The refugee influx means that the EU will soon scrap its freedom of movement rules to cope with a crisis lasting for another half-century
Watching European attempts to come to terms with the problem of migrants from the Third World is to watch a slow-motion train crash. All manner of liberal nostrums about the duty to accept refugees, the right to free movement within the EU and even the notion of a secular indifference to religious distinctions are all being tested to destruction. There seems only one possible conclusion: a Fortress Europe with distinct echoes from its past as Christendom. This may not be what Europe’s elites would choose but popular pressure seems unlikely to allow anything else.
It has often been argued that the reason for the barbarian invasions which ended the Roman Empire lay in climatic changes in Central Asia producing famine conditions which propelled vast population movements westward. Today’s crisis lies in similarly profound events far from Europe which one could sum up as the failure of Third World nationalisms. These arose several generations ago under leaders such as Nasser and Nkrumah, with a promise to modernise and democratise the Middle East and Africa. This promise failed, for it is notoriously difficult to leapfrog the long historical development which has produced democratic modernity in Europe. The result in the Middle East was that although the Arab nationalists swept away the last kings — Farouk of Egypt in 1952, Muhammad VIII of Tunisia in 1957, Faisal II of Iraq in 1958 and Idris of Libya in 1969 — their successors turned out to be even more tyrannical and just as incapable of modernising their countries. One after another these regimes foundered in social unrest or civil war.
The story of African nationalism has been somewhat similar though the complication here is the huge demographic surge which will over the next generation add an extra billion Africans. There is simply no way that Africa’s shaky economies and polities can produce the housing, education and jobs required to meet that surge. The result will be large movements of population towards Europe — and these will be opportunistically joined by Afghans, Pakistanis and others. In other words, what we have seen to date is merely the first trickle of a developing flood. Without doubt all these migrants will claim to be refugees.
It is already clear that Europe is wholly unwilling to accept this flood. At the moment the presentation of this problem in the media is always accompanied by woeful statements from well-meaning NGOs and churchmen, arguing for an unlimited duty to accept refugees and criticising as racists or chauvinists those who disagree. But this is mere chaff in the wind. The polls show that large majorities in every European country feel very differently. Throughout Europe anti-immigrant parties are on the rise. Already there are troops in the Brenner Pass to stop any further illegal immigration into Austria, Hungary has high border fences with armed guards to ensure the same, Italy is refusing to allow migrant boats to land, the AfD is still on an upward trajectory in Germany on the same issue and Horst Seehofer of the CSU is clearly determined to erect German border fences too. Even in Sweden the anti-immigration Right is poised to make gains. It is idle to imagine that any amount of argument is going to change these facts or the general drift of events.
So strong is this push for the reimposition of border controls (though in the EU outside Britain some of this work is already done by the identity card system) that the choice now seems mainly to be one between a formal EU policy of Fortress Europe and a series of nationally imposed controls amounting to the same thing. Already the migrant flow to the EU has fallen markedly this year, for this is a market-sensitive phenomenon. There are no migrant flows into Saudi Arabia, Japan or China, despite their wealth, for it is well known that they will be denied entry. For similar reasons the flow of illegal migrants into the US is also well down.
It is true, of course, that world population growth has seen Third World migrants testing the borders of the developed world in many places — on America’s southern border, Palestinians trying to push from Gaza into Israel, Africans pouring into South Africa, Indonesian boat people trying to get into Australia and even migrants trying to get into French overseas territories like Mayotte. In every case such pressures have led to even stronger counter-pressures. So Europe is merely an example of a more general problem. But what makes the European case special is the long historical dimension of the problem.
This is apparent in several ways. The furiously resistant response that the migrant crisis has met in Eastern and central Europe can only be understood with reference to the fact that for generations these were the borderlands where the Turks and Islam were prevented from pouring into Europe. The scars left by those clashes also explain the ferocity of such conflicts in the Balkans. The great mistake that Angela Merkel made in 2015 was to assume that things were different in Western Europe. In that year over a million migrants were allowed to enter Germany — all told there were 1.38 million applicants to stay. Although they were billed as Syrian refugees, Syrians made up only a third of the flood. But
the vast majority were Muslims.
Three-quarters were under 30 and 60 per cent were men. Inevitably, these young men began importing their wives and having children so it quickly dawned on German consciousness that very soon they would have not one million but several million newcomers.
