Economic impact of migrant crises (Panel discussion at St Pete Intl Forum)

Peter Lavelle
Peter Lavelle is the host of RT's shows CrossTalk and On the Money, and was the anchor of the review programme In Context and the commentary series IMHO. Peter Lavelle has extensive experience in academia and the world of business. He did his doctoral studies at the University of California in Eastern European and Russian studies. He has lived in Eastern Europe and Russia for a better part of the last 25 years. During that time he was a lecturer at the University of Warsaw, a market researcher for Colgate-Palmolive, an investment analyst for a number of respected brokerage firms, including Russia’s Alfa Bank. In the realm of media, Peter Lavelle is widely published. He has written for Asia Times Online, Moscow Times, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, United Press International, In the National Interest, and Current History – to mention only a few.
As the International Economic Forum kicks off in St. Petersburg, RT’s Peter Lаvelle is ready to delve into the world’s most acute agenda.

The massive influx of refugees from the Middle East and Central Asia has become a major international challenge, threatening the political fortunes of a number of individual EU heads of government and straining the Union’s core foundations.

But Europe is not alone in confronting a backlash to immigration; in the US the influx of the Latino population has increased xenophobia and reshaped the body politic, while regional economies such as Turkey and Jordan must manage the flood of huge minority populations.

What policies must be implemented to create a sensible and sustainable immigration plan for each of these economies, turning what is presently viewed as a crisis into a potential economic growth opportunity? What is at stake for the rest of the world if these crises continue unabated?

Ben Aris, Editor-in-Chief, Business New Europe
Yaroslav Lissovolik, Chief Economist, Eurasian Development Bank (EDB)
Alexander Mercouris, International Law Expert
Xavier Moreau, Founder, Centre of Political-Strategic Analysis STRATPOL
Jim Rogers, Chairman, Beeland Interests Inc
Stefan Schaible, Partner, Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Roland Berger
Frank Schauff, Chief Executive Officer, Association of European Businesses in the Russian Federation
Andy Xie, Independent Economist

In cooperation with SPIEF

Recorded June 1



The economic impact of migrant crises

Peter Lavelle: My name is Peter Lavelle, I am the host of RT’s political discussion program CrossTalk. I’d like to introduce my various team - panel here. Frank, if I can start with you?

Frank Schauff: I am Frank Schauff, I am the General Director of the Association of European Businesses with just the main representation of foreign investors in Russia.

Stefan Schaible: My name is Stefan Schaible, I am the CEO of Roland Berger for Central Europe, Roland Berger being the only strategy consultancy of European origin.

Xavier Moreau: My name is Xavier Moreau, I am Co-founder and Director of LinkIT Vostok, it is a mobile service, as well as founder of - it’s a geopolitical website.

Jim Rogers: My name is Jim Rogers, I am from Singapore but I am here mainly and partly because I am a Director of the Russian company PhosAgro.

Andy Xie: My name is Andy Xie, I am an independent economist based in China.

Alexander Mercouris: I am Alexander Mercouris, I am the Chief Editor of the Duran, I am a writer on international affairs and economics with a special emphasis on Russia.

Peter Lavelle: And I would like to introduce our two gentlemen in the front row; we have Ben Aris, he is Editor-in-Chief of Business New Europe, and we have Yaroslav Lissovolik, Chief Economist with the Eurasian Development Bank. I will be turning to these two gentlemen as a bid of reality check to make sure we do not go down the wrong path here. Alright, a very general question we can start with here --- now the world is experiencing the worst migration-refugee problem… And I am going to stress ‘refugee’ also, because it is kind of watered-down in the description. Over 20 million, up to 55 - 56 million depending on how you want to count. Last time we had the situation like this was the Second World War, and WWII was a catastrophe for the world. Now we have lots of ‘little wars’ going on which are just as catastrophic if you’re on the receiving end of it. If you look at some of the mainstream coverage of this multifaceted story, you come across these two words all the time: burden/opportunity.

Now, Frank if I can start with you --- is that watering it down a lot because this is something that is only getting worse, and I look particularly because I live in Russia watching Europe, and I see it only getting worse, not better. Go ahead.

Frank Schauff: Let’s put it like this. Certainly, the refugee crisis in Europe is difficult, it is not a question. But on the other hand we have to take the opportunities we learn which are linked to this; in general migration for different reasons - be it economic reasons, be it reasons of conflicts which are in the world - certainly, they have to be handled in a proper manner, they have to be managed. The European Union is trying to manage it currently. If I may say it from a German point of view, because I am a German citizen. I have to say that in spite of all the media coverage which, I think, has a tendency to dramatize the situation, it is properly managed at the moment. The question is ‘what is coming then?’ because as we have already experienced in past decades, people who have come to Germany or other European countries as refugees will stay for a long time, and some of them will stay forever. This certainly has to be done in a proper manner, and there has to be something done about education, integration into the labor market, etc.

Peter Lavelle: It is interesting that you have mentioned the European Union, and this is a political state structure… Stefan, if I can go to you -- how is the business community looking at this, again under the rubric of burden and opportunity? Because states are not always efficient at doing these kinds of things. There’s the business community, there’s private business people - do they have a different way of dealing or perceiving this problem?

