Tag Archives: immigration

How to choose a (small European) country

As the term of my contract at the university is drawing to a close, I begin to ponder on the next move. It is by now obvious we need another place to live. Our small European apartment has been a perfect place for the two of us, and we’ve managed very well to make it suitable for a baby, but with two children rapidly growing up it is becoming rather crowded here. We have few wishes – I dream of a kitchen with room for a dishwasher and the wife has always wanted a garden, even if a handkerchief sized one. The chances of finding an affordable place with a garden in a decent neighbourhood in Rotterdam with our current income are… well, not high. Besides, its not that I don’t like Rotterdam, on the contrary, but the air quality here is the worse in all of Western Europe.

Rotterdam is a pretty cool place to live

Rotterdam is a pretty cool place to live

Leaving Rotterdam – but where to?

Since in order to improve our living quarters we would have to find a new town,  I thought “why not tackle bigger issues, while we’re at it?”. There are many plus sides to living in the Netherlands (more about it in one of the next posts), but I would really like to live in a place where you don’t need to look at the calendar to know which season it is. But where to go? And how to decide? I sat down to compile a set of criteria my (our) new home would have to meet. The goal is to apply “Parkinson’s law for hiring”, and to reduce the number of possible places to move to. When applied right, in the end, the choice will be very, very simple.

Van Nelle factory - a Rotterdam architecture icon that is on the UNESCO World Heritage List

Van Nelle factory – a Rotterdam architecture icon that is on the UNESCO World Heritage List

A properly run country

First of all, I want to live in a properly run country. You may ask “How do you know whether it is run properly?”. And I will tell you it is very easy to tell whether a country is run properly. Simple question – is it safe to drink tap water there? I think it is a perfectly reasonable thing to ask. Turns out, it already rules out huge chunks of the world. All of Africa, all of South and Central America and most of Asia don’t have drinkable tap water. What’s left is Western, Northern and a bit of Central Europe, supplemented with the Anglo-Saxon division (USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) and the outliers of Asia that only prove how much they do not belong there (South Korea, Japan, Israel, Singapore, Hong Kong and Brunei).

With a pleasant climate

Having thus excluded most of the world, I went on to think about what makes a place pleasant to live in. I mentioned the climate, but how to define what makes a pleasant climate? And I am proud to say I found a way to do it – wine! I will quote this passage from www.earthmagazine.org in full, because it illustrates my point so well (emphasis added):

“Are there ideal weather conditions for growing winegrapes? Although no two vintages in any region are exactly alike, growers everywhere would be ecstatic with adequate precipitation and warmth to grow the vine and ripen the fruit, with no weather extremes (like frost, hail and heat waves) and disease. During the dormant period, this would equate to enough soil-replenishing rainfall and a cool to cold winter, without vine-killing low temperatures but with enough chilling to ensure bud fruitfulness the following year. The spring would be free from wide temperature swings and frost, and have enough precipitation to feed vegetative growth. During flowering, the weather would be cloud-free with moderately high temperatures and high photosynthetic potential to allow the flowers to fully set into fruit. The summer growth stage would be dry, with heat accumulation to meet the needs of the variety and few heat stress events. The ripening period would be dry with a slow truncation of the season toward fall, with moderately high daytime temperatures and progressively cooler nights.”

In other words, a wine-growing area has a properly cold winter, but not a bitterly cold one, a pleasant, sunny spring without the wild mood swings the Dutch springs are so famous for and a dry, warm summer, that gently slides off into a cooler, but still dry autumn. Look at this picture below and you will see that wine-growing areas are primarily in places like Southern France, California, and Southern Australia. Coupled with the clean tap water requirement it already leaves us with preciously little places to choose from. For the ease of further comparison I will exclude exotic wine-growing areas like Sweden or Canada – I am sure you understand that is not what I mean by “a pleasant climate”.

World Wine Areas, image by Denkhenk

Where I speak the language

Next, I decided I want to live somewhere I either already speak the language or where I can learn a language that is widely used. This leaves out destinations like South Korea and Slovenia. Not that I am not open for attractive business opportunities from Japan or Poland, but I am trying to find ways to cut down my list here.  I already speak Dutch, English, Hebrew, Russian and a bit of German and Spanish. French is a language that would be extremely useful to learn as there are so many French-speakers in the world, and Italian gets a wild-card for ease of learning (from hearsay) and its usefulness in enabling you to at least understand French and Spanish (again, hearsay). This trims down the list to France, Spain, Italy, Australia and New Zealand, USA, Israel and the German-speaking countries.

