sexta-feira, 27 de novembro de 2015
Tensions over migration: Barbed rhetoric
Tensions over migration: Barbed rhetoric
Nationalist and anti-immigrant sentiment in central and eastern European countries are threatening the spirit of EU unity
Henry Foy and Neil Buckley
November 26, 2015 7:54 pm
The assault rifles of the Paris terror attacks had fallen silent only hours earlier when Konrad Szymanski saw an opportunity. Poland’s new minister for Europe had not even been sworn in, but he gave the rest of the EU a sense of what to expect from its new rightwing government.
“The attacks indicate the need for an even deeper revision of the European policy on the migration crisis,” he wrote in an opinion piece published while other leaders across Europe were expressing solidarity with France.
He added that Poland saw “no political possibility of executing” the EU’s plan to distribute refugees from Syria and other war-torn countries among its members.
That his Law and Justice party, which won a landslide majority in last month’s election, is opposed to Poland accepting migrants is no revelation. But for Warsaw’s most senior negotiator in Brussels to use the Paris attacks as a means of attacking the EU migration policy shocked many across the continent.
It crystallised concerns, too, that after Hungary swung to the right in 2010 with the election of the firebrand populist Viktor Orban, more of central Europe was in danger of following suit.
It has been 11 years since the most ambitious expansion in EU history saw 10 countries — eight from the former communist bloc — join the union in a move widely seen as ending Europe’s decades-long division.
Although many were hit hard by the global financial crisis, billions of euros of EU aid have helped the new eastern members’ economies — especially the so-called Visegrad Four of Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Hungary — to perform better overall than western Europe over the past decade.
The new members have largely bought into the EU’s liberalisation agenda, despite isolated clashes on climate change and social policies. But today, the rise of nationalism and euroscepticism across central Europe, fuelled by the migrant crisis and stoked by populist leaders, is challenging the unity of the European project. It is raising questions over the liberal orthodoxy that has underpinned much of the EU’s core message.
Constitutional shake-up Moves by the new rightwing Polish government echo some of Orban’s changes in Hungary
In search of a majority The ruling party in Slovakia has turned to anti-migrant rhetoric ahead of an election in March
Eastern bloc vote The ‘Visegrad’ group often represents the views of the Baltic states as well as Romania and Bulgaria
Compared with the rest of the EU, central Europe has small immigrant populations, with few Muslims. It is also more socially conservative, partly a legacy of decades of Soviet-imposed communism. Though these are not dominant characteristics, they can be exploited by opportunistic politicians.
Of the Visegrad Four, only Hungary is on the migrant route carrying tens of thousands of people a day from Syria, Afghanistan and north Africa towards Germany and beyond.
But some regional leaders have whipped up public anxiety over the possible impact of a migratory wave that has seen more than 750,000 migrants arrive in Europe this year alone. The result is anger at what many perceive to be a heavy-handed response by the EU, creating an east-versus-west, us-versus-them discourse. It amounts to the largest outbreak of public euroscepticism in the region’s history.
The dynamic in Europe was until recently the “fiscally sensible north versus the profligate south”, says a senior diplomat from the region. “Now it is the altruistic west against the xenophobic east. Our biggest danger is to fall into this trap and follow the nationalist, populist rhetoric.”
The EU’s first taste of such rhetoric in central Europe came with the 2010 election of Mr Orban and his Fidesz party in Hungary. The one-time student dissident served a term as premier in 1998-2002. But the implosion of the Socialist government — under whose rule Hungary had become the first central European state to need a bailout from the International Monetary Fund during the financial crisis — swept Fidesz back to power. It also left the far-right Jobbik party as his main opposition.
Mr Orban used his two-thirds majority to push through a controversial media law, which critics said muzzled opposition voices, and a new constitution that entrenched his party’s power.
Though he and his party have faced criticism over treatment of the Roma minority and for alleged anti-semitism — which they deny — Mr Orban only latched on to the immigration issue this year. As Hungary found itself on the transit route during the spring for thousands of Kosovans heading towards Austria and Germany, Mr Orban launched a campaign warning migrants against “taking Hungarians’ jobs”. He also sent letters to Hungarians, seeking their views on immigration, including potential links between migrants and terrorism.
Fears of ‘Fortress Europe’
The Kosovan experience left Mr Orban in a strong position once Hungary found hundreds of thousands of Middle Eastern migrants trekking across the country this summer. Insisting he was defending the EU’s Schengen zone — the passport-free travel area of which Hungary is a member — Mr Orban erected a 175km razor-wire fence at the Serbia border in September and passed laws making it almost impossible for refugees to enter. He later did the same at the Croatian border.
Mr Orban became the first European leader to adopt “clash of civilisations” rhetoric, warning that Muslims in EU countries were living in non-integrated, “parallel” communities. “If we let the Muslims into the continent to compete with us, they will outnumber us. It’s mathematics,” he said in September.
Peter Kreko, director of Political Capital, a Budapest consultancy, says Mr Orban’s stance was aimed at diverting attention from corruption allegations surrounding some associates and reversing gains for the Jobbik party. Polls suggest this strategy has worked.
