A Happy Future for Migration to Europe?

By Ted BadouxEveraert Advocaten

Ted Badoux explores the correlation between migration and both individual and collective happiness across the world. 

WWL Corporate Immigration 2017 - Ted Badoux

I typed my best wishes at the end of this article on 25 March 2017, the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome laying down the principles of a European community that would develop into the European Union we have today. 

I started writing on 20 March, meteorically the first day of spring. For the past five years, this date has marked another international event. In 2012, the United Nations proclaimed 20 March as the International Day of Happiness. Resolution A/RES/66/281 announced:

The General Assembly, conscious that the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal, recognising also the need for a more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to economic growth that promotes sustainable development, poverty eradication, happiness and the well-being of all peoples, decides to proclaim 20 March the International Day of Happiness, invites all Member States, organizations of the United Nations system and other international and regional organizations, as well as civil society, including non-governmental organisations and individuals, to observe the International Day of Happiness in an appropriate manner, including through education and public awareness-raising activities.

The researchers of the 2017 World Happiness Report drew up a “most happy countries” list, after asking people in 156 countries to rate their lives on a scale of one to ten. Looking at the top five countries of the list, people in Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland and Finland live the most happily; they have a good income, are free to exercise civil rights and enjoy equal treatment in society. These qualities of life appear to determine a general feeling of well-being. Among other factors, the researchers considered the GNP, the statistical life expectancy, the level of corruption in society and the freedom to make one’s own choices in life. Perhaps not so surprisingly, a scattering of African countries gained the lowest scores.

In the context of migration to Europe, it is hard to find an overall positive correlation between migration and individual or collective happiness. Economic growth, poverty eradication, and people’s individual and collective well-being have been the driving forces of migration across the world. They still are, and will remain so in the decades to come. In today’s world, we see the geopolitical balance shifting. The ideas and principles of western civilisation; the power of government restrained and controlled by a system of democracy and the rule of law; and the observance of the civil rights and social justice for all citizens are challenged by the surge of a new nationalism which drives on religious and capitalist ideologies. We see and hear new names and faces preaching visions that for ages have repeatedly divided people and led nations into war. The new nationalistic movements propagate discrimination based on nationality, race, gender, religion and political conviction.

Migrants, immigrants and asylum seekers, both legal and illegal, are targets of xenophobic outbursts on internet forums.

However, the 2017 spring elections in Europe demonstrate that the interwar periods of the 20th century are not coming back. The EU, started only 60 years ago as an economic postwar plan bringing sustainable peace and welfare in the region, plays a major part in this.

The EU member states, including the soon-to-leave UK, should not be led by anti-international sentiments when developing communitarian and national laws in response to the next five global migration trends.  

Demographic Developments

In Europe, population growth is declining. And in the highly developed welfare states of the Western world, the population is turning grey. Life expectancy in the Netherlands was 70 in 2000; in 2017, it is 81. Moreover, fewer children are born. By 2035, on average, two out of every three people in Europe will be working; the third will be a pensioner. Today, the ratio is still three working persons for every pensioner. However, our wider world will have 1 billion more inhabitants by 2025 – that’s eight years from now. The newborns will predominantly grow up in Africa and India. Further economic growth in these regions will affect the migration of their inhabitants to Europe.

Economic Powers Shifting

According to PwC’s 2011 report “The World in 2050”, the worldwide financial crises has accelerated an economic power shift from the G-7 countries (the US, Japan, Germany, the UK, France, Italy and Canada) to the E-7 countries (China, India, Brazil, Russia, Mexico, Indonesia and Turkey). Experts say, their emerging economies will outgrow the old economic power states by 2020. In the same year, China will have outpaced the US as the greatest economic nation in the world, while India will see the strongest growth in GDP. Consequently, we will see a world that is not exclusively dominated by one strong economic power group; rather, it will be held by several power centres, creating a multipolar world economy. 

These developments will have a major impact on migration. Multinationals old and new will compete to take their positions in the added-value chain of the global markets. In addition, the surge of a new middle class of consumers in the E-7 countries may both push and pull migration. Germany owes a great deal of its economic growth to German companies developing new businesses in the emerging economies. 

Climate Change

The explosive growth of the world population and the steadily growing welfare levels in the world make an ever-growing demand on natural resources; unmistakably, these global trends have an impact on climate change risk. If governments fail to implement the measures of the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference by 2034, global warming will increase the world’s temperature by 2° C. Our planet, it seems, is no longer capable of sustaining the increase in human consumption. Climate change, lack of natural resources, desertification and the measures to address these symptoms, are push and pull factors of migration.

New Technologies

A tsunami of innovative technologies will be upon us in the next five to ten years. They will greatly affect people and organisations: big data; cloud computing; DNA-sequencing; energy storage; advanced artificial intelligence; mobile internet; mobile payment; the internet of things; robots; nano-technology; and 3D printing. These appliances can both facilitate and control migration.


In the 1800s only 2 per cent of the world’s population lived in cities; by 1950, this had increased to 30 per cent; and in 2007, more than half of the world’s population was urban. Today’s speed of urbanisation is 1.5 million new city dwellers every week. By 2030, 60 per cent of the world’s population will live in cities. Migrants attracted to cities in search of livelihood, work and a place to live cause this trend in part.

It should be noted that, in this context, the immigration laws of the highest-ranking countries on the list are based on economic values in the first place. These laws aim to attract people with talent and merit for the good of the nation, rather than offering humanitarian relief out of moral politics or international solidarity. The growing public aversion in these and other European countries to globalisation and asylum migration is not supported by open borders and pro-asylum policies in these countries; nor can one recognise this approach to current mass migration by the Council of Europe or the European Commission in Brussels. Surely, the European countries with the highest-ranking scores in the happiness survey have wanted to adopt the EU’s free movement laws for the good of their trade and services. The first unifying European treaties were made to break down tariff walls and share economic interests in the first place. Creating a common market was meant to benefit the European people, to prevent them from the terror of new wars. The “happiest countries” list of 2017 demonstrates the success of the European Union; 13 European countries are in the top 20. The Netherlands sits nicely in sixth place. The UK, with Brexit looming, is 19th. And the US? That comes 14th – but that was before the Trump administration!

I could not help but reflect on the fundamental human pursuit of happiness, and what the General Assembly believes it calls for, in relation to my 40-plus years of practice as an immigration lawyer. As I am retiring from practice, it seems appropriate to do so. Did clients become happier in any way because they succeeded in arriving where others did not, started a new life all over, or lived and worked for a while in the world’s sixth happiest country, breaking into a strange society and a new culture? I hope and believe they did, but I can only speak for myself; to assist them with reaching their goals in life, both small and large, has been a most gratifying experience. Moreover, the good fellowship of my colleagues around the world working in the legal migration practice has made my professional life most enjoyable and fulfilling. Thank you all.

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