Espace presseThema

Europe as a Land of Immigration in Progress

Senior scientist at the CNRS, Catherine Wihtol de Wenden1, is a member of the Center for International Studies and Research in Paris (CERI)2 where she analyses the transformations over the last two decades of migration patterns in a Europe that is also undergoing transformation. These major sets of changes call for a revision of migration policy.

Entrées de migrants

© R. Gimeno, P. Mitrano, september 2002

“The age of mass migration is past.” Such was the thought in essence of European decision makers in 1974 when in response to the economic crisis of that time they halted the influx of largely male, low-skilled workers. Despite the closing of the borders, however, migration pressure continued, by other routes and other faces. Family reunification thus became the predominant mode of entry into Europe as border-closing encouraged immigrants to settle in Europe, at the same time that requests for political asylum skyrocketed. Meanwhile, the traditional countries of emigration in Southern or Eastern Europe became countries of immigration, and widened access to easy transportation and to passports gave rise to new forms of migration. Other noteworthy developments included the diversification of countries of origin and the fact that under the effects of globalisation the decision to emigrate was based less on demographic pressure and poverty and more on the migrant's imagination of a better life — being better off economically and socially, having more rights — in the Eldorado of the West. Candidates for emigration now came from diverse populations including the educated middle classes, women alone, youth and minors, etc.

A gap between policy and reality
The wisdom of closing the borders of Europe is being called into question by the number of ill effects to which this policy has given rise. It has stimulated clandestine migration, the rise of mafia-like networks, and a labor market tainted by slavery. To make matters worse, current policies are out of phase with the growing economic and demographic needs of a Europe confronted with a worsening shortage of manpower and an aging population, all of which argues loudly for rethinking migration policies. But as Catherine Wihtol de Wenden points out, “there is a noticeable incongruity between on one hand the hesitation waltz of policymakers caught between European consultation and the exercise of national sovereignties and, on the other hand, the steady reality of migratory flows. The result is that despite institutional hyperactivity around the progressive Europeanisation of migration policy, national officials seem more preoccupied by border patrol than by a rationalisation of rights such as the right of asylum, right to social service access, and so forth.” In the interlude, stopgap measures abound: provisional status; humanitarian sojourns; sub-contracts; or individuals caught in limbo between non-expulsion and non-regularisation.

Taking a second look at the whole picture means rethinking the mechanisms of integration in host countries as well as the way immigrants — not all of whom aspire to permanent settlement — and host citizens live together. As the new notions of European identity and citizenship seek definition and content they are being called on to consider new values such as multiculturalism, plural citizenship, anti-discrimination, new ways of defining the secular principle, and others. In this way, immigration is contributing to the construction of a new, collective, European “we”.



à lire

• Catherine Wihtol de Wenden
- L'Europe des migrations. La documentation Française, 2001.
- L'immigration en Europe. La documentation Française, 1999.
- Faut-il ouvrir les frontières ? Presses de Sciences Po, 1999.
- La Beurgeoisie : les trois âges de la vie associative issue de l'immigration. Avec Rémy Leveau. CNRS éDITIONS, 2001.

• Gérard Noiriel (EHESS). Atlas de l'immigration en France. Éditions Autrement, 2002.


Catherine Wihtol de Wenden

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