Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken

Dutch Diplo Talk

Anti-immigration vs. pro-development

14 Jan 2015

Economic development levels across US-Mexico border counties. Source: UNDP’s 2009 Human Development Report

The 114th US Congress starts this week with a Republican majority of 246 of 435 seats in the House and 54 of 100 seats in the Senate. Leaders have listed three areas in which they would like to reverse policies: health care, the environment (climate change, Keystone Pipeline) and immigration. They have also announced bills, financial cuts, and lawsuits against executive decisions by President Barack Obama.

In Europe, the new year will bring many national elections in countries such as Greece, Sweden, Spain and the United Kingdom. In all of these countries, traditional parties are likely to lose many votes to anti-immigration and anti-EU parties. If that becomes the case, the European Council (comparable to the Senate, comprising 28 states) together with the European Parliament (comparable to the House) could try to block proposals stemming from the European Commission (comparable to the president).

While preparing for 2015, I wondered how these developments will affect the policies in my resort. The majority of governors and mayors in the western United States is Democratic and/or supports policies on health care, the environment, and immigration that are ahead of the federal ones. In Europe, the environmental policies have been harmonized, but the other two topics mainly belong to the state level. Although healthcare reform is debated in many European states, it will continue to be much more a government concern than in the United States. The only issue where I see a similar trend is increasing concerns about immigration.

Focus on economic development

Why are concerns about immigration increasing? There is neither concern about the 30 percent of expats who return after a short or long stay abroad nor is there concern about the 40 percent who leave within five years (students) or 10 years (laborers from western countries). Intolerance arises when it is assumed that people who seek asylum or to unify their family — more than before — stick to their original non-western cultures, religions and life values. Radicals advocate to close borders and to send people out of the country. Moderates advocate to establish intake centers in the region where the migrants are originating from.

Anti-immigration parties find it hard to reformulate their concern in a positive way. Why not tackle the reason people leave their country, and focus on the 90 percent who leave for economic reasons? The practical answer would be to combine trade agreements, if possible, with development cooperation, if needed. The Dutch government merged these two policy areas under one minister two years ago. Both camps were shocked in the beginning, but they have since realized that sustainable economic development is the only way out.

This blog was posted earlier in Hugo’s Weekly

Share Button
  • 14 Jan 2015, 8:00
  • Posted in Development
  • No comments yet

About the author

Hugo Von Meijenfeldt
Written by Hugo Von Meijenfeldt

Consul-General in San Francisco

Hugo von Meijenfeldt was appointed as representative for the Kingdom of the Netherlands in the 13 westernmost United States in August 2013.

Prior to his current position, Hugo was Deputy Director General at the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment. He also served as Special Envoy for Climate Change at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 2009 until 2013. In this capacity, he led Dutch participation in global diplomatic activities to reach a climate agreement.

Previously, Hugo was Director for Soil, Water and Rural Environment. For several years he held the position of Deputy Director for International Affairs, Chairman of the Committee on Environmental Policy of UN-ECE Geneva, and Head of the European Policy Division (including the EU Presidency in 1997). From 1982 until 1991, he was Legal Counsel to the soil clean-up division.

Hugo earned his Masters in Public Law and Policy at the Free University in Amsterdam in 1981. He is member of the WorldConnectors and the Sustainability Challenge Foundation.