Merkel’s act — importing more than a million Muslims and settling them down into the heart of old Christian Europe — was like throwing a large stone into a stagnant pond, creating large waves which washed up on every shore. Almost certainly it was responsible for the Brexit vote — it dramatised the notion of huge foreign hordes pouring in (remember the posters?). And for Marine Le Pen’s 31 per cent vote in the French presidential election (her father had managed only 18 per cent). And, of course, for the rise of the AfD in Germany and the swing to the right in Austria, Sweden and Italy. The irony is that Ms Merkel acted in the generous spirit she did in the belief that she was standing up for liberal values — yet her act may have dynamited the old EU, to which she and liberal opinion looked.
Indeed, in retrospect it is clear that if in the run-up to the Brexit referendum David Cameron had simply reimposed national control over immigration, effectively daring the EU to expel him (a dare he would have won), he would have won the vote easily, for this would have taken the emotive immigration issue off the table. And in no time at all Britain would have been just one more EU country with its own set of immigration controls. For whether one likes it or not, this is something coming soon to a cinema near you.
To her credit Ms Merkel is still fighting for her cause but it is difficult to see how she can win now. The lukewarm proposal for immigrant detention centres which emanated from the recent EU summit seems unlikely to anaethetise the fire-and-blood issue of immigration. The number of migrants may be down but as long as leaky boats full of migrants are attempting to cross the Mediterranean it is difficult to imagine it receding from the headlines. More likely, the CSU, under strong pressure from the AfD, will insist on a halt to further migration outside the normal legal channels. In any case, the Austrians and Italians will clearly press on: when Matteo Salvini, the Italian Interior Minister, prevented immigrant boats from docking his party’s standing soared. Indeed, the polls showed that 72 per cent of Italians supported Salvini’s hardline stance.
So what will Fortress Europe look like? The claim made at present that a tough line on immigration will sabotage the “free movement of labour” within the EU need not be true. Provided the proper legal processes are respected, immigration can go on at a measured pace and EU countries can allow other EU citizens to move around freely. But there is the rub. For example, France has taken a hard line against allowing in illegal migrants from Italy — the last thing it needs is yet more angry, unemployed young Muslim men. But would that attitude change if Italy simply gave them all citizenship? Of course not. And quite certainly Hungary and Poland would not want them at any price. That is to say, Europe already contains millions of citizens to whom free movement does not really apply. Imagine that the German economy continues to outpace France, ultimately producing a flow of several million unemployed French Muslims into Germany. Any German Chancellor who allowed such a thing would undoubtedly get thrown out. In other words, the objection that Britain was different in wanting immigration controls on the movement of EU citizens as well as foreign migrants doesn’t really hold: potentially this applies to all.
Which brings up several other issues. First, of course, a move to Fortress Europe would leave the Visegrad Group (Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic) in a commanding position, for it would mean that the rest of Europe had flocked to their banner. Visegrad is notable as the most cohesive bloc within the EU. On its own it would be the world’s 12th largest economy with an annual GDP of $2 trillion. Secondly, such a situation would bring to the fore the fact that the issue causing all the agitation is not just migrants, but Islam. Put baldly, the Visegrad countries would be unlikely to welcome an influx of Muslims whatever the passports they carried.
It must be admitted at this point that most European countries, whatever their neo-liberal principles, have an undeclared policy of minimising Muslim immigration. To many, France stands as a warning. With a Muslim population of five million it has an endemic problem of terrorism. Many of the Muslims don’t integrate. Many French Jews flee: indeed, Israel treats French Jews as refugees. Trump talks about the country as one that has already “gone”, “given up”. Others quietly take notice. British Home Secretaries make it clear that they want the (mainly Muslim) Asian community to look for their brides at home and the government sets a low target for the acceptance of Syrian refugees. Throughout Europe there is anti-Islamic feeling and agitation, discomfort at the higher Muslim birth rate and the sight of Muslim mosques on the skyline. Already many Jews say that it is not safe for them to go to synagogue wearing the kippah in any country with a large Muslim population. In France all synagogues and Jewish schools have to be under permanent military guard. After every terrorist incident the public waits to hear the identity of the terrorists, expecting Muslim names. And anti-Muslim incidents proliferate.
Everyone knows that this flies in the face of liberal principles about treating everyone equally irrespective of factors such as race or religion — but what to do? As Europe’s Muslim population grows, many countries are now having to deal with the fact that in some of their larger cities there are no-go areas for some religious groups and even for women. Sometimes it is Muslim women who complain of right-wing thugs tearing off their scarves or niqabs, sometimes non-Muslim women who complain of harassment by Muslim men. Moreover, social democratic parties across Europe have lost much of their traditional working-class base and compensate by appealing to immigrant groups. This, in practice soon turns them into spokesmen for the Muslim interest: they cultivate a fierce anti-Israel rhetoric and fairly soon there are accusations of anti-Semitism. This is toxic stuff. By comparison, class politics was a lot more civilised.