Stefan Schaible: Having a look from a purely economic perspective, I think there are more people coming, if I talk for Europe, it is a demographic challenge. Even in short term perspectives for countries like Sweden, Austria, Germany… If the economic impact is positive, there is higher public spending and so there is already a little labor market effect. The key challenge for the future on the economical level is how to get the right immigrants to a certain dimension - the qualification question - and the people who are here and ready to qualify them, because that takes much too long and so they are always attackable by, let’s say, prejudices and so on… I think the real problem also for the economy is that the politicians and we as businessmen did not manage to explain to the people that we have a demographic challenge, that we are in a more unstable world and what that means, and to discuss openly how we position us towards the Orient, the Occident… we do not really have the debate what political role on diplomatic or military level we want to play in these countries in the Middle East… So I think economically the answer is very clear for me, but the question is how to support the political field, not to open up right-wing debate, which is dangerous.

Peter Lavelle:  I think you find that difference. Alex, if I go to you...there seems to be two different realms when you look at this problem because you have this economic, business, GDP, we go all through all the other initials, and then there is the political, social and cultural. And not too many people want to talk about both simultaneously. Let’s be honest, when we talk about those issues, people get very tense, it can be a very emotive conversation but it is also a very important conversation because you cannot have a talk about business and politics without talking about the social and cultural.

Alexander Mercouris: Absolutely. I have just come from Britain where we are having a referendum on whether or not to remain part of the European Union. It is very striking how immigration has to a very great extent taken over that discussion. Of course, staying in the EU is an economic question too, so the two are very interconnected with each other. What I would say is this: if we are looking at economies and immigration and people coming to them, people tend to be more accepting of this when an economy is dynamic, fast-growing, whether there is no pressure on living standards, where all of these things are working well. If you have an economy which is under pressure, where living standards are stagnant or falling, whether there is a perception that they are, then things become more complicated. And that seems to be the situation in much of Europe at the moment.

Peter Lavelle: Jim, again if we are focusing on Europe, a lot of these economies are experiencing enforced austerity, and in some parts of the EU scraping by is something you can at least dream for, hope for… But then you have these huge waves of immigration coming in. It is very difficult to have a coherent policy - Germany needs immigrants, and as skilled as possible, but a lot of other countries are under experiencing austerity. Think of poor Greece. Can the EU have some kind of coherent European-wide policy? Some countries need more labor, and some of them have huge unemployment.

Jim Rogers: First of all, you call this a crisis, and I would point out to you and remind you that Europe causes crisis if you will. They went and invaded Libya, they invaded Iraq, they invaded Syria, they bombed them all - what do you expect to happen, when you blow them up?

Peter Lavelle: Did you read my notes before the program?

Jim Rogers: I didn’t. But if we blew up Britain, I suspect a lot of people would flee from Britain, and then the French would be yelling or whatever. So let’s not forget where the cause of this came. Your point is very good [to Mercouris], that when you have the economies under attack or pressure, people throughout history - always blame the problems on the foreigners. Now Germany needs labor - most of Europe needs labor - they have a horrible demographic problem… But you are having economic problems so you blame the foreigners therefore you have a political problem and a social problem, even though economically they all desperately need labor. It is too sudden, and too fast but it should be good for Europe. Had they managed it, it would be good for Europe.

Peter Lavelle: Xavier, this has happened relatively fast, and I do not see coherent reaction. What we just heard here...depending on where you are living, the reaction could be different. And I don’t think obviously that anyone saw this coming. They should have. I completely agree with Jim - you bomb someone’s country which is close by, they are going to go there. But we can talk about it later.

Xavier Moreau: I could not agree more. But I would like to underline that what happens now is only the beginning because we know that demographic growth in Africa will always be stronger than the economic growth. So these massive waves of migration are going to continue with or without war. We have to understand it. And the question is, is the EU ready? In my opinion, we are not.

Peter Lavelle: Let’s just not talk about the EU. There is a group of immigrants in the world, over a million of them that almost never gets any western press coverage whatsoever. And that is the people from the Donbass who have come to Russia. Russia also has to deal with this issue, the difference is being of course, they are already Russian-speaking people, most likely of the same religious background if they have one, ethnicity is the same, it’s is a very different mix here.

Xavier Moreau: Actually, what is interesting is that in France the rules and law concerning migration are 70 years old. They were built and voted after the WWII to manage tens of thousands of migrants coming from Communist and Eastern European countries. And it was during a short time, and I’m sorry, this may not sound politically correct, they were European, it was not so hard to integrate that people and it was not so massive. Of course, we have to improve rules, we have to improve laws, we have to understand how we want to do it inside the EU, or the EU will collapse actually, because of that.

Peter Lavelle: Some countries have a better tradition. I mean I am an American obviously, and when I was in high school, there were too massive waves of immigrants into California. And that was from the quote unquote “boat people”, from America’s failed war in South-East Asia. Then very quickly after that another wave from Iran after the revolution there. I tell you for the country like the U.S. that has a tradition of immigration, for the state of California it was a huge shock - two massive groups of people showed up almost at the same time. Go ahead, Andy.

