Prior to the 2015 migration crisis the European Union was generally held in high regard on the European continent. There were always some rumblings and grumblings about something or other but nothing like the rising antipathy that is now being witnessed across the EU, particularly in the former communist Eastern European countries.
Overall, I am pro-EU. I am an Englishman who has been living in Poland since 2002 and, as such, have witnessed the incredible improvements made in this country, particularly the huge infrastructure projects completed with joint EU funding. Many towns like my own have been transformed with new roads, pavements, street lighting, energy networks, schools, cultural centres, recycling programmes etc. Another great example are the spanking new motorways that are even better now, in my opinion, than those in many Western European countries such as the UK. Even today I have been reading about a tremendous project – the Via Carpathia – a new trans-continental highway that will link Greece to Estonia and that is expected to be ready for use by 2025. According to a recent communication released by the Polish parliament (Sejm):
“Via Carpathia is a key trans-European transport corridor that may become a new connection between northern and southern Europe, integrating the transport systems of Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Greece. This investment will help to incorporate less developed regions to the mainstream international trade exchange and unlock their growth potential.”
So what has brought this about disenchantment of many ordinary voters towards the European Union? Well everything changed with the ‘invasion’ of European territory by asylum seekers and illegal economic migrants in 2015 that saw huge waves of non-Europeans literally walk into Europe. Many European citizens who are generally supportive of European integration are now completely fed up with Brussels’ chaotic response to this crisis. This resentment had been building for some time, given the politically correct migration policies like those that have been implemented in Sweden, foisted upon the people without their consultation. We Europeans have had to witness foreigners with completely different cultures and religions not only being welcomed into our countries but also given financial support using taxpayers’ hard-earned money – money which might have been allocated to less well-off members of society.
The consequence is that the politicians in Brussels are now being seen as antipathetic to those whose interests they are supposed to represent. As such, voters are responding by casting their vote for politicians (mainly populist ones) who will act contrary to the wishes of Brussels and Mrs Merkel i.e. ones who will adopt a hard line stance towards immigrants that are not of European origin, such as those from sub-Saharan Africa. Now, please bear in mind that this is not towards fellow Europeans. I, like many others on the continent, do not have an issue with freedom of movement within Europe. Unlike many British who voted for Brexit because of European migration, I am perfectly happy to see a Spaniard working in Romania or a Pole working in France. The British think that their country is a magnet for European migrants but this is far from being the case as countries like Romania and Poland see their economies strengthen. Overall, the effect of European integration is to allocate resources from the wealthier to the poorer countries so that living standards rise across Europe.
Moving forward, recent election results are putting pressure on the traditional status quo. This was neatly summed up by an article in The Observer which describes the rising panic among the liberal politically correct elites:
‘This rejection of politics as usual, and the consequent fragmentation of the body politic, finds powerful echoes across Europe. Everywhere, or so it seems, newly minted or reviving political forces, sometimes benign, more frequently not, are attempting to fill the vacuum. This weekend’s elections in the Czech Republic are a case in point. Polls suggest the ruling, pro-EU Social Democrats face defeat by the upstart populist, Eurosceptic, anti-immigrant Action of Dissatisfied Citizens (ANO) led by a billionaire (they did). In prospect is a coalition with the right-wing Freedom and Direct Democracy party, which wants to quit the EU.
Events in Prague recall in turn last week’s Austrian elections, which brought victory for the youthful conservative People’s party leader, Sebastian Kurz, whose [sic.] cynical tactic was to ape the extremist, xenophobic outlook of the far-right Freedom party. Kurz now looks set to form a governing alliance with a party whose [sic.] neo-Nazi origins and ideology led the EU to boycott Austria in 2000, when the Freedom party first entered government. It is a measure of how Europe has become more accepting of, or resigned to, far-right activism that no repeat boycott is mooted in Brussels. More than half the Austrian electorate backed parties fiercely opposed to immigration, integration and multiculturalism.’
And the article continues on the same theme:
‘Who can save Europe from this fatal fragmentation, this pernicious, creeping dissolution of its ideological, democratic and territorial unity? The threats to solidarity do not come solely from within. Russia plays the stealthy provocateur along the eastern flank. With EU funding for migration controls running out fast, prospective new waves of African and Middle Eastern refugees require an effective, collective response that has been lacking hitherto. The return of Islamic State fighters from Iraq and Syria is another pressing challenge. Authoritarian Turkey is a growing problem. So, too, is Donald Trump. Meanwhile, right-wing leaders in Poland and Hungary are at odds with Brussels over basic principles of law and civic rights.
