In an escalation over the continued influx of immigrants into European countries, the European Union decided Monday to militarize their efforts in the Mediterranean Sea (WP). This year, over 1,800 immigrants have already been killed in the burgeoning crisis surrounding smuggler vessels crossing the sea with immigrants from Africa and the Middle East (along with those coming in from Eastern Europe, the Balkans and other poorer countries across the three continents). It is the latest parry in the attempt to stem the tide of foreigners entering the countries; clearly the result of both globalization and the failure of neoliberal policies over the past 25 years to “lift all boats” (metaphor intended).
The dramatic acceleration in global commerce and exchange has had many positive impacts across the globe, in the arts, in science, in medicine and, in a more limited way, in democracy. One of the biggest promises of neoliberal ideology, however, that global trade and free markets would improve the economic situation of more and more people across the globe has failed to materialize. After years of promises, going back as far as the 70s (or even 50s, if we look at Modernisation Theory and its promise that investment in education would create a thriving middle class across the globe), many countries have started to reject these calls to open their markets completely to foreign trade and commerce. Argentina is just one example, but we can also find similar trends in four countries that have grown rapidly over the past 30 years – South Korea, India, Brazil and China. In fact we can add Russia to the list (rounding out the BRIC countries), showing how maintaining some barriers to imports, strategic investment by the government and the cultivation of local comparative advantages can help a country to go more rapidly and move from underdeveloped to developing or even developed (as in the case of South Korea).
There are still people leaving those countries for opportunities abroad, but not on the scale of the countries who have suffered the most from the policies of market liberation and government retrenchment. We have experienced the result in the United States since the 1800s, with immigrants coming to America for a chance at a better life, but it is a more recent trend across much of Europe (England has dealt with huge immigrant populations from its Pax Brittania days). More and more of the people in the Global South have simply decided to pack their bags and move to the richer countries, knowing they can have a better life there.
This has put a huge strain on Europe for at least four related reasons: 1. In countries like Germany, immigrants are eligible for social services from the moment they arrive, 2. Economic strains in increased competition for jobs, 3. The cultural challenges it provides to the more homogenous populations of European countries, and 4. The challenges to education that emerge as a result of that increased cultural diversity. The responses have varied from country to country, but it is clear that the problem is only growing more dire as time goes on. We have seen conservative and ultra-nationalist political parties gain seats in parliaments across Europe, a push toward a more conservative leadership (neoliberal or even neoconservative), efforts to curb the expression of culture in schools and in public, violence against ethnic and religious minorities and now the push to militarize the efforts to stop immigrants from arriving at their borders. It is the uglier face of globalization and a problem that will only amplify until inequality within and across countries is truly addressed.
On the more positive side, Ireland looks set to become the first country in Europe to democratically ratify gay marriage. Citizens of the once religiously conservative country, where homosexuality was illegal until 1993 and divorce until 1997, could provide further proof that one form of diversity is becoming more widely accepted across the Western world. Ireland would not be the only country in Europe with marriage equality, of course. It came to the Netherlands, in 2001, Belgium, in 2003, Spain and Portugal, in 2005; Norway, Sweden, and Iceland, in 2010; Denmark, in 2012; France, in 2013; and it goes into effect in Finland in 2017. Since 2013, it has been legal in most of the United Kingdom, though not in Northern Ireland. And so one of the greatest challenges across the globe today continues – how people with different cultural values and beliefs can find ways to exist in the same place without resorting to violence and hatred.