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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Dehumanizing Migrants – European Strategy to Buck-Pass a Serious Crisis?

Source: AFP / Getty Images
Source: AFP / Getty Images

The current influx of migrants in direction of Western Europe exemplifies more than a simple migration crisis (listen here to a fascinating discussion with Ryan Heath of Politico and Leonard Doyle of the IOM). In fact it exposes two crises: a political and a civic. The human tragedy behind the dangerous voyage of these migrants fleeing war, terrorism, violence, economic misery, human right violations and social tensions should move Europeans towards a genuine desire to assist them through newly designed immigration policies (asylum policies and quotas), social inclusion and assistance, and eventually more humanitarian assistance through Commission’s programs and using the CSDP in unstable countries. But instead, Europeans are blaming the others, blaming the European Union, blaming the other Member States. The migration crisis has dropped fuel over an already powerful nationalist fire. Europe is undeniably facing a serious ethical and internal crisis (read previous analyses herehere, here and here).

Interestingly enough, if one remove the emotional dimension in order to analyze the current migratory challenge facing the EU and looks at numbers, the picture become clearer in demonstrating one simple fact: Europeans are not committed in trying to solve this crisis. The numbers tell a very different story and in fact should make Europeans think about the forces limiting the design and implementation of sound policies to at least try to be in the driver seat.

Data – The Case of Syrian Refugees

The graph and two tables located below illustrates the numbers of migrants seeking to reach Europe (the three documents come from a report produced by the International Organization for Migration, access it here).

Migration
Source: IOM

So from 2014 to 2015, the number of migrants loosing their lives in the Mediterranean has increased making it the most dangerous migratory route in the world.

Arrivals
Source: IOM
Origins
Source: IOM

As illustrated above the bulk of the migrants come from Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Somalia. Each of these countries are facing terrible security, economic and political conditions. Afghanistan has been a country at war since the 1979 Soviet invasion (one can argue that violence in Afghanistan goes even further). Nigeria and Somalia are facing serious political and security issues. Both countries host vicious terrorist networks like Boko-Haram (Nigeria) and some factions of Al-Qaeda (in Somalia) terrorizing the population and underlining the inabilities of their governments to protect their citizens. Eritrea is a police state with vicious policies including “forced labor during conscription, arbitrary arrests, detentions, and enforced disappearances.” Last but not least, Syria has been destroyed by war starting right after the Arab Spring in 2011. Since then, the regime of Al-Assad has waged war against the opposition. The war has shifted and saw the rise of new powerful player, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The European Commission wrote in a recent factsheet, that “the Syria conflict has triggered the world’s largest humanitarian crisis since World War II.” Migrants from Syria usually pass by Turkey and Greece in order to enter into Europe, as it is much shorter than using the Central Mediterranean route and arriving in Italy. “The total number of people in need of humanitarian assistance in Syria” writes the Commission “has reached 12.2 million, approximately 7.6 million of whom are internally displaced.” And a total of roughly 4 million Syrians have fled Syria. Out of the 4 million Syrian refugees, 1.8m are located in Turkey (reports demonstrate that the local population have embraced and included the Syrian refugees), 1.1m in Lebanon (a country of 4.4 million inhabitants, so the Syrian refugees represent 25% of the overall population.), 630,000 in Jordan (a population of 6.5 million), and 250,000 in Iraq.

As calculated by the UNHRC, the number of Syrians seeking for security and refugee in Europe has increased by only represent 6% of the overall number of Syrian refugees, or 240,000. Since January 2015, the numbers of Syrian asylum seekers have certainly increased, but solely represent 90,000. The UNHRC shows that 49% of the asylum applications are being shared between Germany and Sweden, second with 29% for Austria, Bulgaria, the Netherlands, Hungary, and 23% for rest of the EU which includes France, the UK, Denmark, Poland and other powerful EU Member States.

