Is migration a European problem? Interview with dr Martin Kilgus

Od lewej: Dyrektor Instytutu Politologii dr hab. Arkadiusz Modrzejewski, prof. UG i dr Martin Kilgus

How to view migration? Is it a weapon, a political fuel, a humanitarian crisis, or perhaps an opportunity for development? We discuss the influx of migrants and refugees into Europe from the South and East with dr Martin Kilgus from Ifa Academie. In January this year, the German researcher visited the Institute of Political Science UG to teach a class for Diplomacy students.


- How do you evaluate the current migration situation in Europe?

-Migration is an important topic in all member states of the European Union. It’s a major political issue for the PiS party in Poland or the AFD in Germany. They instrumentalise migration in their own interest. For them, people coming from abroad as migrants endanger the Polish or German nation. But from a European perspective, it’s certain that we will continue to have migration in the coming years, so we need to have a political solution for it. We have people who claim asylum, people who dream of a better life, and refugees. During the coming years, we can also expect migration due to climate change. The International Office for Migration in Geneva and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees expect increased migration pressure towards Europe. This has to be politically regulated.

- We also have one more type of migration going on. It’s weaponised migration, so what we see on the Eastern border of Finland and Poland. What is the reason for it? Is it to destabilise the country?

-The issue of weaponised migration always has two sides. I’m sure that there are people in Belarus or Russia who want to leave those countries for political or economic reasons, but they cannot legally do that. On the other side, we have indications that those governments use migration to send politically trained people as hidden migrants to destabilise our countries. This issue is part of the tactic involving social media discourse and fake news. Migration is seen as an instrument that can be especially potent during a war or an election time. It just so happens that the European Parliament election will happen in June this year. There is no doubt that fake news and migration pressure coming from Russian sources will increase a lot.

- In some way, weaponised migration fuels the arguments of conservative parties, because they can point to the border as a proof of the dangers of migration. Is this effect in the interest of Putin?

-That could be one side, but I’m not sure that every conservative party is similar in that way. The AFD politicians in Germany are very Russia-friendly, despite the fact that they strongly believe in German state interests and Germany leaving the European Union. In their opinion, Europe shouldn’t interfere in the war between Ukraine and Russia because it is the business of those two countries. They still want to get Russian gas and energy and so on. So sometimes there is a link between conservative-nationalist parties and pro-Russian politics, but it’s not always the case. The French right-wing politicians object to Russian politics and Russian migration issues, but they also object to taking in Ukrainian refugees. For them, those issues endanger the identity of the French state. So you have to look closely at what are the views of the conservative parties in a specific country.

- Where can we look for successful migration politics?

- The population of the city where I’m from - Stuttgart - is made of about 43-44% of immigrants. Stuttgart has one of the highest numbers of migrant families in the whole of Germany. The area of Stuttgart is economically strong, so the unemployment is very low. This is one of the factors for positive immigration. Another important factor: The people were welcomed, and it was easy for them to find work. This helped them to integrate, learn another language, and, in the end, achieve success.

- Usually, when migrants come to a new country/city, they work the lowest-income jobs; was this also true for Stuttgart?  

- Very often, people think that, but only ⅓ of the migrants who came to Germany 40 years ago got those lowest paying jobs; the rest were employed at medium-level positions, and they advanced. Today, companies like Mercedes or Porsche have heads of departments or board members who came as migrants. You have to promote these successes, so even the public can see how integration has a positive effect on society. But there are also losers of this process, amongst migrants and local inhabitants.

- How did the German government or the city of Stuttgart help migrants to become part of society?

- There was this one lord mayor of Stuttgart, Manfred Rommel, who was a member of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party. He went in opposition to the ideas of the CDU in the 1970s. He claimed that Stuttgart is a city of integration, so everyone who lives in Stuttgart is considered a citizen of the city, independent of their nationality, skin colour, and their language skills. The city administration was to service all of them. They also organised open universities and language preparatory courses for new students or pupils. There was a special programme regarding gender for migrant women and a lot of other initiatives that covered all the aspects of daily life like mental health, sports and so on. It was important for the society to open up, despite the opposition. A lot of people hated Manfred Rommel for doing that, even in his own party. Today, more and more migrants want to come to Europe, but our capacity to welcome them is limited by finances and the size of our structures. We need a political compromise on how to manage the quality and the quantity of integration. It’s very difficult, especially when you need to decide who is privileged to come and who won’t.

- Is there really a capacity on how many people we can accept? Two years ago, Poland welcomed millions of Ukrainian refugees.

- I believe that there are hidden topics no one really wants to talk about because they are politically ‘not correct’. Maybe it was easier with the Ukrainians because most of them are Christian Orthodox, which fits better with a Catholic society such as Poland. Imagine if, for historical reasons, Ukraine was a Muslim country. Accepting one million refugees from your Muslim neighbour country would be much more difficult than from orthodox Christians. Also, Poland expects that Ukrainians will go back after the war, you could describe their status as guests. When we talk about migration, we want migrants to become citizens. There is an underlying fear, especially in conservative circles, about what to do when specific groups of immigrants are more dominant than others. Very often, we are not honest enough to talk about those issues and prepare different solutions.

- You are the Honorary Chairman of the board of the Europa Zentrum Baden-Württemberg. One of the goals of this organisation was promoting European unification. How would you rate the current efforts of EU unification? Are they rapid enough, or maybe we should slow down?

- I actually think that the European Union is a union of different speeds. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, a lot of post-communist countries joined the EU for financial or developmental reasons, but from the standpoint of political integration, they were not prepared or not ready for that process. Germany and France are longer in the EU, and we have delegated much more of our policymaking process to European agencies. About 70% of our policymaking is done in Brussels with the participation of other EU members. During last 8 years, Poland took a different form of development with a lot of euroscepticism. In every country, there is an ongoing debate about what is an European issue. Is migration an European issue? Social rights? Energy? For many governments it’s too much. In the Europa Zentrum Baden-Württemberg we try to remedy that with civic education about European policy making. We tell people for example that today there is an online hearing in Brussels. We try to convince them to get online and make their comments. 

- In Georgetown university, you’ve attended classes taught by Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright. Unfortunately, they both passed in the past few years. How do you remember them?

- In those days, Henry Kissinger already had a name as an international policymaker. Everyone knew him, and we also kind of admired him. He talked about his experience with international diplomacy and as a negotiator for the American government. He was born in Germany, so when he learned about my nationality, he spoke a little German to me. It was interesting, because he was a real practitioner of international relations, very provocative, very precise. We debated a lot during his classes. Whereas Madeleine Albright was younger, she was more of an academic, more knowledgeable in theory. She was gender oriented and her approach was very modern. She really fought for her ideas, and in that sense she was a bit more inspirational than Henry Kissinger. When I was a student, classes with Madeline Albright were more fun.



Text and photo by Marcel Jakubowski/ Press Office UG