Immigrants Change Face of Old Europe

* Influx of Muslims is causing social stress, but it

is necessary to maintain economic vitality.

By Charles A. Kupchan,1,2720665.story

A demographic revolution is changing the face of

Europe. Declining birthrates, coupled with growing

immigration, mean the end of ethnic homogeneity for

Europe's traditional nation-states. Also, Europe's

predominantly Christian population must get used to

the idea of intermixing with Muslims; with immigrants

flowing in from Turkey, North Africa and the Middle

East, mosques and halal butchers are taking their

place alongside cathedrals and charcuteries.

Integrating minorities into European society is

perhaps the single most important challenge facing the

European Union.

Multiethnic society does not come easily to Europe.

Until recent reforms, Germany defined citizenship

through ethnicity rather than birthplace or residency,

leaving, say, German-born Turks without a true sense

of belonging. France has long embraced a more

inclusive notion of citizenship, but many French

continue to distinguish between citizens of French

stock (français de souche) and others.

This mind-set has contributed to widespread ethnic

segregation, with minority communities in European

countries regularly living in their own enclaves —

often impoverished and feeling like second-class


The resulting social strains have buoyed the political

fortunes of Europe's anti-immigrant right.

In France's last presidential election, Jean-Marie Le

Pen, long an icon of the extreme right, garnered

almost 20% of the vote, besting the incumbent prime

minister in the first round before losing to Jacques

Chirac in a runoff.

Before the 2002 elections in Holland, Pim Fortuyn was

one of the first Dutch politicians to openly discuss

the need to preserve traditional Dutch values and

norms in the face of immigration. Fortuyn's popularity

soared — but his political career was cut short by an

assassin just before the vote.

The Austrian elections of 1999 brought into the

governing coalition the Freedom Party of Jörg Haider,

a politician well known for his racist attitudes.

Although Haider has stepped down as party leader — in

part because of the international uproar resulting

from his electoral success — his party is still in the

ruling coalition.

However appealing the exclusionary impulse of the far

right seems, Europeans cannot afford to close their

doors to newcomers. Without immigration, the

population of most European countries is poised to age

and shrink. Europe's fertility rate is well below

what's needed to keep the population at its current

level. Today, there are 35 pensioners for every 100

workers within the European Union. By 2050, current

demographic trends would leave Europe with 75

pensioners for every 100 workers, and in countries

like Italy and Spain, the ratio would be 1 to 1.

Like it or not, Europe will have to turn to

immigration for its economic survival.

Europe's proximity to North Africa and Turkey — as

well as the youth bulge in many Islamic countries —

will ensure a steady inflow of Muslim immigrants.

The European Union is already home to about 15 million

Muslims, and this number is expected to double by

2015. About 5 million Muslims live in France alone.

Although at least one-half of France's Muslims are

French citizens, the community as a whole has been

growing more radicalized. A sense of social isolation

(many Muslims live in urban ghettos) and of

disenfranchisement (there is not a single Muslim in

the National Assembly) has been fueling a mounting and

angry Islamic fervor.

In an effort to dampen rising social tensions, the

French National Assembly recently passed a bill

prohibiting Muslim girls from wearing headscarves in

public schools. Indeed, all conspicuous religious

symbols, including yarmulkes and large crosses, were

prohibited. The legislation was intended to protect

schoolgirls who preferred not to wear a hajib — many

were being coerced to don headscarves by radicalized

groups. It was also meant to preserve a secularized

public domain, a priority for France ever since the

legislated separation of church and state in 1905. It

remains to be seen whether France's Muslims — about

50% opposed the ban — come to see it as a positive

step toward integration or an unwanted infringement on

their religious freedom.

Whether or not prohibiting religious symbols from the

classroom succeeds in promoting tolerance and

integration, France and its neighbors need to work

much harder at building communities that are

multiethnic in spirit as well as fact. Integrating

minority communities into the social mainstream means

ensuring that they have ready access to language

classes, civics courses and job training. Without

education and social mobility, minority groups are

destined to remain alienated and disaffected.

European governments must also do a better job of

combating prejudice and promoting tolerance among

their majority populations. At stake is not just the

viability of multiethnic community in Europe but also

Europe's ability to remain one of the globe's centers

of liberal democracy and economic vitality.

Charles A. Kupchan, a professor of international

affairs at Georgetown University, is a senior fellow

at the Council on Foreign Relations.


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