BRUSSELS – What will it mean to be European 25 years from now? Unlike the United States, whose history as a “melting pot” has given Americans a truly multi-ethnic character, native Europeans are becoming an endangered species. Europe badly needs immigrants, yet is not culturally prepared to welcome them. The coming decades will therefore see substantially greater social change in Europe than elsewhere, although the nature of that change is far from clear.
At first glance, much of Europe’s current debate is about political and economic integration – about how far its nation states should go in pooling resources and sovereign powers in the European Union. But beneath the surface, the real tensions are about immigration and fears that national “cultures” are threatened by the influx of non-natives, both white and non-white.
Immigration in Europe today is running at a higher rate than in the US, with almost two million people arriving officially every year, together with an unknown number of illegal immigrants. The most conservative estimate, by Eurostat, the EU’s statistical agency, puts the total number of newcomers to Europe between now and 2050 at 40 million. Inevitably, that sort of influx will ensure that Europe’s already vociferous right-wing extremist politicians win even greater support.
The specter of rising racial tensions is worrying enough. But it is just one aspect of Europe’s urgent need to import people from Africa and Asia. Europeans will also see the dismantling of their welfare states and social security systems; the cherished “European model” of pensions, healthcare, and unemployment benefits risks being replaced by the despised and widely feared “American model.” This is not, needless to say, because Europeans crave the rigors of America’s less cosseted social conditions, but because it’s the only way that European governments will be able to stay afloat financially.