Walker's World: No more EU welcome mat

MARTIN WALKER, UPI Editor Emeritus
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (L) greets French President Nicolas Sarkozy as he arrives for a round table session at the G8 summit in L'Aquila, Italy on July 8, 2009. (UPI Photo/Stringer)
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (L) greets French President Nicolas Sarkozy as he arrives for a round table session at the G8 summit in L'Aquila, Italy on July 8, 2009. (UPI Photo/Stringer) | License Photo

DUSSELDORF, Germany, Oct. 4 (UPI) -- The political dislocations under way across Europe are remarkable. Some are inevitable, the result of economic and currency crises and the efforts being made by governments to cut spending and reduce deficits. But these have also changed the nature of the immigration debate.

Ireland last week found itself facing a deficit of one-third of its gross domestic product as it sought to clear up the unholy mess in its banking system. Britain's new coalition government is agonizing over plans to slash defense spending by a quarter, dismaying its American ally and turning a once leading military power into just another semi-pacifist European state.


But many of the parallel crises are, at least on the face it if, more simply political. Belgium has no government. Holland has been trying desperately to cobble one together from the chaos of votes and parties that came from the election early in the summer. Sweden is doing the same after its election failed to deliver a clear majority. In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy is plumbing new depths of unpopularity after his high-handed attempt to expel Roma (who are citizens of the European Union, just like him) amid threats of legal retaliation by the EU for breach of the European charter on human rights.


The common thread that runs through these purely political crises is immigration. In Belgium, Holland and Sweden, the political system was disrupted and traditional party loyalties broken by the impact of small new anti-immigration parties. They emerged from the political right but gathered force by taking working-class votes from the traditional left-wing parties.

The impact of this kind of anti-immigration sentiment is more widespread. Switzerland last year had a referendum that banned the construction of new minarets for mosques. Sarkozy in France is moving against the Roma because he hopes to win back support from the anti-immigrant Front National. And one reason why Britain's Conservatives had to resort to a coalition with the Liberal-Democrats was that the anti-immigrant British National Party won enough votes to deny the Conservatives support in constituencies they had hoped to win.

Ed Miliband, the new leader of Britain's Labor Party, accepts that "too many people came in too quickly" and adds that the costs and benefits of mass immigration were very unevenly distributed and too many of the costs fell on Labor's core working-class voters. His colleague Jon Cruddas described Britain's (and Europe's) current system as acting "like an unforgiving incomes policy for those on lower incomes."


In Germany, central banker Thilo Sarrazin was put on the cover of Der Spiegel as "the peoples' hero" after the German establishment rallied to force him off the Bundesbank board after denouncing his new anti-immigration book "Germany is Destroying Itself." He claims that Europe's top economy is being undermined, overwhelmed and made "more stupid" by poorly educated, fast-breeding, badly integrated and unproductive Muslim immigrants and their offspring.

"If I want to hear the muezzin's call to prayer, then I'll go to the Orient," he says, saying that allowing in millions of "guest workers" in the 1960s and 1970s was a "gigantic error."

In Italy, premier Silvio Berlusconi rallied to support Sarkozy on the expulsion of the Roma, saying "We hope that this Franco-Italian convergence will shake Europe and make it confront the problem with coordinated policies."

"Europe has not yet woken up to the fact that the Roma problem is not a uniquely a French or Italian, Greek or Spanish problem. President Sarkozy, on the other hand, is fully aware of this," Berlusconi argues. "The Left's idea is of a multi-ethnic Italy. That is not our idea, ours is to welcome only those who meet the conditions for political asylum."


And now that Holland has finally put together a government we can see the price European politicians are prepared to pay to mollify the anti-immigration forces. Holland doesn't have a firm or stable government, rather one that depends on the support (but not the inclusion in government) of the anti-Islamic politician Geert Wilders and his PVV party.

"A new wind will blow in the Netherlands," Wilders declared when the deal was reached."We want the Islamisation to be stopped."

Wilders, who describes the Koran as "a fascist book," goes on trial next week in Amsterdam for inciting racial hatred and insulting Muslims. But he has emerged triumphant from the negotiations to form the new Dutch coalition.

Wilders remains controversial, with the Green party saying "this is about repression and reducing ethnic minorities." But the Christian Democrats ratified the deal at a meeting on Saturday by 68 percent in favor, with 32 percent against. Party leader Maxime Verhagen said it was a "very good governing agreement that every Christian Democrat will be able to identify with."

The new Dutch rules make it much more difficult for immigrants already living in the Netherlands to bring other family members into the country. Immigrants without skills will find it much more difficult to get the written job offers that are increasingly required before being allowed the right to settle.


In Denmark, where the anti-immigration Peoples Party won 12 percent of the vote in 2002, the rules are much stricter, including abolition of the right to asylum on humanitarian grounds and the reduction of all asylum to the bare minimum required under the Geneva Convention for Refugees. Denmark cuts 30 to 40 percent in the social benefits for refugees in their first seven years, with no permanent residence permits for at least seven years and a drastic limitation on the right of a non-Danish spouse to live in the country. Applicants for Danish citizenship must pass very tough language tests to show they speak it at least as well as a native speaker in ninth year of school.

The anti-immigration tide has been strengthened by the economic crisis, with spending cuts highlighting the welfare costs of immigrants and job shortages sharpening ethnic tensions. And the trend of policy is clear; Europe has removed the welcome mat.

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