In Europe

The choices become more difficult, as all the above are rather attractive places to live in. But one has to make choices. The USA is out for preferring guns over nipples. While Australia and New Zealand are really fun, living there would take me rather far from my friends and family, almost all of whom live in Europe. Again, given the right incentive, I will sail for Australia and never look back, but I would prefer staying closer to the ones I love. I’ve already lived in Israel and its just too warm there for me. What’s left are “just” France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and Austria to choose from.

Close to mountains

If there’s something I love its mountains. Hiking, climbing, canyoning – even just watching mountains makes me happy. Maybe its the years spent in the flatness of the Netherlands that make me want to live within easy reach of a serious mountain chain. And I don’t mean something like the Massif Central or the Ardennes – I mean mountains with glaciers and all. That narrows the options down a bit further – of the mountain chains in the countries that made the short list, only the Pyrenees and the Alps have glaciers. The Pyrenees glaciers are quite small, and since I’m in the business of making choices here, I’ll leave the Pyrenees out for the moment. Its just the Alps then.

Swiss mountain lakes...

Swiss mountain lakes…

And not too far from the family

Coming to think of it, since we’re pretty settled on staying in Europe, it would be nice to live somewhere reasonably close to the family in the Netherlands. That way, we could drive down to visit grandma and grandpa for the holidays, the cousins can come over to us for a long weekend. So not moving away too far – but how far is not too far? My experience is that driving 800 kilometers is about the maximum for a single day without breaking yourself. And there’s a great tool to help with that, called “How far can I travel?“. I’ve filled in “800 kilometers from Rotterdam”, and the nearest place with mountains hits the spot – its Switzerland. Incidentally, its also the country with the highest salaries and the lowest taxes. Cows, mountains and cheese, here we come! The tough part of having to decide where to go has thus being taken care of, all I got to do now is finish my PhD and find a job. Piece of cake.

Matterhorn - a super strong argument for Switzerland

Matterhorn – a super strong argument for Switzerland


Filed under Europe, Work

Legalize it – a humane solution to the European migration crisis

Europe has an immigration problem. Nothing new here. In short, people in Africa and Asia want to come to Europe and stay because things are better in Europe. They calculate the risks of the attempt to reach Europe versus the benefits and make a decision to go. The thing is – Europe has preciously little to offer these people. Most of them have no qualifications, do not know European languages and are ill-adjusted to European customs and society. No wonder Europe does not want these people. Besides, the benefits they will get from coming to Europe are much smaller than they think. There are no jobs waiting for them in Europe. Most chances are they will still live in poverty, just in a colder climate. And sadly, many of them will die while trying to reach Europe.

The Australian solution

I think the best solution to the crisis (which is, that many people die in the Med trying to cross) is to reduce the numbers of those attempting to cross. There are several ways to reach this. One option is to increase the risks of crossing – that is, to stop rescue operations. Sounds harsh, but this might actually greatly reduce the number of casualties as much fewer people will attempt to cross. To put numbers on it, say 1000 people attempt the journey and 10 of them drown (1% is about the current death rate on the Med). If you start a rescue program and reduce the drownings to 0.5%, but 10 000 people attempt to cross, then 50 will drown. You’ve just caused more deaths at sea – exactly what happens at the moment. On the other hand, if you cease all efforts of rescue, perhaps 5% will drown. But if given these odds only 100 will attempt to cross then just 5 will drown, so fewer people will have lost their lives as a result of NOT making an effort to rescue at all. A more dangerous crossing will also cost more so less people will be able to afford it.

Another option is to reduce the potential benefits of crossing – that is, to send them out of Europe as soon as they enter (works fine in Australia). Of course, informing the potential migrants about the high risks and low benefits is absolutely crucial here. The long-term solution is to improve the situation in the “source” countries of migrants. This would be the best, but ultimately, the people of these countries are primarily responsible for their states, not Europe, and there is very little Europe can do to help them – Europe has got its hands full with its own problems already.

A legal alternative would benefit both Europe and the migrants

A solution that is humane, profitable for both Europe and the “source” countries and politically absolutely unreachable is a common European migration policy. This will create a legal alternative for the illegal migration and potentially can address the good, the bad and the ugly sides of the European migration crisis.