Andy Xie: I think that people now tend to look at the negative side of this crisis. But throughout the history - refugees turned out to be very good for the economy later on. And what is going on is small to what happened in East Asia 60 years ago or earlier. The refugees from mainland China to Taiwan and Hong Kong were equal to 20-30% of the local population. Or from North Korea to South Korea. When you look at the entrepreneurs who now own big companies - where they came from? They came from this refugee population. So I think that the key is the flexible economy. If you have a regional economy like in Europe, it is very difficult to accomplish sudden influx of people. If you will all look at the negative side, then this is going to be a vicious cycle. I think for Europe this is an opportunity. Refugees are self-selected, they entrepreneur people, they go so far, spend money, and go through such hardships, they must be very good people.

Peter Lavelle: Well they are surviving!

Andy Xie: Yes, but this is a self-selecting process. If you have a good economy, they can contribute.

Jim Rogers: Peter, it is a very good point. Usually, people who pack up, leave their own country are ambitious, farsighted, talented. Those are the people I want in my country. And I much rather have them then those who stay home. It is very good for most economies.

Xavier Moreau: It is not a good idea for African countries, for instance, to lose the best people.

Peter Lavelle: Very good point.

Xavier Moreau: I think we have to find a global solution. There are, of course, negative solutions - it’s to put borders, it has to be done sometimes. But the positive solution is to organize the development of the country, because again, as long as the demographic growth will bypass the economic growth, it will continue, it is going to be massive immigration. Even if they are good people, the EU economy is not ready to get them. There are some countries within the EU who will refuse it, they are already doing that, I mean Poland, Hungary. The question is how we want to do it. It could be a collapse for the EU, if they cannot manage this problem.

Jim Rogers: Good point. It may well be the collapse of the EU because it is turning into a ‘crisis’ to use your term, a ‘burden’, to use your term. The EU is already stagnant, they all have huge debt. You talk about austerity - there is no austerity in the EU. Every country has higher debt every year. They talk about austerity and they keep spending other people’s money. So the EU is facing a lot of problems, and this could be one (you were talking about the UK) of the things which caused that the EU had very serious problems.

Peter Lavelle: Ben, if I can go to you. Or Yaroslav, if you want to go first here. Again the binary term ‘burden- opportunity’ - go ahead.

Yaroslav Lissovolik: I think the question at this stage of the discussion is - what makes it a problem and what makes it a blessing with regard to migration? What is the differentiating factor? What types of policies are the ones that make it a success? (I mean Sweden was termed as one of the successful cases, I would probably agree with that) But within the EU there are some differences in terms of how this picture looks like. And is the success of Sweden attributable to the fact that it is growing at around 4% per annum as was the case last year simply because, as it was mentioned, the economy was doing well? So hence the migration factor is less of a problem. Or is not because they are pursuing a policy of integration, of the labor resources that are coming in, and integrating them into the labor force, into the labor resources in such a way that they are employed - so they contribute to the growth and development. My sense is the key problem for Europe right now is what I would call ‘migration without integration’. That is when the migration factor becomes problematic.

I think from the experts here the point that would be most interesting for me is to hear what they think about what types of policies make it a success. And I completely agree with one point that was raised here by the way - the policies with regard to the developing world and with regard to integrating them into the world economy, to trading with them, to giving them more opportunities, and dealing away with protectionism vis-a-vis these countries is very important to alleviating this migration problem as well.

Peter Lavelle: Also one of the issues is the term integration. There is a cost, and it is a steep cost in the beginning. When I looked at these South-East Asian people who came to California in the 70s and 80s, and you know what - amazing entrepreneurship. And that’s their sense - family businesses… And my point is that giving them (refugees) a head start and help can pay off huge dividends in the end. But the problem is that politics is about ‘now’ and not about ‘through time’, and this is what faces a lot of people. I mean if you live in California, Texas, Arizona, I can understand a lot of sentiments of people feeling overrun. If you look at Latin demographics there, they are remarkably successful, and they are good tax payers.

Alexander Mercouris: Can I just say something about this? This of course goes directly to some problems we have in Britain. A lot of the immigration to Britain, it is in fact internal immigration from within the EU, it is educating young people, dynamic, entrepreneurial. They are coming to Britain, and they are perceived by people in some communities as being too successful in competing with them on the labor market, the housing market, all sorts of fields. And of course it creates political problems. So the economic benefits may be clear, the immediate social benefits, or rather the immediate social problems which give rise to political issues are also very evident. And they are working themselves out at the moment.

Peter Lavelle: But you know its investment that is the opportunity side here. It is the political issue as well. How much do you want to involve the economy with state spending to give people an initial start - speaking the local language for the first place - those are the kind of young people you want to have here - is there a political will for that? If you go all the way through the EU, it is very different from one place to another. Xavier?

Xavier Moreau: Yes, of course. We can add - it is not only people who want to work, for instance who come to France. They come with family. So you may have one worker, but sometimes you have 2-3 wives who have to speak clearly, and many children. So it is difficult for the French economy which is very weak to integrate these people. And I would like to confirm what you said - for instance we have presidential election within one year, and I can guarantee you that every candidate will agree that we have enough immigrants. Of course we may have this economic analysis ‘there is a chance for them, there is a chance for us’ but really in one year a candidate who claims that it’s a good thing to bring more migrants has no chance to be elected.

