Hold on to your seats, folks! A ‘sharp right turn’ is coming up fast as we approach elections across Europe this year, at both national and European levels.
Last week the European Council on Foreign Relations published a report warning that populists and nationalists will top the votes for new members of the European Parliament in the June elections in Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Slovakia.
Populist parties are also forecast to poll strongly in Bulgaria, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Portugal, Romania, Spain, and Sweden. In other words, fewer centre-left and green parties will be able to hold on to their seats.
We may be tempted to think that European politics don’t really matter much, but the overall move towards the extreme right will affect politics at all levels. It will hamper the ability of the European Commission and the European Council to maintain a united front on foreign policy matters, and to act on environmental issues.
Structures and institutions which have underpinned the post-World War Two order based on liberal democracy, rule of law and cooperation towards the common good will become increasingly threatened as anti-European, anti-migrant and anti-democratic populists gain power.
Migrant-scapegoating and nationalism are usually coupled with undermining support for Ukraine. Yet it doesn’t take a genius to predict that a Putin victory would trigger the biggest, most-disastrous migrant crisis in Europe since the World War Two.
Reports of repressive conditions in the occupied eastern territories of Ukraine producing a Soviet-style zombie mentality will not encourage Ukrainians who have tasted freedom to submit to Russian rule, under so-called Russkiy mir. Six million Ukrainians – women and children – left their homelands as the Russian tanks invaded from the north nearly two years ago. Next time the men would come too.
The best – and only – way to avoid such a crisis is to ensure Ukraine has the tools to finish the job well. Surely anti-migrant parties should wake up to this reality.
They – and we all – should also read How migration really works, the recently published book by Dutch sociologist Hein de Haas, founder of the International Migration Institute at Oxford University. The Amsterdammer argues that much of the debate about migration has been shaped by myths, fabrications and irresponsible rhetoric emboldening the far right, and promoting racism, polarisation and intolerance.
Thirty years of research has convinced him that there is no need to panic; that we are not living in times of unprecedented migration or refugee crisis; that migration is neither at an all-time high nor accelerating out of control; that immigration has not caused unemployment, job insecurity, wage stagnation, and the lack of affordable housing, education and healthcare; nor does it cause crime, nor threaten welfare provisions or social cohesion.
Hard to believe? That may show the influence of debates framed in simplistic and polarising pro- and anti-terms. Read the book for yourself with its 400 pages of research-based findings. Immigrant scapegoating, he says, is an age-old strategy used by politicians to deflect the attention away from their own complicity in creating the above-mentioned problems.
These are uncertain times demanding vigilance. We need to encourage discussion and dialogue among Christians to ‘understand the times and know what God’s people should do’. Which is why we hold the State of Europe Forum each year on or around Europe Day (May 9) in the capital of the country holding the EU presidency. Right now that is Belgium. So this year’s forum will be back in Brussels where the Schuman Centre was launched on May 9, 2010, on the 60th anniversary of the Schuman Declaration, which triggered European integration in 1950. The forum precedes the European Parliament elections by a month (June 6-9).
So save these dates: May 10 & 11. Consider joining us on Friday evening, the 10th, in the opening public event in the Carmelite Church. Keynote speaker will be the Rt. Rev. Dr. Robert Innes, the Anglican Bishop in Europe. The forum will continue on the Saturday for registered participants when we reflect on the state of Europe today in the light of Robert Schuman’s vision for a ‘community of peoples deeply rooted in Christian values’. Further information will be posted later on the forum website: stateofeuropeforum.eu.
Europe Day itself, Thursday May 9, falls on Ascension Day this year. We plan a European Studies Day, open to all, on that day in Brussels, exploring how the Gospel has shaped the European story through two millennia, and also highlighting the special moments of grace in Europe since World War Two. On Friday, we will walk together through the European Quarter in Brussels to learn more about the workings of the various institutions there.
Watch this space for more details.
Till next week,