The European Union has been facing a crisis of unprecedented and uncontrolled immigration for over a year now. The main impact was faced by two groups of EU member states. The first group is the transit countries, through which the migrants entered the EU, or more specifically the Schengen Area – these were the countries of the Mediterranean and South-Eastern Europe (namely Greece, Italy, Spain and the Balkan states). The second affected group were the target countries – namely Germany, Austria, France, United Kingdom and the Scandinavian states.
Due to the mounting pressure on these two groups, the EU proposed a quota-based mechanism for dividing the burden of migrants proportionally among the member states based on their size and capacity. This has, however, been met with a growing wave of anti-immigration populism, stemming from the rhetoric of the governments of Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
The presented article examines the political and ideological sources of this populism and radicalization, which come from the countries with large Diasporas in other European countries. In order to do so, first some key facts as regards the scale of the migration problem that has sparked the populist response are presented. Later on, the article focuses on the sources of anti-immigration rhetoric (economic, cultural and security arguments).
Supporters of Migration
The influx of both economic migrants and refugees to the European Union in 2015 and 2016 have initiated a heated debate across many European countries which have previously not been confronted with such a phenomenon. The humanitarian crisis that has hit not only Syria, but also many countries of the Northern Africa led to the outburst of migrants and asylum seekers fleeing their homes and entering Europe through the Mediterranean Sea or the countries of South Eastern Europe.
At first, some European countries reacted with a policy of open arms towards those seeking refuge and a start of a new life chapter in the wealthier countries of Europe. Obviously, the supporters of this approach were highlighting the need to help the arriving migrants. The biggest plea on their hands has been the moral argument.
The moral aspect was based primarily on the humanitarian factor of the crisis in the countries from which the migrants and refugees fled, what in turn created a moral obligation for the European countries to provide them with a shelter. A part of the narrative that affected this was also the post-World War II legacy combined with the colonial memory that created a greater burden of responsibility among the former colonial powers (namely France and the United Kingdom). The fate of the people fleeing destitution and poverty in the regions of Africa and Middle East is bound to create stronger sympathies among the domestic population, and thus stronger reactions by the political elites.
Moreover, there were other reasons why the European countries should have understood it as their responsibility to take serious action in support of the migrants. The European political and military actions in Northern Africa (Arab spring) and the Syrian conflict placed a moral burden on the European countries to come up with a solution for the economic and social distress that struck the region in the aftermath and the problem of mass migration. This has to be seen also in the context of the geopolitical conflict with other key actors playing their role in the North African and Syrian conflicts. Increased Russian involvement from the military side has put increased pressure on the European Union to maintain a position of a credible force that needs to be taken not only seriously as a political actor on the international scene, but also as a positive force among the people of the Middle Eastern and North African regions. If they turn in large numbers to Europe to seek shelter and help in the time of their great need, it has to be taken with utmost seriousness as a sign that Europe is perceived as a beacon of hope and a symbol of economic growth that refugees need. If Europe fails in handling the crisis with competence, it risks losing the entire support in the region and giving up a chance of politically influencing the situation in the Middle Eastern and African countries for the foreseeable future.
The third point that currently is being used by the pro-migration side is the economic argument. Although there are many aspects to it, one of the key discussion topics is that the influx of migrants will provide a new boost to the European economy by generating new demand for products and services, and thus new opportunities for entrepreneurs and employees. However, this could be questioned as a simple example of the “broken window” fallacy and a case of redirected funds in the economy. The further benefit should come from the new labor force entering European countries that would fill the professions that are in short supply in many European countries. Moreover, as discussed later in this article, the problem of the demographic crisis will affect also the social welfare system that is held dearly by the domestic population.
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