EU looks to suspend Vanuatu from visa-free travel list over ‘citizenship for sale’ scheme

Of note. Welcome belated crackdown:

The European Commission on Wednesday proposed suspending visa-free travel between the bloc and the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu. The move, which would be a global first, is aimed at curbing the practice of offering “golden passports.”

In Vanuatu, foreigners can obtain citizenship and a passport in exchange for a minimum investment of $130,000 in the country. This in turn grants them easier access to other nations, including the 27 countries that make up the European Union.

The European Commission had issued a warning that it would take this step if Vanuatu did not alter its investment-for-citizenship program. The proposal now goes to individual EU member states for approval.

If the Commission proposal is adopted, it would end visa-free travel for anyone who has acquired Vanuatu citizenship since 2015. The ban will be dropped if the government amends the rules, the Commission said.

In the proposal, the EU executive pointed to the extremely risky nature of the scheme, arguing that it accepted essentially all applicants without sufficient screening, despite some appearing in Interpol’s security databases.

Cyprus, Malta also in hot water

The Commission said it is currently monitoring similar programs or planned schemes in several other countries, including Caribbean islands and the eastern European nations of Albania, Moldova, and Montenegro.

Similar programs in Cyprus and Malta, both EU members, are currently facing legal challenges from Brussels.

Source: EU looks to suspend Vanuatu from visa-free travel list over ‘citizenship for sale’ scheme

Poland Gets Support From Europe on Tough Borders

Good example of “weaponization” of refugees:

The migration crisis of 2015, when millions of migrants and asylum seekers surged over Europe’s borders, nearly tore apart the European Union. Many members offered asylum to the refugees; others, like Poland and Hungary, wanted no part of it.

Six years later, the current standoff at the border of Poland and Belarus has echoes of that crisis, but this time, European officials insist that member states are united when it comes to defending Europe’s borders and that uncontrolled immigration is over.

What is different, the Europeans say, is that this crisis is entirely manufactured by the dictator of Belarus, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, as a response to sanctions that the Europeans imposed on his country in the face of a stolen election and a vicious repression of domestic dissent.

“This area between the Poland and Belarus borders is not a migration issue, but part of the aggression of Lukashenko toward Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, with the aim to destabilize the E.U.,” Ylva Johansson, the European commissioner for home affairs, said in an interview over the summer.

The crisis began in late August, when growing groups of migrants, mostly from the Middle East, began massing at the borders of Poland, Latvia and Lithuania, shepherded there by Belarus. That movement has now become much larger, with at least 4,000 or more men, women and children trapped in the freezing cold, without proper shelter or toilets, between Belarus and its neighbors.

Both Poland and Lithuania declared states of emergency and fortified their borders, while Belarusian forces have in some cases aided the migrants in breaking through. The border regions have been shut to journalists and aid workers, but upsetting videos and pictures of the migrants facing barbed wire have been distributed, often by Belarus itself.

On Wednesday, the German foreign minister, Heiko Maas, called Mr. Lukashenko’s tactics a “cynical power play” and said that blackmail must not be allowed to succeed. In Washington the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, met President Biden and emerged to say that what was transpiring on the Belarus border is “a hybrid attack, not a migration crisis.”

Source: Poland Gets Support From Europe on Tough Borders

Immigration and natives’ exposure to COVID-related risks in the EU | VOX, CEPR Policy Portal

Interesting assessment that immigrant workers in EU countries helped non-migrants avoid COVID-related risks given that immigrant workers filled the more difficult and dangerous jobs and that native workers were more able to shift to jobs that could be filled from home:

In recent years, immigration policy has been at the forefront of political debates in high-income destination countries. The UK completed its withdrawal from the EU on 31 January 2020, due in part to the desire to have more control over its immigration policies and to limit migrant flows. Intense political debates and polarisation on immigration helped fuel the rise of right-wing parties in Europe and political controversies over the border wall and the Dream Act in the US.

