A Shameful Summer for Europe

Photograph: Philippe Huguen
Photograph: Philippe Huguen

It is difficult to look at Europe and its Member States and feel proud of their accomplishments and actions in the last six months. From the continuous migration crisis getting his coverage since April, to the ultra-nationalist national political campaigns (in Britain, Denmark, Poland), to the Greek fiasco, and now to the Franco-British clash over migrants held in a camp in Calais, European affairs have taken a turn for the worst. All these issues/crises share one factor in common: the inability by Europeans to control their present and shape their futures.

Migration – All the Roads Do not Lead to London

The question of migration is more than a European problem, it is a global tragedy. Reports, from newspapers, think tanks, NGOs, and other international agencies, all identify the current migrants as political, economic and environmental refugees.Faces of defiance and a despairing message as migrants prepare for the French onslaught on the Jungle These migrants are in fact for most of them coming from countries destroyed by war (Syria, Libya, Sudan, Afghanistan), by terrorism and political repression (Eritrea, Yemen, Somalia) and so forth. These migrants are traveling thousand of miles through the toughest conditions imaginable all in direction of one of the richest and most stable region in the world, Europe. As previously reported (read here and here), the routes to Europe are by the Central Mediterranean region in direction of Italy, or by the short distance between Turkey and Greece (more Eastern route). Once in Italy, the migrants just go North in direction of France, Germany and some Scandinavian countries. In Greece, migrants go North through Macedonia and then West in direction of France and Germany (see the map below)._82353692_key_migration_routes_624

Once on the European continent, these are the different routes and final destinations of most migrants as illustrated by a map produced by Europol:

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This massive migration wave is highlighting two problems: a human tragedy for all these migrants (the episode of Lampedusa and so forth illustrate the dangers of such journey); and a political tragedy of European inabilities to deal with this crisis seriously. Instead of developing a serious set of policies in order to adjust their national laws, the tensions have increased among neighboring Member States. For example, France and Italy had a rift over several hundred migrants being stuck in the border-town of Vintimille, and between France and the United Kingdom over what captphoto_1253605518858-1-0is described by London of an invasion of migrants located at the infamous so-called ‘Jungle’ camp near Calais. This camp is counting between 3,000 and 5,000 individuals (as a comparison, Turkey and Lebanon are dealing with camps from 1 to 2 millions refugees, so it is difficult to believe that one of the richest country in the world, France, cannot manage a camp of roughly 5,000 refugees). American and European media have covered in recent days a little more the camp, even though this precarious camp has existed for years and was preceded by the camp of Sangatte. Interestingly enough, all migrants in the Calais’ camp are not all trying to get to Britain. Some of them are trying to remain in France.

National Rhetorics and the Fear of the Other

The problem of migration – legal and illegal – is a central one for anyone wanting to understand the current political debates at the national and European levels. Even legal migration between the 28 EU Member States is a cause of domestic tension even though such sort of migration is directly connected to the freedom of movement, one of the four freedoms guaranteed by the common market.  So in the case of illegal migration, it is not difficult to imagine the tone of the debate.

Domestically, the radical parties (especially the extreme right) have risen above their former status of opposition parties, to becoming a shaping-force of the national debate. In the case of France, the Front National (currently facing internal family-feud) is now considered as one of the top french parties, with the Socialist Party and the newly-renamed right wing party, Les Républicains. The Front National (FN) has made its name by blaming all France’s troubles and decline on Europe, globalization and the immigrants. In the United Kingdom, the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), led by Nigel Farrage, was as well an important actor framing Britain’s crises because of Europe and immigrants. His sudden rise, despite some disappointing results in the May elections, has forced Cameron’s government to talk tougher. Ensuing the June elections in Denmark, the anti-EU and anti-immigrant party, Danish People’s Party (DPP), has risen to the second rank of national parties. And these radical parties have only been identified because of the recent elections in each country. But other EU Member States, like the Netherlands, Hungary, Poland, Austria, Italy, Greece, and so forth, are as well dealing with a powerful extreme right political force changing the tone of the debate.

Now, two questions remain to be answered: First, to what extent are these extremist parties throughout Europe influencing the debate on migration? Second, are mainstream right wing parties eventually showing their true colors? For instance, the recent rhetoric emanating from London are quite worrisome. Prime Minister Cameron has had some24A20A8C00000578-0-image-a-20_1421106386798 tough words about these migrants ‘invading’ Britain. In July, PM Cameron compared the migrants stuck in Calais as a “swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean” and has been advocating for stricter immigration rules in Britain. Weeks later, British foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, made comments aligned with his leadership about the current migration crisis and claimed that Europe “can’t protect itself.” He continued saying that “The gap in standards of living between Europe and Africa means there will always be millions of Africans with the economic motivation to try to get to Europe.” In France, under President Sarkozy, the tone towards immigrants was very negative and aggressive. Sarkozy and his Minister of Interior, Brice Hortefeux, stole some of the narratives from the Front National either for political gain or by sympathy for such belief. For instance, in June 2010, Brice Hortefeux was fined for making racist comments towards a man of North Africa origins.

It is time that center-right parties finally opposed once and for all the xenophobic and anti-EU narratives advanced by extreme-right parties. If their electorates increase it is not because Europeans are becoming more racist or anti-EU, but that they are tired of a visionless, leaderless, and scared political class. All these radical national parties in Europe share this commonality of stating clearly what they think, even though it is not true (like linking terrorism to immigration; or opposing globalization and returning to a protectionist economy). In addition, the current socio-economic climate in Europe is propice to such rise as the center-right and left parties have been unable to real make the required changes in order to launch the economic engine.

