Immigration is the issue dividing Europe
- Xenophobia is sweeping the continent and a European agreement to address migration is vital
Sep 12, 2018-
The message is glaring from Sweden’s election result. There is one dominant issue in Europe’s politics at present, and it is immigration. It rules in Italy and Germany. It rules in Hungary and Austria. It rules from Serbia to Scandinavia. It dominates every meeting of the leaders of the EU. It obsesses the United Kingdom, except there it cloaks itself in the euphemism of “reaching trade agreements with the rest of the world”.
Europe’s swing to the far right— or rather a surge in emotional xenophobia—was inevitable from the moment the European Union raced towards a single market in the 1980s, including an open market in people across the continent. Of the four freedoms of movement—in goods, services, capital and people—the first to fail was always going to be people.
An open border and the Schengen agreement on passport-free travel came in before the mass movement of low-cost labour from eastern Europe, and before the youth migration from Asia and Africa. Since geography renders Europe’s southern border porous, there is no way Europe’s governments, democratic or autocratic, will any longer tolerate unrestricted borders within the EU.
The one thing that will be catastrophic will be to pretend otherwise. An organised and racist nationalism has risen in Sweden to defy half a century of liberalism. The old liberal fallacy—that noble ideals will ultimately trump mere majorities—is crumbling at every election. We can cheer the sea captain who pleads to land his refugees “out of common humanity”, but we cannot enforce his passengers on Europe’s citizens. There must be a pan-European regime, both to help frontier states police Europe’s southern border—on both sides of it—and to regulate and distribute migrants who do get across. But such a regime will never be accepted if individual European states cannot regain a degree of sovereignty over their populations. Indeed any regime will depend on it.
It is tragic that the outcome of this debate—greater European migration control—would almost certainly have negated Brexit. In the minds of most British voters, migration has nothing to do with economics or tariffs or trade regulation, except at the margin. This argument is not over trade, but over people being able to control their community’s character and pace of change. We can dismiss such control as licensed bigotry, intolerance and nasty identity politics. That will not stop people voting. To them, such rights are a cry for self-respect and values they hold dear.
Either way, the debate cannot be ignored. Yet Britain’s government has still not set out its Brexit migration policy, beyond a palpably “hostile welcome” to all incomers. Instead, Westminster warbles on about tariffs, trade and Boris Johnson. The place has gone mad.
Published: 12-09-2018 07:41