The Far Right has no respect for EU values but what about Europe's mainstream politicians?

Frankly Speaking

Picture of Shada Islam
Shada Islam

Managing Director at New Horizons Project

It would have been nice to end the year on a high note. Something uplifting, signalling hope and highlighting Europe’s ability to rise to the occasion in a world buffeted by chill winds.

But sadly, Europe ends 2018 looking rather sad and shabby, both at home and abroad. Partly it’s due to Brexit, the “yellow vest” protests, chaos sparked by America First policies and the return of geopolitics. But above all, it’s migration.

That’s no surprise. Migrants, refugees, foreigners, minorities – call them what you will – have been in the firing line in Europe for ages. The sudden rise in the number of Middle Eastern asylum seekers arriving in Europe in 2015 has made the conversation even more toxic as has the continuing arrival of a steady, albeit smaller, stream of Africans, fleeing conflicts and devastation caused by climate change.

To counter the Far Right, it’s crucial to stop amplifying the extremists’ discourse and pandering to their demands.

So having won votes across Europe on the back of their anti-migrant and anti-refugee rants, are Europe’s Far Right populists now poised for victory in the upcoming European Parliament polls?

Is Europe hurtling, eyes wide open, towards a Far Right paradise?

No, not yet and hopefully not ever. But much will depend on whether Europe’s mainstream politicians can stand up, strong and forcefully, for democracy and human rights.

To counter the Far Right, it’s crucial to stop amplifying the extremists’ discourse and pandering to their demands.

Take Marrakesh. Giving into the Far Right, a shocking number of EU countries – including Austria which is currently in the EU chair – have turned their backs on the rather bland and innocuous “Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration”.

Some, like Germany’s Angela Merkel and Belgium’s Charles Michel have refused to kowtow to those opposing the Compact. Michel now heads a minority government after the N-VA quit the coalition over the immigration pact. Others have been much less courageous.

Take also the European Commission’s recent decision to be “pragmatic” about EU asylum policy reform by asking the European Parliament to adopt only five out of seven agreements thereby dropping the divisive but important issue of reforming the failed Dublin Regulation.

And then there is the pressure applied by the Italian government and others on Médecins Sans Fontières and it’s partner SOS Mediterranée to terminate operations in the Mediterranean by the search and rescue vessel Aquarius that has saved the lives of so many vulnerable people.

The list is long and painful to read. The Central European University, affiliated with George Soros, is leaving Budapest for Vienna next year after a long legal and rhetorical battle with the Hungarian government, the first time a major university has been pushed out of an EU state. Denmark is trying to banish migrants with a criminal record or whose applications to stay have been rejected to a remote island. And so on.

It’s a slippery slope. But it can be changed. Here’s an alternative scenario for Europe in 2019:

Europe’s minorities become more persistent, vocal and engaged in the conversion on Europe’s future – and use their vote and influence to vote for progressive politicians in next year’s European Parliament elections.

Mainstream politicians who have allowed the extremists to hijack the conversation on migration, finally wake up and stop echoing and repeating their message of difference and exclusion.

Instead, those who believe in an open Europe draw up their own constructive agenda for building a modern, open and inclusive Europe. As a result, their electoral lists reflect the diversity of Europe in all its facets – without being defensive about it. The next European Commission is similarly representative of modern Europe.

More specifically, as the leading centre right group in the European Parliament, the EPP stands up for European values by finally taking action against Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party

With the US in retreat, many are looking to Europe for leadership on revamping multilateral rules, speaking up on human rights and promoting the rule of law

Progressive forces in Europe – despite their political differences – stop fighting over details and come together to proactively promote a Social Europe which is also open and multicultural.

With their mandates almost up, European Commissioners stop being “pragmatic” and become bolder and braver in naming and shaming politicians and governments that are in open breach of European values.

Changing the story of migration in Europe also requires more vocal business leaders, a more balanced and less sensation-driven media and better integration-focused national and European policies.

Europeans need to be alert about Disinformation campaigns and external meddling in the elections.

As my colleague Giles Merritt writes in his new upcoming book “Why We Need More Migrants”, Europe’s conversation on migration has been frenzied and superficial. This must change urgently.

With the US in retreat, many are looking to Europe for leadership on revamping multilateral rules, speaking up on human rights and promoting the rule of law. Marrakesh would have been a perfect opportunity to prove Europe’s credentials by doing this and more. Europe can and must do better in 2019.

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