Creative Thinking for a Complex Challenge

The fear of the immigrants has always existed and Europe is not the only continent to face such problem. The current political debate in the United States about securing the southern border with Mexico and the legalization of long-term immigrants will play an important role in the 2016 Presidential election. In the case of Europe, the flow of migrants continues to grow every year and require some serious discussion, reflection and policy change at the European level.

Credit: The New York Times
Credit: The New York Times

Europe is facing serious crises requiring long-term thinking and necessitating cooperation and solidarity. In trying to ‘control’ the influx of immigrants seeking refuge in Europe, the 28 Member States will have to agree at the EU level on a ‘real’ set of measures such as quotas per countries (all the MS) based on a 10 year plan, an increase in common border control, national and european reforms of the current laws on asylum, and eventually more international operations in order to stabilize the political situations in countries of origins.

These measures can only be agreed on if the national leaders are serious in finding long-term solution and are ready to defend such plan before their electorate. On the one side, European leaders have become visionless administrators enslaved by polling numbers and reelections. On the other, Europeans have to realize that solidarity will be necessary even in these dire economic times. There are not that many options and the influx will continue. The Europeans still have the time to open their doors to these migrants with cohesive European policies and real structures to integrate them in the different societies. Integration of these migrants is possible and necessary. Rejecting them will only widen the gap and push European cohesion to its limits.

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

Since January 2011, Marine Le Pen, who became the President of the Front National (also called FN), France’s far-right party, has been tediously working on changing the image of the party from its anti-immigration status to a respectable one. Her strategy has been to be more proactive on offering an alternative to mainstream parties, the UMP of Sarkozy and the Socialist Party, by tackling political, social and economical issues from a populist/nationalist approach. Ms. Le Pen has received intense media coverage since February, invited on many French TV shows, making the front page of mainstream French news magazines (such as Le Point, le Nouvel Obs) and articles in the international press (like the New York Times Magazine, and ranked as one of the most influential politicians in the Time). Ms. Le Pen has also been careful in removing the anti-immigration argument from the FN’s main narrative, making the party’s ideas more respectable and ultimately electable for the next presidential elections. Until her father, the Honorific President of the FN, commented on the terrorist attacks in Oslo couple weeks ago by claiming that the attack materialized the naivety of the Norwegian government. During his usual weekly comments on current events on the Front National’s website, he claimed that (see the video in French) (http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xk7t1p_le-journal-de-bord-de-jean-marie-le-pen-n-239_news#from=embediframe):

“the situation is grave not because of this ‘accident’ by an individual […]. But what seems more dramatic in this case is the naivety and inaction of the Norwegian government. […] The responsibility comes from the Norwegian government and society, which have fallen asleep in a comfort, provided by the hydro-carburant […] and did not take any measures against the global threat represented by mass-immigration, which seems to be the main cause in the mind of this ‘irrational’ murder.”

The respectable dimension of the party never clearly existed under the long-term presidency of Jean-Marie Le Pen, who created the Front National back in December 1972. His political life started in 1956 as Deputy of the Seine. He always received strong support in the South-East of France, a region with a large North African community, and was elected on several occasions at the European Parliament. His political apogee occurred in April 2002, when he made it to the second round of the Presidential elections with 16.86% of the votes. Mr. Chirac then defeated him in the second round by receiving 82.06% of the votes. Since January 2011, Mr. Le Pen enjoys an Honorific status within the party.

Mr. Charles Grant of the Center for European Reform wrote one of the best pieces on the true colors and values of the Front National under Marine Le Pen untitled, Marine Le Pen and the Rise of Populism. His article rightfully describes the true colors of the FN under its new president, Marine Le Pen. Here is his argument:

  • Ms. Le Pen presents her party as a nationalist, populist force
  • Strong anti-Europe message: if elected she would remove France from the Union and reinstitute the old currency, the Franc. The Franc would offer more independence and autonomy to the government in order to be more competitive as opposed to the Euro.
  • Implementation of protectionism in order to protect France’s industries
  • Removal from NATO’s structures

Let’s face it, this political platform is not attractive. France without the European Union and NATO would not last 10 years in this current international system. France has considerably grown under the military and economic umbrellas provided by the EU and NATO, ultimately allowing the country to maintain its status of middle-size superpower. France’s economy alone is not competitive enough to face the emergence of China and India or even its closest neighbor, Germany. Militarily speaking, the case of Libya undeniably proves that France cannot match its words with actions. The expectation-reality gap has become well too wide. France and the UK cannot sustain their military adventure in Libya without the support of NATO. The vision among the French political elite, even the non-conservatives, is that France is still a superpower with a vision, a strategy and a relevant voice on the international stage as illustrated by its seat at the UN Security Council, its leading of the IMF, and its EU, NATO, G8/G-20 memberships. Unfortunately, France holds these prestigious positions mostly thanks to its past and heritage rather than its present achievements. The FN tends to have a romantic, idealist vision of France blurring any rational thoughts.

In conclusion, democratic presidential races are always a very rocky ride. A year in advance, no one can predict seeing Ms. Le Pen or any other candidate making it through the first round. The 2002 elections are a perfect reminder of this argument, as former Socialist hopeful Mr. Jospin was supposed to face Mr. Chirac in the second round. History proved us otherwise. The French public opinion is not yet entirely focused on the message of each candidate and the elections in general. Only the strategic and drama-free candidates usually make it to the end. The French media have jumped to early on the wagon of change promised by Ms. Le Pen. The truth is that the first round of the French presidential elections is set for April 22, 2012, not September 2011. Furthermore, the Front National’s motivation and vision have not changed; the FN has just received a facial make-over. Jean-Marie Le Pen is here to remind us of the true colors of this party: fascism.