Jim Rogers: That’s part of the problem. America was built by immigrants - massive amounts of immigrants - but it is a huge country, and it took a long time for most of them to get there. You got a problem in California but it was an isolated problem where you were.

Peter Lavelle: But it was a success story.

Jim Rogers: No, not a great success but at the time everybody was saying about Vietnamese their food smelt bad, they smelt bad.

Peter Lavelle: No, the issue was, I can remember very well there was a large underclass in California, it is not what you see on TV from Hollywood...There are a lot of poor people as well. And those immigrants who came in, they were given temporary housing, bank accounts and credit cards. And that was politically explosive. Because a lot of the underclass was 'what about a temporary housing for us, what about credit cards for us'. That is what gets problematic there.

Jim Rogers: I just want to add one point about immigration. I come from Singapore. It is a nation of immigrants. It has half a million people 40-50 years ago, and it got over 5 million now mainly from immigration. But it was controlled. It was selective immigration - they took in people they wanted.

Peter Lavelle: It is controversial to the policy.

Jim Rogers: Well that is different point but I am just saying it was controlled, they selected whom they wanted etc. These guys do not have time to select and it is a massive wave of people in 2 years.

Stefan Schaible: To take the point… I think also in many countries in Europe we can be proud of successful immigration history. The point is we do not have the attitude you describe so there is always the risk if it is tough economic situation so then you can go back to that national arguments and in the short term somehow we have to give some signals to the population that people are not supporting in a broader sense - so we have to reduce - but the task will be in the globalized world. Then on the European level there would be debate on the demographic situation and it also accounts for Italy, Greece that in 15 years they have a problem ---- they have to open up, have an immigrant continent, and how to manage it, also selecting people, having some human bases. We did not do that in last 10 years and that is a mistake we are all paying for. We have a proud history to be proud but we really have to discuss it in an open way.

Peter Lavelle: Also you have to discuss the cultural issue too. It is very sensitive for a lot of people particularly if there is a huge influx of people very quickly. Frank, go ahead.

Frank Schauff: I think it is very important what you said that it takes time for state structures, for society to handle this problem which we have seen within the EU. But we also have seen migration crisis before. I remember Germany at the beginning of 90s. We had a wave of several hundred thousand refugees coming to Germany. We had Germans from Russia coming back. This was certainly also a critical situation, I agree it was not as critical as it is now but it was possible to handle this and it takes time. It takes only 3-4-5 years, and now for example you can see that those migrants from 90s have successfully integrated into the society. It is not a process which goes in one direction, there is a big discussion going on in France, now in Germany we have right-wing populist party which takes up this issue. And certainly this has to be discussed. In the long run if we look at this from the point of rationality - that certainly migration can be handled even though it is a problem now, at the moment.

Andy Xie: Well I think there is exaggeration of this crisis. The EU has 500 million people so it is relatively small inflow. Now in Germany their inflow is relatively larger to German population but still not so big. So I think the issue is not so huge. It is about European inflexibility to deal with the refugee inflow. The most important thing is not the help you give to refugees, it is really about the labor market.

Peter Lavelle: To be fair, I agree. If you look at the entire population of the EU, and when you look at the number of refugees, migrants. But they tend to be very concentrated as well, that is an issue for some people as well because if you move to a foreign country and you do not speak the language - you could have probably be close to people you can understand culturally, linguistically, even in terms of faith. Go ahead.

Xavier Moreau: The question is, it is 1 million this year, but will it be 1 million the next year, or 2, 3… And myself I think that the best way to include there people from the African countries because massive immigration will come from there, not the East. So we have to include them into the global economy, to give them economic growth and so they develop themselves inside their own country. Because again their country needs these guys who are educated and willing to migrate - they should stay and develop their country. I think that is the best and the most fair way to add them.

Peter Lavelle: Ben, if I can go to you. When you look at Russia’s demographics, there has always been in the western media 'Russia’s dire demographic crisis' which is not true anymore, I mean in 2008 they turned the corner and have much more natural growth. Russia actually has a birth rate than is higher the in most European countries. That is really amazing. You go down the streets of Moscow and St. Petersburg and you see young women with children and it is a common sight. It was not like this when I first moved here. What is Russia learning from the best practices in your mind from the EU and what is different from what they see elsewhere?

Ben Aris: Russia has always been a country of immigrants like America. It has over 200 nationalities living over the borders of the Soviet Union, and today Russia and its neighbors. It’s underpinned the economic growth too. The remittances from Russia to the other countries in the CIS are significant. Tajikistan’s half of GDP from guest work here sending their money home. And in terms of population problems we had this huge dip when average life expectancy fell to 56 years in the 90s. And the Kremlin has put in place a series of policies to support childbirth and families which have been enormously successful. You made the point that the Russia’s demographics have outperformed even the most optimistic expectations from the 90s, although we have now reached peak. That 90s’ dip is now coming into the workforce and it is going to cause economic problems. And so this has made the government to change the pension laws, and they are going to raise retirement age. And then 4.5 million people will have been injected into the workforce as a result of that. One more <sound break>. ...counterbalance the dip from the 90s low birthrate.

