The European anti-immigration axis | Blog 3500 Million

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Austria began its six-month presidency of the Council on July 1 with the motto “a Europe that protects”. The coalition that governs Austria not only includes a far-right party, the Freedom Party (FPÖ), but it also occupies the vice-chancellor, the ministries of the Interior, Social Affairs and Defense, among others, all of them associated directly or indirectly with immigration and security issues, in a united front. A few days before assuming the presidency, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, of the Austrian People's Party (ÖVP), called for the creation of an “axis of countries willing” to combat illegal immigration, made up of Austria, Germany and Italy. Anti-immigration will be the banner of his mandate, but following Kurz's war terminology he will have other fronts, such as the battle of England with the final Brexit negotiations, the Atlantic campaign with the trade dispute with the United States or the negotiation of the budget for the period 2021-2027.

It is a key moment. The approach to institutions by anti-immigration populism is consolidated in the Council with Austria, Italy, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic or Slovenia, and will undoubtedly continue in the European parliamentary elections of May 2019. After the departure of the United Kingdom and of the UKIP, the results of May will force the new populisms to regroup and renew leaderships with much more force, endangering the hegemony of the traditional parties.

Although the rotating presidency is limited to chairing the working groups and the Council, and a margin of decision on the agendas, the Austrian influence should not be underestimated in the political and pre-election context of this crucial semester. Kurz presents himself as a “bridge and mediator of the different sensitivities within the EU”, but rather than mediating, he is going to lead a nationalist and xenophobic ideological faction within the institutions. Faced with Salvini's pugnacious front and the victory of the populists in the East, Brussels is content to maintain the economic stability of the euro zone, even at the risk of tolerating in return a populist discourse that is piercing the values ​​of the EU and colonizing to traditional parties. The Group of the European People's Party, the largest in the Europarliament, to which Kurz's ÖVP, Viktor Orban's Fidesz or the Spanish People's Party belongs, is assuming a large part of this harsh argument to maintain its parliamentary leadership, promoting identity discourse and tribal, strengthening the outer borders and renouncing its liberal principles.

In an alarming preparatory document for the Austrian presidency presented at the last meeting of the COSI (Permanent Committee for Operational Cooperation on Internal Security of the Council), Austria seeks to transmute migration policy. The so-called 'Vienna Process' proposes a paradigm shift launching an ideological, values ​​and religious principles debate as a confusing basis for harmonizing policies and priorities for a 'Future European protection system' (FEPS). This document uncomplicatedly links immigration and terrorism, shamelessly asserting that among the asylum seekers there are many young men with little or no qualification "susceptible to dedicating themselves to crime or extremist ideologies." Later it justifies the distrust of the European peoples towards the political elites and implicitly excuses the defiance of the Visegrad countries (Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia). Faced with this self-serving misrepresentation of the social and migratory reality, the Austrian outsourcing agenda proposes that no asylum claim be filed on European soil, except for assessed cases or that, in the event of a negative resolution, the person in question leaves the EU and is transferred to their country of origin or, where appropriate, to a return center in a third country, in line with the “refugee and migrant camps” outside the EU proposed by the Danish Prime Minister.

The "axis of volunteers against illegal immigration", Vienna-Rome-Munich, advocated by Kurz aims to strengthen the Union's external borders, weaken Macron's European leadership and force a coup from Munich against Chancellor Merkel. However, the anti-immigration confluence is not so homogeneous. While Italy and Germany support the distribution of quotas and responsibilities between the Member States in a more solidary way, the Visegrad Group is flatly refusing to assume any obligation. This disagreement could be a good basis for future negotiation using the old divide and rule tactic. Even so, anti-immigration puts the germs for an implosion of European integration and does not stop constituting a challenge for its institutions and values.

The previously unacceptable acquires a new legitimacy and is integrated into electoral programs, public policies and parliamentary laws

The 'Overton window' political theory, according to which politics and the media can change the values ​​of a society by controlling the beliefs and perceptions of citizens or the electorate, illustrates this evolution towards acceptance of the lack of solidarity, the erosion of human rights and even outsourced or outsourced violence against the immigrant. For the sake of freedom of expression, the defense of tribal values ​​and identities, stirring up hoaxes, false beliefs and fears, what was previously unacceptable acquires a new legitimacy and is integrated into electoral programs, public policies and parliamentary laws. Two decades ago, the same pact of conservatives and far-right in Austria sparked an international boycott and brought temporary sanctions from the EU. Today the same coalition presides over the European Union with the approval of Brussels. Further south, in Italy, Salvini shouts fascist slogans against immigrants and gypsies, while in Poland or Hungary the democratic springs of the separation of powers are cut and racist slogans are launched from governments. In this framework of tolerance and centrality of the anti-immigration narrative, the Overton window has turned to the extreme right and Austria comfortably presides over the Council at the weakest moment of the European project.

In his essay on “Ur-fascism” Umberto Eco describes the fourteen aspects of eternal fascism that we have to guard against, the one that threatens to return under the most innocent of disguises. Today several of these elements are clearly in the dominant narrative in Europe. And they come with unstoppable force.

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