Despite these high-profile examples of the popular and political backlash against immigration, the academic literature provides evidence that immigrant workers often fill difficult and dangerous jobs that locals are not willing to undertake (Orrenius and Zavodny 2009 and 2013, Sparber and Zavodny 2020).

The recent COVID-19 shock exerted unforeseen and sudden pressures on labour markets across the world. While the negative effects of the pandemic were widespread, some categories of workers were hit much harder than others due to their occupations (Adams-Prassl et al. 2020a and 2020b, Dingel and Neiman 2020, Garrote-Sanchez et al. 2020, Gottlieb et al. 2021). Migrant workers, in particular, have been more exposed to the negative impacts of COVID-19 (Basso et al. 2020, Borjas and Casidi 2020, Fasani and Mazza 2020 and 2021). Another strand of the migration literature shows that in response to immigration, native workers reallocate to different occupations in which they have a comparative advantage (Peri and Sparber 2009).

Against this backdrop, a question of interest is whether immigration contributed to reducing locals’ exposure to the COVID-19 pandemic. In a recent paper (Bossavie et al. 2020), we explore how the prevalence of immigration in a labour market affects different types of workers’ exposure to COVID-19 related risks. We provide evidence that not only were immigrant workers more exposed to the economic and health-related shocks of the pandemic; they also served as a protective shield for native workers. By selecting into higher-risk occupations prior to the pandemic, immigrants enabled native workers to move into jobs that could be undertaken from the safety of their homes or with lower face-to-face interaction with customers and co-workers during the pandemic.

To assess the exposure of immigrant and native workers to the economic and health risks posed by the pandemic, we construct various measures of vulnerability. We look at three main dimensions of occupational vulnerability in the context of COVID-19: whether an occupation can be carried out from home, whether it has been categorised as essential by governments in the context of COVID-19, and whether it is exposed to COVID-19 health risks. In general, lower-skilled occupations such as machine operators, waiters, and day laborers tend to be less amenable to work from home than professional and managerial occupations. Essential jobs are concentrated in key sectors such as healthcare or agriculture. The higher health risks are found in essential occupations that require intensive face-to-face interactions such as doctors, personal care workers, or bus drivers.

We focus on destination countries in Western Europe, including the 15 countries that were the initial members of the EU (prior to the 2004 enlargement), Norway, and Switzerland. This region is the destination for an estimated 60 million of some 272 million immigrants worldwide. The analysis is based on a harmonised labour force dataset (EU Labor Force Survey) that contains detailed information on personal characteristics (such as age, education, occupation, and sector) of native workers and labour migrants in hundreds of local labour markets in subregions within European countries.1 The distribution of occupations by type of exposure to COVID-19 and by migrant status in the EU is reported in Figure 1.

Figure 1 Relative size of telework, essential, and non-face-to-face jobs in the EU

Source: Own calculation based on EU-LFS 2018 data, following EC directive (2020) and Fasani and Mazza (2020).

We first find that immigrants are generally employed in occupations that are more vulnerable to COVID-19-related risks (Fasani and Mazza 2021 report similar findings). Our estimates show that only 27% of employed migrants in the EU15 have a job amenable to telework, compared to 41% of native workers (Figure 2). On the other hand, migrants are slightly more likely to be in essential occupations. Combining those two categorisations of job vulnerabilities, migrants are more than 10% less likely than natives to hold jobs that are shielded from negative income shocks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, migrants are also more likely to have jobs that are exposed to health risks, though we report significant heterogeneity in exposure among immigrant groups. The higher vulnerability of migrants is common across skill levels but varies depending on country of origin, with Eastern European migrants being the most exposed to income risks while migrants from Western Europe or North America have a similar risk profile to natives. Recent Eurostat statistics show that the higher vulnerability of migrants to the COVID-19 shock in Western Europe resulted in higher employment losses in 2020 (4% drop vis-à-vis 2019, compared to 0.8% fall for natives during the same period).

Figure 2 Share of workers by region of origin and risk type

Source: Own calculation based on EU-LFS 2018 data, following EC directive (2020) and Fasani and Mazza (2020).

