January 19, 2024
WASHINGTON — Assuming that the ongoing, substantial migration of Africans to Europe will continue –if anything it will grow from substantial to massive– there is every reason to believe that in a few decades Europe will look more and more like an appendix of Africa. If this proposition sounds outlandish, here are the simple facts.
Africa’s coming population explosion
Europe’s indigenous population is declining on account of low, or very low fertility rates. Whereas, according to most projections, Africa –current population 1.4 billion– by 2050 will have about 2.5 billion inhabitants, most of them young or very young people. While some African countries are experiencing some degree of economic growth that leads to the creation of some additional jobs and opportunities for their growing populations, across the continent there is and there will continue to be an impossibly large gap between actual and projected economic growth and the demand for education and jobs for the additional hundreds of millions of young people who will be born in the next couple of decades. These young Africans will have very limited or no access to quality education and therefore almost zero chance to find real employment, outside of the “informal sector” that in most instances barely secures survival. Given resource and capital constraints, It is obvious that the economies of most African states will not grow enough to sustain the livelihoods of the additional tens of millions, mostly young, Africans. Lacking jobs and even minimal opportunities at home, these unemployed young people will do anything to emigrate to Europe.
This is to say that Europe, for decades now the main target destination for millions of African economic migrants, will be literally “invaded” by bigger and bigger waves of new economic migrants from Africa. This “invasion” is and will be driven by economic necessity. (Please note that I am using the term “invasion” without any negative connotation. I do not imply that this massive movement of people from one continent to another is or will be motivated by hostile intentions. This is and will be a migration wave driven by economic hardships at home and the dream of a better life in Europe).
Declining population in Europe
In contrast to Africa, in most European countries the indigenous, mostly white population is aging and shrinking, at varying speed. Thanks to medical care advancements, the Europeans on average live longer. But there are very few new births. Not enough new babies. The European fertility rate average is about 1.5 children per woman. Well below the “replacement” level of 2.1 children per woman. In some large countries, like Italy, the fertility rate is about 1.22 children per woman. Whatever the causes, in Europe the traditional family is progressively disappearing. People get married later in life, or not at all. The women who do get married, or choose to have partners without marriage, do so later in life. They have fewer children, or none. And this is not a temporary aberration. This is now a consolidated trend that is not going to change much, even assuming improved standards of living, more affordable day care centers, and so forth. As a result, Europe will be a continent of progressively fewer, older people. This downward fertility trend, if unchanged, in the long run will inevitably lead to the disappearance of many if not most European societies.
Can African immigration solve the European demographic decline?
As an antidote to this progressive population decline, many demographers suggest that adding large numbers of immigrants would be a good remedy. In principle, this is true. And, indeed, some of this “replenishment” is already happening in Europe, albeit in a chaotic, uncoordinated, and unplanned way. And, indeed, most of the new immigrants landing in Europe come from Africa, (see above), while a smaller put still significant percentage come from the Middle East and Central Asia. Is this the needed “cure” for Europe? Not really. Here is how the demographic decline “solution” becomes a new “problem”.
The mostly African immigrants in most cases cannot be easily assimilated into the European societies where they want to be, on account of racial prejudice, vastly different cultures, and religions,. Many, if not most of them are Muslim. Add to these obstacles the low education and skills levels of most new immigrants from Africa and you can explain the frictions and the significant level of racial prejudice against them. This racist prejudice is the source of growing xenophobic, anti-immigrants political forces across Europe. (look at Sweden, Germany, Austria, Poland, Italy, France and The Netherlands). And yet, legal obstacles and anti-immigrant prejudices notwithstanding, if we look at the broader demographic trends in Africa mentioned above, a veritable “African Invasion” of Europe, non violent but nonetheless unstoppable, is unavoidable.
