BRUSSELS – Last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris are likely to compound Europe’s deep divisions over how to respond to its refugee and migrant crisis, particularly given reports that one of the perpetrators arrived amid the ongoing influx. But calls for the reintroduction of border controls and a new “Fortress Europe” risk giving Europe’s demagogues the lead and making it harder than ever to convince people of the need to integrate more newcomers into the European Union’s workforce.
The climate of fear that the attacks have created threatens to obscure a key statistic: unless EU countries open their doors wider to immigration, the current ratio of four working-age people for every pensioner will fall to 2:1 by mid-century, if not earlier. Pension and social security systems are already under severe strain.
Nobody denies that this year’s wave of migration is overwhelming some EU countries, and that solidarity among them is crumbling. But the truth is that the European economy badly needs the young people pouring across its frontiers from the greater Middle East and Africa.
Judging by the cultural difficulties encountered when immigration was only a trickle, integration of this year’s estimated 1.5 million migrants and refugees will be a mammoth undertaking. The face and character of Europe will be changed, unleashing dangerous new political tensions.