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By John Bufton MEP
•Figures released today [17.07.2012] from the latest conducted census have shown a population increase of at least 3.7 million in England and Wales.
Fifty five percent of that increase was fuelled by immigration between 2001 and 2011 - a jaw dropping 2.1 million.
The rest is due to rising birth rates and increasing life span. However, immigration has also played a part here, with higher average birth rates attributed to foreign born couples. One in four babies now born in the UK has a non-UK born Mum.
England is now the third most densely populated place in the EU, after Malta and the Netherlands. Well given that Malta is by nature a very small island, no bigger than the size of Bristol, I think we can discount that from the count. By virtue of its compact size, density is heightened. Even still, if you visit Gozo, you will see acres of unspoilt arable land.
England has around 402.1 people for every square kilometre of land, overtaking the figure of 398.5 in Holland and 355.2 in Belgium. The density of the population in England is almost more than four times that of France, which has 99.4 for each square kilometre.
So other than both having a Queen, a rocky history with the Habsburgs and a national zeal for football (they exhibit passionate opposition to the Germans even more than we do) we also find ourselves facing the same cultural questions.
The Netherlands is the 61st most populated country in the world with a population of 16,663,831. A mere drop in the ocean compared with the UK's burgeoning 56.1 million.
But like statistics often quoted for the UK, this marker relates to the Netherlands as a whole.
Britain is the 39th most crowded country in the world. But as 93% of immigrants go to England, it is England that matters in this context. Together with Holland, England is the sixth most crowded country in the world exlcuding islands and city states.
Between 1900 and 1950 the population of the Netherlands doubled from 5.1 to 10 million people, and then grew by another 50% thereafter. According to Eurostat, 2010 saw 1.8 million foreign-born Netherlands residents, 11.1% of the total population.
Such a dramatic change of cultural landscape has its repercussions. Apart from the fear of unsustainable pressures on housing, employment and public services comes the more tricky and sensitive issue of whether a country is the sum of its peoples, and that being the case, whether change is good.
Inevitably growing consertantion about immigration led to the rise of more immigration-centric policies. The Dutch Government's policy, overseen by Immigration Minister Laurens Rita Verdonk, paved the way for permits for "knowledge-migrants" who would earn a minimum gross income of €45,000 unless a doctoral student or postgraduate or university teacher younger than 30 years of age. The permit is granted for a maximum of five years, while foreign students get a residence permit of just one year, subject to renewal by the relevant educational instututions.
Newcomers to the country and those immigrants already settled are also subject to an integration exam, much like here in the UK. The Netherlands are the first country to insist permanent immigrants also complete the pre-integration course.
Many Dutch people however are also concerned about the scale of EU immigration. In reaction to European Commission proposals to enforce social security benefits to people working in a member state but living elsewhere, the Government has been denying this right, provoking the Commission to threaten the Dutch Social Affairs Minister Henk Kamp with legal action.
Which brings us on to the question of what EU member states can actually do to tackle the problems that a mass influx of immigration can potentially bring?
The difficulty with this subject is it falls victim too easily to protestations of xenophobia, despite simple mathematics and economics underscoring the sense of having a debate about the impact of a growing population.
Recent reports on Reuters suggest that as economic mire continues to trouble the Eurozone, so-called "Populist" concerns such as cultural ones have been usurped of their supremacy by valence issues such as fears about the economic crisis. Voters are apparently less bothered about immigration and are instead more worried about how the Euro crisis will affect the Netherlands.
But surely the two are intertwined?
Should we separate discussions about burgeoning populations and net immigration, or should they both be regarded under the same microscope? Is this not the safest way to tackle the tricky subject of immigration?
My tendency is to suggest the latter - certainly from a national point of view, though this is certainly not the vantage point of the Socialism-steered European Commission who wish to trample renewed calls for sovereignty in the light of ongoing economic crisis and iron out any disjuncture between once allied member states. After all it is important for the very continuation of the EU for solidarity to supercede national interests - and how better to achieve this than create a single federal entity, both engineered and corroborated by the free movement of people?
The question now is what route the UK Government will take in light of these recent statistics.
Are we willing to burden share if economic migrants from, say, Greece, wish to come to the UK to seek employment or benefit from our social welfare system?
Since 1997 three quarters of employment created in the UK has been taken by immigrants.
The latest poll by YouGov shows that 70% of people want immigration reduced down to the level of emigration, effectively creating a one-in-one-out system of entry, surely reflecting an economic concern over and above a cultural one?
Are we even permitted to talk about the cultural ramifications of immigration? Is there a valid argument to be made?
It's a subject not often tackled here in the UK. Britishness has become almost such an abhorrent term that, other than during the Jubilee, it is by and lrge frowned upon (by nameless, faceless people) to raise the Union Jack outside your home as a perceived act of nationalistic hostility. (Who are these people that supposely think this, anyway? I've never met one, yet we are all aware of the connotations raising the British standard apparently engenders)
What level of insanity have we reached when flying our country's flag is perceived as racist?
In the UK we are not having the conversation in the open. Instead a perceived rot forcing us to shun patriotism is pervading common sense, meaning real discussion about immgiration is only taking place in sitting rooms and quiet corners of pubs, or by minority groups of society whom we would rather not voice their opinions at all.
Is that because the conversation is wrong in its very purpose?
It's actually because we are a very welcoming society and so concerned to appear as such that, in a typical British fashion, to be seen to openly complain is, well, tasteless. Only a tiny, insidious little percentage of a percentage actually hold the sort of views that we fear we may be perceived as having if we open up this particular dialogue.
When left unspoken however, the argument is up for grabs by whichever niche section of society wishes to adopt it. Sadly it has become an issue in the UK far too readily associated with the BNP. They then have the power to attract support by laying claim to concerns that are not being addressed by Government.
This very dialogue has been tackled head on, for better or for worse, by the peroxide-topped infamous figure of Geert Wilders and the PVV party in the Netherlands, to a rather astonishing level of success given the party's size all but five years ago and its present sway in Parliament today.
Now there are gaping differences between what the PVV stand for and what many British people stand for, however there is one aspect of uniformity. A shared desire to actually bring this debate to the fore.
There is growing unrest both over there and over here surrounding what can be done in support of the preservation of one's perceived country, its peoples and its ideals.
History has taught us that when such issues are ignored, they are more likely to become inflamed and then become very difficult for the middle ground to reclaim.
I vouch for an open debate on this matter, where British people are not afraid to show their true colours.
And you know what? I think we would all be quite proud of how open we are as a people, and not only 'tolerant' but actively welcoming and celebratory of our multicultural present.
Yet it is exactly this temperament that is at stake if we cannot talk about immigration sensibly.