< SWITCH ME >
The final transitional immigration controls on Romania and Bulgaria are set to expire in January 2014, seven years after these new Eastern Europeans became citizens of the European Union. In the United Kingdom, parallels are already being drawn with the 2004 "wave" of immigration, when Poland and the other A8 countries gained the rights to travel and work throughout the EU. However, the main "pull" factors of immigration, which include employment opportunities, relative gross national interest per capita (GNI per capita) and comparative opportunities across the EU, all suggest that the immigration flow from Romania and Bulgaria will not only be significantly smaller than 2004 levels, but will also be more diffuse throughout EU member states.
A recently released study by Oxford University's Migration Observatory has drawn out the long-term impact of A8 immigration on the UK, placing the "tsunami" effect into a broader context. Estimations made in 2004 predicted 15,000 people per year would move from the new EU member states to the UK. The average annual Long-Term International Migration inflow of EU citizens was, in fact, increased to around 170,000 in the period 2004-2010, in comparison to the 67,000 over the previous six years. As a percentage of EU citizens, the A8 immigrants accounted for around 50 per cent of that movement, meaning that Eastern Europeans made up only one-third of the total migrant inflow into the UK. Nevertheless, the failure to anticipate the impact of lifting these restrictions left a deep mark in the political landscape of the UK.
The negative framing of Eastern European immigration has returned in the form of an endless stream of unskilled and unemployed "benefit tourists". It may be narrow politicking but the image has maintained its potency. The UK Independence Party (UKIP) now displays a countdown clock on their website for when, as The Telegraph has also warned, "Twenty million Bulgarians and Romanians will gain the right to live and work unrestricted in Britain." Research by the Open Society in Sofia actually suggests that the inflow of Bulgarian immigrants would be "far less significant in volume and it is less likely.... [to] cause labour market disruption" than the A8 access.
The Eurozone crisis is being heralded as the downfall of the European Union. But the far more dangerous influences lie on the fringes of mainstream politics. The far right are back from oblivion, they've got a new mainstream face, and it's European.
A TRAGEDY IN NORWAY, A WIDER THREAT
On the 22nd July 2011 Anders Breivik walked into a summer youth camp in Utøya, Norway and killed 69 young left-wing activists. It was a politically motivated killing spree that shook Europe and refocused attention to the extreme right of the political spectrum. Yet it is the far right political movements, often seen as the acceptable face of fascism, rather than the spontaneous outbursts of violence that hold the real threat to Europe.
|Photo: Moony (BY-NC)|
|Same ideas in a new and different form?|
Having given up on extreme violence and donned the suit of a politician, a wide range of far right politicians issued condemnations of Breivik's act. These included prominent Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who described Breivik as 'violent and sick'. Yet those same politicians who publicly denounced his violent means would also find a lot in common with the central ideas of Breivik's 1,467 page manifesto 'A European declaration of Independence'.
Acting as the call to a European civil war, Breivik's manifesto displays a familiar brand of anti-immigration, anti-Islamic populism that has taken root in many rightist movements across Europe. Based upon the claim that Islamic culture is not compatible with Western European civilisation, it argues for a long term campaign to remove it from European countries. Whilst Breivik's invocation of defensive war may be more violently extreme than anything the far right would suggest, it is the essence of what Wilders argued for when he called for the expulsion of Muslims who 'cause problems, and their whole family' and an immediate halt to immigration into the Netherlands from Muslim countries.
THE NEW FAR RIGHT
A broad consensus exists among far right parties that emphasises Islam as a dangerous and alien culture that is fundamentally incompatible with the West. In particular they emphasise that the implementation of sharia law is a natural consequence of Islam's presence in Europe - Islam often being conflated with a radical Islamist variation. Futhermore, they argue that the state policy of multiculturalism is, instead of promoting cultures living together, leading to 'the ongoing Islamic colonisation of Europe', in which western culture is being placed under threat.
Key tropes of cultural annihilation are being harnessed by the far right to provoke people's fear of the relatively new complexity in their societies brought on by a rapidly globalising world. In response, parties such as the British National Party and Front Nationale posit a wave of direct, seemingly simple measures to reverse the consequences of immigration into European countries. These include policies against the building of mosques, bans on importing halal meat, and the promise to end a perceived tide of foreign immigration.
A few days ago I finally finished reading The Native Realm. A great book by Czesław Miłosz that is highly-recommended for anyone who claims to be European. "The native Europe" (which seems to be a more accurate translation) is a fascinating memoir and an intellectual walk along the meandering European paths of the 20th century. But this is not going to be a glorifying review of a brilliant book - although I do encourage you to read it. I'm referring to Miłosz for a rather less optimistic reason.
Last week European public opinion was once again bewildered by Geert Wilders (we all know this flamboyant platinum blond "statesman"). This time his Party for Freedom (PVV) launched a website where Dutch people can file complaints against immigrants from "Middle and Eastern European countries." The complaints are going to be presented to the Minister of Social Affairs and Employment.
Once you've entered the site and recovered your eyesight after being dazzled by Wilders's shining mane, you'll see giant headlines from Dutch newspapers: "Poles, Romanians and Bulgarians – increasingly criminal," "Eastern European gangs in villages" or "Problems with Poles" and a story about some supermarket with misspelled Polish names (of course). The text underneath is even better. "The massive labour migration leads to many problems, nuisances, pollution [sic!], displacements and housing problems (…) Have you ever lost a job to a Pole, Bulgarian, Romanian or other Eastern European? Do you have problems with Eastern Europeans? We'd like to hear."
Turkey’s possible membership in the EU has caused widespread discussions across Europe. Whilst there are good reasons for the EU to say "hayir" (no) to Turkish membership at the moment, saying no on the basis of cultural differences, as seems to be happening now, does not only go against fundamental European principles but will create an unprecedented distance between Turkey and the EU.
Despite the fact that Turkey’s economy is seeing double digit growth, has a higher per capita income than Romania and Bulgaria, and ranks better in risk assessments than Italy and 10 other European states, Turkey’s democracy has still got a long way to go before it could be regarded as consolidated. On the one hand, of course, Turkey still has to deliver on many internal issues. The controversial article 301 that prohibits insulting the Turkish state has caused severe concern for press freedom. As journalists privately admit, they impose self-restraint because of fear over lengthy court cases and possible imprisonment for 5+ years.
Additionally, human rights and rights for minorities still pose challenges. The shaky state of Turkish democracy is further underlined by the troubled opposition that could indulgently be described as divided and lacking a clear plan, as well as the almost-ban of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) by the constitutional court over violating the secular principle of the Turkish state. If just one more judge had voted to ban the AKP, Turkey would have slipped into a crisis with an unforeseeable future for Turkish democracy.