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Meeting the Demographic Challenge and the Impact of Migration

By Erika Schlager, Commission Counsel for International Law

The thirteenth meeting of the Economic Forum of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe convened in Prague, the Czech Republic, from May 23-27, 2005.  This year, Forum participants from 52 of the 55 OSCE participating States met under the broad theme of “Demographic Trends, Migration and Integrating Persons belonging to National Minorities:  Ensuring Security and Sustainable Development in the OSCE Area.” [1]

Stephan Minikes, U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE, summarized the factors that drove the meeting’s focus on demographic, migration and related population issues:

“Given current demographic trends in much of the OSCE space, an increasing number of states will have to deal with migration on a larger scale.  In many countries, the decline in workforce due to aging and shrinking populations cannot be arrested or reversed quickly enough through increased fertility.  To maintain quality of life, sustainable development and support pension schemes, many countries will have to open their labor markets, and quickly.  Inviting immigrants will force states not only to integrate them, but also to evaluate their immigration policies . . . .”

The Economic Forum, replicating what has been a growing trans-Atlantic public debate, gave particular attention to efforts to increase birthrates and to enhance migration from other regions that – for now – are experiencing population growth (at least relative to job availability).

With respect to the goal of increasing the birthrate, no single policy prescription emerged from the discussions.  The Norwegian delegation described grass-roots driven policy changes that contributed to raising the birth rate in Norway – although it was only raised to 1.8 percent, still below replacement levels.  A number of other speakers highlighted the need to develop policies to help women juggle both careers and parenting.  In closing remarks, the U.S. delegation observed, “[w]hile we do not dispute this need, we believe that it is equally critical to keep in mind the parenting role of men as well.”

Conspicuously absent from the discussion was consideration of data on ethnic groups within countries.  In several countries, for example, the demographic trend in the Romani minority differs from the ethnic majority: Romani communities often have a higher birth rate, shorter life-span and higher infant mortality.  Nevertheless, although there is a Europe-wide demographic crisis, a few public officials in several countries, perhaps reflecting widespread social antagonisms toward the Romani community, argued for targeted programs to reduce the Romani birth rate.

In the discussion of migration trends, the economic and environmental factors that lead people to migrate were examined, as well as the implications of such migrations for both the countries that send and receive migrant populations.  A few countries, including Albania, Armenia and Tajikistan, spoke from the perspective of a sending country, touching on both the positive (e.g., remittances) and negative (e.g., brain drain) aspects of population outflows.

Other sessions of the Prague Forum addressed population developments, including:

  • Environment and migration;
  • Providing services for migrants;
  • Awareness raising and economic integration in countries of destination;
  • Economic and social integration of national minorities; and
  • Principles of integration of national minorities.

Four side events were held concurrently with the working sessions.  They were:

  • Migration and economic development of the sending countries (an event held with the OSCE Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation);
  • Implementing the Roma and Sinti Action Plan (economic and social aspects);
  • The OSCE’s Anti-trafficking Program; and
  • The Labor Migration Project in Armenia.

In his closing remarks, a representative of the Slovenian Chair-in-Office (CIO) noted a few suggestions that might serve as the basis for further OSCE work, including:

  • Developing an action plan on migration issues;
  • Formulating a statement of principles that might be adopted at the OSCE Ministerial in December;
  • Developing a handbook on managing migration;  and,
  • Establishing an advisory group on migration issues under the umbrella of the OSCE  Economic and Environmental Activities Coordinator. 

The CIO representative noted that some of the recommendations went beyond the OSCE’s framework and mandate.  In addition, during the discussions, a few countries (notably Turkey and France) noted that some speakers had advocated policy approaches that would not be acceptable to their capitals.  Accordingly, it remains to be determined whether a consensus will be established for moving forward on any of these specific suggestions.

The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.

U.S. DELEGATION:

  • Stephan M. Minikes, U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE
  • Susan F. Martin, Professor at Georgetown University and Executive Director of the Institute for             the Study of International Migration at Georgetown University
  • Ellen Thrasher, Associate Administrator, U.S. Small Business Administration
  • Katherine A. Brucher, Deputy Political Counselor, U.S. Mission to the OSCE
  • Robert Carlson, Political Officer, U.S. Mission to the OSCE
  • Susan Archer, OSCE Desk Officer, U.S. Department of State
  • Erika Schlager, Counsel for International Law, Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

 [1] (The three countries which had no representation during the course of the week were Andorra, Macedonia and Uzbekistan.)

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