Source: UNHRC
Source: UNHRC

These numbers, only looking at Syrian refugees, demonstrate the lack of commitment to either solving the crisis in Syria or assisting Syrians in getting a better life in Europe. It is difficult to believe that the richest economic bloc in the world with a population of 500 million can neither absorb 100,000 refugees on a long period of time, nor provide temporary infrastructures when developing countries like Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan are dealing with 4 million refugees.

European Crises – Politics, Nationalism and Inhumanity

European leaders like British Prime Minister David Cameron, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and other national politicians like Marine Le Pen of the Front National, Nicolas Sarkozy of France (to name a few) share all in common one strategy: dehumanizing the refugees. They all imagesremove the humanity from these refugees in order to appeal to a scared, uneducated and to some degree lazy electorate. The fact that these elected and non-elected officials can receive so much attention and support raises an important problem in European societies. Many experts have been calling for an increase of solidarity among EU Member States, but such solidarity cannot occur if the European citizenry feels no emotional connection with the migrants seeking for a better life in Europe.

If some European institutions, like the European Commission, have advanced some ideas of quotas and asylum policies, and some EU Member States, like Germany and Sweden, have welcome more migrants than other Member States, the rest of Europe seems absent. France and the United Kingdom ought to play a bigger role in advocating for greater solidarity and behaving as role-model (take here a 10 question survey about the migration crisis).

The fraught between London and Paris over the camp in Calais, the so-called Jungle, illustrates the level of the debate. On the one hand, London cannot keep believing that migrants will crash the whole British social welfare programs and the homogeneity of its society. While on the other hand, it is unacceptable for France, one of the richest countries in the world, to have a camp, of broadly 4,000 migrants, with no proper structures and supervision. The French government is saying that the local police forces are being outnumbered. The fact that France cannot put in place immigration centers, dispatch enough policemen and social agents on the ground for a total of 5,000 migrants (on a large estimation) is not because it can’t, but simply because it does not want. France, a highly centralized country, has the military and civilian power and capabilities to assist 5,000 individuals on its territory. The government has already over 10,000 soldiers as part of the large domestic counter-terrorist operation, called Sentinelle, in order to protect public and religious areas from eventual terrorist attacks. It is only a matter of priority for France and the other EU Members. Put in perspective with the current situation of the Syrian refugees in Lebanon representing 25% of its overall population, one could talk of a true crisis if France were dealing with 15m refugees on its territory.

And in the meantime, Italy and Greece are left alone dealing with massive flows of migrants (237,000 combined so far this year). Greece is dealing with a serious economic crisis affecting the basic functioning of its state, and Italy is not in its best economic shape as well. Europeans have only agreed on increasing the funding of its two naval missions off the Coast of Italy and Greece. Greece has become a point of transit, while Italy is trying to do what it can with its resources.

2B32729100000578-3190377-Coming_closer_One_tourist_appears-a-58_1439044784090
Source: Reuters

During an interview of a business leader, as part of a large study on global perceptions of the EU, I asked the interviewee to describe the image representing the visibility of the EU in the US. The response was fascinating as usually interviewees have identified an historical monument or a European leader, but the response was a small boat with migrants in the middle of the Mediterranean. Such response is fascinating in two ways. First, it shows the power of the images published in the US (which could include the many pictures about the situation in Greece). These images of Europe published in mainstream American media in the last six months have only portrayed misery, poverty and devastation. Second, it demonstrates, either the inabilities or unwillingness, of one of the richest group of states in the world to implement policies to solve a humanitarian crisis and assure its own protection. These little boats are starting to seriously affect the credibility and image of Europe.

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

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:

Print

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).

France under the Front National

Credit: Jacques Brinon/Associated Press
Credit: Jacques Brinon/Associated Press

“France would have lost her soul in her eyes and those of the world.” This sentence ends the recent column by Jacques Attali, an influential French economist and policy-advsior. In his recent op-ed titled, Do you really want this kind of France?, Jacques Attali reflects on the surge of the Front National (FN) and what France would look like under its reign.