Europe needs qualified migrants – its a fact. Within the EU there are just not enough people with the right qualifications and more importantly, motivation to do the type of jobs available. Italy, for example, has thousands of vacancies for pizza bakers but Italians don’t want the job. Holland needs hundreds of IT specialists, which are just not available in the EU. Ideally, the EU could work out an agreement allowing a limited number of migrants to come to the EU to work for say 3 or 5 years – a sort of EU “green card”. The migrants can get work experience, learn the ins and outs of life in a democratic society, send money back home and return to help others improve their lives.

Unfortunately, in recent past, migrants who were brought into Europe to fill job vacancies were unqualified and did not leave but rather brought their entire families. In times of economic downturn these migrants came to depend on the European social system, so there is quite a resentment among Europeans against such schemes. New migration policies can only be accepted if they include a strict condition that that work migrants leave after their period. The terms need to be strict for the policy to be acceptable to EU citizens – that is, no family reunion, no staying after the term under any circumstances (marriage, contract extension and such), and no job market distortion. To mutual benefit, part of the taxes collected from these legal migrants can be used by the EU to sponsor programs to improve the quality of life in their countries of origin. And since the migrants will know they will have to return to their home countries, they will invest there themselves and save money to prepare for a “soft landing” after their term of stay in Europe.

Opening a legal option will fulfil the moral obligation of Europe to help people in need, like the Syrian refugees. Many of them are qualified, skilled and experienced people who would be much better off working in Europe than idling in camps in Jordan or Turkey. Offering the refugee communities an opportunity to send an “envoy” to Europe who would provide for his family residing in the region is making the best of a tough situation.

Visa quotas as a policy tool

Visa quotas can be a simple mechanism to address the bad sides of migration. Linking the amount of (temporary) job visas to the performance of the migrant groups will give the migrant communities a powerful incentive to invest in each other. Right now, for example, only about 20% of the Somalis in the Netherlands have a job. If that would mean next year the amount of visas for Somali’s is reduced by 4/5th, the Somali community would certainly do its utter best to help their compatriots to become a tax-payer instead of a tax-receiver.

The benefits of legal temporary entry will also mean the communities will help the authorities control migration, as being a law-abiding community carries benefits in terms of more (and possibly longer) visa’s and perhaps an extra stimulus in terms of lower taxes. This makes economic sense – if the EU countries have to spend less money on controls and penalties of a well-behaved group of migrants, the group should profit directly from its collective good behaviour.

Quotas for legal entry will give the EU a much-needed foreign policy tool. Numerous countries depend on cash sent home by migrant workers. With the quotas in hand, the EU will be able to say to dictators and human rights abusers like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe or Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea “do as we say or else we cut your cash flow by reducing visa’s”.

Back in Europe, police forces are facing a very difficult task when attempting to investigate crime in migrant communities. Police officers do not speak the languages of all the communities and many migrants are reluctant to work with police, either because of bad experiences with police back home or because they are being loyal to the community. Using the quotas and visa extensions as a reward for cooperation with police on issues such as reporting illegal migrants or criminal activities will enable the police to do its work with and among the migrant communities.

Finally, with a solid system of legal migration, Europe can be tough on the unwelcome, hostile people who mix with the migrant flows. Like the Muslim migrants who threw Christians overboard because they were not praying to Allah – these are certainly not the kind of people Europe wants to enter its borders. Drying the illegal migration routes by offering a legal alternative is in my opinion the best way to prevent such people from entering the EU.

What are the odds of the EU agreeing on migration?

I realize this scheme for an EU-wide migration policy is a utopian concept that will probably not happen in the near future. But of the various EU members, perhaps there is a small European country that will be prepared to give rational approach to migration a chance?


Filed under Europe, Work

People Who Live in Small Places #5: The Netherlands

Mayotte, Gibraltar, a Small French Village, the Seychelles – and now – also a Small European Country! I’ve been asked to write a guest post for the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide, telling about what its like to live in a small place, like a small European country. Here’s the result.

When I started this series, I wasn’t sure what I would end up with. I started with Mayotte, simply because I had never heard of it so thought it would be interesting to hear about life there from someone who actually lived there. But while in the process of putting together those first set of questions, I kept coming back to my own experience of living in a “small place” and how similar life must be in Mayotte as it was for me in St Lucia – despite being half a world apart. So the concept of People Who Live in Small Places was born. Since then, I have branched out to include a small rock (Gibraltar), a small village (in France) and a small series of islands (the Seychelles). And then when I spotted a blog called Small European Country I knew I had to ask the owner to…

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Filed under cycling, Guest post, Small European things