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Why Apocalyptic Visions Are Poisoning The Immigration Debate, By Péter Ungár

Hungary Today 2015.10.21.

The question of immigration and multiculturalism has been at the forefront of European politics for decades. Following the instigation against beyond-border Hungarians in the referendum concerning dual citizenship in 2004, it has reached the social response threshold of Hungarian domestic politics again after a decade and the immigration issue is joining the ranks of defining domestic political issues. Many question the legitimacy of raising this question claiming that the crisis we are seeing is one of not immigration but only “pass-through” migration. However, because Hungary is not an island but a member state of the EU, we must form an opinion of problems of integration that have been in the focus of domestic political debate in Western Europe for decades. A minority group of the Western European Left represents one extreme of opinions, arguing that everyone should allowed where he or she wants to go because everyone has the right to choose where to life – and those who call attention to integration problems caused by this are “racists” and/or “Chauvinists”.

Those who represent this viewpoint fail to recognise that unbridled immigration does not assist the process potentially leading to the decline of global inequalities, or – as in the case of Hungary – the contraction of social inequalities. Just as the idea that nobody, never and under no circumstances should be allowed into Hungary goes against the Hungarian national interest, so harmful and dangerous is the opinion that the state should give up its right and obligation to decide who can settle and work in the area of the country.

Committed devotees of the liberal side clearly disregard the fact that uncontrolled mass immigration primarily results in the entrenchment of global inequalities; those who “emigrate”, “in the hope of a better life”, to use a familiar panel, are mostly masses of better-qualified, mobile, entrepreneurial and relatively young people. This is experienced also by us if we think of foreign employment within the EU. Of course, nobody can be condemning for refusing to wait for Bangladesh to pay wages capable of supporting a family. But we must also notice that it its well-educated young people emigrate, Bangladesh will find it much more difficult to join the increasingly knowledge-based international economy because no matter how much money it devotes to educated its talented young people, their knowledge will be put to use by other economies less in need of it.

This process is illustrated by the following example, put by Sierra Leone’s foreign minister to Phil Woolas, the Labour Minister of State for Borders and Immigration: “Your country has just given me £150m to invest in infrastructure, and I am very grateful for that, but the trouble is that 90% of our graduates are in the US or Europe. Can you do anything about that for me?” Of course, money earnt above and sent home has a minor positive effect on the public finances of a certain country, but this is considerably far from the long-term solution and fails to serve the ability of economies to change their position in the international division of labour.

Furthermore, mass immigration can potentially also lead to increasing social differences within the country of destination through rendering the collective negotiation of wages impossible and reducing wage levels. It is no coincidence that big business, having its interests in cheap labour, supports mass immigration, which enables it to cut historic costs even more effectively through a technique we could call reverse outsourcing. The effect of this process, which comes in par with the decrease of social benefits due to the austerity-centred policies that have been made obligatory throughtout Europe, can be felt most in low-paid jobs. This, not voters’ racism, is the reason UKIP, the British far-right party, came second at elections in Great Britain’s traditional Labour-voting nothern constituencies. In conclusion, this is not because people living there have less-developed moral insticts than intellectuals expressing their solidarity with “Refugees welcome” on Facebook, while it is also true that the latter group is most likely not to have suffered from the rapid increase of social inequalities.

This is also the case elsewhere in the West. For example, low-earners’ real wages in Germany have been declining since the mid-1990s. To use classical left-wing terminology, immigrants can be seen as a sort of reservoir army of labour to secure over-supply on the labour market.

So far, we have addressed only the economic effects of immigration; however, a political community, a state is much more than wages, benefits and budgetary balance. The fundament of the welfare state is the sense of national community, common belonging, mutual solidarity and trust in our fellow countrymen, all of which are affected negatively if social cohesion contracts. If this happens, distrust between members of the society increases, as shown by certain spots of Western Europe, which has resulted in questioning the legitimacy of welfare benefits.

All this does not mean that nobody should settle in Hungary. On the contrary, the present tragic demographic indicators raise the necessity of accepting that we will need a certain number of immigrants in the second half of the century to enable the coverage of our welfare expenditures. What is more, immigration and settlement is not alien to Hungarian practice, the country’s history being full of stories of successfully integrating groups of different cultural heritage.

At the same time, let us not forget that these successful integration schemes were mostly preceeded by the top-to-bottom will of the state – because it is the task, what is more, the obligation, of the state to decide who can live on its territory. In doing so, it can consider a number of aspects, such as prioritising beyond-border Hungarians in awarding the right of settlement, to focus on the smallest-possible cultural difference between settlers and the majority, or even to limit the influx to well-qualified individuals with the possible definition of the area of expertise.

To say that truth lies in the middle often seems cowardice and a “on the one hand-on the other hand” type of argument, and so it often is. When both the government and its liberal opposition entertains public opinion with apocalyptic visions, the aim of forming a balanced opinion may appeal so especially. Immigration is not fundamentally and not in all cases bad, but without control, it always is. Within reason, under state control, regulated and channelled within limits, however, it can serve the interest of the nation.

Péter Ungár (b. 1991), geographer and local councillor for Hungary’s green LMP party

Adapted from Péter Ungár’s article in the daily newspaper Magyar Nemzet, 30. 09. 2015