AMSTERDAM, Aug. 21, 2015 – Illegal immigrants, not “Grexit,” are threatening the European Union.
The very foundation of the European Union is not undermined nor is it pushed off a cliff by the corrosion of Greek democracy at the hands of its international creditors.
Only in radical circles do such concerns gain currency.
What truly matters for the everyday European and what is really at the crux of the Union’s slow unraveling as a feasible political project is the massive influx of illegal immigrants and asylum-seekers. As Britain’s David Cameron put it, the “swarm” of downtrodden individuals seeking refuge in Europe is threatening the fundamental nature of the EU: cohesion and freedom of movement across borders.
Recently there has been widespread animosity between England and France in regard to immigrants attempting to use the Calais-Dover ‘Chunnel’ as a means to enter the United Kingdom. On Thursday, Macedonia, an aspiring EU member, declared a state of emergency to stem the tide of migrants crossing its borders on their way to Central and Northern Europe. Police tear-gassed migrants, as the country’s army sealed the border with Greece.
But that has proven to be just the tip of the iceberg.
The EU’s internal political landscape is warping, and relationships are becoming more volatile with each fresh report of immigrant movement.
The most worrisome development is the sizable increase in support for right-wing, anti-immigration parties and their policies, in a direct parallel to the number of immigrants entering Europe. Greece’s Golden Dawn, France’s National Front, the UK’s UKIP and most recently, Sweden’s Sweden Democrats (which in late August 2015 became the country’s biggest party) have all garnered unusual support following the influx of illegal immigrants and asylum seekers.
These parties have gained traction following social unrest; they cite restricting immigration as their most important policy.
There is endless discussion that can be held about the distinction between immigrant; illegal immigrant; migrant; asylum seeker or expatriate. However, the commonality between each of these categories revolves around a person or group of people who require aid and infrastructure from a state that is not their own.
Europe is currently cleaning up the human fallout from countries failing to live up to their responsibilities; or nations torn apart by war; yet this is coming at the cost of Europe’s political stability and the domestic peace of individual states.
In recent years the EU has tried to organize immigration into, and within, Europe. The 2009 – 2014 Stockholm Program intended to “build a Europe of “responsibility, solidarity and partnership in migration and asylum” with a “dynamic and comprehensive immigration policy.” The EU then asked member states to rethink their immigration policies in 2013 after 274 migrants died in a shipwreck off the coast of Italian island Lampedusa.
It would seem this program did not envisage the vast numbers of immigrants fleeing cash-strapped or war-torn nations in favor of the supposedly peaceful, cultured countries of Europe. As a result, the immigration policies of individual states is becoming more restrictive, resulting in a chipping away at the close-knit ties between EU nations as countries argue who is to be held responsible for what.
Even more recently, member states accepting asylum-seekers and immigrants (illegal or otherwise) have been subject to violent crimes, ethnic tensions and consequent political extremism. A number of attacks in the previously welcoming nation of Sweden — including a shocking stabbing of two civilians in a Malmo IKEA — has resulted in a significant political swing to the far right, especially once it was revealed that the suspects are of Eritrean descent living in a refugee camp in Vasteras. In August’s YouGov poll, 25.2 percent of respondents said they support the reactionary party Sweden Democrats, making the party the most popular in Sweden.
Sweden Democrat’s somewhat questionable background has taken a back seat; immigration is now at the forefront of national concern, and perhaps rightly so. Thousands of Bulgarian and Romanian beggars are flooding Swedish cities and, in the wake of the attacks in Malmo, some immigrants pose a physical threat to Swedish citizens.
This whiplash reaction of supporting die-hard right-wingers is unlikely to benefit Europe in the long run. While immigration policy may be at the forefront of extreme right-wing parties, solving the immediate problem, other policies are likely to alienate and fail the citizens of member states. Sweden Democrats is also anti-feminist and anti-multiculturalism, and it has a background in the Nordic White Power movement of 1988. Its members are accused of racism and fascism; yet they appear to be the only party willing to deal with immigration in a firm manner.
As Christopher Walker rightly points out in a recent Wall Street Journal piece, Europe has lost its political imagination. The support of right-wing groups is a knee-jerk reaction to a perceived gross exploitation of EU hospitality.
But it’s also a reductionist, bumper sticker understanding of why those individuals are coming to Europe in the first place.
Mobs hurtling down the streets, with their fists in the air, chanting anti-immigration slogans (as Pegida did in Germany) tend to overlook the role EU members had in the destabilization of the Middle East – one needs to look no further than the failed hawkish assumptions that humanitarian interventions, followed by nation-building exercises, are able to democratize every corner of the world. Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Eritrea, DRC, Kosovo — the points of departure for many immigrants — are all countries that show the glaring failures of the optimistic assumption that democracy can be artificially transplanted and imposed. In many ways, the current influx of migrants is nothing more than the poisonous fruits sown by following wrongheaded policies.
But without engaging the millions of John and Jane Does in a constructive dialogue about why it is Europe’s moral responsibility to do something for the “swarm,” expect far right parties to keep drumming up support.