“Europe needs immigrants” – former Italian Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema stated bluntly in the 10th May Le Monde – in direct dispute with “the two most active European pyromaniacs”, Berlusconi and Sarkozy. Calculation to support that postulate could hardly be simpler: There are today 333 million Europeans, but with the present (and still falling) average birth rate, this number will shrink to 242 million in the next 40 years.
To fill that gap, at least 30 million newcomers will be needed – otherwise our European economy will collapse together with our cherished standard of living. “Immigrants are an asset, not a danger” – D’Alema concluded. And so is the process of cultural mettisage (“hybridization”), which the influx of newcomers is bound to trigger; mixing of cultural inspirations is the source of enrichment and an engine of creativity – for European civilization as much as for any other. All the same, there is but a thin line separating enrichment from the loss of cultural identity; to prevent the cohabitation between autochthons and allochthons from eroding cultural heritages, it needs to be based therefore on respecting the principles underlying European “social contract”… The point is, by both sides!
How can one secure such respect, though, if recognition of social and civil rights of “new Europeans” is so stingily and haltingly offered, and proceeds on such a sluggish pace? The immigrants, for instance, contribute currently 11% to Italian GNP, having however no right to vote in Italian elections. In addition, no one can be truly certain how large is the number of newcomers with no papers or with counterfeit documents who actively contribute to national product and thus to the nation’s wellbeing.
“How can the European Union”, asks D’Alema all but rhetorically, “permit such a situation, in which political, economic and social rights are denied to a substantive part of the population, without undermining our democratic principles?” And citizen duties coming, again in principle, in a package deal with citizen rights, can one seriously expect the newcomers to embrace, respect, support and defend those “principles underlying the European social contract”?
Our politicians muster electoral support by blaming the immigrants for their genuine or putative reluctance to “integrate” with the autochthon standards – while doing all they can, and promising to do yet more, to put those standards beyond the allochthons’ reach. On the way, they discredit or erode the very standards which they claim to be protecting against foreign invasion.
The big question, one likely do determine the future of Europe more than any other quandary, is what of the two contending “facts of the matter” will eventually (yet without too much of delay) come on top: the life-saving role played by immigrants in the fast aging Europe few if any politicians dare so far to embroider on their banners, or the power-abetted and power-assisted rise in xenophobic sentiments eagerly recycled into electoral capital?
After their dazzling victory in the provincial election in Baden-Wurtemberg, leaving the social democrats trailing behind and putting for the first time in the history of Bundesrepublik one of their own, Winfried Kretschmann, at the head of a provincial government, German Greens, and notably Daniel Cohn-Bendit, begin to ponder the possibility of the German Chancellery turning green as soon as in 2013.
But who will make that history in their name? Cohn-Bendit has little doubt: Cem Ozdemir. Their present-day sharp-minded and clear-headed, dynamic, widely admired and revered co-leader, re-elected a few months ago by 88% of the votes. Until his 18th birthday, Ozdemir held a Turkish passport; then he, a young man already deeply engaged in German and European politics, selected German citizenship because of the harassments to which Turkish nationals were bound to be exposed whenever trying to enter the United Kingdom or hop over the border of neighbouring France.
One wonders: who are, in Europe’s present, the advanced messengers of Europe’s future? Europe’s most active pair of pyromaniacs, or Daniel Cohn-Bendit?