So they should become quite sophisticated about this. But I have been listening to this discussion -- this whole thing with immigration. It strikes me that the economics of it are clear... All the studies are read, all the surveys are read, the influx of immigrants is a net positive to any economy. You have competitive, hard-working people who want to make a new life. In Britain we saw that keep the inflation down with the Polish influx, Germany has a horrible demographic problem, they’ve got a replacement rate at around 1.2, and you need 2.1 in order just to maintain the economy. Economically all of Europe needs these immigrants.

The problem is entirely political. And it’s made worse by... it is one thing to accept European immigrants. I am actually British but I live between Russia and Germany, and I can just turn up there and no one has any objections to me being there whatsoever. But as the immigrants come from further and further away and cultural differences are bigger and bigger, they bring their religion, sometimes they do not want to speak the local language because they make communities and do not integrate. These all come as political problems insomuch as us, Europeans, our values are to help our fellow man, and when they are in crisis, the right thing to do is to help the Syrian refugees or the boat people or whoever it is. But the other side of that is they then come and they live in your country. They live in your home. They move upstairs and take a room. But then they’ve got their prayers to do 5 times a day or their curries that stink (as Jim said - I’m not saying that). And then they have big families. And they take over the upstairs room and then they move next door and then they come down.

And the issue at the bottom of this is... I don’t think with globalization… These massive moves of population - it’s really been going on for three generations. This is a new problem. And it’s made worse by the end of the Cold War, because you had 3 billion capitalists and 3 billion communists, and suddenly all of the communists in the world can travel. And with rising incomes in Asia people can travel. It’s like water flowing from the low-income countries to the high-income countries. In Eastern Europe we see a massive flood of immigration first to Germany, which is the most popular destination. Unless you live in the Baltics, and then it’s London. But everybody else wants to go to Germany. And we have to decide how we are going to organize this. It’s one thing to help people in need... You see the rise of right-wing nationalism, and that’s basically people objecting to those people living in your upstairs bedroom. They're saying, ‘We’re a white Christian nation, this is our country.’

Peter Lavelle: Let's get to that point. Let's visualize some of the things that are going on right now with numbers. (Asks director to put on the graphic) One of the things that's very interesting here, we have it on 3 walls right here: Germany is the most popular destination where people want to go. Take a look at the top hosting countries here. What's the main country that's hosting many of these refugees? It starts out with Turkey 1.5 million. Pakistan, not the richest country in the world: 1.5. Lebanon, anyone been in Lebanon? It's a tiny little place. If you're in a car and you fall asleep, you'll miss it, it's a small country. They're holding 1.1-1.2 million. The Islamic republic of Iran, who knew? Almost a million right there. And a poor country like Ethiopia. Ben brings up a very interesting point. What is the obligation, not the need? Germany needs labor, we know that. But what is the obligation? Of America, Europe, Japan, China even, with its most powerful, the biggest economy in the world. What obligation is here to take in refugees here?

Jim Rogers: Peter, I first would say I'm not sure your chart is completely explanatory because most of these countries they're going through. Most of these people are going through Ethiopia.

Peter Lavelle: You can look at every single number, you can get two different numbers from other places, this is the more general one that we came across, but I agree.

Jim Rogers: I don't think many people who wind up their way in Ethiopia plan to stay in Ethiopia. They are on their way to Germany.

Peter Lavelle: They can get stuck there too. Like a lot of people are stuck in Turkey.

Xavier Moreau: It's not totally wrong. You asked a good question.  How to organize all that. Germany needs some migrants. But France and Greece doesn't need it, the problem is because of the structure of the EU, Greece didn't do anything to stop the migrants. We're talking about migrants, that they're illegal.

Peter Lavelle: They don't stop them as long as they keep walking.

Xavier Moreau: Yes, I've heard that even in Italy they give train tickets to go to France and after to go to England. The question is, because of the structure of the EU, some countries like Greece are irresponsible. Because anyway they are poor countries and the people are going to Germany. And so because of that again we have to decide how we will manage it inside EU institutions or we'll be back on the level of the state, the nation, and so it will be the end of the discussion, we'll just put some additional borders. I’m not here to answer but the question is very good.

Frank Schauff: It confirms that the EU is the only way that can solve it in the end. If you let all the individual countries like Greece, like Croatia, Hungary etc. try to solve this problem their way, there will be complete chaos. In the end the only thing that can regulate this is, although everybody criticizes it, is in the end the European institutions, they can try to be the referee between these countries and try to manage the conflict which is certainly the part of this whole situation at the moment. Because if we simply leave to individual countries, it will be the reaction which Turkey has done: they take up to 2 million refugees, and at some point they say it's enough just let it go?

Peter Lavelle: They just tried to blackmail Angela Merkel in Brussels again. That's a different panel discussion.

Xavier Moreau: It was an invasion of the Turkish people.

Alexander Mercouris: Peter, if you look at these charts, it's very interesting because 53% of the refugees come from three countries. All three of these countries, Somalia, Afghanistan, Syria, what do they have in common? War.

Peter Lavelle: I would like to stress: wars of choice. Keep going, Alex.

