During the last few weeks, Lampedusa was often quoted in European newspapers headlines. After the Tunisian Jasmine Revolution, an increase in the number of Tunisian migrants reaching by boat Europe through the little Italian island at South of Sicily was observed. Reading the news, it looks almost like an invasion: how is Europe going to deal with this massive wave of migration? What is the appropriate thing to do? Issueing to the Tunisian migrants residence permits in the European Union, at the cost of encouraging more and more North Africans to cross the Mediterranean? Or send them back to their currently unstable homeland at the cost of having to face critics for treating African people without any sense of responsability or dignity after being life long partners of dictators such as Ben Ali or Gaddafi? Tunisian migrants, while waiting for the outcome of the debate over their fate, see themselves becoming a point of focus: journalists are almost as many as them in Lampedusa, protests of angry Italian are almost daily, Libyan migrants, escaping war, begin to arrive at the accomodation.
When finally Italy issued 22’000 3 months-visas to the migrants, allowing them to travel in Europe before to settle for a final destination, according to Schengen Agreement, a wave of panick sweeped all over Europe. France, where about 3/4 of the migrants plan to go, promptly reacted: first by stopping the trains between Vintimille (Italy) to France carrying migrants as well as Italian activists, then by calling for a temporary suspension of Schengen Agreement. Never in the history of European Union did one of the Member States ask for such a extraordinary measure. By acting so, France would threaten the unity of Europe, create a diplomatic conflict with another Member State, Italy, and deliberately get in the way of European economy, favorited by the open intra-European borders.
The Schengen Agreement defines itself which kind of circumstances allows a suspension of the Convention: when security of a Member State asks for it. To be able to ask for a suspension of the Schengen Agreement in order to prevent a massive migration from Tunisia, France normally should be able to demonstrate the direct link between the 22’000 migrants and security of the French territory.
As a physicist, I always felt confortable with demonstrations: in general, numbers lie much less than politicians. I tried to figure out how 22’000 people could threaten France’s security. For the sake of the argument I assumed that 100% of the Tunisian migrants would try to settle in France; the French population would then increase by 0.03% = 3 Tunisians per 10’000 people. Each Tunisian has then to represent a significant change in the life of approximatively 3’300 people in France.
The impact of the Tunisian migrants cannot be as dramatic as depicted by politicians. Nevertheless, integrating them into national statistics is an easy way to show evaluate their contribution to France. For example, unemployment in France represents 9.6% of active population, and the 22’000 Tunisians would not even represent 0.01% of the active population, and more keen to work in the main understaffed sectors in France (catering/food industry, construction industry, etc). The median age of Tunisians in Tunisia is about 30 years in total and 29.6 years for men. The migrants of Lampedusa are in huge majority young men, perfectly healthy, so to say coming to Europe to work. Most of them speak French and come from rural regions of Tunisia, where the biggest part of the economy is provided by agriculture; it is to be noted that agriculture is the most understaffed sector in France.
So in the best case these Tunisians would be able to find a job and participate in France’s economical growth. French GDP per person was of 28’123 € in 2010. In the worst case they would not find any job and would benefit from the french social welfare (known as the Revenu de Solidarité Active, RSA). The RSA is a monthly fare of 466.99 € per person (=5’603 € per year). Meaning that a negative impact of the 22’000 Tunisian migrants in France can be possible if and only if for one finding a job and producing a substantial yearly wealth of 28’123 € worth, there should be at least 6 Tunisians not finding jobs and costing each 5’603 € in social welfare.
In other words, unless the unemployment rate of the newcomers is higher than 85% their contribution to the French economy would be positive. A realistic scenario would admit an unemployment rate for Tunisian newcomers a bit above national rate, certainly around 20% during the first year. By closing their borders to Tunisian migrants and putting in question Schengen Agreement, France is, in consequence, depriving the national economy from a very welcome help. Not only the immediate needs in workers in some sectors where French people don’t want to work would be partly fulfilled, but also in a demographic point of view, their presence can only be a good thing for the aging French population (amongst the oldest in Europe with a serious deficit of young people, only two decades before the “Baby-Boomers” reach age of retirement). History even already shown us that there is nothing to fear from this migration: after all, after the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the revolutionnary chain reaction it induced in Eastern Europe, Romanians, Hungarians or Polish massively migrated; 20 years later, it is pretty clear that no invasion or negative concequence was observed in Western Europe.
There is certainly no reason to think that French authorities are not aware of these facts: for France, as well as for the rest of Europe, blocking the migration process could be painful more than anything else. The opposition to Tunisian migration can then only be ideological: fear from the Foreigners, from the unknown and misuse of this fear for electoral reasons. By calling to the suspension of the Schengen Agreement to avoid the Tunisian migrants and insinuating a revision should be undertaken, French President Sarkozy might well open the Pandora box. At his own risks.