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'Fortress Europe' at the Humanities Lab Cafe

Thursday 1 October, Humanities Lab hosted the second edition of the Humanities Lab Cafe; this edition’s theme was migration. Professors Leo Lucassen and Piet Emmer were invited to offer the audience their points of view, after which there would be time for a discussion with all those present. At half past four the back room of `De Vergulde Kruik’, a lovely pub on Haarlemmerstraat, started to fill up with both students and staff from Humanities Lab.

Economic migrants

The programme kicked off with a musical performance by the Jazz duo Nyima. Singer, and former honours student, Darila van der Linden reminded the audience of the role of music in keeping up morale in hard times: she imagined refugees might sing to shorten their long walk from their war-torn homes to the various European nations, an image that stayed in one’s mind throughout the day’s discussion.
Professor Lucassen started his short lecture with the thesis that we are not dealing with a crisis of refugees, but rather with a crisis of European politics. He explained why many European States, including Germany and Hungary, should welcome refugees if only for the sake of their own economic welfare. An ageing and eventually declining population is leaving vacancies on the labour market. To deal with (economic) migrants accused of profiting from the European welfare state without contributing, he suggested expanding the distinction, or discrimination, we already use for economic migrants within the Schengen Area, to this new group. Any and all migrants would then be free to enter Europe, deconstructing ‘fortress Europe’. They would be free to work, but not entitled to welfare benefits.


Professor Emmer predicted a less rosy future: he showed that those who migrate to the Netherlands, historically speaking, lag behind when it comes to employment rates but at the same time show high crime rates, even when adjusted for the age and gender characteristics of the group. The welfare state is untenable in the current climate with such an influx of migrants: should we simply cut it down to American standards?
The following group discussion focussed on how to get migrants suitable and desirable jobs: initiatives mentioned by the professors were reviewed, but without a simple working permit neither migrant nor host state can benefit from the situation.

New perspective

Nyima succeeded in ending an evening on such a heavy topic on a more cheerful note, with more jazz music. Students went home having discovered a new perspective and more hopeful for Europe’s chances to deal with the refugee influx. We are looking forward to the next Humanities Lab, and hope to see you there!

(14 October 2015 / Lotte Konings, Student Ambassador Humanities Lab)

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