We then examine whether the presence of immigrants in local labour markets has a causal impact on the vulnerability of native workers in the same geographic areas. Our empirical analysis is motivated by a general equilibrium model of comparative advantages in task performance between immigrant and native workers (Peri and Sparber 2009). In the model, native workers reallocate to other occupations in response to an influx of immigrant workers. In the empirical analysis, we use an instrumental variable approach to account for the non-random location choices of migrant responses to local job opportunities, which is based on past migration presence in the same region. Because of information, networks, and preferences, there is a strong positive association between current and past immigrant presence across European regions, as immigrants tend to move to the same locations where previous immigrants from the same country already live.

We find that native-born workers in those European subregions with a higher share of immigrants are significantly less likely to be exposed to various dimensions of occupational vulnerability associated with COVID-19. This association is especially strong when looking at the likelihood of being employed in teleworkable occupations (Figure 3), and the results get stronger once the endogeneity of immigrants’ location choices is taken into account. Immigration thus had a causal impact in reducing the exposure of native workers to some labour markets risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Figure 3 The relationship between share of immigrants in the working-age population and share of natives employed in jobs amenable to work from home in European regions

Source: Authors’ calculations using the EU Labor Force Survey 2018.
Note: The sample includes NUTS-2 regions from the EU-15 as well as Switzerland and Norway.

We also find heterogeneous effects depending on the characteristics of native workers. The effects of immigration on job safety are stronger for highly (i.e. tertiary) educated native workers, who benefit from the presence of both high-skilled and low-skilled migrants. By contrast, the effects are smaller and statistically insignificant for less (i.e. non-tertiary) educated native workers. We also assess whether these compositional effects on employment of certain types of native workers are accompanied by overall changes in total employment and wages. We find no evidence of wage or employment impacts among native workers, suggesting that the increase in job safety among native workers is driven purely by their reallocation from vulnerable jobs to safer jobs.

In short, we find that immigration to Western Europe reduced the economic exposure of natives to COVID-19 related labour market shocks by pushing them towards occupations that are more amenable to work from home. Our paper thus provides another example of immigrant workers in effect ‘protecting’ native workers by taking on the riskiest jobs during the pandemic.

Source: Immigration and natives’ exposure to COVID-related risks in the EU | VOX, CEPR Policy Portal

IMC Defends Sovereign and Societal Value Creation of Investment Migration Programs [citizenship-by-investment]

Of note. The international lobby group for citizenship-by-investment programs argues (unconvincingly) its case. No Canadian firms that I recognized:

The two-month deadline set by the European Commission for the governments of Cyprus and Malta to reply to the letters of formal notice regarding their citizenship-by-investment pathways is approaching. In advance of this date, the Investment Migration Council (IMC) wishes to engage with all relevant stakeholders and remind them of a number of salient points.

The legal case

The right to assign citizenship is very clearly the sole competence of a sovereign state. This analysis of the European Commission’s legal case has nothing to do with whether one agrees with the concept of citizenship by investment. The vast majority of EU legal experts argue that the Commission has no legal right to become involved in how sovereign states define citizenship law.

The IMC has sought the opinions of several legal scholars, including Professor Dr Daniel Sarmiento, a leading specialist in EU competence law, and Professor Dr Carl Baudenbacher, the former president of the EFTA court. The conclusion is clear: The EU has no competence in the area of citizenship. Moreover, the concept of ‘genuine link’ that was invoked by the EU is both vague and arbitrary. The European Court of Justice already found in earlier decisions that it is not relevant.

It is therefore unlikely that the European Court of Justice would rule in favour in the matter at hand, as this could have very serious secondary consequences, and could open the way for the EU to encroach on the power of granting nationality, which is reserved, in EU Law, for Member States.

As rightly noted by the European Parliament, “Nationality is defined according to the national laws of that State.”