There was a time when all eyes would have turned for leadership and inspiration to Angela Merkel, Germany’s iron chancellor. But last month’s elections left her badly bent out of shape. Her CDU party recorded its worst result ever. The populist Alternative for Germany stormed into the Bundestag. As of today, Merkel is still trying to form a government. Yet this is [a] weakened, buffeted leader … Europe is slipping ever deeper into an existential crisis all of its own.’
So what should the European Union do to get its supporters back on board? According to a report by the Gatestone Institute, it should listen to the leaders of the V4 (Poland, Hungary, Czech and Slovakia). It believes the election outcome, the result of popular discontent with established parties, is the latest in a recent wave of successes for European populists, including in Austria and Germany. The populist ascendancy highlights a shifting political landscape in Europe where runaway multiculturalism and political correctness, combined with a massive influx of unassimilable migrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East, have given rise to a surge in support for anti-establishment protest parties.
Andrej Babis, the new Czech Prime Minister, will now share government with Czech President Milos Zeman. In an interview with the Guardian, the 71-year-old Zeman recounted a recent conversation with Angela Merkel: “My first sentence in the meeting with Madam Chancellor was: ‘If you invite somebody to your homeland, you do not send them to have lunch at your neighbours.'” In another interview with Czech Radio, Zeman, who has also referred to mass migration to Europe an “organised invasion,” said: “The Muslim Brotherhood cannot start a war against Europe, it doesn’t have the power, but it can prepare a growing migrant wave and gradually control Europe.” Zeman, along with Babis, has also expressed scepticism about Muslim integration: “The experience of Western European countries which have ghettos and excluded localities shows that the integration of the Muslim community is practically impossible.” So, if the EU wants to check the power of a rising V4, it first has to adopt its outlook on migration.
Secondly, political correctness has to be put on the back burner. Sweden is a very good example of how this can bring a country to its knees, with a police chief begging for assistance and Islamic no-go zones for ordinary Swedish citizens. Milos Zeman has described political correctness as “a euphemism for political cowardice” and Andrej Babis said in the daily Pravo back on 16 January 2016:
“It is unthinkable that the indigenous European population should adapt themselves to the refugees. We must do away with such nonsensical political correctness. The refugees should behave like guests, that is, they should be polite, and they certainly do not have the right to choose what they want to eat … There is a deep chasm between what people think and what the media tell them.”
Thirdly, the EU has to do a 180 degree U-turn on Angela Merkel’s open door immigration policies. Babis has been sharply critical of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door migration policy and has repeatedly denounced EU-imposed migrant quotas and other “EU meddling” in Czech politics. Those positions resonate in the Czech Republic, where citizens have the second-lowest trust in the European Union of all 28 member states (only Greeks have less trust in the EU), according to the latest Eurobarometer poll, published in August.
Babis, along with other V4 leaders, does not want the Czech Republic to leave the EU; he has repeatedly stressed that unimpeded access to the European single market is essential to maintaining the health of the Czech economy, which has the lowest unemployment rate in the EU: “We have six thousand German companies here, investing with us and employing people.” Instead he has pledged to reform the European Union from within, especially regarding migration policy: “I want to play a more important role in Europe. But we have to fight for our interests and make proposals. If I were a prime minister, I would say: ‘Close this cursed external European border at last.'”
However, he has strongly expressed his opposition to mass migration: “I have stopped believing in successful integration and multiculturalism.” He has also insisted that the Czech Republic alone should decide who will work in the country and who will receive humanitarian aid: “I do not want to have a French or German migration policy; we want our migration policy to be completely different from other countries. Every state has some interests, we have to fight for Czech national interests, we do not want to have that multicultural model.” Likewise, he has rejected pressure from the European Commission, which has launched infringement procedures against the Czechs, Hungarians and Poles for refusing to comply with an EU plan to redistribute migrants:
“I will not accept refugee quotas for the Czech Republic. The situation has changed. We see how migrants react in Europe. We must react to the needs and fears of the citizens of our country. We must guarantee the security of Czech citizens. Even if we are punished by sanctions.
Finally, the EU must take a much more hard-nosed approach to deporting illegal economic migrants and criminal ones, as well as preventing them from setting foot on European soil. Many critics of the current chaotic migrant situation have proposed the Australian approach towards illegal immigration as the way forward, and the leaders of the European Union should look seriously as adopting something similar for the organisation’s long-term political survival.
The Observer view on the crisis in Europe | Observer editorial
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