The Unacceptable European Policies and Narratives towards Migrants

Sources: The New York Times and Associated Press
Sources: The New York Times and Associated Press

Too much has been said in dehumanizing the refugees coming to Europe in the name of simplification and nationalism (read here a previous analysis on the issue). The 71 refugees recently found dead in a truck in Austria is another horrific example of the tragedy taking place on European ground. Ensuing the discovery of the 71 corpses in the truck in Austria, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, made a powerful, and yet short, statement about the migration crisis in Europe. “This is a human tragedy” he declared “that requires a determined collective political response. It is a crisis of solidarity, not a crisis of numbers.”

It seems that the Austrian case has motivated Germany, France and the United Kingdom in seeking for a European solution. A call for action from Berlin, London and Paris is important as they are the most powerful capitals in the EU and usually action occurs once the three of them have set the motion on. However, on the question of migration, they have diverging reasons: Germany is the largest receiver of asylum seekers and seriously needs assistance from its European partners; the United Kingdom is rethinking its European membership and Cameron appears to be in favor of maintaining the UK within the EU, so he cannot move to far right; France receives a large amount a refugees and is dealing with rising cases of terrorist attacks. For the three of them action will always look better from a domestic standpoint. Ultimately on September 14th, the EU ministers of interior will be meeting at an emergency summit.

Even though the three EU powerhouses have agreed on seeking for a common approach, other EU Member States have adopted anti-migrants measures that go against the normative and ethical standards established, agreed and promoted by the European Union.

Anti-European Measures?

With increasing numbers of migrants coming from the Middle East, North Africa, and Africa, several EU Member States have implemented radical measures in dealing with the large movement of migrants (read previous analyses here and here on the issue). Interestingly enough, these Member States are not receivers of migrants, but are transit countries on the way to the final destinations of Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Sweden. The measures implemented by Bulgaria, Hungary, France, and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (an EU candidate country) are troublesome.

Source: Europol & BBC
Source: Europol & BBC

Bulgaria, one of the most recent EU Member States, is a transit country for most migrants coming from Turkey. Bulgaria deployed troops, which included tanks, to its border with Turkey and Macedonia. Such political move has raised some serious criticism from human rights groups. The Bulgarian Ministry of Defense argued that it was simply a “preventive” operation. A military solution to a human crisis is generally not the most appropriate option. Bulgaria has as well built a 160-km fence along its border with Turkey. And Slovakia only wants Christian refugees.

Hungary has received the most negative coverage and attention for its approach to dealing with the crisis. Hungary’s policies are directly aligned with the government led by Viktor Orbán. His narratives against migrants and even the EU have been quite virulent. “The

Photo: Attila Kisbenedek/AFP/Getty
Photo: Attila Kisbenedek/AFP/Getty

prime minister and many members of his cabinet have made it perfectly clear,” argued Marton Dunai of Reuters “saying things like, we don’t want thousands and thousands rampaging through the country every day.” As Bulgaria, Hungary is a transit state to richer EU countries, as it is “the gateway to Europe’s visa-free Schengen zone.” In order to lower the number of migrants crossing the country, the government has ordered the creation of a razor wire fence along its border with Serbia. This fence is more of a nationalist stunt than a wall blocking migrants in Serbia. Asked on the wall being built by Hungary, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius expressed his anger towards the Hungarian initiative. “I take a very dim view, a very dim view” said Laurent Fabius. “Hungary is part of Europe. Europe has values and these values are not respected by putting up wire fences.” The comments by Laurent Fabius have created a fraught between France and Hungary. Hungarian Foreign Minister, Peter Szijjarto, responded that “Instead of shocking and groundless judgements, one should instead concentrate on finding common solutions for Europe” and has even summoned the French Ambassador to Hungary.

Source: The Economist. 2015
Source: The Economist. 2015

France should as well be listed as a EU Member State not doing enough in the case of the migration crisis. The recent call by the French government for an emergency summit is a positive element, but for too long France has let camps grow in the suburbs of Calais, first with Sangatte and now with the Jungle. The current situation in the Calais camp demonstrates the lack of desire by the French government to deal properly with the 5,000 migrants trying to reach the other side of the English Channel. European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans has announced that France will receive up to five million euros that “will be used to set up a camp that can provide humanitarian assistance to around 15-hundred migrants. The money will also go on transporting asylum seekers to other destinations in France.” France has not done enough in the last decade to create appropriate infrastructures in the region of Calais to accommodate the migrants.