Alexander Mercouris: Top hosting countries, they're all, apart from Iran perhaps, the countries that border these 3 countries, in other words the major, the biggest single course of refugee flows, and perhaps we should separate refugee flows from immigration flows, but refugee flows is definitely war. And these are wars which go back to what Jim was saying, we have wars which we were heavily involved in.

So when we talk about an obligation that we have. We have had obligations to the extent that we were partly responsible for the wars and chaos in these places.

Peter Lavelle: Before I go to Ben here. The wrinkle in that logic is there is that nobody voted to have these wars, these were decided by certain elites. Why should the average European, average American be obliged to take people in for wars that they never had a saying in starting? Go ahead, Ben.

Ben Aris: I was just drifting towards saying that no one has really thought through this policy about what our obligation is to the rest of the world. We take an obligation when there is a crisis insomuch as maybe we feel guilty about what happened in Syria so we're taking refugees now. But the solution we've been talking about, immigration policy is good for us, I guess, but I want to elect the hard workers, the cream of the crop. The implication there is that you leave all the rest to whatever, rot someplace else. If you take as a principle that we have an obligation, the obvious answer is to stop them coming or leaving their country first by not attacking their countries that more obviously make actually more of an effort to balance the imbalances, they're coming because they're looking for a better life. If they had a better life at home they wouldn't come in the first place. But then how do you do that? This is actually a huge problem. As I was saying, just three generations have started to have some mobility. Nobody actually thought through this whole question of what should we do, and it’s a big thing, it's the biggest thing. We're talking global government or idealism or I don’t know where you could go with that.

Peter Lavelle: If you look at this, if you look at the economics, this is the politics of unintended consequences here. They didn't expect this kind of refugee problem to happen. I want to stress this here. Always the rhetoric of it all, refugees, asylum seekers, migrants, there're a lot of different terms out there, because yes there is an opportunity to go another place to start a new life for maybe as a young man. I mean again what obligation does western countries have to take these people? People who are the victims of wars are refugees and need protection, and I think all of the people in this room think those people need protection.

Xavier Moreau: Actually I'm a French migrant in Russia, so I took the opportunity. I can understand when some people want to leave. And I would like to remind that we had an agreement with Qaddafi, especially Italy and France. It was his mission to control the access to the sea. We lost Qaddafi - we lost the agreement, we started a process where we lost the control, anyway globally, so I couldn't agree more with you that it’s a question of local development, it’s a question of local development, of having a normal, constructive relationship with another country, especially with countries where the migrants are, where the potential migrants are.

Jim Rogers: Sorry, slightly aside, there's nobody Russian on the panel. Why don't they come to Russia?

Peter Lavelle: Well over a million bid from Ukraine.

Jim Rogers: I would leave Ukraine too, I’d go anywhere to get out of Ukraine. But why don't these guys come to Russia?

Peter Lavelle:Well that's a debate with inside Russia itself, what a lot of people don't understand is that about 20% of the population of Russia is Muslim, that one of the differences for western countries, particularly the US is that Russia and Islam have had a very long relationship, they have touched each other for a very long time. There is a better, in my opinion at least, a better understanding of the two different civilizations. Yaroslav, you're Russian to maybe you should speak instead of me, go ahead.

Yaroslav Lissovolik: I would actually say that Russia is one of the largest recipients of migrants.

Peter Lavelle:Second place in the world. After the US.

Yaroslav Lissovolik: Absolutely, we're talking about more than 2 million people, and we're talking about a tremendous effect that this has on the economies of countries such as Tajikistan. Such as Kyrgyzstan. Ben already mentioned the fact that remittances at times could be over a half of GDP of some of these countries and the more general point with a regard to that is that if we're talking about an obligation, the obligation is assistance for development. And if there are large counties that are aspiring to play a regional role, this is one of the roles that they need to play. And then the implication of that is that these remittances that probably one of the best ways in which recipient countries in terms of migration provide assistance to development, because in a lot of these countries remittances are greater than exports for example, or not even to mention official development assistance, coming from developed economies. These remittances are a very secure source of income for these countries, and it's very targeted, it goes directly to the people that need it, so I think that argument needs to be born in mind and Russia is one of the key players in that domain.

Ben Aris: Let me just add to what Yaroslav said. Who are the remittances going to? It’s going to the family that stayed behind. That’s the solution - you actually want to develop the country. But you want the family to stay where they are. Because the guy who has gone is the young son who has gone to earn money, and he will go back to his family, if he can. But the refugee crisis - that’s different. The entire family has left, and they are not going to go back.

Jim Rogers: But in this way, are they coming to Russia? This way we are talking about, this ‘crisis’?

Yaroslav Lissovolik: This way not as much, but if we are talking about the composition of labor markets in Russia, primarily this is coming from the near abroad of Russia. So countries of the former Soviet Union, probably nearly 90% coming from those countries. But that in turn underscores Russia’s regional role in providing a better economic environment in its neighborhood.

Ben Aris: There’s a tiny route through Russia of Syrian refugees who are taking - stealing bicycles and riding across the Finnish border.

Jim Rogers: I read about that.