Strong governance and due diligence

The IMC however understands and shares the concerns of both the EU and wider stakeholders around the question of proper due diligence on applicants to such programs. This is why it has developed, in cooperation with international anti financial crime firms BDO, Exiger and Refinitiv, a common best practice framework and developed a blueprint for good governance through due diligence standards to uphold the highest levels of integrity and transparency. [Download the ‘Due Diligence in Investment Migration: Best Approach and Minimum Standard Recommendations’ Report]

Nevertheless, the IMC suggests that there has been a significant exaggeration of the risks. Working in partnership with Oxford Analytica, the leading geopolitical risk analysis and advisory firm, it has identified that for all the publicly voiced concerns, the due diligence and governance in place already acts as a powerful deterrent. [Download the ‘Due Diligence in Investment Migration: Current Applications and Trends’ Report and the ‘Citizenship by Investment Programmes: An EU Risk Assessment’ Report]

Oxford Analytica found that the operational reality is that investment migration risks are primarily theoretical in nature. This assessment is broadly shared with the intelligence, security, and law enforcement professionals involved in managing investment migration. Potentially nefarious activity is a negligible percentage and compares very favourably to other legal migration pathways.

There are, of course, enhancements that should be made at corporate, sovereign state, and intragovernmental information sharing levels. The IMC and its membership community are committed to the highest of standards. We want to work in partnership with the relevant stakeholders to devise a formal regulatory system that mirrors those of financial and professional services providers and that will ensure the necessary protection. That system should be based on an objective and knowledgeable analysis of the reality of investment migration, not one that is based on scare stories and rumour.

A creator of societal and sovereign value

Investment migration is a vital lever for sovereign nations to raise debt-free capital, attract talented individuals, and deliver benefits to society as a whole. In Malta, to mention but one example, the Individual Investor Programme attracted EUR 1.4 billion directly into the island nation’s economy following the damaging Euro crisis. This liquidity has had profoundly positive consequences. There has been significant employment creation across all levels of society, and the Maltese government has greater autonomy to invest in vital infrastructure projects, some of which involve critical care for cancer patients.

Bruno L’Ecuyer, CEO of the IMC commented: “Investment migration pathways are now a well-established, normalised wealth management advisory practice. As is the case with other established financial and professional services practitioners, we want to work in partnership with all relevant stakeholders to ensure that sovereign and societal value can be maximised through prudent, responsible, and objective regulation.”

For this to happen, all investment migration advisors must run operations to the highest possible standards and be prepared to face the consequences if they are found wanting. Equally, stakeholders must understand that the privilege of granting citizenship and residence rights is solely the domain of a sovereign state, and that significant sovereign and societal value can be created through investment migration, particularly in the Covid era, which moreover in many instances is aligned with the UNs Sustainable Development Goals.

ENDS.

About the Investment Migration Council

The Investment Migration Council (IMC) is the worldwide association for Investment Migration, bringing together the leading stakeholders in the field and giving the industry a voice.

The IMC sets the standards on a global level and interacts with other professional associations, governments, and international organisations in relation to investment migration.

The IMC helps to improve public understanding of the issues faced by clients and governments in this area and promotes education and high professional standards among its members.

The IMC is constituted as a not-for-profit association under Swiss law. Based in Geneva, it has representative offices in New York, London and the Cayman Islands. Managed by a Secretariat under the direction of a Governing Board, the IMC also has a non-executive Advisory Committee, in which the most important industry stakeholders are represented. The IMC is funded by membership fees, donors and income from activities such as events, education, training, and publications.

(Membership list can be found here: https://investmentmigration.org/members-directory/ )

Source: IMC Defends Sovereign and Societal Value Creation of Investment Migration Programs

There’s a social pandemic poisoning Europe: hatred of Muslims

Of note:

Rarely does the EU act so swiftly. Less than four months since the killing of George Floyd in police custody and the Black Lives Matter campaign that spilled into Europe and galvanised continent-wide protests, the EU is appointing its first ever anti-racism coordinator.This brilliant idea will make little sense, however, if anti-Muslim hatred is not part of their portfolio. Because instead of building a “truly anti-racist union”, as the president of the European commission, Ursula von der Leyen, would wish, we have so far built an anti-Muslim one.