The last case is the recent use of force by the Macedonian authorities. The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is not a EU Member State, but a EU candidate. As Bulgaria, they do not belong to the Schengen agreement and are transit countries. Macedonia is directly on the path to Hungary. In the last two months, Macedonia has recorded over 40,000 migrants crossing its country to either go to Serbia or Hungary. In August 21st, the Macedonia authorities used force against migrants. This event comes at a time wherein the Prime Minister has been facing serious domestic criticism as he is facing allegations of illegal wire-taps, corruption and authoritarianism.

 

Cartoon: Kountouris
Cartoon: Kountouris

Amalgams and Political Games

Extreme-right wing and mainstream parties throughout the Union have oversimplified the migration crisis in the name of short-termism and nationalism. The rise of nationalist parties throughout the EU framing the debate and ultimately fostering fear in the hearts of many Europeans and elected officials are transforming the debate on one of the most important problems facing the Union into an absolute aberration.

The amalgam that has been made, and is starting to hold in the collective memory, that migration translates into an increase of terrorist and criminal acts has to be rejected by the elected officials. The recent tragic event in the Thalys train from Amsterdam to Paris has nothing to do with the current migration crisis. But the link is continuously made and hammered by media and politicians that a belief with no empirical evidences, as most of the specialized literature on terrorism rejects, is being transformed into a fact. Elected officials, politicians in Europe and in the US are constantly reminding the audience of such belief.

Across the pond, the leading candidate for the Republican nomination, Donald Trump,

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images
Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

has completely shifted the debate on immigration from a social problem into a security problem using similar strategy. In the brilliant piece published in the New Yorker, Evan Osnos quotes Trump’s 1987 memoir, wherein he wrote “I [Donald Trump] play to people’s fantasies. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration – and a very effective form of promotion.” The words and narratives made by politicians like Donald Trump, Marine LePen, Nicolas Sarkozy, Vicktor Orbán, David Cameron, Geert Wilders are a constant reminder of the danger of radicalizing a debate as contentious as immigration. The case of Thalys, perpetuated by a Moroccan citizen Ayoub el Khazzani, clearly a terrorist act, has no connection with Syrian refugees fleeing a warzone between dictator Bashar Al-Assad, ISIS, and a multitude of factions.

“This may not matter to the National Front’s core electorate,” wrote top French expert François Heisbourg in an op-ed published in the Financial Times “but it does mean that mainstream policy has largely conceded defeat when it comes to values. Europe is better than this; so is France. Europe’s leaders need to live up to our responsibilities as humans and as neighbours, assume part of the burden, and talk straight to the electorate. Continued European and French fecklessness will only improve the far-right’s prospects of success, and deepen what is already an unprecedented crisis.”

Juncker called in a recent op-ed for “collective courage,” rather than solidarity. Now is the time to do so. The migrant crisis has underlined a paradox between national asylum policies and the schengen agreement of open borders. This crisis, like the Euro crisis, demonstrates the challenges that the EU and its Member States are facing in balancing out national priorities (protection of national sovereignty like fiscal policies, defense and immigration) and the deepening of the integration process. One of the recent tensions between the Member States and the EU has been about the Schengen Agreement. If conservative parties want to reintroduce border control, either to stop migrants or terrorists, the Commission refuses to touch at the border-free agreement calling it one of the greatest European accomplishment.

The migration crisis is highlighting another paradox in the European integration process between European and national interests. The tensions between the Member States and Brussels cannot continue any longer. Letting migrants die and be mistreated on European ground is an unacceptable reality.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).
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Does the World Hate Russia?

Photo: Kremlin.ru [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Kremlin.ru [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

A large segment of the academic literature reflects on the power of attraction, known as well as soft power, of the European Union and the United States. But what about Russia? and Putin? What are the global perceptions of Putin’s Russia since the turn of the century? In a recent survey produced by the Pew Research Center, most of the world – aside from China, India, Ghana and Vietnam – has a largely unfavorable opinions of Russia and Putin (see below).

