The EU is not to blame for the rise of the far right

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

People protest against the far right AfD party near a night club where AfD held their election event in Berlin, Germany, 24 September 2017. [Thorsten Wagner/EPA]

Only a few months ago, experts called it a day on the rise of the far right. The lacklustre performance of populists in France and the Netherlands was taken as evidence of their demise. But this complacency has proved to be misplaced, writes Evgeny Pudovkin.

Evgeny Pudovkin is independent journalist and blogger, writing on British politics, Russia and foreign affairs.

While not an imminent threat to the liberal order, the rise of radical nationalism remains a pertinent challenge.

In Germany, hitherto a bastion of tranquility, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union experienced its worst performance in the post-war era. The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), on the other hand, improved its positions to become the third-largest party in Bundestag.

AfD’s sister party in Austria, the Freedom party, came second in the election this Sunday and is poised to enter the country’s governing coalition.

Those local events are parts of a Europe-wide trend. According to the Eurobarometer survey, Europeans as a whole consider immigration the second (after terrorism) most important issue facing the bloc.

The YouGov poll showed that 52% of Italians, 47% of French 44% of Germans and 38% of Spaniards agree that their country “doesn’t feel like home anymore”. Perhaps most worryingly, the majority of Belgian, French, German and Italian people support the idea of ending migration from all mainly Muslim countries (the Chatham House data).

Some lay the blame for this nativist renaissance at the EU’s door. The Commission, the critics argue, hasn’t done enough to create mechanisms for dealing with migration more effectively. Nationalists, for their part, see eurocrats as supranational facilitators of the ‘open-door’ policy.

In truth, however, alleviating people’s fears about their identity is not the question of more or less Europe. Member states already have the means to address both the issues related to migration and difficulties in integrating minority groups.

Let’s start with migration first. Numbers of arrivals into Europe via the Mediterranean Sea routes went up sharply in the aftermath of the Arab spring and Syrian civil war. Mass migration from Africa – that intensified following the collapse of the Libyan state in the aftermath of NATO countries’ intervention there – added to those pressures.

By the end of 2016, the Balkan route into Europe was shut. The EU also managed to stem migration from the Eastern Mediterranean after its deal with Turkey. The latter agreed to host migrants in its camps in exchange for the financial assistance.

Yet the same deal cannot be struck with the Libyan central authority. Why? There simply isn’t one. The country is fractured, each faction warring for its own preeminence. The unstable security situation makes building refugees camps in the country impossible. Compounding that difficulty is Libya’s porous southern border.

It is now up to the UN and individual interlocutors to ensure Libya has something resembling a unified government. Without that, there can be no substantial progress. In the meanwhile, the EU has already provided financial help to strengthen the Libyan coastguard. The Commission’s initiative to open new legal pathways for Africans as an alternative to illegal crossings is also a useful step.

Another problem that might have contributed to the upsurge in nationalism concerns the poor record of integrating migrants. According to the Eurobarometer survey, the gap in employment between first-generation migrants and native population in France, for example, stands at 17%, in Sweden – at 15%, in Spain – at 9%, in Germany – at 13%.

Considering that member states have a lion’s share of authority over labour market regulation, it is their responsibility to lubricate newcomers’ path into employment.

Beyond that, many lament the perceived lack of cultural assimilation among migrants. But again, the policies of multiculturalism – aimed at minimising the state’s role in enforcing common cultural and social norms – have been introduced by individual countries, not the Commission. The national governments can (for better or worse) revise them any minute.

Finally, there is a concern over security. Europe’s ostensible nonchalance over its borders, that is blamed for high-profile attacks perpetrated by migrants and failed refugees. That member states are the ones who conduct surveillance and catch criminals is conveniently forgotten.

Meanwhile, according to the official data, 73% of all the failed refugees stay in the EU despite being ordered to leave. Responsibility to deport them lies with the national agencies.

Now, that is not to say that the case for intervening in Libya was as an obviously flawed one. It was a tough call.  Yet there is little doubt that the lack of planning for a post-war Libya has contributed to the country’s sorry state.

And maybe those arguing for ‘muscular’ assimilationist policies are wrong. Perhaps multiculturalism can cultivate communities that are close-knit yet heterogeneous in their customs. In the end, it is not just the far-right whose electoral stock is bullish at the moment. The Greens and far-left also enjoy increased support.

One way or another, those not content with the status-quo should stop blaming the EU for all the problems.

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