Prejudice against Muslims exists in every corner of Europe. Not only do we collectively devalue and discriminate against Europeans who follow Islam, but the incidence of violence against Muslims is increasing.

We have known since the refugee and migration crisis of 2015 and the jihadist terrorist attacks in France, Spain and Germany that Muslims suffer from an exceptionally bad reputation in our societies. In 2019, research conducted for the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Religion Monitor yet again confirmed widespread mistrust towards Muslims across Europe. In Germany and Switzerland, every second respondent said they perceived Islam as a threat. In the UK, two in five share this perception. In Spain and France, about 60% think Islam is incompatible with the “west”. In Austria, one in three doesn’t want to have Muslim neighbours.

Source: There’s a social pandemic poisoning Europe: hatred of Muslims

EU unveils plan to combat racism, increase diversity

Better late than never (collecting basic data):

The European Commission presented a series of measures Friday aimed at tackling structural racism and discrimination, acknowledging a blatant lack of diversity among the European Union’s institutions.

The bloc’s executive arm set out its action plan for the next five years, which includes strengthening the current legal framework, recruiting an anti-racism and increasing the diversity of EU staff.

The European Commission’s for values and transparency, Vera Jourová, said that recent anti-racism protests in the U.S. and Europe highlighted the need for action.

“We have reached a moment of reckoning. The protests sent a clear message, change must happen now,” Jourová said. “It won’t be easy, but it must be done.

“We won’t shy away from strengthening the legislation, if needed,” she said. “The commission itself will adapt its recruiting policy to better reflect European society.”

The current College of Commissioners, which oversees EU policies, is made up of 27 members, one from each EU country. All the members of the team set up last year by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen are white.

Under the plan, data on the diversity of commission staff will for the first time be collected on the basis of a voluntary survey that will help define new recruitment policies.

Meanwhile, the new for anti-racism will be in charge of collecting the grievances and feelings of minorities to make sure they are reflected in EU policies.

The EU said that more than half of Europeans believe that discrimination is widespread in their country. According to surveys carried out by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, or FRA, 45% of people of North African descent, 41% of Roma and 39% of people of sub-Saharan African descent have faced such discrimination.

The EU’s racial equality directive will also be assessed, with possible new legislation introduced in 2022. In the wake of the Black Live Matters protests triggered by George Floyd’s death in the U.S., the European Commission said it would look carefully into discrimination by law enforcement authorities such as unlawful racial profiling. Meanwhile, the EU agency for fundamental rights will continue to collect data on police attitudes towards minorities.

The European Commission also wants to combat stereotypes and disinformation by setting up a series of seminars and promoting commemorative days linked to the issue of racism. It also encouraged member states to address stereotypes via cultural and education programs, or the media. A summit against racism is planned next year.

“Nobody is born racist. It is not a characteristic which we are born with,” said Helena Dalli, the EU commissioner for equality. “It’s a question of nurture, and not nature. We have to unlearn what we have learned.”

Earlier this year, the European Parliament approved a resolution condemning the Floyd’s death and asking the EU to take a strong stance against racism.

Source: EU unveils plan to combat racism, increase diversity

The EU needs a new story on race and inclusion

Of note:

Three months ago, as angry Black Lives Matter protests erupted across Europe in the wake of the death in police custody of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, flustered European Union officials promised urgent measures to tackle the bloc’s own dismal record in combating race-based violence, discrimination and harassment.

The Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, recognised their countries had a long way to go to achieve racial equality. ‘We need to talk about racism with an open mind,’ the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, told the European Parliament. ‘Racism is alive in Europe, not just in the US,’ the commissioner for equality, Helena Dalli, confessed, adding: ‘We have to address the roots of the problem, not just the symptoms or the results.’

Von der Leyen held a first-ever commission debate on racism, insisting there must be zero tolerance for discrimination based on colour or race, and promised to ensure more ethnic diversity in EU bodies often described as ‘Brussels so white’. There were plans to craft an ‘action plan’ to tackle inequalities in employment, health and housing, curb police brutality and ensure fair treatment for all.

