The biggest socio-economic problem North Africa will face in the coming 20 years is to put its millions of young people to work.
Egypt alone will need to absorb one million youngsters newly arriving annually at labour market, in addition to several million chronically unemployed. To that end it will have to engage in massive public and private investment programmes and stimulate job creation in industry and services. For Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia the situation is basically the same. To make things even worse, the vast majority of the unemployed lacks training, large numbers being illiterate as a consequence of deficient school systems, especially in Morocco and Egypt.
The “circular migration programmes”, which the European Commission intends to launch, will address less than a hundred thousand seasonal agricultural workers on the one hand and young professionals on the other, who might come to Europe for specialised training and return home after a few months, which would help North Africa improve the quality of its labour force. But the scale of any imaginable “migration programme” would be be minimal compared to the employment challenge North Africa is confronted with.
In order to avoid misunderstandings on both sides of the Mediterranean
it is important to clarify the limited scope of these programmes, which would have to go along with visa-facilitation and multi-entry visa for professionals.
Europe does not need massive immigration in the short and medium term. Its first priority must be to absorb the unacceptably high domestic unemployment of qualified and non-qualified labour within its own borders. Romania and Bulgaria offer a huge labour reservoir for years to come. So do Spain and Italy for certain professional categories for which EU member countries in the North are seeking employees.
The main challenge for the next years is therefore to improve labour circulation within the EU. This process, which must be accompanied by professional training and language courses, will take until the end of the decade to be completed.
In addition, to fill its lack of qualified engineers and computer specialists the EU might better look to India and South-East Asia than to North Africa.
In the past, Europe has experienced considerable difficulties in integrating immigrants, especially from Muslim countries. The numbers of school drop outs, unemployed and criminality were higher than the averages for the indigenous population, which helps to explain the popular resistance against immigration.
EU member states will therefore be wary of launching large scale immigration programmes. The ageing of European population is no sufficient reason for doing so. All societies on earth will age as their populations will have to stop growing. All of them must learn to face this challenge without recurring to immigration, which would anyhow only give them 40 years` respite, until immigrants will have reached their retirement age.
Instead of encouraging immigration from North Africa the EU should step up its long-term loan programmes for job creation and assist its partners in building an attractive regulatory environment and completing the creation of a “North-African Economic Union”, which would attract massive foreign investment.Author : Eberhard Rhein