A good example of the politically correct reaction to this situation is to be found in Jim Wolfreys’s Republic of Islamophobia: The Rise of Respectable Racism in France (Hurst). Early on Wolfreys denounces what he calls “a clash of civilisations narrative”. The book consists of a step-by-step account of anti-Muslim attitudes in a wide range of French parties and institutions including even the orthodox Left, for Wolfreys believes that the traditional republican laicité has been turned into an anti-Muslim instrument. At the end of the book all that Wolfreys has established is that there are frictions between Muslims and non-Muslims at every level of French society. Wolfreys has merely taken one side in that conflict. As so often happens, anti-Islamic feeling is then denounced as racism but that is only true in the same sense that, say, English anti-popery was often conflated with hostility to the Irish or Spanish. The more important point is that a clash of civilisations really is happening and, as we surely all sense, the present rather silly debates about hijabs, niqabs and burkas are merely the opening skirmishes.
Islam is thus an independent factor when considering Fortress Europe, although it’s hardly bon ton to admit it. The migrant crisis has merely crystallised a situation that already existed. It was always quite clear that the prospect of millions of Turkish Muslims fanning out all over the EU was a major reason that Turkish entry to the EU never got anywhere. Muslim EU citizens may well complain — correctly — that this situation makes them second-class citizens. But if we’re dealing with realities, this is where we come to. Already, it should be clear, the half-a-million illegal immigrants in Italy (who are mainly Muslims) are a ticking time bomb. Many Europeans will disapprove of Signor Salvini’s intention to boot them out. But imagine the furore if Italy attempts to push them into France or Austria.
It is now obvious that the migrant problem is a major threat to the integrity of the EU, not only because it threatens the free movement of labour doctrine or because European leaders find it impossible to agree on how to deal with the problem. The real challenge is much more fundamental. It is that the prospect of large-scale immigration by Third World people, most of them Muslims, everywhere creates a strong nativist reaction. This quickly takes nationalist form, an implicit challenge to the supranational values of the EU. The key reason why this happens is that, threatened by the ingress of a large number of unwanted Others, people turn to the nation state as their natural recourse. Surely, they ask, every nation has the right to decide its own immigration policy? As we know, such feelings were fundamental to the Brexit vote, but they are also now to be found in almost every European country and they are pulling Europe apart.
It is difficult to see how Europe can avoid this crisis, for it is born out of something as fundamental as the world population explosion. This will not go away. Indeed, the world population is set to peak around 2055 at around 11 billion, a huge increase from the 7 billion now, which will test every nerve and sinew we’ve got. To feed that extra four billion every single scrap of vacant land will have to be cultivated. In much of the Third World this pressure will produce huge wars, so more and more refugees. After 2055 the world population will decline to perhaps 3.5 billion by 2150. But 2055 is a long way away and the decline from that peak will initially be slow, so ahead of us over the next 40-70 years we have the most difficult period in the planet’s history. Lord knows how many species will disappear under the weight of that dreadful human increase. In that whole period Europe will be under siege.
The situation is compounded by the fact that most would-be migrants are unskilled and the highly-developed economies of Europe have less and less need for the unskilled. At present Ms Merkel supports her case by pointing to the declining German birth rate and thus the need for replacement workers. But this rationale will soon cease to hold water as the robotics revolution takes hold. And in any case, all developed countries will soon have to adjust to the reality of declining populations.
So what to do? Fortress Europe seems inevitable. At present there is much reliance on reaching accords with border states like Turkey or Libya to stem the flow there and, of course, there is a lot of earnest lip service to the idea of helping African and Middle Eastern societies to develop so that their people will not wish to quit them in such numbers. It seems unlikely that these border arrangements will last, and while European aid to Africa is praiseworthy, it is idle to imagine that it will make a decisive difference unless the problem of Africa’s poor governance is solved. And perhaps not, even then.
Meanwhile what is important is that whereas a generation or two ago few Africans were at all conscious of what life was like in Europe, now everyone can see on their mobile phones how much better life in Europe is than what they face in an increasingly turbulent and chaotic Africa. This alone will guarantee a large and steady flow of would-be economic migrants. If Europe doesn’t want these people it is going to have to be extremely determined, efficient and even ruthless in turning them away. After all, the Romans didn’t manage it.