It was a heady moment. After years of ignoring warnings that racism was a serious problem in Europe and averring that recruitment policies would need to remain ‘colour-blind’, leaders of EU institutions were finally ready to listen and learn—and, most importantly, recognise that discriminatory practices were weakening social cohesion, depriving the economy of its full potential and undermining European values.

Running deep

Turning good intentions into credible and enforceable policies will be a challenge, however. And not just because of the EU’s previous lack of interest and experience in combating ethnic discrimination.

Systemic racism in Europe runs far deeper than toxic far-right diatribes. It has seeped into much of the EU’s institutional discourse and policies. It cannot be wished away by inspiring speeches or noble resolutions.

Moves to dismantle racism in Europe’s economic, political and social systems will therefore need to be deliberate, intentional and sustained—and based on a deeper understanding of the lived reality of Europeans of colour.

Most importantly, to be credible and effective, EU measures to ensure racial justice and equality must be anchored in a fresh and more inclusive European narrative. But that difficult conversation has not even begun.

Toxic stereotyping

Proud talk of ‘unity in diversity’ ignores the fact that European Muslims are still struggling against toxic stereotyping as extremists and potential terrorists. Surveys by rights agencies point to continuing anti-Semitism across Europe, while black Europeans face unrelenting discrimination in their professional and personal lives, including police harassment.

Europe’s estimated 50 million ethnic-minority citizens—representing about 10 per cent of the EU population—are still routinely viewed as permanent ‘migrants’ or exotic foreigners. Many are haunted by the one question they can never, ever, sidestep: ‘Where are you really from?’

That should not surprise. Sometimes unintentionally, though often deliberately, the European narrative—the story of Europe’s history and identity propagated by its leaders and institutions—implies a self-comforting exclusion, contrasting ‘true’ Europeans to unwelcome, intruding outsiders. The ‘European way of life’ which it is now a commission priority to ‘promote’, invokes ‘strong borders’, a ‘modernisation’ of the asylum system and co-operation with ‘partner countries’ to achieve ‘a fresh start on migration’.

The message may be strident or subtle, harsh or soft but it is always clear: Europe is white and Christian. Members of other ethnicities and religions may be tolerated—even needed—but they do not really belong.

Reinforced through school curricula, which ignore the dark side of European colonialism, and by far-right rhetoric, toxic, ‘us’ vs ‘them’ groupthink is no longer the prerogative of Hungary’s Viktor Orbán or other populist leaders. It has been embraced by many mainstream politicians, pliant, uncritical media and anti-migrant campaigners disseminating misinformation.

With ‘race’ and migration so pejoratively linked in the public domain, the systematic demonisation of migrants and refugees, the refusal to accept desperate asylum-seekers and the dehumanising language of tabloid media have further poisoned the conversation.

No quick fixes

Changing Europe’s narrative to become more inclusive will not be easy. There is no miracle solution or quick fix, no one policy which can change years of wilful neglect.

There will have to be a mix of immediate actions—such as raising awareness of dehumanising language and unconscious biases, less discriminatory EU recruitment policies, collection of data on ethnicity, improved police training, close scrutiny of the link between artificial intelligence and structural racism and stricter enforcement of the EU’s 2000 race-equality directive—as well as determined, longer-term policies and measures to change deeply-anchored and long-standing prejudices, stereotypes and cultural norms.

The conversation on facilitating a faster integration of minorities and migrants—which puts the onus on ‘outsiders’ to become part of ‘national culture’, in assimilationist fashion—will need to be replaced by a wider, deeper and fairer concept of inclusion, as developed by the Council of Europe. This recognises the dynamic, multi-faceted and multi-layered interaction between people as they live and work together, providing all members of society with the opportunity to participate equally in political, economic, social and cultural life, and the ‘diversity advantage’ which results in practice.

EU leaders and institutions should play their part discouraging outdated or one-dimensional definitions of ‘European identity’, in favour of a recognition that ‘hyphenated’ Europeans, with fluid, changing and multiple identities, are also true Europeans. As European economies slow down and work begins on ensuring a sustained and sustainable recovery, Europe will need the engagement, skills and talents of all its citizens.