Frank Schauff: But then again there is a difference. There needs to be differentiation. Labor migrants from Central Asia are, let’s say, like labor migrants from Turkey to Germany in the 60s and 70s. That’s something different from the refugees, and you ask about the obligation. There are obligations certainly and there are at least international obligations like the Geneva Convention to take up refugees for example. So from my point of view countries like Germany and others cannot say they won’t take them simply because they don’t like them. Because there are obligations there. If you talk about the German constitution…

Peter Lavelle: What is the obligation of the immigrant?

Frank Schauff: The obligation of the immigrant in the end is to comply with the legislation which is there. But generally speaking certainly the countries have an obligation to deal with these refugees. As different from migration which is motivated by finding labor which is legitimate but which is different motivation to leave your country.

Stefan Schaible: Obligation has certain a moral dimension. I would say that anyone who is victim of a civil war has to have a right to the Geneva Convention. But if we want to handle that in Europe, in my opinion, there is a necessity to play another role in foreign policy. We were just following Americans in Libya, we were following Americans in Iraq. The outcome we can discuss, the result was mixed, and we talked about Russia being pretty close. So if you come from the Middle East, you will come to Europe. If you come from Northern Africa, you will come to Europe, and if we do not build up the procedures that you described not only as an obligation but as a necessity to protect our countries, we have to play a much more active role, and we have to align much closer on the European level to get these things done because actually anybody has its own position, and we are not aligned, and we pay a very high price. And I fear, like you described, where we can fail, or where we can have a Brexit like the first step, on the one hand or we go for a really proactive foreign policy agenda as Europeans as we did in the last years.

Jim Rogers: The irony is, that all of you, France, Germany - they need people. They need babies. But they won’t have babies, so they need these babies. Now, they don’t like these babies. The problem is they came too fast.

Xavier Moreau: We need jobs.

Jim Rogers: Are you reproducing yourself?

Xavier Moreau: Yes, you know, we’re the French.

Andy Xie: Minority populations?

Xavier Moreau: Yes but not only.

Jim Rogers: All the European countries are not reproducing 2.1.

Xavier Moreau: Yes I think we are - maybe 1.8.

Jim Rogers: Well 1.8 <sound break>. I know, but the irony is, somebody has to say to the French and the Germans and everybody: either you gotta have more babies, or we gotta have these babies.

Xavier Moreau: In my opinion, this could be true in 10 years and people will be ready to listen to that. But at this time if you are talking to the French people that you need additional migrants, when we have 3 million unemployed…

Jim Rogers:  That’s what I said. Too fast.

Peter Lavelle: You’re talking about what needs to be done. I don’t want to be a stickler for this here, but, where is the national debate in each country? A lot of criticism is thrown at the Hungarians. Maybe rightfully so for some of the things. And the Polish government for different things. But at least in Hungary they have a conversation about these issues. I don’t see it in the other countries. Because it brings up the issue of assimilation, of culture, definitions of being German. You are all speaking in terms of a civic definition of citizenship. And there are a lot of people out there who think that their citizenship is more than the law itself.

Alexander Mercouris: Indeed, and in fact if you look at this generally, there has to be an internal conversation, there has to be a degree of accountability within that conversation. Clearly, it is a mix of policies. There have to be intelligent economic policies, there have to be intelligent political foreign policies which we are hearing about in relation to other countries, wars. People have to be involved more than they are. You cannot have an elite deciding these questions and coming and saying, this is what we are going to do, and people have to accept it, because if it happens like that, it’s resented.

Peter Lavelle: If we call this a crisis - the title is called crises - I’d like to end on one point here. I’d like to ask each of our panelists here and I’d like to ask Ben and Yaroslav also. What is the primary crisis? Everything that we have talked about. Starting from Frank. What needs to be done? Most specifically and really short. Go ahead.

Frank Schauff: Well in short the conflicts have to be stopped and regulated in the countries where the refugees come from. And within the European countries if we talk about the European refugee situation. We have to find mechanisms how to deal with such a mass of refugees, and either find a way of bringing them back into the countries when the war is over or integrating properly.

Stefan Schaible: I think we need that debate, like you said Alexander, on the European level about the fears and the opportunities, because it is positive in the end but we did not explain, and we have to do and to start quickly. And the fundamental problem of the European Union that they take bureaucratic decisions which they try not to communicate, that’s all done on the national level, and I think that’s one of the key challenges that if we don’t do, it will break up. Point one. Point two - we have to handle carefully let’s say a mixture between humanism, economic interest, and what people can suffer. And that will be not to have too many migrants in the next two or three years but to really define a reform that we have to be open for economic growth. I think these are the two key pillars.

Xavier Moreau: If we are talking about we have to do immediately, we have to stop fuelling the war in Syria.

Jim Rogers: ...which was started by the United States. And the Europeans are paying for. Well philosophically, let them all in. I’m for total immigration all over the world. Of course if I’d led one of the European countries I would be assassinated. I’m not suggesting that policy. But if you let them all in…

Peter Lavelle: I hope you never become a head a European country.

Jim Rogers: Don’t worry, no chance. But you gotta explain it to the people, or you gotta slow it down somehow.