But, he says, Mr Orban is also trying to present himself as a “visionary”, adding: “He really expects that he will have a leading role in Europe.”
To western Europe’s alarm, the Orban rhetoric has started to spread. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the Law and Justice party and Poland’s most powerful politician, has vowed the country will not accept more refugees under the EU’s sharing scheme. He has warned that immigrants into Europe could spread “parasites and disease”.
Robert Fico, Slovakia’s prime minister, has said migrants pose a security risk to Europe, and threatened to pull his country out of the EU rather than accept refugees under the quota plan. And in the Czech Republic, president Milos Zeman has supported the far-right Bloc Against Islam, which calls for all Muslims to be evicted from the country. Andrej Babis, deputy prime minister, has demanded that Europe shut its borders and use military force to prevent more immigration.
Europe’s migration crisis
Syrian refugees arrive on the shores of the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey on a inflatable dinghy on September 11, 2015. The EU unveiled plans to take 160,000 refugees from overstretched border states, as the United States said it would accept more Syrians to ease the pressure from the worst migration crisis since World War II. AFP PHOTO / ANGELOS TZORTZINIS (Photo credit should read ANGELOS TZORTZINIS/AFP/Getty Images)
The EU is struggling to respond to a surge of desperate migrants that has resulted in thousands of deaths since the beginning of the year
Vladimir Handl, of the Institute of International Relations in Prague, warns that parties in the region are not offering political leadership but instead “follow the public mood defined by populists, or are populists themselves”.
“The Visegrad group may turn into a platform for co-ordinated populist opposition to the European mainstream in the refugee issue,” Prof Handl adds.
That would be bad news for the EU project. Poland, with the EU’s sixth-largest economy and population, has as many votes in the European Council, the EU’s decision-making body, as Italy and Spain. Slovakia will assume the bloc’s rotating presidency in the second half of 2016.
The Visegrad Group has historically also represented the views of the Baltic states, Romania and Bulgaria. Together, they constitute a group within touching distance of a blocking veto on all council decisions. While Brussels can tolerate and contain one Mr Orban, it will struggle to handle half a dozen.
Three days before Mr Szymanski’s missive, more than 50,000 Poles marched through the centre of Warsaw on a nationalist, anti-EU march. Chants comparing Brussels with Soviet Moscow rang out alongside shouts of “No Islam, no atheists, a Poland for Catholics”. Through a fog of white smoke billowing from bright red flares held aloft by men in black jackets and balaclavas, a banner bore the march’s slogan “Poland for Poles and Poles for Poland”.
The marchers remain a fringe group, but elements of their rhetoric are seeping into central Europe’s political discourse. In Slovakia, Mr Fico has ratcheted up his anti-immigrant language ahead of a general election in March. His party changed its slogan from “We work for the people” to “We protect Slovakia”, and its lead in the polls has risen since.
One Slovak diplomat describes his country’s prime minister as “Orban-lite”. He said Mr Fico’s nationalist tack resulted from his desire not to lose votes to more extremist parties.
“We will have rhetoric like this . . . until the election,” the diplomat says. “Fico knows hardening his position could mean the difference between a victory and an outright majority. After that we will have to wait and see.”
Polls back up Mr Fico’s strategy. Only 2 per cent of Slovaks think refugees should be given permanent asylum in the country, a survey in October found.
“He’s not a eurosceptic, he’s just a pragmatist. And right now, that [means] euroscepticism,” says a second senior Slovak foreign policy official, who declined to be identified. “It is straight out of the Orban playbook.”
Mr Kaczynski has played on similar public suspicions, which polls suggest helped his party win last month’s general election with a 14 per cent margin and end eight years in power for the pro-EU, liberal Civic Platform party.
On Wednesday, Mr Kaczynski’s party used its majority to pass legislation designed to alter the make-up of the constitutional court by dismissing judges not chosen by him, and also taking control of the body designed to hold parliament to account. The moves echo some of Mr Orban’s constitutional changes. Poland’s opposition condemned the move as a “coup”, while Nils Muiznieks, the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, says it “undermines the rule of law”.
In a symbolic move, the Kaczynski administration announced that the EU flag would be removed from the prime minister’s weekly press conferences. And he has indicated that he will reverse the support for Brussels’ relocation plan given by the previous government. His new foreign minister has suggested that Syrian refugees should be armed and sent back to fight in the civil war, rather than “sip coffee” in Europe.
Fearing a public outcry if it supported the EU’s plan to divide more than 100,000 migrants between member states, Prague sided with Bratislava and Budapest in voting against the measures in September. “The situation was that we were either with Orban or we were with the Germans,” says a senior Czech foreign ministry official. “And the public were with Orban, so we had no choice.”
That decision has already hit relations with western member states, led by Germany, which perceived the refusal as a lack of solidarity from countries the EU has heavily supported economically.
Some see warning signs. Andrej Kiska, Slovakia’s liberal president, recently urged fellow politicians to avoid “reviving the ghosts of the past” that risk dividing Europe. “It would be against our strategic interest, against our common sense to turn central Europe into some troublemaking bloc inside the EU, allied by a trivial, selfish and short-sighted ‘blame-it-on-Brussels’ political agenda,” he says.