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Saturday, September 18, 2021

Political Ambiguity

JAY GELVEZON / AGGIE
JAY GELVEZON / AGGIE

Anti-mass immigration sentiment in European politics

Although the Western world has always been skeptical about mass migrations, the current sentiment against immigration policies is increasingly brewing in all areas of society. All across the West, in areas affected or unaffected by large-scale migration, attitudes are changing. We have seen a rise in popularity among anti-mass immigration protest groups and political parties that seek to influence policy making and pressure the political establishment to act on this contentious subject.

In countries all across Europe, there is a new, stronger and more mainstream type of party. These parties, which still call for cutting immigration levels, cannot really be considered, in the strictest definition, anti-immigrant. Because of backlash against extreme minor parties that strive to ban immigration entirely, discourse from anti-mass immigration parties has become more calculated and more mainstream. This new platform is usually populist, mostly geared toward the white working class and typically skeptical toward the European Union (EU). Due to these new parties, the whole debate about whether immigration is good or bad has shifted to whether or not high levels of immigration are healthy for a society and its economy.

Anti-mass immigration parties all across Europe have gained in the polls as a result of the poor handling of the recent European Union migration crisis. Some, but not all, of these parties have an anti-Islam tinge to their platforms. Geert Wilders, who leads the Party of Freedom (PVV) in the Netherlands, has not been afraid to be offensive, directly linking the recent attacks against women in Cologne to Islam.

Much of what these new populist parties are proposing is directly influencing social attitudes and policy making. The UK Independence Party (UKIP) calls for Britain’s Prime Minister to return net migration levels to below 100,000, a large reduction, considering that last year in the UK net migration reached a record high of 330,000. In 2014, 77 percent of Britons thought immigration levels were too high and wanted it to come down.

On the political spectrum, these parties would classify as either right-wing populists or right-wing extremists. But despite being quite extreme in their views towards topics like immigration or the European Union, these parties have seen broad support for shedding light on issues long ignored by the political process. Issues that these parties bring up are not purely right-wing. Objection to the European Union as undemocratic and bad for working people was originally a left-wing idea in the 70s. Current liberal parties, like Britain’s Labour, are now supportive of the European Union.

Most anti-mass immigration parties dislike the European Union for a host of reasons, which include regulations on business and employment, the shift of power away from national legislatures and their policy on the free-movement of people across borders.

In the debate over the migration crisis, these parties have directly criticized the EU. Parties like UKIP have called for the EU to reassess its approach towards migration to ensure that help goes to genuine refugees, rather than economic migrants who often use the Mediterranean route to apply for asylum status. Wilders, believing that many migrants use sinking boats in order to get rescued, has called for the EU to provide sturdier boats so that these migrants may return to their respective countries.

These parties will remain players in European politics for years to come. With the amount of migrants fleeing for Europe expected to be higher than last year, anti-mass immigration parties will gain much more support because of their willingness to offer an alternative viewpoint. No matter what we think of their beliefs — racist or xenophobic, truthful or honest — they contribute to the already challenging political discussion on migration and its effect on society.

You can reach Justin Chau at jtchau@ucdavis.edu. Feel free to share any thoughts with me. I will try to answer any questions, comments or concerns.

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