Andy Xie: I think that labor mobility in the 21 century, international mobility is inevitable. So for a nation state, you must decide what you want to be. This is in context. Do you want to be the same nation a hundred years ago then you have to close the borders, you do not join the world. Unfortunately, I think this refugee crisis exposes Europe’s problems of adapting to this world that will be dominated by huge countries like China, the United States, like Russia, India. I think Europe has to decide what it wants to be. 

Alexander Mercouris: And in fact if we come to the question of crisis, it is in fact a crisis more of politics than of anything else. This is what it ultimately comes down to. Because you have to make decisions which you have to explain, you have to involve people into those decisions, you have to look at your foreign policy intelligently.

Peter Lavelle: Yes because if you didn’t have these foreign policy catastrophes...because Germany and other countries need immigrants, then you can be a lot more selective it’s not a political imperative, it’s something that can be done very coolly and calculatedly. And in this current situation that we have right now, there’s not a lot of choice here.

Yaroslav Lissovolik: To be brief, autarky is the wrong answer, I think the right way forward is integration, both in terms of the migrants within countries and integration with the countries on the national level to provide markets and opportunities for these countries to grow and develop.

Ben Aris: I’m married to a German and we’ve had three babies, so I’ve done my part.

Peter Lavelle: Ok, you give them one nationality or dual?

Ben Aris: They’re Germans. And in addition to that I’d set up some global agency to subsidize developed country investment into all of these countries, to accelerate and help lift them to the same level. And then this whole immigration thing would disappear, end of story.

Jim Rogers: Can I just ask, did you have girl babies or boy babies?

Ben Aris: All boys.

Jim Rogers: Oh, well. You made a mistake because there’s a gigantic shortage of girls in the world. I had girls because I know there’s a huge shortage.

Ben Aris: We could hook up after the show to discuss all this.

Peter Lavelle: Frank, I really want to get back to something you said. At what point will there be a national debate in the individual countries? Needless to say, in the US Donald Trump is fuelling the debate. As critical as one can be, I think, of some of the things that he has said, I have to at least admit that it’s getting a real conversation started. And he is certainly awkward in talking about a lot of these things. But I think he is given credit, because it’s a broken phrase, ‘our broken immigration policy’. Bill Clinton was saying that, and his wife as a candidate is saying it now. That’s a pretty good span of time in politics. Now is it when you have crises, is that when you only have a conversation? The democracy deficit in Europe I only see as growing, it’s not getting smaller.

Frank Schauff: Generally there are discussions in individual member states about migration and various questions, not only citizenship, but also culture certainly. In Germany it’s done very intensively, and it’s not just started, it was started decades ago when migration starting. So we shouldn’t pretend that that’s there. But if you talk about the European Union, it’s a difficult mechanism. Living in Russia I assume that most Russians don’t know understand the European Union works. I cannot blame them because the Europeans don’t know it either. It is a very complex constitutional framework. But there has to be a clarification process between the member countries how to deal with these issues as well, and not to leave some years ago Spain, now Italy is alone, Germany is let alone, but it has to be also clarified also with a good perspective for the next 20-25 years and not for the next 3 years.

Xavier Moreau: Concerning Libya and Syria, in my opinion Germany was very careful. Unfortunately we didn’t listen to them. I won’t say that about Ukraine if you know what I mean. But concerning Libya and Syria, Germany was the country to listen.

Stefan Schaible: I would object totally to what you said that we are not discussing this in the European countries.

Peter Lavelle: Well look at the criticism Hungary is getting because they are not having the right kind of conversation when it comes to immigration. There are very strident opinions there. But there are people with those kinds of opinions and they have to be given a hearing and not censored or pushed to the fringe.

Stefan Schaible: I fully agree, but what’s happening in France, what’s happening in Germany, what’s happening in every country is that the position of Mr. Obama is told by some political parties. And the question is, if the economical rationality which Jim is preaching, that all people coming into our countries is an upside, is there the political power of the people that are open, that they get it pushed through. And let’s see what the French presidential elections will bring. Let’s see what the next German elections will bring, where the classical political parties go down to 65%, which we never had. It’s really the debate, and the good thing is that we have started the debate and have to discuss it very openly. That was the biggest mistake we made - we had immigration, but we never really openly declared us as immigration countries, and so we pay the price, and it’s really the lower class people who are the losers of the technological and economic developments that we do not reach. That will be the key battle.

Jim Rogers: I’m not sure we’re having a debate in America. I think it’s a shouting match.

Peter Lavelle:Look at the caliber of the candidates. I agree.

Jim Rogers: I’m not going to vote for either one of them. I’m an American citizen. I’m not going to vote for either one of them. You keep sending more turkeys. If we keep voting for turkeys, we get more turkeys. So, I hope you’re not going to vote.

Peter Lavelle: No, I don’t believe in the process there.

Jim Rogers: That’s a different conversation.

Peter Lavelle:Anybody else want to add anything? Any questions in the audience before we finish up here? So we told you everything you needed to know?

Stefan Schaible: We said all the right things.

Peter Lavelle: We said all the right things and we actually had a little bit of a debate. I want to thank all my members on the panel here. I want to thank our gentlemen in the first row. It was a very interesting experience, and a lot of food for thought. Thank you for attending this panel discussion and please enjoy the rest of the day. Thank you. 

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.