Brexit will be the defining event for Europe in 2019. But another big story will also hog the headlines: the continued political aftershocks from German Chancellor Merkel’s decision in 2015 to welcome between one and two million Third World migrants, who were mostly not refugees according to European Union Council President Tusk.
Opinion polls show immigration remains the top concern among voters almost everywhere in the EU. Europe’s liberal elites, reluctant to take robust action against illegal immigration, like Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, are learning the hard way that voters will punish governments that preside over illegal immigration – especially from very different cultures – and resultant radical changes to their societies including terrorism.
Every European election since Merkel’s fateful decision has seen a sharp swing to anti-open-borders nationalists. Describing these parties as ‘far right’ is a misnomer; that term is best reserved for fascists, which these parties are not; as Douglas Murray argues, ‘populists’ is similarly unhelpful as it has become the Left’s sneering term for parties of the right.
The swing to nationalists includes the UK’s 2016 Brexit referendum, greatly influenced by voter concerns about immigration, and the 2017 general election which reconfirmed support for the result.
Elsewhere elections have supported existing anti-immigration nationalist governments (Hungary), have resulted in new ones (Czech Republic, Austria and Italy) or have seen sharply increased support for parties which would move in the same direction (France, the Netherlands, Germany, Slovenia, Sweden and Spain). And over the past two years three EU countries (Austria, the Netherlands and Denmark) have joined France and Belgium in banning the burka in public places.
The Left hoped that the 2017 election of Emmanuel Macron as French president signaled the end of the West’s drift to the right after the two massive defeats the previous year for liberal orthodoxy, the election of Trump and Brexit. In fact Macron was an aberration who won only because of the implosion of France’s mainstream centre-right. The most significant aspect of the election was the fact that Marine Le Pen’s National Front won a third of the vote (33.9 per cent), almost double what it won in the previous election in 2012 (17.9 per cent).
The march of the anti-immigration nationalists continued in 2018 when they formed government in two West European countries, Austria and Italy. Political momentum will remain with them this year. Elections to the European Parliament are usually a yawn, but not so this year when the nationalists are likely to surge in the May polls. Likely to benefit from a higher than usual turnout, they will probably double their representation to about a third of the Parliament’s 705 seats – and will be able to do much to frustrate further steps towards a Euro-superstate.
Like the UK’s Brexiteers, the anti-immigration nationalists are Eurosceptic to the extent that they want to claim back sovereignty from Brussels. In the main, however, they don’t want to leave the EU but to change it, with a strong external border and less interference from Brussels – which ironically was part of what David Cameron wanted ahead of the Brexit referendum.
The sharpening of EU divisions over immigration is increasingly obvious. In December, nine EU countries joined the United States and Australia (prompted largely by this magazine’s very own John Stone) in refusing to support the United Nation’s Global Compact on Migration, which aims to establish migration as a human right. It’s hard to imagine such a strong European poke in the eye to liberal pieties even a couple of years ago. Moreover Belgium’s government collapsed when its prime minister signed the UN compact against the wishes of the largest party in his coalition.
The current open hostility between France and Italy, resulting in France’s withdrawal of its ambassador from Rome, is a foretaste of tensions within the EU when the current team of 28 largely cosily consensual Commissioners – one for each member-state – is replaced later this year with a significant minority of Euro-heretics.
No new appointment will attract more interest than that of Italy, whose previous leftist government provided the ex-communist Federica Mogherini as the EU’s foreign minister.
Seemingly never happier than when hob-nobbing with the Cuban regime or bashing Israel, she went public backing efforts to prevent the formation of Italy’s current government. It’s amazing she kept her job. Aside from left-leaning EU-enthusiasts (such as our own Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade), her departure won’t be mourned any more than that of a Commission president who struggles to walk unassisted after lunch.
Europe’s continuing convulsions over immigration should be of more than passing interest for Australia. The European Left often runs the line that the pressure behind third world immigration is like a force of nature which it’s pointless to resist and possibly should be welcomed – the Economist last year cited a forecast that Europe’s population of African origin by 2050 could rise from nine million to 150-200 million, cheerily noting that ‘Eurafrica is part of Europe’s demographic and cultural destiny’. Other Europeans respond that prime ministers Abbott and Howard showed it’s possible for a Western country to stop the boats while maintaining a generous refugee resettlement programme.
And capitulating to pressure from the Left to soften border protection, Bill Shorten might ponder the fate of Labor’s fraternal, once-mighty Social Democrat parties in Europe. Since the migration crisis and voter perceptions that they’re soft on borders, support for most of them has collapsed. In the Dutch elections in 2017, they lost more than three-quarters of their seats, while in Germany and Italy their support now hovers below 20 per cent.
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