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Europe Swings Sharply to the Right

By Maria Stoyadinova

In his much-anticipated Cairo speech, President Obama rebuked the "negative stereotypes of Islam" and faced the Muslim world with a call for "mutual respect." Yet at the same moment, European sentiment seemed to be moving in the opposite direction.

A growing preference for stronger anti-immigrant, anti-Islam and nationalist domestic policies was evident last weekend, when voters from the 27 EU member countries headed to the polls. In a majority of states, far right-wing candidates garnered solid support and in some places parties with outright xenophobic agendas seemed to be quite popular. Dutch voters gave the nod to Geert Wilders, the leader of the openly and passionately anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim Freedom Party. Italy has been divided by the immigration debate in the past few weeks, with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi trying to attract voters by publicly expressing his concerns that the immigrants in Italy make him feel like he is in Africa and not in Europe.

Favored candidates in other countries kept up with the xenophobia as well. Amidst protests in the UK, the British National Party (BNP) secured a place in the European Parliament, even though the party does not allow non-white members into its ranks and is famous for its racist platform. Austria's Freedom Party, which is also popular for its fierce opposition to Islam, has gained significant traction. Before the Czech Republic's elections, some candidates compared members of the Roma minority to 'parasites'. And in Bulgaria, nearly 12% of the votes went to the far-right Ataka party, which has become popular for its fascist far-right rhetoric.

Ironically, although many analysts believe the economic crisis is fueling this renewed xenophobia, this new wave of anti-immigration sentiment is likely to push the European economies even further into recession. Immigration could provide a much-needed boost to the aging European workforce. It could increase economic productivity and alleviate unemployment pressures that have plagued European economies even prior to the global financial crisis. Concerns that immigrants strain the social security system without benefiting the economy are easy rallying cries, but they are economically unfounded and socially damaging.

What is most concerning, however, is that the rise in racist attitudes is likely to aggravate existing problems with protecting the human rights of the EU's immigrants and asylum seekers. In its latest annual report on Europe and Central Asia, Amnesty International noted that discrimination and repression against migrants and people seeking asylum are common across the old continent. Detention of immigrants is widespread; even where it is not, non-citizens face legal discrimination, inadequate health care and exploitation. Authorities in the Netherlands often go as far as incarcerating torture and human trafficking victims.

Such abuses are unforgivable in countries that have the economic and legal capacity to provide asylum and help to populations in need, at a time when more and more people across the globe face dire poverty, violence and severe abuse.

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The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Johns Hopkins University.

Comments (15)

mharwick Author Profile Page:

Islam is the fastest growing demographic in the world. They are reproducing at a rate which by the end of the century all things being equal they will control Europe. France and the other countries and America as well are reproducing much slower. Based on what is going on in the world is there any doubt what is worrying those countries?

surfer-joe Author Profile Page:

It's about time the European's came to their senses. The time for being sensitive to other religions and races is over for them if Europe wants to continue to be Europe. Otherwise, the continent will continue it's slide into a situation like the Balkans -- a wonderful and welcoming place if there ever was one.

Like the United States, Europe needs to get real serious about detecting and deporting illegal aliens and insuring that they can not find any work. Cutting off all benefits to illegals would also make a good start.

Cutting out asylum and relocation efforts is also a good idea. The places those people come from will never be corrected if everyone runs away and don't fight back.

Nosmanic Author Profile Page:

Wow conservative really do agree with the saying "Suffer not the alien to live."

mike27 Author Profile Page:

Heaven forbid a population from defending their culture from colonization. We all know that Muslim countries are open to outsiders. Don't we?

TooManyPeople Author Profile Page:

When a nation sees it population being overrun with illegal foreigners, it would be treason not to stop it. The U.S. congress isn't doing anything about it. They're nothing more than self-serving traitors.

Marie-Luise Author Profile Page:

Abhab is completely right.

I voted for a conservative center party and personally appreciate the outcome of the EU elections.