The extreme-ring wing party Front National finds its roots in the conservatism of the old fascist and colonialist France. In its early years, the FN demonstrated without any shame its admiration for the Vichy government, which collaborated with the Nazis during World War two. Additionally, many of its leading members belonged to the Organization de l’Armée Secrète (OAS), an underground organization composed of former French soldiers opposed to the independence of Algeria in the 1960s. The OAS tried at several occasions to assassinate General de Gaulle and committed a series of terrorist attacks in Algeria and France.

The current honorary President and founder of the FN, Jean-Marie le Pen, has always been sympathetic to such xenophobist, racist and colonialist ideologies. Nevertheless, the FN was never targeting the presidency nor trying to gain power under his leadership. The FN saw itself as an opposition force to the socialist and right political establishment, and did not want to govern. The attraction to power appeared with the 2002 presidential election when Jean-Marie le Pen rose to the second round facing Jacques Chirac. Mr. le Pen ultimately lost the election, but the influence of the FN in shaping political narratives and policies was initiated. As illustrated below the rise of the FN since 1974 has been progressive.

la-force-du-front-national-de-marine-lepen-en-france-e1336213611418

From 2002 to today, the rise has been steady, progressive and meticulous. The architect behind such political consolidation is Mr. le Pen’s daughter, Marine le Pen. Her entire platform rests on shifting the image of the party from an ultra-nationalist party into a conservative and nationalist party. She has worked on making the FN an acceptable voting option and political alternative for a larger segment of French citizens.

France is currently in election mode with the departmental elections. These ongoing local elections – the first round was on Sunday, March 22nd, and the second one on Sunday, March 29th – are supposed to solidify the political weight of the FN. The conclusions of these 2015 department elections are that even tough the FN does not win any department, as hoped, the party nevertheless demonstrates some serious gain. It received 40% of the votes in the 1100 counties still present for the 2nd round. Ensuing the elections, UMP takes 66 departments (currently at 41) and the PS 30 (so loosing 31 departments). The FN does not gain any, but its presence can now be felt all around France.

727524-lib-departementales-deuxieme-tour-resultat-petit-01

Marine le Pen, with her slogan le Rassemblement Bleu Marine, has played the rhetoric of leading the first political party of France ensuing the European elections of May 2014. French citizens gave the majority to the representatives of the FN, followed by the right-wing UMP and then the socialist PS. Since May 2014, the FN has been campaigning on the base of being the first party of France. The FN has used the current political status-quo with a sluggish socialist presidency and a very divided right-wing UMP led by former President Nicolas Sarkozy. The FN appears as the only stable and united political force with a simple agenda. From campaigning to governing, the gap remains to be filled.

Attali Looks at France under the FN

In an intellectual exercise, Jacques Attali draws a picture of France under the FN if elected at the presidency in 2017. His point is that even though it could be a one and done type of mandate, the consequences of the FN policies, politics and laws would be disastrous for France, the EU and the image of France at home and abroad for several decades.

In European politics, the FN would certainly work in removing France for any common European project. It would in some ways look like the Cameron’s mandate seeking for increasing his political leverage in his consent euro-bashing rhetorics. The FN would push for a referendum to leave the common currency, the Euro, and ultimately the EU. The Schengen agreement

Credit: Reuters/Pascal Rossignol
Credit: Reuters/Pascal Rossignol

would certainly see its last hour, killing the free movements of people in Europe. In terms of defense and security policy, France would leave NATO and any cooperative agreements with other European partners and may instead solidify her relationship with Russia.

At home, Attali argues that the core values, principles and norms adopted and incorporated for century in French politics would be erased. In practice, the death penalty would be re-instituted, and human rights and the social contract would deeply suffer. Currently, in some cities of France under FN mayors, associations and other local initiatives have lost funding and are being progressively removed (listen here to an investigation by FranceInter at the life of French citizens in cities under FN control).