Opportunities for change

The coming months provide important opportunities for change. The EU can prove it is serious about fighting discrimination by developing stronger links with anti-racist organisations, clamping down harder on far-right hate speech and violence and making sure Europe’s ethnic minorities are represented and listened to in the upcoming Conference on the Future of Europe. Access to resources from the recently-agreed, EU-wide, multi-billion-euro recovery fund must also be ensured.

The union’s rule-of-law provisions should include reference to national measures to secure racial equality. And EU institutions should indeed make sure their recruitment policies include outreach to ethnic minorities.

There is no magic wand and no one European leader or institution can immediately make black lives matter in Europe. Dismantling years of neglect, and visible and invisible discrimination, will require sustained and painstaking effort.

An EU action plan to combat racism is a good first step. But it must be accompanied by a modern narrative of a truly inclusive and just Europe, which is genuinely ‘united in diversity’—in deed as well as word.

About Shada Islam

Shada Islam is a commentator and analyst on EU affairs, including migration, inclusion, diversity and women’s empowerment. She runs her own Brussels-based global strategy and advisory company, New Horizons Project.

Swiss researchers gear up for crunch immigration vote, fearing return to scientific exile

Of note:

Swiss voters go to the polls in a month to decide whether to cap free movement of citizens from the EU, in a referendum seen as a crunch test of the country’s ties with the 27-member bloc.

The vote, were it to succeed, would violate bilateral accords that enhance Swiss access to the EU’s single market, and directly threaten researchers access to the next science programme, Horizon Europe.

“I’m a bit worried about the vote,” said Gian-Luca Bona, CEO of the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology. “This is extremely important for our economy. The special circumstances of COVID-19 mean there are many irrational things happening. There are a lot of emotions around at the moment.”

Bona leads a lab of 1,000 scientists, made up of 60 different nationalities. He fears a repeat of 2014, when a slim majority of Swiss voters backed a similar motion that sought to restore limits on immigration. The EU responded by cutting off full Swiss membership to Horizon 2020, the current research programme. What followed was an almost three-year scramble for Switzerland to regain full access.

Now, in what is essentially a repeat of the 2014 vote, Bona fears the country could be thrust back into scientific exile.

“Infections are growing slowly but steadily,” he said. “The real impact on the economy from COVID-19 could start to show this fall; a second wave could aggravate things. We could see chapter 11-style closures of businesses.”

“The discussion that could follow, around prioritising the Swiss citizens, is the dangerous part in this referendum. I hope rational thinking determines what we do next.”

While not unusual for Switzerland, where plebiscites on specific questions are common, for Brussels, the vote raises the prospect of yet another embarrassing national referendum on the EU.

The threat of being blocked from the full €94.1 billion Horizon programme, which starts next year, is a source of major disquiet for Swiss academics.

After the 2014 experience, they’re fully alive to the danger. On Thursday, a collection of top scientific organisations, including the ETH Board, the Swiss National Science Foundation and Innosuisse, the Swiss Innovation Agency, jointly called for voters to reject the proposal.

“It’s rather open for me, what’s going to happen in this vote,” said Tilman Esslinger, who leads the quantum optics group at ETH Zurich.

“There’s a very special set of circumstances – coronavirus, severe economic challenges. This can amplify in one or the other direction. The world has changed. People probably don’t even know themselves yet how they’ll vote. People have other things on their mind now, like how they will get their kids back into schools safely. They might not be thinking of politics,” Esslinger said.

Political analysts, however, say the initiative faces many obstacles.

“Plenty of things are now running against it. Because of coronavirus, it doesn’t have the monopoly of attention or debate,” says Oscar Mazzoleni, political scientist at the University of Lausanne.

The Swiss will be voting on five separate subjects on September 27, including the purchase of new military airplanes, the length of paternity leave and the right to hunt wolves and other animals.