We have too many bleeding hearts whose sole reason of being seems to be getting more asylum seekers into Germany where they mostly live off government benefits.

We have no-go areas meanwhile for the police, rescue teams and firefighters. They are attacked by immigrants.

Most of this applies to other European countries as well.

tjhall1 Author Profile Page:

The White Europeans have discovered (albeit too late) that Arab Muslims are human garbage. They don't assimilate, their religion promotes violence, death and subjugates women, and overall they are parasites who destroy nations. Just look at Muslim nations now--sheesh.

k6raman Author Profile Page:

I agree with the views expressed in the column. But there is a major difference between Europe and America. Europe is saturated in terms of land mass and jobs where as North America still has scope to expand economically and the land mass can take more immigration. Ofcourse that does not justify anti immigration protests. When there were huge job losses last year in USA, people protested in public against outsourcing. Ultimately everyone wants to protect their own and feelings against immigration is bound to happen. The degree of this depends upon which phase of development a country is in at any given moment. Western Europe has peaked in development and population while America can still afford to take more people and hence the difference in attitude to immigration.

gpcarvalho Author Profile Page:

Except for sub-Saharan countries, a few Asian nations, and Haiti in our own hemisphere, total fertility rates are dropping fast, regardless of ingrained social habits and entrenched cultural and religious taboos. Falling birth rates will eventually translate into less pressure on dwindling natural resources, as well as on job and educational opportunities, at the national level. As a result, the urge to migrate may diminish and, with it, the kinds of domestic and international problems exacerbated by overcrowding, or the generalized perception of it.

Populous countries as disparate as Brazil (with a nominal Catholic majority) and Iran (officially an Islamic republic) have total fertility rates below replacement level (less than two children born per woman). Both have expanded education to reach large segments of their populations and made contraceptives available on a large scale. The combined effect of universal access to basic education and of widespread birth control will likely contribute to stabilize population in both countries within three decades. These two policies, however, have not benefited less developed countries, where women are often considered second-class citizens, being denied access to effective means of family planning as well as educational/ job opportunities. Pressure to migrate will continue to build up in such countries, where overcrowding is at the root of grievous internecine conflicts and bloody regional wars. In the absence of progressive domestic policy, emigration will persist as the only social escape valve for those living in extremely poor nations.

MeNU2 Author Profile Page:

None of the issues raised by the conservative commenters would arise if there were universal human rights protections, respected by every country, including the Europeans.

It is saddening to see how quickly the readers rush to judgement based on stereotypes.

This explains why our own treatment of immigrants is so pathetic, and also in violation of fundamental human rights standards (and the US Constitution).

ThishowIseeit Author Profile Page:

European are for democracy , but Islam is not compatible with democracy because of the ways women and nonbelievers are treated.

rcubedkc Author Profile Page:

If we had a Geert Wilders or a Freedom Party, they would do very well in an election here in the United States.

As it now stands, both major parties, the Dems and the Repugs, cater to immigrants including ILLEGAL ALIENS against the wishes of the majority of the American people.

kkrimmer Author Profile Page:

I say to the immigrants, stay out of EU if they don't want you... let them do their own jobs that they've been hiring you to do.

Germany's birth rate has dropped so drastically over the last 30 years that there's not enough native born German's to maintain the economy, which is why the German govt loosened immigration 5 years ago.

grunk Author Profile Page:

Reciprocal treatment. You let us send workers then we let you send workers.

abhab Author Profile Page:

No fair-minded person would deny asylum to a persecuted person. The problem is that many of those seeking immigration are the ones who do the persecution of religious and ethnic minorities in their homelands. Then as soon as they hit the West’s shores they begin clamoring to change the West and make it look like the societies from which they had escaped. If the West is not alert to this danger the forces of ignorance and barbarism would soon dominate it.

PostGlobal is an interactive conversation on global issues moderated by Newsweek International Editor Fareed Zakaria and David Ignatius of The Washington Post. It is produced jointly by Newsweek and, as is On Faith, a conversation on religion. Please send us your comments, questions and suggestions.