Why is this migration, while mostly illegal, unstoppable? Because the traditional tools at the disposal of the national European governments, such as coast guard vessels preventing crafts full of migrants to land, other borders controls, visa requirements, mandatory rules regarding preconditions to obtain work/residence permits, and laws mandating the deportation of illegal aliens are insufficient today and will be completely overwhelmed in this new historic context of a veritable African population explosion that will lead to an unprecedented, gigantic migration wave from Africa to Europe. Indeed, while some European societies have become somehow accustomed to the “new normal” of a steady flow of new illegal immigrants from Africa landing on their shores on a daily basis, the current volumes are nothing compared to the numbers that will be converging to Europe in just a few years.
Make no mistake. This will happen. In fact, it is already happening. The parties of the hard right Italian governing coalition led by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni campaigned and were voted on the promise of new, tough, perhaps draconian remedies to stop or at least drastically curtail illegal immigration into Italy, the favored destination of most African immigrants sailing from North Africa because of its geographic proximity to Libya and Tunisia. Well, this get tough effort failed –miserably. Under Meloni, the flow of illegal immigration from Africa to Italy actually quadrupled.
This being the case, as the African population bomb is ticking and about to explode, it is safe to predict that the torrents of illegal immigrants from Africa will become rivers. And the rivers will quickly morph into a gigantic tsunami. Simply stated, tens of millions of poor Africans seeking a better life will do anything to escape poverty, as long as they have reasons to believe that in Europe there is a decent chance to get a better life.
Europe is not ready
So, more Africans will come; but Europe is not ready for them. At this time no European country has anything even resembling a strategy aimed at facilitating the absorption and eventually assimilation of the additional millions who will come, on top of the millions who are already there. The Italian government, with some fanfare, announced the Piano Mattei, Mattei Plan, a program that will bring strategic investment to Africa that supposedly will speed up economic growth. Indeed, if the African economies will grow at a faster pace, there will be new opportunities for employment in Africa. Therefore fewer young Africans will be motivated to emigrate to Europe.
In principle, nothing wrong with this concept. It sounds reasonable. indeed, if you create new economic and employment opportunity in Africa, the Africans will stay there. Except that the projected investments contemplated by the Mattei Plan are almost insignificant. The Plan contemplates the allocation of less than a billion dollars. This amount is not even remotely adequate to create an inflection point in a continent still mostly poor that will soon have to feed, house and employ 2.5 billion people. Africa needs hundreds of billions, better yet trillions of dollars of new investments. A billion here and a billion there, while well intentioned and certainly welcome, will just not do it. And Europe is simply not prepared to pour gigantic sums of money into African countries, many of them unfortunately known for corruption, mismanagement and inefficiencies.
Prepare for the massive inflow
Therefore, given the anticipated African population explosion, expect a massive increase of African migrants headed for Europe. As this is bound to happen, it will be wise for Europe’s policymakers to create the necessary infrastructure to accommodate them. This means new housing, schools, training and vocational centers, and medical facilities. This way, instead of chaotic waves, Europe may have a chance to direct this added inflow in an orderly way.
That said, I doubt that European political leaders who operate within the short term time horizons dictated by their elections cycles will be able to convince voters –many of them struggling to get ahead in slow growing economies– to set aside hundreds of billions so that Europe will be ready to welcome the (mostly unwelcome) additional waves of immigrants who will land on their shores a few years from now. This will not be done, because it is politically unfeasible. By the same token, it is almost impossible to imagine a well coordinated European Union response to this new reality. Some EU member countries may have the illusion that somehow, if they are clever, they will dodge the African migrants waves.
Therefore, with no coordination and no policy foresight, expect troubles ahead. Many more Africans will come, while most European societies will be utterly unprepared to welcome them. This being the case, expect to see more and more virulent antiimmigrant political parties sprouting and gaining strength in Europe. Expect more violence against the new economic immigrants. This will not stop the migration. It will will simply make it messier and more disruptive than it needs to be. In the end, like it or not, in a few decades Europe’s ethnic makeup will start resembling Africa’s.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely the author’s.
|Paolo von Schirach is the President of the Global Policy Institute, a Washington DC think tank, and Professor of Political Science and International Relations at Bay Atlantic University, also in Washington, DC. He is also the Editor of the Schirach Report.