current account deficit of over five percent of GDP, large external private and public debts, and high inflation, making the lira ripe for devaluation. Argentina, Egypt and Pakistan face similar economic woes.
Turkey, a country of 80 million that has been trying to join the EU for a half century, is dominated by Erdogan and his allies, who aim to make Turkey, now the world's 17th largest economy, the 10th largest by 2023, the 100th anniversary of modern Turkey's founding.
The US has been turning against Turkey since a failed July 2016 coup. Turkey asked the US to extradite Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish preacher living in Pennsylvania; the US refused. Turkey and the US are nominal allies against the Assad regime in Syria, but Turkey attacked some Kurdish troops in Syria that are supported by the US while tolerating some Islamic State fighters.
Tunisia. The Arab Spring began with the suicide of a Tunisian vegetable vendor who was harassed by police in 2011. Seven years later, euphoria has been replaced by pessimism that is fueling emigration to Italy. Some 3,300 Tunisians arrived in Italy in the first eight months of 2018, and 6,000 were arrested by Tunisian police as they tried to leave in small boats.
Tunisia has a democratic government but economic problems, including a youth unemployment of 35 percent. The IMF provided a $3 billion loan in 2016, but economic growth remains below three percent and the dinar is losing value.
Tunisians are richer than the Eritreans, Nigerians and other Africans who attempt to migrate via Libya, so they often use fishing boats that can reach Italy rather than rubber dinghies that hope to meet rescue ships off the Libyan coast.
Palestine. The US ended aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which provides food and education assistance to 5.4 million people at a cost of $1.25 billion a year, with the US providing a quarter of the budget. Most of those served by UNRWA are descendants of the 700,000 people displaced in the Israel's war for independence in 1948, including half of the two million residents of Gaza. UNRWA considers the people it serves to be refugees entitled to return to their parents' original homeland. The US policy change aims to change expectations about return.
India. The northeastern Indian state of Assam has 31 million residents, including perhaps five million Bangladeshis. The Indian government, which says there are 10 million to 20 million unauthorized Bangladeshis in India, has a "detect-delete-deport" policy, that is, detect unauthorized Bangladeshis, delete them from population registers, and deport them.
Assam conducted a citizen registration campaign in 2018 that required residents to submit proof that they were Indians; four million residents were left off of the citizen list. Critics say that many of those left off the list were Muslims that the Indian government is trying to deport to Bangladesh, which has about 165 million residents and a per capita income half as large as India's.
The Assam Accord of 1985 allows India to return Bangladeshis who arrived illegally after 1971, which means that those who are not on citizen registers must show documents proving their ties to India before 1971.
Japan. Japan has a shrinking population of 126 million and a shrinking labor force of 66 million that includes 2.6 million foreign residents and 1.3 million foreign workers, two percent. Japanese firms traditionally recruited fresh graduates and offered them lifetime employment, allowing workers to develop firm-specific skills that kept them anchored to one firm.
Lifetime employment that makes promotion and wage increases dependent on seniority is becoming less common. Many young workers delay graduation from college so that they are treated as fresh graduates on the job market, while others settle for a series of short-term and part-time jobs that limit their ability to find a lifetime job.
Japanese workers are switching jobs more often, and more Japanese firms are hiring foreign workers, but many firms do not hire foreigners because they are hard to evaluate. A poll of large Japanese firms found that 50 percent employ some skilled foreigners, but only 40 percent favor admitting more.
Projections suggest that the Japanese population and workforce will continue to decline. In 2020, half of Japanese women will be 50 and older. One author predicts that, by 2033, a third of Japanese homes could be empty, with up to 1,000 towns abandoned as residents die and others move away.
PM Shinza Abe has proposed $11 billion for free preschool care to encourage more births, and has pressed Japanese firms to hire more mothers. Over 70 percent of Japanese women with children work, but most work only part-time because of the long-hours firms expect of full-time workers. Only 25 percent of Japanese mothers worked full time in 2017.
Opinion polls find that half of Japanese would open doors wider to foreign workers and half oppose more foreign residents. PM Abe in June 2018 proposed that 500,000 more foreigners with "designated-skills" be admitted to work in Japan for five years in agriculture, construction, hotels, nursing and shipbuilding, sectors that were traditionally off-limits to "skilled foreign workers." Japanese language requirements will be relaxed for designated-skills workers, so that they can more easily qualify for entry into Japan.
Korea. Fewer Koreans are vacationing in Jeju, an island off Korea's southern coast, prompting the government in 2002 to allow nationals of most countries to visit Jeju without visas. Air Asia began flights from Kuala Lumpur to Jeju, and over 100 Yemenis a month, who do not need visas to enter Malaysia, arrived in Jeju in the first half of 2018 and applied for asylum. In June 2018, the Korean government introduced visa requirements for Yemenis.
Jeju has 660,000 residents, and some fear that their island will become an asylum center. Over 90 percent of the Yemini asylum seekers are men, and some Korean women marched in opposition to their presence, citing crime concerns. Korea received almost 10,000 asylum applications in 2017, up from fewer than 3,000 in 2014. The Korean government wants to allow asylum seekers in Jeju to work on fishing boats and fish plants while their applications and appeals are pending.
Australia. Protesters in July 2013 marked the five-year anniversary of Australia's policy of sending migrants arriving by boat from Indonesia to the Papua New Guinea island of Manus and the country of Nauru. The government says that offshore detention shrinks the smuggling business; protestors want the 750 men on Manus and the 850 men and women on Nauru brought to Australia.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton in July 2018 warned of a Sudanese gang problem in Melbourne, highlighting the uneven integration of Africans in Australia. Senator Fraser Anning called for a referendum on halting further Muslim immigration, drawing condemnation from many other politicians who said that Australia is open to all who can contribute.
The Seasonal Worker Program allows farmers to hire workers from Pacific Islands to fill seasonal jobs via designated labor-hire firms. In July 2018, workers from Vanuatu filed a A$10 million suit against Brisbane-based labor hire firm Agri Labour, alleging that SWP rules were not followed and they were underpaid between A$10,000 and A$20,000 each for four months of work in Australia.
The workers earned piece-rate wages, which should average 15 percent more than the minimum wage or about A$25 an hour. The National Union of Workers helped the SWP workers to file suit. In 2017, after exposes of wage theft and poor working conditions, a Protecting Vulnerable Workers amendment was added to the Fair Work Act to enhance penalties against employers who violate labor laws.
Australia's minimum wage increased 3.5 percent July 1, 2018 to A$18.93, and seasonal workers became eligible for overtime pay. Produce growers want Coles and Woolworth's, the dominant retailers, to pay higher prices for fruits and vegetables.