by Catherine Lankes
The current migration crisis is a humanitarian catastrophe, but it is not the worst the European Union has ever faced. Take the Eurozone crisis as the most recent example. If mismanaged, the insolvency of single-Euro states could very well have led to the imminent collapse of the whole European monetary system – a development that would have been fatal to our common welfare and is quite possibly the most dangerous crisis the EU has weathered in the recent past. Even though the Union is still reeling from the economic remnants of the disaster, the successful management of the Eurozone crisis and the speed of the joint response have proven that the European Union is capable of extinguishing smouldering flames.
Despite the financial crisis having posed a greater threat to the EU than the current migration crisis, the extent of the situation was fairly intangible to the masses. Neither the outcome of the Troika meetings, nor the pictures of endless queues in front of Athenian banks stirred strong emotions within Europe. In glaring contrast, the image of a dead toddler drowned off the coast of Turkey, a lorry full of seventy-one dead refugees found abandoned on a motorway in Austria and the New Year’s Eve incident in Cologne are inciting cross-societal debates throughout the EU. These emotionally loaded pictures have had a detrimentally unifying effect. They bring out our innermost anxieties and our substantial feeling of uncertainty regarding Europe’s future. This fear has fuelled and nourished increasingly anti-EU discourse – a discourse that is paving the way for the real danger to the European Union, namely nationalism.
Right-wing nationalist parties within the EU are ruthlessly exploiting the current instability for their own gain. They are using scaremongering tactics to aggravate the EU-wide feeling of insecurity in an already volatile environment. This emotional turmoil provides far-right parties with a bandwagon technique to enlarge their voter base and to add legitimacy to their own agenda: The disintegration of the European Union. Instead of promoting what the prevailing crisis requires – European solidarity – they are deepening the fault lines between EU Member States. This swelling euroskeptic influence is a major reason for the current impasse at summit-meetings on the migration crisis. If our nations’ leaders had a free hand in negotiating a joint agreement issued by all EU-member states, they could resolve this humanitarian crisis in the same way they tackled the Eurozone issue. Yet, instead of searching for common solutions on an EU-level, many of Brussel’s politicians are forced to beg for support of the European cause at home.
“Right-wing nationalist parties within the EU are ruthlessly exploiting the current instability for their own gain…using scaremongering tactics to aggravate the EU-wide feeling of insecurity…”
Europe’s far-right movements are promoting an ever more radical, ever more anti-migration and nationalistic programme. Poll after poll is reflecting their success. The right-wing Alternative für Deutschland won double-digits in all three regional elections in Germany in mid-March. Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right Front National in France, stands a fair chance of making it to the second round of the presidential elections in 2017. Poland and Hungary are already led by hard-line conservative parties. The Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs is topping opinion polls, and the situation is similar in the Netherlands, Sweden, the Czech Republic and Greece.
This resurgence of nationalistic philosophies within the Union is creating a cataclysmic phalanx of anti-European tendencies, which is abusing the migration crisis, pegging down refugees as scapegoats. It is not the migrants themselves, however, nor the temporary shut-down of Schengen Area borders, nor the formerly unthinkable prospect of an EU moving at different speeds that might inflame the Union. It is the far-right parties, their surge in support and their radical thinking that hold the key to breaking the European project apart from within – a project which emerged, ironically, in the aftermath of a war incited by radical, nationalist powers.