The Economist - 05 January 2008

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Contracts are drawn up beforehand, travel is part-funded by the EU , everything is above board, and so far every migrant has gone back as agreed. As a result, 10, Moroccan workers did not have to run the risk of taking a patera across the Strait of Gibraltar. They were able to send remittances home but put no strain on Spain's public services. Mr Frattini wants to launch another pilot programme in his native Italy, where southern farmers might recruit workers from Egypt or Tunisia. Moldova and Ukraine want to get involved in similar schemes.

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If the projects work one in Corsica was less successful , Mr Frattini would like to scale them up, with member countries eventually setting import quotas for foreign labour. The EU is planning to establish job centres in north Africa, beginning with one in Mali, to offer a legal route to jobs in Europe, and also provide some language training.

But this part of what Mr Frattini and others call circular migration has been tried before and seems unlikely to bring the hoped-for benefits. Germany's Gastarbeiter scheme began in , drawing workers first from southern Europe and north Africa and then Turkey. Something similar was done in France and the Netherlands, mostly with workers from north Africa. America imported Mexican farm labourers under its Bracero programme.

The trouble is that such a dirigiste design is not well suited to today's liberal democracies and their flexible labour markets. And unless schemes are tightly regulated and the exit of workers is enforced by law, everybody has an interest in keeping the supposedly termporary workers in place. Employers would much prefer not to have to train new people every six months, and workers want to keep their jobs or move on to better ones. Many of the guest workers who arrived in northern Europe from Turkey and north Africa in the s and s never left, and eventually brought their families to live with them too.

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The old joke that there is nothing so permanent as a temporary migrant has more than a grain of truth in it. It might be possible to create financial incentives for migrants to leave at the end of their contract period.

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Co-operation between the governments of the host and the sending countries would be essential, says Mr Frattini. And migrants could be policed more tightly with the aid of new technology: ID cards, databases with biometric details, systems like E -verify in America that allow employers to check whether workers are authorised to be in the country. Proponents of circular migration admit that it would entail a loss of privacy. The biggest problem, though, is that people who expect to be packed off home after six months will be seen as second-class residents, and will have less incentive to integrate with their hosts.

Why learn the language or adopt local habits and values for just a few months? Locals, for their part, are likely to view temporary labourers with the same sort of hostility as longer-term immigrants. When migration is made legal and easy, many migrants choose to go home after a year or two. This is already a well-established habit in rich countries. Growing numbers of wealthy Germans, Britons or Nordics spend parts of the year somewhere sunny and then go home again. Perhaps more of this sort of movement could be encouraged, with rich countries offering workers multi-entry visas valid for several years at a time.

Yet any sort of circular migration brings challenges of integration. Faster movements of people, combined with technology—cable television piping entertainment from the sending country, cheap phone and video calls back home—slow the rate at which migrants adopt their host country's language, values and identity. In the past a third-generation migrant, for example in America, would have been expected to have shed much of his grandparents' identity.

Academics reckoned that a second-generation migrant would be fluent in his host country's language but would use his mother tongue at home. By the third generation descendents of migrants had usually swapped to English alone. Have they? Bagehot: Kindergarten cabinet. Banks and bonuses: Ker-ching.

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Reforming the police: Boys in blue head into the red. Medical care: Paying a deadly price. The markets: Flashing red. Above the fold.

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