Europe's Rightward Turn

October 12, 2010 Topic: European Union Region: Western Europe Blog Brand: Jacob Heilbrunn

Europe's Rightward Turn

Europe's debate over immigration, borders and identity is bound to push the Continent to the right.


It's hard not to chuckle a little at Europe's turn to the right. In the Wall Street Journal today James Kirchick of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty suggests that the image American liberals harbor of Europe as a bastion of tolerance and peace-loving burghers is so much buncombe. Kirchick points to the French ban on burqas, Belgian's approval of a law following suit, the Swiss decision to ban minarets, the rise of the right-wing Freedom Party in Austria, and more.

What is blowing fresh wind into the sails of the right is anti-immigrant fervor. Europeans fear that their western culture is about to be swamped by Muslims. The new president of Germany, Christian Wulff, recently delivered a speech stating that Islam had become an inextricable part of his country's identity. He caused an uproar. A majority of Germans disagreed. Many in his own Christian Democratic Party expressed their unease as well.


Hostility toward immigrants is not confined to Muslims. The Washington Post features a lengthy story on the plight of the Roma and Sinti, many of whom were murdered during the Holocaust. Now France has deported about 1,000 and Italy is headed down the same path. According to the Post,

Blaming rising crime on the new waves of Roma immigrants, authorities are moving to dismantle Milan's largest authorized Gypsy camp, Triboniano, a teeming shantytown of street musicians and day laborers that officials decry as a den of thieves. At the same time, Milan is bulldozing hundreds of small, impromptu camps inhabited by newer arrivals and issuing mass eviction notices to Roma families living in another long-established camp in the city's largest immigrant neighborhood.

"These are dark-skinned people, not Europeans like you and me," said Riccardo De Corato, who is Milan's vice mayor from Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's ruling party and who is in charge of handling the camps. He later added: "Our final goal is to have zero Gypsy camps in Milan."

So zero-tolerance is arriving in Europe. Kirchick sees these trends as indicating the Europe, in contrast to America, is a dangerous place. During the mosque debate, he says, Americans "showed themselves to be capable of respectful disagreement. It is Europeans, again, whose darker impulses we have to fear."

The fact is that the political boundaries in cold war Europe were somewhat artificially circumscribed. A politically correct consensus, enforced by the the Social Democratic left, prevailed and is only now being to crumble slowly. Reemerging are the flickering signs of a nationalist right. This should not be surprising. Europe is about to experience a vigorous debate over open borders, immigration, and national identity that is inexorably pushing it toward the right.

How far that movement will go, or what form it will take in the form of dismantling the lavish social welfare state, is another matter. The French, as is their wont, are on strike over the proposed reductions to pension benefits, crippling the country's rail and air transport. But anti-immigration fervor and anxiety over the economy go hand in hand. Kirchick is surely right when he observes that the days when Europeans could wallow in their enlightened superiority to the primitive Americans are rapidly coming to a terminus.