Friday, May 13, 2011

Xenophobia Trumps Euro-Elites

I have long been puzzled by how the European Union could make decisions that might face strong opposition within the various members.  Specifically, I did not speculate in my book with Bill Ayres about the domestic politics of the enlargement process, just that the conditionality was less than credible (countries were going to get in even if they fell short of the stated criteria).  But I did wonder: given that the new members would be contributing markets but sucking away resources, wouldn’t groups that benefited from the status quo oppose the new members?  And wouldn’t they be more passionate than those that might dream of benefiting from the new members?   Particularly those countries that were poorer off and benefiting from the Regional Funds that subsidized them, if they were no longer as poor (Ireland)?

So, I am not surprised that the European Union has hit the wall—almost literally.  The organization is backtracking on one of its fundamental aspects: borderless within.  It looks like border controls for migrants will be reinstated
  • Driven by what?  The threat of small numbers of refugees flowing from the Arab Spring. 
  • Driven by whom?  Italy and France seem to be in the lead, but also xenophobic parties in Denmark, the Netherlands and wherever else they serve as critical supporting parties for minority governments.
“Italy's anti-immigrant campaign is headed by the interior minister Robert Maroni, of the xenophobic Northern League in the Berlusconi coalition. The campaign in France is seen as an attempt by President Nicolas Sarkozy to dilute the growing appeal of Marine Le Pen, the new leader of the extreme Front National.”
Most EU members are in support of this effort.  Germany is resisting (so, for one of the few times this spring, Germany is on the right side of an issue—but then again, they have no xenophobic party of any size).  Of course, things are complicated because there are multiple decision-making authorities within the EU: a court, a legislature, a council of ministers and a commission.   So, this is not over. 
No, I do not take that much pleasure in either EU-setbacks or in xenophobia trumping other interests.  Ok, maybe a little bit of Schadenfreude, but not much, as I think Europe’s reactions to immigrants are a far greater threat to Europe’s values and stature than the immigrants themselves.  Just as North Americans fail to look to European models of health care to improve their own policies, Europe fails to consider how countries with a history of immigration have managed it.  Yes, it can be bumpy, but immigration will help their coming demographic crisis of aging populations.  Figuring it out may be hard, but I am not sure they have an alternative.

PS  Blogger was down for most of the day (and night?). Looks like they ate yesterday's posts....

1 comment:

Felix said...

Just my 2 cents, from European-German perspective

There’s two issues in your post, one regarding EU Eastern Enlargement, the other one relating to the rise of xenophobia in Europe.

As for the EU’s Eastern Enlargement, I’d say one could make two points here:

1) In terms of rational economic calculation, the Easter enlargement might indeed seem puzzling at first. But I’m not entirely sure about the numbers here: Opening Eastern markets represented a huge chance for Western Europe’s economies. Maybe the net benefits from the liberalization outweighed the costs. Speaking of costs: the largest economies in the EU (Germany, France, UK) were net payers to the Regional Funds anyway; it probably didn’t really matter to them where exactly their funds went after the enlargement. You’re right to point out that this would make countries like Ireland even more resistant to enlargement, since they were stripped of their benefits from the Regional Fund and other payments. But if we believe that the European integration process is largely driven by its most powerful members (see Moravcsik’s Choice for Europe, for instance) then we can assume that the bigger countries simply persuaded the smaller countries to support enlargement eventually. (With what kind of side-payments, I do not know).

2) I’d say there might have been other factors at play that might’ve trumped economic rationales. A great deal of Western Europe’s desire to integrate Eastern Europe in the EU stems from its wish to firmly integrate Eastern Europe in a Western, liberal camp and to counter Russia’s influence in this part of the world. So, maybe this it was not “the economy, stupid” but “geopolitics, stupid?” I want to stress that I am no expert on neither economics nor the EU, so I am far from sure with these arguments, but I’d say they are at least plausible (or maybe not?).

I do not have an explanation for the rise of xenophobia in the EU, though – not even an ad-hoc one. I am equally puzzled by the sheer stupidity of this development. You summarize it very nicely when you say “Europe’s reactions to immigrants are a far greater threat to Europe’s values and stature than the immigrants themselves.” That is definitively true. It is a very problematic development and I am still looking for adequate explanations…