Confronting the EU's 'Great Migration Muddle'

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Peace, Security & Defence
Confronting the EU's 'Great Migration Muddle'


Giles Merritt, Founder of Friends of Europe and author of a new book entitled “People Power: Why we need more migrants”, wants to “ring an alarm bell and try and wake people up to the need in Europe for more people”.

During a Friends of Europe debate on 2 February 2022, Merritt told participants that it is “very simple. Europe is shrinking and getting old.”

“I don’t claim in the book to have a magic wand for the many problems surrounding migration,” he said, “but I do believe it’s a problem we have to solve. It’s become a toxic political issue, but that doesn’t mean we can allow ourselves to just ignore it.”

He explained how the number of people in Europe’s workforce who supported pensioners is shrinking fast.

For a long time four workers could support one pensioner, but in the last four to five years, this figure has decreased to 2.9. The European Commission, backed by the International Monetary Fund, estimates that this figure will eventually decline to 1.7.

“This is obviously unsustainable,” said Merritt. “The forecasts are terrifying. We don’t have any chance but to have more Europeans to replace the many retiring people of my generation, who instead of being taxpayers are becoming tax users.”

Merritt referenced a report by the former Spanish prime minister, Felipe González, which said that by mid-century Europe needed 100mn immigrants.

“His report was quietly buried,” claimed Merritt. “It was too toxic and embarrassing for European governments to want to talk about it.”

He continued: “There are problems associated with immigration – some practical, others are cultural. But these are problems we have to fix. We can’t just ignore them, we have to explain to European voters why we need to bring people in, and we have to stop the hypocrisy of European governments saying we need legal migration and then halving work visas and migrants in the last 10 to 15 years.”

“We can do nothing – we can keep telling ourselves we’re saving European culture. Fine, but we’re condemning our children and grandchildren to really low living standards. As our workforce shrinks, our ability to maintain an open-minded society will shrink accordingly.”

Merritt’s assertions received support from the other speaker, the former president of Lithuania and former European Commissioner for budget and administration, Dalia Grybauskaitė.

“Europe needs more labour in any way we can receive it, and migration is one of the methods to increase our labour market,” she said. “The anti-immigration narrative is only increasing in Europe, and there are reasons for it.”

She described how the term is now largely related to criminality, smuggling and illegal immigrants, and this relates to the recent “weaponisation of migrants” conducted by Russia and Belarus.

“This spoils the objective scientific research towards increasing our labour market and towards legal migration,” she said.

She also highlighted the shortcomings in the EU’s own immigration system, notably the lack of a “regulated Schengen border code”.

“We need more people,” she said, “but the political system is still sensitive.” She noted the “objective necessity of importing labour. Integrating legal immigrants is absolutely clear … We do have an academic understanding that we need immigration, but the way will be painful, sensitive and long.”

“We need to make it worth people’s while to think positively about bringing newcomers in,” concluded Merritt. “Immigration won’t fix problems urgently, but it is urgent to start a long-term strategic approach now.”



Policymakers and analysts are increasingly aware that today’s labour shortages are only the precursors of more far-reaching consequences of Europe’s ageing in the years ahead. Retirement waves will by mid-century see 33 million EU workers becoming pensioners rather than taxpayers. This looming economic shock has, however, so far failed to generate a more welcoming approach to immigration.

For two decades, the European Commission has tried with only limited success to fashion more flexible EU-wide migration policies. Its forthcoming ‘New Pact on Migration and Asylum Policies’ is expected to propose a more positive and coherent approach to immigration, although Member States’ acceptance remains uncertain. But without consensus, the EU’s ‘Great Migration Muddle’ of divergent national measures on refugee asylum, legal migration and barriers to irregular migrants will continue to threaten Europeans’ future wellbeing.

Admitting more people into the EU from beyond Europe is of course only one of several desirable policy responses to ageing, albeit an important one. Will Europe’s political leaders eventually face up to harsh demographic reality and stop pandering for electoral reasons to uninformed public prejudices? Friends of Europe’s Founder, Giles Merritt, sets out the case for a more enlightened and proactive approach to immigration in his new book “People Power: Why We Need More Migrants”.

PHOTO CREDIT: Mikhail Gnatuyk/ Bigstock



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Confronting the EU's 'Great Migration Muddle' Expand Confronting the EU's 'Great Migration Muddle'

Questions include:

  • How great a threat is Europe’s ageing to economic growth, and would the admission of more economic migrants help to stem the projected shrinkage of the EU’s active workforce?
  • Could a more flexible EU-wide approach to both refugees and economic migrants create a more positive political climate on immigration? Or must it be the other way round, with mainstream politicians defying populists’ anti-migrant rhetoric?
  • What policy measures would ensure that future migrant influxes are absorbed into the societies of European host countries and integrated satisfactorily into their workforces?


László Andor

Secretary-General of the Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS) and former European commissioner for employment, social affairs and inclusion

Dalia Grybauskaitė

Former president of Lithuania and former European commissioner for financial programming and budget and Trustee of Friends of Europe

Giles Merritt


End of Debate


Photo of László Andor
László Andor

Secretary-General of the Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS) and former European commissioner for employment, social affairs and inclusion

Show more information on László Andor
Giles Merritt
Giles Merritt


Show more information on Giles Merritt

Giles Merritt is the Founder of Friends of Europe, and was its Secretary General between 1999 and 2015, and its Chairman between 2016 and 2020.

A former Financial Times Brussels Correspondent, Giles Merritt is a journalist, author and broadcaster who has for over four decades specialised in European public policy questions. In 2010 he was named by the Financial Times as one of its 30 most influential “Eurostars”, together with the European Commission’s President and NATO’s Secretary General.

Giles Merritt joined the Financial Times in 1968, and from 1972 until 1983 he was successively FT correspondent in Paris, Dublin/Belfast, and Brussels. From 1984 to 2010 he was a columnist for the International Herald Tribune (IHT), where his Op-Ed page articles ranged widely across EU political and economic issues.

In 1982 he published “World Out of Work”, an award-winning study of unemployment in industrialised countries. In 1991, his second book “The Challenge of Freedom” about the difficulties facing post-communist Eastern Europe was published in four languages. His book “Slippery Slope: Europe’s Troubled Future” (Oxford University Press 2016), was shortlisted for the European Book Prize.


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