Economically, a national currency, most likely the Franc, would be reinforced creating some serious financial and economic trouble in France and in Europe. In terms of religion, aside from Christian heritage, the others will have most likely to adapt or leave. Political rhetorics and narratives will resemble to ones used by Nicolas Sarkozy in order to create a split within the French society based on the modo of us versus them. Us being the good Frenchman, and them the unwanted French. Anything foreign would be rejected in order to protect French uniqueness and culture.

Attali does not foresee a successful mandate for the FN and underlines that the FN would face a choice between dictatorship and repudiation considering the disastrous consequences of its policies. Ultimately, the FN would pick the latter in order to maintain its power and criticize any oppositions as root causes of France’s problems.

FN: A Necessary Evil?

The FN illustrates the real malaise in the French society. The malaise comes from a core aspect in French psyche: exceptionalism. France perceives itself as such because of her history – the birthplace of the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, the Napoleonic Code, the Trente Glorieuses, its nuclear arsenal, among others – and its role in shaping regional and world events as an exceptional nation. France as the United Kingdom and United States share this exceptionalist component in their political belief and system and foreign policy. France understands her role as an important part of world politics and does not perceive anymore being able to shape it.

Such concept of exceptionalism demonstrates a belief in France in shaping events, not being subject to them. Globalization is perceived as a threat to France’s uniqueness and autonomy. Such belief holds no empirical grounds considering the numbers of French firms leading in their respective sectors thanks to globalization, French as one of the most spoken languages in the world and French citizens are present all around the world. The selective-memory/analysis of globalization as a menace to the sovereignty of France is a constructed myth for obvious political reasons.

Credit: BERTRAND GUAY / AFP
Credit: BERTRAND GUAY / AFP

Last but not least, Attali’s analysis falls under a new trend of work, prediction. For instance, the recent book by Michel Houellebecq, Soumission, projecting the reader into a France in 2022 seeing the rise of an Islamic party leading to a progressive islamization of France society, has launched a serious polemic about the societal and political trauma of France in time of crisis. If Houellebecq is a divisive and satirical author, Attali is a respected economist and intellectual. Nevertheless, both work underlines complex societal and national crises. France is a nation in search of an identity and voice in the 21st century.

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

The Comeback of Nicolas Sarkozy – France’s Saviour?

Credit: afp.com/Lionel Bonaventure
Credit: afp.com/Lionel Bonaventure

France is once again at the center of European politics with the recent elections of Nicolas Sarkozy as the new President of the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP), the center-right party. Receiving 64.5% of the votes out of a 58.1% of voting participation of party members, the Sarkozysts believe that he is destined to retake the French Presidency in 2017 and save France from François Hollande. Unfortunately, experts and political advisors were expecting a result around 80% in order to assert his power and uncontested control over the party. Instead the relative good result of Bruno Le Maire, with 29,18%, has overshadowed Sarkozy’s comeback. So, why does the election of Nicolas Sarkozy at the helm of the center-right French party matter for European and French politics?

Before his unsuccessful reelection in 2012, Sarkozy had said that if he lost “nobody will hear of me again.” During his absence from the French political scene, Nicolas Sarkozy was enjoying the life of a highly paid keynote speaker traveling around the world. In parallel, he had continued meeting unofficially with world heads of state and government in order to maintain his broad network. His silence ended in September 2014 when he announced his return to public life in France. Undeniably, Nicolas Sarkozy has only one thing in mind, save France from François Hollande by regaining the French Presidency in 2017. The road to the Presidency goes through the internal control of the UMP party. Since September, he has managed to paint a very dark picture of France by claiming that “it is the crisis in France that can tip Europe into disaster.” Since his election in May 2012, François Hollande, the second Socialist president of the Fifth Republic, has been facing serious challenges that had costed Sarkozy’s reelection in 2012, namely the economic slowdown of France, the eurozone crisis, high French unemployment, divided french society over its immigration policies and family values.

UMP, a troubled party?

After losing the Presidency in May 2012, Nicolas Sarkozy left the UMP in turmoil. For over two years, the party was facing financial, ideational, ideological and leadership problems. A feud between Jean-François Copé, a close Sarkozy ally, and François Fillon, former Prime Minister for Sarkozy, led the party into a dark period of division. Because of shady party elections, François Fillon called for a recall on the results. This led to a real threat of a split within the party from 2012 to 2014. Mr. Copé was the president of the UMP and was already envisioning himself as the next UMP candidate for the 2017 Presidential elections. But his presidential dream was shattered with the emergence of the Bygmalion affair, a funding scandal of the unsuccessful Sarkozy campaign. The solution for solving the turmoil within the party was the appointment of a triumvirat composed of three former Primer Ministers, François Fillon, Alain Juppé et Jean-Pierre Raffarin, that would lead the party from June 2014 to the elections in November.

Two big scandals have shaken the party, the Bygmalion affair and the hidden deficit of the party. The first crisis is the infamous Bygmalion affair, an event organizer for the Sarkozy’s presidential campaign. There were ‘anomalies,’ as underlined by Jerome Lavrilleux, a deputy director of Sarkozy’s presidential campaign. It appears that the UMP ordered fake invoices to Bygmalion in order to cover some of the costs of the Sarkozy campaign. This affair, directly or indirectly, implicates Nicolas Sarkozy claiming ignoring all of it. The second crisis emerged in early July 2014, the UMP announced that it was facing a massive debt of €74.5 millions caused by a loan for the party building (€27,5 millions), the spending for the 2014 Presidential election of Nicolas Sarkozy (€44 millions), and an additional loan (€2,5 millions). Both scandals are directly connected to Nicolas Sarkozy. Now as the President, Nicolas Sarkozy will have to address or simply try to cover these serious problems facing the credibility of the party and ultimately his image as a shady politician.

Additionally, Nicolas Sarkozy will have to work on recreating a clear narrative within the UMP. Today, the French right is as lost as the Republican Party in the US. Both parties

Drawing by Chappatte
Drawing by Chappatte

cannot identify their political and ideological baselines. In France, the party is divided between the center-right embodied by François Fillon and Alain Juppé, and a more extreme-right, promoted by Nicolas Sarkozy and François Copé. In the US, the GOP is spilt between a more reaganian republican party and an extreme neoliberal and libertarian branch. In both country, this ideological division is affecting the line of conduct of the parties and pushing them to the extreme right. In France, Sarkozy and Copé believe that by attracting the voters of the Front National, extreme-right, they will be able to get in power; while in the US, senators like Mitch McConnell (listen here an in-depth look at McConnell’s political life) are trying to attract the libertarians of the Tea Party affecting the historically more center and progressive line of conduct of the party. This radicalization, or even extremization, of the right has created a serious black-hole in shaping the political and economic debate in both countries. In the US, the GOP is more ideologically based than ever before – see its positions on climate change, heath care, women rights, minority rights, economic and fiscal policies -, while in France the UMP is moving towards an anti-everything party – anti-Europe, anti-immigration, anti-reformed family values, etc. -.

Sarkozy, the Solution?

The return of Nicolas Sarkozy at the helm of the center-right wing party two and half year before the 2017 presidential elections is not a good news for France and Europe. Since he has made his comeback at the beginning of the summer, the political narratives within the

Credit : Stéphane de Sakutin / AFP
Credit : Stéphane de Sakutin / AFP

party and outside have been extremely venomous. Being elected President of the Party is one thing, now convincing French citizens to trust him again is another. Both Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande share one commonality: French citizens tend to dislike them equally, but for different reasons. Their public appearances create reticences among French citizens. Sarkozy has not been able to change his image of the ‘bling-bling’ president. Sarkozy and his advisers tend to forget one core dimension, François Hollande was elected in May 2012 because he represented the ‘anti-Sarkozy.’ Nicolas Sarkozy has to change his public image and convince the public opinion. As argued by Dominique Moïsi, a top French expert, “I don’t think Sarkozy will be France’s answer. He still hasn’t realized the extent to which the French rejected him in 2012, and the truth is, while they may be deeply disappointed in François Hollande, they have not changed their mind about him.”

Credit: Sebastien Bozon. AFP
Credit: Sebastien Bozon. AFP

The road to 2017 for Nicolas Sarkozy will be long for two reasons: his dark past as a politicians, and his lack of new ideas. First, as a politician, Nicolas Sarkozy’s political life is far from being pristine. Sarkozy is facing many judiciary inquiries for several cases such as allegations of undeclared cash from Libyan dictator Gaddafi, the L’Oréal affair with heiress Liliane Bettencourt, corruption allegations against the UMP, overspending for his 2014 campaign, and the Lagarde-Tapie scandal. Second, his political ideas do not seem to have changed since loosing power in 2014. On Europe, he is pushing for increasing control of movement of people within the Union. He has yet to advance new economic and social policies in order to explain what he would do differently than during his quinquennat, which was far from being convincing.

The Need for a Political Renouveau

At the European level, Nicolas Sarkozy’ success in his party is not a good news (read here a sum up of the comments by European press on Sarkozy’s comeback). Sarkozy embodies the lack of rejuvenation of the political scene and ultimately political, economic and social ideas. Just within the UMP, the return of Sarkozy at the presidency of the party and Alain Juppé, a center-right politician, as an eventual candidate for the 2017 Presidential elections demonstrate the lack of renouveau. Both men have demonstrated their leadership skills and political thoughts over their years/decades in government. They would eventually face one another during a primary election scheduled in 2016 to determine the UMP candidate for the 2017 presidential race. Neither candidate can foster dreams of a better future. They are just embodying the continuity of the political status-quo.

What else is to expect? So for an EU in search of a renouveau and new wind (remember Pope Francis’ speech before the European Parliament comparing the EU to “a ‘grandmother,’ no longer fertile and vibrant”), it cannot afford of having the same political leaders perpetually coming back and not leaving the place to a younger group. Such domestic stagnation illustrates one of the reasons behind the lack of attractiveness and lethargy of Europe. Despite its serious economic and social crises, Italy has been able to turn the Berlusconi page and elect a new brand of Italian politicians – for better or worst -. Matteo Renzi, aside from any political judgments, embodies a new political scene. The new High Representative for EU foreign affairs, Federica Mogherini, former Foreign Minister of the Renzi’s government, belongs to this new scene. French citizens ought to address this problems of perpetual elite reproduction and finally elect newer and younger politicians, on either sides of the political spectrum. Stefan Ulrich of the German newspaper the Süddeutsche Zeitung claims that “France advanced towards the past.” With Sarkozy returning at the helm at the French right, the presidential race is officially on. Neither France nor the EU can afford a three year presidential race. They both need new ideas, new visions, new leaders.

(Copyright 2014 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

A French Headache Called Mistral

Credits: Jean-Sébastien Evrard/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Credits: Jean-Sébastien Evrard/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The Mistral warships are becoming one of the hottest issues for the French government in light of the Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea and now Eastern Ukraine. On November 25th, some media outlets (read here and here) announced that France was moving on with the delivery of its first Mistral ship on November 27th. Soon after these reports, the French President, François Hollande, announced in a communiqué published by the French Embassy in the US that:

The French President believes the current situation in eastern Ukraine still does not permit the delivery of the first [Mistral] amphibious landing ship. He has therefore considered it appropriate to postpone until further notice the examination of the authorization request necessary for the export of the first amphibious landing ship to the Russian Federation./.
 

Ultimately, the questions have been since the invasion of Ukraine: Will France deliver the Mistral-class warships to Russia? and when? Additionally, another one has emerged: how can France arm the principal aggressor on the European continent?

Origins of the Deal

The Franco-Russian deal was signed in 2011 and consisted in the construction of two Mistral-class helicopter carriers. The first one, the Vladivostok, is supposed to be delivered this month, and the second, the Sevastopol, later in 2016. The value of the contract for the construction of the two warships is of €1.12 billion, which has already been paid in full by Russia. The 2011 contract for the sale of two Mistral-class amphibious assault ships was the first large sale from a NATO country to Russia in the post-Cold War era.

The deal was signed in January 2011 between two former Presidents, Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Dmitry Medvedev of Russia. Aside from the obvious economic gains and industrial prestige, Nicolas Sarkozy justified the deal in order to end once and for all the old Cold War enmities. He claimed that “One cannot expect Russia to behave as a partner if we don’t treat them as one.” Was it Sarkozy’s ‘reset button’ moment?

Following the signature of the deal, former french President told STX workers that this deal “represents 6 million hours of work and 1,500 jobs over four years” at the shipyard in the coastal town of Saint-Nazaire. Once elected in May 2012, François Hollande declared that the deal would remain. It was only in 2014, months prior the first delivery, that the tension increased considering the geopolitical context. In May, despite the annexation of Crimea and invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the French government declared that the deal was still on creating some concerns across the pond. Despite the economic sanctions implemented by the EU-28 during the summer against Russia (principally individuals), France was still willing to deliver the warship on time. It was only early September that France, under pressures by its allies, laid out two conditions for the delivery: a cease-fire and a political resolution of the Ukrainian crisis. And since October, a political game between Moscow and Paris has begun between the two partners, with Moscow claiming that France would deliver the ship on time, and Paris responding that the government has yet to make a decision. In recent time, Russia is telling his French counterpart that France has until the end of the month to deliver the first Mistral, otherwise, Moscow could eventually seek for claims for a breach of contract. However, on Tuesday, November 25th, Yuri Borisov, Russian Deputy Defense Minister, has announced that so far Russia would not seek for damages.

The Mistral – A Game Changer

The Mistral-class helicopter carriers produced by the French shipyards of Saint Nazaire are important and powerful logistical military instruments. These Mistral-class ships offer a variety of tactical and materials advantages as explained by Military-Today (for more technical information on the Mistral amphibious assault ship (LHD) class see here):

  • transport and rapid deployment of helicopters (from 16 to 35 helicopters with 6 landing spots);
  • mechanized landing craft;
  • carry a full tank battalion (from 40 tanks to 70 lighter vehicles);
  • carry from 450 marines up to 900 troops;
  • become modular field hospital;
  • be deployed as command and control vessel with up to 150 personnel;

The figure below illustrates the versatility of Mistral-class warship.

Mistral

Undeniably, the Mistral-class would offer a serious strategic advantage to the Russian navy. For instance, in the case of the 2008 Russo-Georgian war, Russian admiral Vladimir Vyssotsky argued that “With a Mistral-type vessel during the South Ossetian conflict, the Russian military could have accomplished all its missions in 40 minutes instead of 26 hours.”

The headaches of the French Government:

Aside from the obvious technological and military functions, the Mistral-class warships are causing complex problems, of different orders – political, economic, and strategic -,  for the French government.

First, when money tromps regional stability. The financial crisis and its domestic impacts on the French economy and society are affecting the strategic vision of French leaders. The deal signed in 2011 was seen as an important economic boost for France. It not only created hundreds of job in the shipyards of Saint Nazaire, but as well boosted the production of heavy military armaments by the French armament industry. The French industrials are now fearing that a breach of contract may affect their global credibility and reliability for future armament sales with foreign states. Currently, France stands as the fifth world largest arms supplier. In 2012, France totaled €6.87 billion of arms sales, which provide over 50,000 jobs in France. Ultimately, the economic impacts could be serious for the French economy and its military-technological industries. Such claim was validated by a conversation between President Obama and Hollande in Paris in June. As reported by Vincent Jauvert of Euromaidan Press, Obama said “I am deeply concerned. The annexation of Crimea is not a good signal. Why not cancel the deal?” To which, Hollande replied “Because I do not wish to discard the reputation of France.”

Last but not least, with the €1.12 billion already paid in full, the penalty for France for not delivering the warships is valued at €250 million. In case, the Socialist government decides to stop the sale of the warships, €250 million fine plus the two unsold warships could become a serious political headache for the current government.

Second, the delivery of the Vladivostok would send the wrong message to Moscow. By providing such military instrument in times wherein Russia is destabilizing the Eastern neighborhood of the Union, France cannot afford from a strategic point of view to deliver it. Since 2008, Russia has perturbed the European continent with the war in Georgia (2008), the invasion and annexation of Crimea, the incident of Malaysian airliner (weapons provided by Russia to Ukrainian separatists), and the sponsoring of Ukrainian separatists. Politically, France, despite its deep and historical ties with Russia, cannot provide such capability. The invasions of Crimea and now of Ukraine directly threaten the stability on the European continent. President Hollande argued that the delivery was on hold because of Russia’s behavior running “against the foundations of security in Europe.” Additionally, Vladimir Putin is advancing Russian interests until he will meet a serious challenge. Until then, Putin won’t alter his strategy.

Third, what about Europe? The EU has had trouble formulating a clear response and strategy in dealing with Russia for over a decade. For France to deliver the warships in this difficult time for the Union would demonstrate its absolute irrelevance in foreign affairs. Individually, EU Member States such as the United Kingdom, Germany and naturally Eastern EU Member States have expressed their concerns. London has for instance called on suspending the deal. Despite the criticisms emerging from 10 Downing Street, the UK is still receiving large amount of money and investments coming from Russia. From Eastern Europe, these warships represent a real threat to their national security. Radek Sikorski, Polish Foreign Minister, advanced that “Russian generals have already said what these ships will be used for: to threaten Russia’s neighbors in the Black Sea and that means Europe’s partners.”

The deal is a bad one for European security. How can France provide military assets to a state in search of destabilizing the European balance of power and promoting its interests at any cost? France is unable to respond to such crucial question.

Fourth, what about the French political voices? The French political extremes, right and left combined, have expressed their opposition to the current status-quo on delivering the warship. For instance, Marine LePen of the Front National, extreme-right, argued that it was a clear demonstration of French submission to American hegemony.She said that it “reveals our subservience to American diplomacy.” A similar argument about American imperialism was formulated by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the extreme left.

Marine Le Pen, whom has become an apparent force in shaping the French political debate, added that the decision to uphold the delivery is serious as “it runs contrary to the interests of the country.” From her point of view, the reasons are double: French jobs would be at risk and France would have to pay a fine if it failed to deliver the warships. Aside from the economic argument made by the Front National, one should underscore that the party recently accepted a €9 million loan from a Moscow-based First Czech Russian Bank. Moscow has become a large financial sponsor for extreme-right parties throughout Europe.

Even, Nicolas Sarkozy holds the same message that the extreme right, which is not surprising, when arguing mid-November that “France needs to honor its words and deliver the Mistrals, France decides by itself, not from what the US wants.” Sarkozy, in search of re-gaining the leadership of the right wing party, UMP, and ultimately the French presidency is demonstrating once again his desire to fulfill his personal ambitions rather than demonstrating his understanding of geopolitics.

In sum, the future of these two Mistral-class warships is still unclear. On the one hand, as advanced by the New York Times, “a decision by France to suspend the deal would encourage other European countries to accept whatever sacrifices future sanctions might entail.” Such action would demonstrate the commitment by France to stand against Russia in its clear violations (read analyses on the issue here and here). On the other hand, some experts have argued that France could sell it to other buyers, preferably NATO members. In recent days, Canada, or even the European Union (in theory), have appeared as a possible buyers of the warships. Until then, the Mistral-gate is here to stay.

(Copyright 2014 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).