Walker's World: Europe's migrant elephant

By MARTIN WALKER, UPI Editor   |   Dec. 18, 2005 at 9:30 AM

WASHINGTON, Dec. 18 (UPI) -- The vast sense of relief and even the outbreaks of modest euphoria among European leaders at finally settling their battle of the budget in Brussels will be reinforced by the latest news from the world trade talks in Hong Kong.

It seems that there will be enough of a deal to save face all round, and the Europeans will escape the massive blame they deserve for clinging to their indefensible farm subsidy system for another eight years.

Whew! Lucky old Europe dodged two bullets. Maybe now the Europeans can start facing up the elephant that has taken up residence in their collective drawing room.

This week, United Press International was one of the few non-French media outlets to report the results of a striking opinion poll commissioned by the newspaper Le Monde, and conducted by the prestigious TNS-Sofres group. Published Wednesday, it found that only 39 percent of the French now believe that the views of Jean-Marie Le Pen, the anti-immigrant and extreme right leader of the Front National party, are "unacceptable."

That means that a clear majority, 61 percent, now see Le Pen as a legitimate candidate, and that his policies of compulsory mass expulsion of immigrants, including children born in France and thus French citizens, are an acceptable part of political discourse.

One respondent in three, 33 percent, said they expect Le Pen to make the final runoff list of the two candidates with the highest votes in the next President election to be held in 18 months. One in four, 24 percent, said they agreed with Le Pen - a significant advance on the 18 percent of the vote he received in the last Presidential election in 2002.

Moreover, the ideas and resentments that underpin Le Pen's message have become widespread. Nearly three out of four, 73 percent, declared that "the traditional values of France are not adequately protected." Nearly two out of three, 63 percent, said bluntly that there are too many immigrants in France, and 44 percent said they do not feel at home in their own country.

The poll was taken in the wake of the riots that swept French suburbs in the autumn nights of October and November. Night after night, the young blacks and Muslims burned cars and schools and civic buildings, fought the police, in a highly telegenic display of rage and frustration that spread quickly and dramatically across France, leaving over 9,000 burned-out cars, 2,888 people arrested, and 126 police officers injured.

Le Monde also reported this week another poll, this one quasi-official, organized by France's National Commission for the Rights of Man, which was accompanied b y a confidential report that went direct to the Minister of the Interior, noting that "the word 'racist' has been liberated."

It is no longer a word used with shame. The poll found that one French adult in three, 33 percent, would use the word 'racist' to describe him- or herself. In the same poll a year ago, only 25 percent would call themselves 'racist.' In rural districts, 48 percent of French people were now content to describe themselves as 'racist.'

The poll went on to say that 56 percent said there were too many immigrants in France, and the numbers of those who thought immigration brought economic benefits had fallen by 11 percent. Even immigrants now thought that there were too many immigrants in France, the poll found.

"The public acceptance of racist attitudes is strongest among men, the elderly, skilled workers, small business people, company heads and workers," the report said. "The end of the taboo against racism is confirmed by the finding that 63 percent of respondents said that certain behavior (by immigrants) can justify racist reactions."

France is unique in Europe in having the highest proportion of immigrants, now some 10 percent of the population, mostly of Islamic backgrounds in North Africa. But the bombings by home-grown Islamic terrorists of the London underground in July, killing 52 people, and the riots in Holland after the murder of the film-maker Theo van Gogh by a young Muslim extremist, suggest that immigration and Islam are now problems that confront Europe as a whole.

Germany has been rocked over the last month by the reports of 'honor killings' of young Turkish women by their own families, for dating non-Muslim men or for refusing to marry the men chosen by their fathers. In Belgium, the successor to the Vlaams Blok party, which was banned by the High Court two years ago for extremism, has 18 percent of the vote, is the second largest party in the Flemish parliament and the largest party on Antwerp city council - a city where 'Mohammed' is now the most common name in new registrations of births.

The firmest evidence of the Europe-wide problem came with another poll, this none taken globally among 55,000 people in 70 countries by Gallup to mark the UN's proclamation of December 18 as International Migrant's Day. It found clear majorities in Africa (63 percent), Asia (56 percent), and North America (54 percent) who felt positively about immigration, while the majority in the Middle East (67 percent), Eastern Europe (61 percent), and Central and South America (53 percent), and some 50 percent in Western Europe were against immigrants.

In France, 50 percent told the pollsters that they would not welcome immigrants, while only 30 percent would. The most hostile country to immigrants was Turkey, where only 7 percent would welcome them, followed by Bulgaria and Serbia with (10 percent). These three countries are now on track to join the European Union.

Although 51 percent of Americans said they welcome migrants, 44 percent said they would not. This represents a significant change since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In a poll taken in June 2001, shortly before the hijacked planes were flown into the World Trade center and the pentagon, 62 percent of Americans said they welcomed immigration and only 31 percent were hostile.

The world is becoming a less welcoming and less friendly place, but Europe in general and France in particular are seeing a shift in public attitudes that will be far more profound in kits effect than the high-profile disputes over the European budget that dominated the politics and the media of Europe in recent days. Europe's political leaders are not quite fiddling while Rome blames, but they have been haggling over petty budget sums while ignoring the gigantic elephant that now occupies their continent.

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