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As I promised yesterday, I am adding my English version of my criticism of a Dutch article from yesterday here. The original of the article,

 Immigratie steeds meer uit Oost- en Zuid-Europa

or “Immigration grows again from East- and South-Europe”, published by NRC Handelsblad on 8th March, can only be accessed digitally by registered users of the NRC Handelsblad. Sorry about that.

The bending of statistics

We already know that demagogy knows no borders. Communism spread from Germans in London on to Russians, Cubans, Indians and North-Koreans, Nazism spread from Germany through Italy and Austria to Finland and Japan. It’s well-known that statistics are an important and good way of describing the world, but also that, in the wrong hands, it can lead to demagogy. I am quite used to it in Hungary, but it surprised me here in the Netherlands the other day.

I always thought NRC a high-quality newspaper, until now. This opinion changed when I read their article of 8th March about immigration. In this article, they distort statistics, not very seriously, but enough so that people do not give it a second thought. If someone seriously distorts the truth, people may also react strongly and fast and think that a refusal is necessary. But a little clouding over easily remains unobserved. Easily creeps into the mind as the truth. And I find that dangerous.

NRC Handelsblad

NRC Handelsblad (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What do the writers state? First of all, it is not clear from the article if they use the statistical figures they quote on yearly basis, or as the sum total of immigrants. In most cases it can be said that it is not likely that a country with 17 million inhabitants receives close to 600 thousand people from the EU each year (the population of the Netherlands is still growing, but not that much), but who knows, it may be possible in the case of Bulgarians, whose numbers grew from 6 thousand in 2007 to 18 thousand in 2012. The article does not say at all that that means the whole number of Bulgarians that live in the country. But the article starts by saying that “Most migrants (!?) who come to the Netherlands, … from within the European Union.” (!? is my addition, because I also find it conspicuous that immigrants are usually called migrants in the article, as if they were just shifting like nomads; and the word, in the headline of the attached chart, can be understood as people migrating from the EU, to other countries, that is.) So is it first about the number of migrants who are coming at the moment (in Dutch, the normal present tense is used for general, momentary and even future meaning, so ‘komen’ allows for all interpretations)? Afterwards, the article only uses full data sums of people living here. It becomes thus shifty. Why? Because otherwise, people could clearly see that there are only 18.000 Bulgarians in their country of 17 million, which only means 0.1% of the whole population. People could simply ask, “What’s the problem?”

European Union

European Union (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The second problem with this piece is that it is highly unclear what they mean by East- and Middle-Europe. Added to this, this dubious idea is washed together with East- and South-Europe, which shouts out of the headline as if it were an entity. Completely wrong. What is this article actually about? But it seems to be alright for the masses of Dutch, they should not worry about such small matters, and that is good enough for the editors.

Furthermore, from the chart it seems that about 580 thousand people live in the Netherlands from the EU (and the number is rising). Here, South-, and East- and Middle-Europe are separated. But where do Bulgarians, or Rumanians belong? Alright, it does not matter. According to the text, “the number of migrants from the previously communist (my problem: all those countries were ‘socialist’, not ‘communist’ – we knew our definitions better) EU-countries has risen … to 237 thousand,” and that seems represented in the chart by the ‘Middle- and East-Europe‘ line. Besides that problem of where Bulgaria and Romania belong (politically perhaps East, geographically South!), we have the problem of who are most of the immigrants.

EU and candidates

EU and candidates (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From the text, we have the following, “Most migrants from inside the EU come from Poland.” Same problem as above: do they mean ‘are coming’? This is important because we get only the percentage of Polish people. What does their 28% really mean (if it means 28% of those now coming, then we have a problem of who constitute the 237 thousand)? If it means the percentage of all present inhabitants from the EU, then it gives 165 thousand Poles who live in the Netherlands. Whether only short-term, or long-term, it does not seem to matter. Well, from the chart we see that the number of EU citizens living here from the EU is 580 thousand. Out of this number, and from the number of Bulgarians and Romanians (only 18.000 and 14.000 respectively) at fourth and fifth place, we can find that the group of Germans and Belgians at second and third place should be really large, but the article does not say anything. Otherwise, however, where do men between 200 thousand (all Poles, Romanians and Bulgarians) and the full 580 thousand from the EU come from? Each other country can send only fewer than 14.000 people, the number of Romanians at fifth place. We can thus only guess that there are also relatively many English (who come to do translation or language teaching), Spanish, Greeks, perhaps also Portuguese and Italians living here. There can’t be many from other countries, so we can guess that there are about 50 thousand from those five countries. Add a number of thousand Hungarians, Czechs and Slovaks. After that, it is not likely that many people emigrate from dynamic and very small countries like Estonia, Slovenia, Cyprus or Malta, and French and Nordic people also do not do so. This leads me to deduce that we still miss about 300 thousand to make up the 580 thousand. That number can only belong to the Germans and Belgians, who account for the second and third largest group, although not given in numbers.

What does this mean? It means that more Germans and Belgians together live here than those from all other countries of the EU. However, this is not a problem at all in the article. It tells us nothing about the 300 thousand. Also no word about South-Europeans. Only in the headline, further nothing. It tells us only about the 0.1% Bulgarians and Romanians, and of course the Polish people.

Why is it a problem, according to the article? Because “last year there were a good 4 (four!) thousand EU people receiving social security provisions, and that number … is rising.” That is 0.068% of all ‘migrants’. It says nothing about the 17 million (my addition, based on the opinion of friends and facts: for example about the thousands and thousands of Dutch who rarely worked in their lives and receive regular social security support). So what a problem that that number of 4 thousand is rising! Where is it going to lead? “We still don’t know exactly how much of those don’t have a right to those provisions,” they admit, but we should think that a few hundred more illegal receivers of social support will cause a really big problem.

5886859183_6b31c87b95_mSo, “There is fear of a social security migration.” Indeed. According to the newspaper, there is no such problem with the two and a half million people from countries outside the EU, or the 300 thousand Germans and Belgians, only with those 4 thousand on social support. Or with the 165 thousand Polish people, most of whom, by the way, are provisional guest workers and busy working hard in industry. Or with the Rumanians and Bulgarians, who may be more professionally able to work in industry or in language education than some Dutch, but may not get work on account of never being able to speak the language well enough. That is a problem, but not in the article. East- and Middle-Europe is complaining of ‘brain drain’, but at the moment, thousands of people with high levels of education from there have to work as cleaning personnel, postmen, or storage personnel. About which the Dutch do not know. That is a problem. Yet, the writer-editors, and as they say, some ministers do as if the country should quickly stop the influx of East-Europeans.

I think that if that is the message, Western Europe had not thought over the effects of widening the community well enough. And then the Netherlands could shut down their borders in front of all immigrants. Just like some professions are shut down by law.

But then, to lay all fault on the shoulders of “East-Europeans” is demagogy from the cold war.

by P.S.

Only after I added the links below did I realize that such a problem and debate is raging in the UK as well now. My readers are kindly asked to contribute their opinion about it all below in the ‘Reply’ space. Thank you.