Concerning the referendum in Hungary

In a referendum recently a majority of Hungarians voted against the EU decision on quota resettlement of migrants. The low participation in the referendum, though, makes the result less credible. And even if a majority of all Hungarians would have voted no, it is doubtful what difference the result would have made for the relations between Hungary and the rest of the EU. As the Swedish Minister for Justice and Migration, Morgan Johansson, put it: “If you are a member of an organisation you have to stick to the statutes of that organisation”.

But the referendum in Hungary nevertheless highlights how big a mountain we in Europe have to climb before we can say that we handle migration in a responsible and constructive manner.

In my view the debate on migration has for too long been dominated by the people who, by ideological reasons, don’t want immigrants crossing their countries borders all together. The rest of us have more or less been on the defence. Partly of tactical reasons; adopting a language similar to that of right wing extremist parties has been seen as a strategy to attract the voters of these parties.

I believe this strategy is wrong. Instead I think the right wing rhetoric should be confronted with the opposite to closed borders and separation of people. Acknowledging that there is costs and challenges associated with immigration, we nevertheless should stress the long term economic upsides for a society of more people in working age, the historic gains open societies have seen, and most of all stand up for the intrinsic values of respecting people’s diversity.

But such a strategy also needs to have an answer to the question that right wing extremists thrive on; what happens to the welfare state when immigration numbers reaches hundreds of thousands per year?

One part, and the most important part, of that answer is how fast the newcomers can be involved in the work force. I don’t believe in lowering wages as an incentive for employers to employ low skilled workers as a solution. That only widens the income gap. But a way forward could be reforms that create more opportunities for jobs that doesn’t require high skills. Looking from a Swedish perspective, an example of that is the governments’ proposal to lower tax rates on repairs. In Sweden a more efficient and rapid validation of the skills people bring with them would also benefit both them and the labour market.

Another part is the more intangible discussion about embracing commonly shared values. In this, right wing extremists focus on assimilation; people who come here must wholeheartedly embrace the lifestyle and values of the majority society. For us greens this shouldn’t be an acceptable approach. Instead we should look for integration; welcome the newcomers with an open mind and curiosity about the culture, ideas and traditions they bring. On the other hand, the majority society must also be able to demand a willingness of all people to take part of the society and adapt to values broadly shared within it.

It is impossible to suggest in detail how this should be enacted. Instead integration must be pursued through an ever ongoing public debate, where on the one hand you will have the written law that of course applies equally to everyone, but on the other you have issues like the veil; as long as it is worn by a woman of free will it should not be anyone’s concern how she dresses. Even if it may seem odd in the eyes of the majority society.

Today it seems to me that the assimilation agenda is becoming more and more mainstream within media and political parties. We greens should resist this and instead persist in defending open, diverse societies and the two-way directed integration process as the method of keeping these societies together.

/Lars-Olof Karlsson

Chairperson Green Forum

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *