The debates about migration are becoming increasingly heated in Europe. Extreme right-wing parties, some of which have already torn down the “fire wall” of stable and consense-oriented democracies, are profiting from this. At the same time, Islamist groups are using this situation to spread their positions in their community, because Muslim sections of the population in particular feel more and more discriminated against by a majority society that actually doesn’t want them.
The fact is that the number of refugees, especially from Islamic countries, is increasing. But Europe can think of nothing else than to set up a regime that is supposed to seal off the continent. The basic rights of refugees and general human rights standards are trampled underfoot. And in many EU countries, fear is fueled of immigration from “culturally foreign” regions, which permanently change the “identity” of Europe. Due to the majorities within the EU, the heads of state and government can no longer even agree on basic humanitarian standards.
In the Netherlands, the government held heated debates, and now Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s cabinet broke up despite a crisis meeting over the dispute over asylum policy. Rutte’s conservative VVD party had planned to limit the admission of asylum seekers: children of war refugees should wait at least two years before their families could join them. There should also be a monthly upper limit for family reunification. That went too far for the coalition partners. New elections are now expected for autumn, as long as the government remains in office. Right-wing populist Geert Wilders has already made it clear that he will put the issue of migration at the top of the agenda: “We are the party that can secure a majority for a significant reduction in the influx of asylum seekers”.
In Austria, migration is still a dominant issue – although the number of asylum applications has fallen significantly this year and is likely to be around 40,000 by the end of the year (2022: 112,272). The decline also has to do with the policy of the conservative governing party ÖVP, which concluded an agreement with India and at the same time was able to ensure that Serbia is less liberal in issuing visas to third-country nationals. But the Conservatives cannot really benefit from this. The right-wing extremist FPÖ has an average lead of eight percentage points in the polls – mainly thanks to the migration issue – and could be chancellor for the first time in its history next year widely debated.
In France, the issue of migration has dominated the political debate for decades. The Front National made sure of that. For the Le Pens’ party, now known as the “Rassemblement National,” restrictions on immigration are the central political demand. Since Emmanuel Macron’s renaissance, a new center party that wants to be right and left at the same time has existed, and the French conservatives have drifted far to the right in the migration debate. It’s an attempt to survive alongside Macron and overtake Le Pen on the right. Macron’s government has also been planning a new immigration law since September. Since then it has been repeatedly postponed. Because the president lacks a majority in parliament, he is dependent on the votes of the conservatives. But they want to go much further than the government.
In Sweden, right-wing and conservatives were able to bring down the minority social democratic government over the issue of migration. The country, which for a long time had the most liberal immigration policy in Europe, had already changed in the course of the refugee crisis in 2015 and tightened its asylum policy. However, not nearly as strong as the conservatives and especially the right-wing Sweden Democrats demanded. The right is benefiting from the increasingly frequent headlines about rampant gang crime in migrant-dominated suburbs, which is also claiming uninvolved lives. For many years the social democratic government had not found any real answers to the problem.
In the elections in September, the right-wing nationalists became the strongest force. Today, a conservative alliance rules, which is tolerated by the Sweden Democrats and gives them great influence on migration policy. This is now constantly being tightened, for example with regard to naturalization and the question of who can still apply for asylum in Sweden in the future.
In Denmark, the migration issue is unlikely to play a dominant role in the November election. This is mainly due to the fact that Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen shifted her Social Democratic Party to the right years ago with a rigorous course on integration and migration. With this line, the party was able to assert itself as the strongest force in the 2019 election and snatch decisive votes from the right-wing Danish People’s Party. Today, the right only gets into parliament just above the two percent hurdle. Frederiksen’s government announced the goal of “zero migration” and has introduced some controversial measures in recent years. It even wants to fight the parallel societies that have grown as a result of decades of botched migration policies with forced resettlements. These measures, which were considered rigorous just a few years ago, have now arrived in the political mainstream and are supported by a large part of the population. In the last election, Frederiksen’s party achieved its best result in 20 years.
Poland’s national-conservative ruling party Law and Justice (PiS) has a reputation for pursuing a particularly tough migration policy. She is regularly criticized by human rights organizations for rejecting people from the Middle East or Africa at the border with Belarus and for building a meter-high wall there. Opposition leader Donald Tusk also criticizes the PiS’s migration policy – but he considers it too lax. In an election campaign video, he recently accused the government of allowing tens of thousands of people “from Muslim countries” to Poland. The numbers are disputed. Tusk, however, points out that both the government and the opposition in Poland largely reject immigration from countries outside Europe.
The same applies to Hungary. Both countries have taken in many Ukrainian refugees – Poles even have the most in Europe – or are recruiting workers in Asia, for example. But the governments in Warsaw and Budapest reject a European distribution key for migrants. This mostly reflects the mood of the population. The issue of migration is often used by the parties to distinguish them from the west of the EU. Images of riots, such as those recently seen in France, or reports of attacks on German regional trains are mixed up and exploited accordingly. Hungary’s head of government Viktor Orbán or the Polish PiS advertise that they will not allow those “German or French conditions”.
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