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Thursday, 5 July 2012

LAISSEZ PASSER: AN OPEN LETTER TO @NO10GOV


The Right Hon. David Cameron PC MP, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

Dear Prime Minister

My name is Emmanuel Schizas. I was born and grew up in Athens, Greece, and moved to London in 2005, at a time when my homeland was growing and gaining in influence regionally. Like many of my compatriots I came here to further my education, at tremendous unsubsidised cost as an MSc student; I have lived in London since and in April this year I was honoured to become a full British citizen.

People do not rise to positions of power without some measure of intelligence. No doubt you realise I am writing in response your recent comments, interpreted as offering conditional support for restrictions to the flow of immigrants or even visitors from Greece in the event of a full-scale economic meltdown.

I urge you to read on. This is no rant about neoliberal bogeymen and how you are in fact a giant man eating lizard, no diatribe concerning the Parthenon Marbles, no yo-mama-nomic riposte complete with disingenuous hints at LIBOR fixing or the size of the UK structural deficit. I am a man of facts, used to receiving and delivering criticism of my homeland; however as Britain is now also my home I am bound to treat it, and its Governments, no differently.

I have spent my entire career, brief as it has been, in Britain’s policy industry. As such I believe I can guess what pressures you are under and can appreciate your need to appease your many diverse constituencies.
At a time when Labour’s poll lead is becoming dangerously wide you no doubt feel the need to plug your party’s leaks to UKIP (ca. 11% of your 2010 vote) by appearing to be robustly Eurosceptic, and to be sure there is nothing wrong with being sceptical of the EU institutions or of EU federalism.

Perhaps you also wish to avoid dealing a finishing blow to the originator of the Government’s ‘Greek influx’ talk, your faltering Home Secretary, Theresa May, already reeling from the botched deportation of Abu Qatada and notoriously the second ever Home Secretary to be held in contempt of court. It is also likely that you need to toss the Daily Mails of this world and their readers a bone after dismissing out of hand their protests, for once actually justified, over the same Home Secretary’s proposals to drastically increase the Government’s powers of surveillance over its own citizens.

You have, however, picked the wrong issue to milk. I have read and re-read your statements and I know that they are far less aggressive than your detractors claim; I know you have only said that you reserve the option, provided as you believe by law, to impose restrictions if ‘stresses and strains’ should arise. But you cannot look anyone in the eye and claim that these statements are not left purposefully vague in order to allow Eurosceptics to claim a victory of sorts, to allow your coalition partners to save face, and to allow you to change course without being accused of another U-turn.

Your argument for restrictions, it seems to me, rests on three premises:

1.       There is a small but significant probability of a Greek Eurozone exit and default leading to full scale economic collapse.

2.       A large number of Greeks would leave for the UK if the Greek economy were to collapse.

3.       The number of prospective Greek immigrants would overstretch public services in Britain.

 In fact, all three premises are severely flawed.

1. There simply are not enough would-be migrants from Greece to pose a serious problem to Britain. As reviews of post-enlargement immigrant flows have suggested, migrants in mass migration waves tend to be young, male and medium- to highly- skilled. There are about 3.7 million Greeks of either gender between 20 and 45 years of age, of whom only 3m are economically active (including the unemployed), and of whom only 2m have mid- to high- level qualifications. A third of those would have jobs even in a collapse scenario, leaving us with about 1.3m eligible migrants. If these were to be distributed not according to the economic prospects of host nations (see below) but according to the Greek people’s stated preferences for places to work, Britain should receive some 31% of this total, i.e. 300,000 people. Britain currently hosts just under 6.5m migrants, who on average fare better in the labour market than UK-born individuals. Even if somehow Greece collapses, you need not fear that a horde of hairy garlic eaters will descend upon your shores.

2. Immigrants fleeing an underperforming economy do not flock into a faraway one experiencing a mild recession when other economies closer to home are growing. There is no reason to believe Britain would be overwhelmingly preferred on any basis. To give you an example, during the last UK recession (2007-09), immigration to the UK from the hard-hit countries of Eastern Europe fell by 33%, against only 9% for immigration from other countries. Ireland saw a similar but much steeper trend. Successive UK governments have cited falling inward migration as evidence that their policies are working; in fact this is simply evidence that the UK is becoming a less attractive place to live. Yes, language is a barrier and most Greeks speak English – but French and German are also common.

3. While Greece may be headed for some apocalyptic endgame, the amount of political will invested in keeping us in the Eurozone is enormous. The probability of a voluntary exit is, until the next elections at least, very low as both the majority of Greeks and the new Government want us to stay in the Eurozone. In fact, given the European tendency to conveniently ignore the EU treaties when necessity calls (remember the no-bailout clause 125 anyone?), I wouldn’t be surprised if a formula is found to allow Greece to impose capital controls while remaining a Eurozone country. Similarly, with most of our debt now in the official sector’s hands, i.e. burdening the EU taxpayer, Greece cannot be allowed to default – there will be renegotiations upon renegotiations.

Finally I do not believe that your own citizens, even those with no ties to Greece, will look kindly on balance on a move to restrict the movement of people from Greece to the UK. Your Universities will suffer, as will employers and landlords in every major UK city – but none more so than those dealing in London’s prime real estate, in say Kensington or Marylebone, which have witnessed a true Greek invasion – an influx of money in search of a safe haven.

I believe that even now you have a chance to set the record straight and repair some of the damage you have done to Britain’s reputation.

I therefore urge you to go on the record, within the coming week, as saying three things that I know you believe:

·         Greeks are as welcome to visit, settle and work in Britain as any other EU citizens

·         Britain sees the free movement of people, goods, services and capital as the biggest benefit from EU membership and will not jeopardise it.

·         Britain can deal with the levels of migration resulting from a Greek collapse under most reasonable scenarios
Do the right thing, Prime Minister. Make me proud of my adopted country.




PS. David Cameron's office invited me to connect on LinkedIn a couple of months ago. This is now coming in handy as I can deliver this letter in person. 

2 comments:

  1. Emmanuel, good article. Though there has been, as you say, some evidence of Greeks starting to buy high end property, living in London I haven't seen much evidence of lower income Greeks/unemployed students making the trip over here in search of work. I own a couple of restaurants here and as such am the 'front-line' and usually see shifts in immigration patterns firsthand. I have started to see plenty of Spaniards come over, some Portuguese, a few Italians, alongside the ongoing influx from Central Europe (still net incomers albeit not at previous pace)...but no Greeks. The UK is struggling and has its faults but there is still work here, in London at any rate. I would be interested to know if there are any cultural impediments in the way of more aggressive Greek migration (I would think not given the history of large Greek diaspora) and understand why young Greeks aren't making MORE of the freedom they CURRENTLY have within the EU to make themselves mobile in search of employment. There is not much available evidence either that Greeks are migrating to stronger economies (eg Germany) either. thanks

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    Replies
    1. A very interesting question Anonymous! I really think the troubles of the Greek education system are now taking their toll on the young. Lack of confidence in one's own abiliity; seeking 'easy' career paths are indicators of this generalised malaise. Within a couple of decades the system has geared itself exclusively to the production of "civil servants" in the Greek sense of the phenomenon. The lack of empoyment opportunities has acted as a kind of brake in the process of self-awareness and risk- taking. Creating one's own job has been ruled off limits too, the associated bureaucracy and punitive taxation have seen to this. The young are thus hostage to the consequences of the ineptitude of the Greek politicians and the LONG loving protection of family. Few can escape.

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