Support for the Swiss People’s Party, which put the immigration vote on the agenda, is lower than it was six years’ ago, Mazzoleni noted.

The build-up to the vote is short, too, in comparison to the months-long campaigning seen in 2014.

The reaction to the government’s handling of coronavirus is generally positive, meaning the public may not view the upcoming vote as a weapon to punish politicians.

“They delivered the money; they supported the economy during the pandemic. And it’s too early to see the impact of the virus on the economy anyway. The real crisis is still in the future,” Mazzoleni said.

Politicians fear success for the immigration vote would wreck their hopes of putting relations with Brussels on a new footing.

Like the UK, Switzerland is in its own difficult negotiation with the EU, being asked to endorse a new treaty that would require it to routinely adopt single market rules.

The EU views this as merely updating and simplifying the Swiss arrangement, which spans a complex web of more than 120 bilateral deals. But the new treaty also includes demands that the Swiss soften rules protecting wages, the highest in Europe, from cross-border competition by EU workers on temporary assignments. Critics say the treaty infringes Swiss sovereignty.

The country’s relationship with the EU is the “hidden dimension” of the immigration vote, Mazzoleni said

“We’re in a no-man’s land, from a diplomatic point of view, with the EU right now. Brussels is much more focused on the UK. So the future relationship is not part of the referendum debate at the moment,” he said.

More support for immigration

For Nenad Stojanović, professor of political science at the University of Geneva, “The chances are quite high that the initiative will not be accepted. Many people outside Switzerland, who don’t fully understand our tradition of direct democracy, simply presume that people would accept something like this. In the Swiss context, this claim is not supported by the facts,” he said.

There have been seven similar popular initiatives to curb immigration since 1970, said Stojanović. “With one exception, the 2014 vote, the others failed. And this was during all kinds of periods, good economies and bad,” he said.

If anything, Stojanović expects the experience of coronavirus will have strengthened peoples’ perception of foreigners, who account for almost a quarter of the Swiss population.

“The pandemic has shown that without foreign workers, the whole health system would have collapsed,” he said.

Source: Swiss researchers gear up for crunch immigration vote, fearing return to scientific exile

Brexit fuels brain drain as skilled Britons head to the EU

Not surprising:

Brexit has sparked an exodus of economically productive people from the UK to European Union nations on a scale that would normally be expected only as a result of a major economic or political crisis, according to a detailed new study.

Using a combination of official statistics across the EU and in-depth interviews with people living in Germany, the study found huge changes in migration patterns of UK citizens since the 2016 referendum, which contrast with largely stable ones among nationals from the 27 EU states remaining in the bloc.

The report, a collaboration between the Oxford in BerlinResearch Partnership – a project made up of Oxford university and four Berlin institutions – and the WZB Berlin Social Science Center, also found a “seismic shift” in the number of UK citizens already living abroad who had decided to go a step further by obtaining EU member state passports since 2016, showing how Britain’s vote to leave the EU pushed many individuals into long-term decisions.

Source: Brexit fuels brain drain as skilled Britons head to the EU

Northern Ireland-born British and Irish win EU citizenship rights

The UK government forced to change its position:

All British and Irish citizens born in Northern Ireland will be be treated as EU citizens for immigration purposes, the government has announced after a landmark court case involving a Derry woman over the residency rights of her US-born husband.

The move is a major victory for Emma de Souza ending a three-year battle to be recognised by the Home Office as Irish, a right enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement (GFA).

De Souza said: “This is great news. To get a concession from the British government and a change in the immigration law is no small feat.

“It is incredibly satisfying to be considered as EU citizens and will be a great help to all the other families in my situation.”

Her husband, Jake, will now be allowed to remain in the UK indefinitely if he applies for the EU settlement scheme, an immigration status for all EU citizens wanting to remain in the UK post-Brexit.

The Home Office made its rule change in parliament on Thursday, finally bringing immigration law into line with the 1998 peace deal, which allows anyone born in Northern Ireland to be British, Irish or both.

Source: Northern Ireland-born British and Irish win EU citizenship rights