Russia-Image-World Opinion

The concept of soft power is a very theoretical concept famously developed by Joseph Nye in his book ‘Soft Power: The Mean to Succeed in World Politics’ (1998). His argument is directly connected with the earlier work produced by Antonio Gramsci. But Nye was able to take the core of Gramsci’s argument and bring it at the global level in order to talk about foreign policy. Gramsci was mostly concerned about domestic Italian politics and non-change in the 30s. When talking about opinions and perceptions, the concept of soft power is certainly directly connected as it does influence state’s foreign policy. But let’s take a look at the way the transatlantic community see and perceive Russia and Putin.

Transatlantic Perceptions of Russia and Putin

The US-Russian perceptions are very much aligned with change of leadership in the US (from Bush to Obama), policy change (failed 2009 reset policy and the pivot), and the regional crises (Ukraine, Syria) and domestic narratives controlled by Putin. The graph below claims that the opinions have worsened on both sides of the Altantic. The last two years of the Bush administration were a period little more stable between the two superpowers despite the 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia. With the election of President Obama and his tentative to soften and deepen the relationship with Russia, the opinions of one another become more favorable in Russia (+13 point of %) than in the US (+6 point of %) though. From 2010 to the invasion of Crimea, the options were pretty stable. The lowest point was in 2014 with the annexation of Crimea and the beginning of the war in Eastern Ukraine.

Russia-Image-US-Russia

Considering the European views and opinions of Russia, the Pew did not produce a graph, but included a set of numbers at the end of the survey. The transatlantic opinion is very homogenous since 2007 (since chart below). Not surprisingly France and the United Kingdom have had the most favorable opinion of Russia, and Poland the lowest in recent years. The US is in the mix of the transatlantic opinion. However, it would have been interesting to see how the Baltic and Nordic EU Member States (Finland, Sweden, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Denmark) and Eastern EU Member States (Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Austria) perceive Russia over the years. The survey failed in providing the data for these states.

Source: Pew Research Center. 2015. p.11
Source: Pew Research Center. 2015. p.11 / Data compiled by Politipond

Vladimir Putin, Global Villain?

A big part of the negative views of Russia in the US and Western Europe is directly connected to the person of Vladimir Putin. The press, academia, and think tank communities (here are some excellent works and examples such as book by Fiona Hill, and a book review of Karen Dawisha’s manuscript) have created some type of admiration/incomprehension around the person of Vladimir Putin. There is a certain fascination about Putin in the US and Western Europe as Vladimir Putin has been framed as either an irrational actor, or a master of realpolitik (read here and here previous analyses). In any case, the US and Americans have never had the highest degree of confidence in Putin.

Even though the impacts of Russian influences on the 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine and 2008 war in Georgia were not major, as demonstrated by the data below, in affecting the confidence in Putin, the turning point was the incursion in Crimea and ultimately its annexation. Then with the lingering war in Eastern Ukraine, and even the ‘accidental’ targeting of the civilian Malaysian flight last summer, they have contributed in lowering the confidence and trust in Vladimir Putin. In some ways, the low degree confidence has been materialized in the isolation of Vladimir Putin, whom has been absent (or more accurately kick out of the G-8) of the recent G-7 meeting. In addition, Putin has not demonstrated being serious in trying to solve the Ukrainian crisis, as he was never committed to make the Minsk Protocol II work.

Russia-Image-Putin & US

All these graphs and data provided by the Pew highlight one common trend, most of the world share a common negative perceptions of Russia and his president. In the 21st century, it is quite rare to find such unanimous position on an issue. More seriously these data demonstrate that Putin’s Russia is not concerned about global perceptions. Putin has a vision for Russia and has demonstrated that he can not only remain in power (which he has done since 2000), control the domestic narrative (through playing the nationalist card and  limiting the freedom of press and civil society), and advance Russian interests where and when required.

European and American sanctions are certainly hurting the Russian economy, already weakened by the historically low prices of hydrocarbons, but Putin has been tactical in choosing which issues are important to fight for. For instance Ukraine is, but Iran was not so much as Putin, with his Chinese counterpart, agreed on the Vienna agreement in July. Putin will continue to fascinate and certainly won’t stop in leading Russia where he desires, with or without the approval of global opinions.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).