Refugees offer chance to boost French economy

Many economic and migration experts say refugees and migrants will benefit the French economy while some say France should be extremely worried that more of those fleeing the Middle East don’t want to come.

Refugees offer chance to boost French economy
Economists and migration experts say France should accept more refugees. Photo: AFP

France and other European nations overwhelmed by the biggest refugee crisis since World War II may end up boosting their economies if they just let the migrants in, analysts say.

More than 430,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe so far this year, but only a few thousand of them are heading to France, with most it seems preferring to go to Germany, Sweden or the UK.

However France has said it will take in 24,000 refugees over the coming two years on top of the 6,000 or so who are thought to be currently in the country.

While many in France, both politicians and public, fret about the idea of so many new arrivals and the immediate strain it will put on the state, experts on immigration are quick to point to the economic benefits to the country.

Welcoming refugees offers Europe the chance “not only to honour its position as a democratic Union that is wealthy and respectful of tradition, but also to expand its growth prospects,” Patrick Artus, economist at French investment bank Natixis, said in a recent report.

Representatives from OPFRA, the French organisation tasked with processing asylum claims, are currently in the German city of Munich trying to persuade some of the tens of thousands of refugees who have arrived there, to choose France instead.

(A caricature of the French president during a pro-refugee protest in Brussels. Photo: AFP)

François Gemene, a specialist in migration with Science Po’s Centre of International Research, said France should be deeply concerned that more refugees do not want to come.

“The fact the refugees don’t want to come to France is a clear sign that the country is no longer attractive,” he told The Local. “They know they will get better opportunities in Germany, Sweden and the UK.”

“The fact it is no longer considered a place to seek sanctuary shows without doubt the economic situation in the country is no longer in good health and neither is the democratic situation.”

He believes France should do more to welcome refugees.

“France has to decide if it wants to project itself it the future in a globalised world or if it wants to be isolated, put up borders and become a museum.”

Holger Schmieding, economist at the German investment bank Berenberg, estimated that the arrival of refugees could boost economic output in the eurozone by 0.2 percent as of the second half of 2015.

Migrants play an important role in economic expansion and in periods of decline, said historian Nancy Green, researcher at the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences in Paris.

New arrivals often work in sectors where conditions are viewed as unsatisfactory for native-born workers, she said, citing the clothing and steel industries of the 19th and 20th centuries and the services industries of today.

“Our continent could and should become a great land for immigration in the 21st century,” influential French economist Thomas Piketty wrote in a recent column in the French daily Liberation.

(Refugees, newly arrived in France learn French with the help of volunteers. Photo: AFP)

The costs to national budgets are minimal, too, according to a report issued last year by the club of advanced economies, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Jean-Christophe Dumont, specialist in immigration at the OECD told The Local that “no study has ever shown that immigration is bad for France.”

Dumont said France was a big enough country and had enough experience to handle the numbers of refugees Paris has agreed to take in.

However the analyst says refugees must be given time to adapt to a country before they can be expected to start contributing financially.

“They have gone through a traumatic situation, they need time to recover. We cannot expect them to start answering job advertisements when they get off the bus,” the analyst said.

Refugees arriving in Europe would need five or six years to match the employment level of migrants who enter to join families already resident in their host nations, and 15 years to match that of the native-born workforce, he said.

Refugees, like other migrants, do not aim to be dependent on welfare, Dumont added. “They want to rebuild, to have a better life for their children, to work,” he said.

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How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.