Tim Marshalls’ Divided summarises the crisis quite well, stating that as the migrant crisis steadily developed from 2011 to date, so did nationalist politicians stoking fears of immigration and Islam. This article will attempt to summarise the timeline and briefly analyse how the crisis impacted the EU, in addition to what it means for the solidarity of the European Union in a wider geo-political and social context.
Following an array of conflicts in Africa and the Middle-East, due to the increasing influence of extremist groups such as ISIS and its various cells in said regions, alongside resistance against authoritarian regimes, millions of refugees fled into Europe, in an attempt to be safe from harm and build a better future for themselves. However, this caused a dividing chasm in the European Union, as a consensus could not be built in order to deal with the refugee crisis and each country wished to deal with it by its own means as the fires of nationalism became stoked one by one. Some nations such as Germany held open arms, welcoming migrants with supplies, whereas other nations such as Hungary began establishing camps for migrants surrounded by barbed wire — leaving migrants to pile up in Southern & Eastern Europe, causing a humanitarian crisis and ‘bottleneck’ problem whilst reinforcing the crumbling influence of the European Union.
How has nationalism in European politics garnered so much support since the crisis began?
Leo Lucassen’s Peeling an Onion article puts forth four key points that truly highlight how we have reached our current geopolitical and social positions; ‘discomfort of citizenry with immigration and integration (1), social inequality and pessimism of globalisation (2), discomfort with Islam (3), Islamist terrorism (4)’, all of which result in grave sentiments of anti-immigration among a nation’s citizenry and government officials; as witnessed in the United Kingdom.
The UK has seen a severe increase in nationalism since 2011, with the rise of movements such as the English Defense League (EDL) and Britain First, alongside the UKIP party — all of which resulting in a gradual lean towards the right side of the political spectrum. This is often sweepingly attributed to paranoia regarding people of foreign origin (Middle-East, Africa, so on) either holding extremist religious views that will somehow result in the demise of ‘British purity’ — catalysed by extremist attacks in Europe since the refugee crisis and mass migration began — or simply being of that ethnic origin, with no prior evidence of radicalisation to suggest violent-extremism would be conceivable in most cases. The paranoia itself was not-unfounded, despite what central to left wing political supporters may believe.
Anjem Choudary (Figure 2), founder of the Islamist Organisation ‘Al-Muhajiroun’, was among many Islamic social and political activists from the turn of the decade in 2011, that led many of the British populace to feel under threat, backing them into a corner and therefore leaving them no choice but to come out swinging — or more appropriately waving the St. George’s and Union flags in the name of British Nationalism, in protest against the ideals of sharia law and increasing Islamic religious influence in the UK. However it must be noted, Choudary was wildly criticised by other British Muslim groups and communities who argued very publicly that he did not represent the views of the Muslim majority in the UK. Representatives of the far-right nationalist movements soon cropped up in the mass media as well, such as Tommy Robinson, helping the movements to gain significant traction and support. To further expand on the previously discussed concept of paranoia, one would argue that said movement leaders and representatives were incredibly hyperbolic in their public statements to gain their public support base.
In order to garner the support from the previously stated far-right movements for re-election as British Prime Minister, David Cameron included in his Conservative Party manifesto that he would present a Brexit referendum to the citizenry to decide on whether we should remain in the European Union or not. Many believed as a result that the Brexit vote and leaving the European Union would solely impact anti-immigration policies, however many were unaware as to the overall economic and social consequences the decision held regarding their nation’s future.
There was a wave of misinformation that pushed the public towards a ‘leave’ decision (marginally) by the current British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and founder of the UKIP party Nigel Farage, and since 2016 there has been various upheavals and disagreements within British parliament including increased internal divides within the conservative party itself following Cameron’s resignation after the vote, in addition to deadline extensions for trade deals. Furthermore, Boris Johnson was found to be in discussion with Donald Trump regarding the privatization of the National Health Service (NHS) whilst Nigel Farage publicly admitted it was a ‘mistake’ to pledge the £350 million to the NHS.
How does the aforementioned affect the European Union’s solidarity?
Despite a severe resistance to leaving the EU, the United Kingdom has set a strong precedent that a country can simply choose to leave the European Union. Despite the large fines it will have to pay, and the time in which it takes to detach itself politically, it will serve as an experiment as to how a modern nation can either thrive or suffer without the European Union.
There are two viewpoints on the matter; optimistic or pessimistic. Primarily, the optimistic view suggests that the European Union will do better without the United Kingdom included, as the UK was hesitant to join when the EU was founded, refused to join the common currency project, and has often made policy decision making in the EU much more difficult due to the UK’s recently growing internal divide with regard to political ideologies. Secondly, the pessimistic view suggests that the UK’s exit of the EU serves as precedent for other countries to leave for various reasons, especially in this new age of nationalism retaining a strong influence in national politics across Europe — as witnessed with the rise of Poland’s PIS Party and implementation of Article 7 by the EU in 2017, removing Poland’s member rights as it strays from the EU’s founding values as a result of its far-right judicial reforms (to be discussed in another article at a later date).
Furthermore, if the United Kingdom is to achieve favourable trade deal with the European Union whilst thriving economically, through increased access to other nations for various resources or trade deals that would not have been possible within the EU, some nations (most notably France, Netherlands and now Germany following the fall of Chancellor Merkel’s influence in Europe since the beginning of the refugee crisis) that are witnessing their own internal rises of nationalist movements, could perhaps envision themselves taking the same path as the UK. This would cause a crumbling effect on the EU’s solidarity as it relies heavily on increased transnationalism, sacrificing of internal sovereignty and generally reduced levels of self-interest by its members that solely wish to contribute on an international scale — without being stubborn in defending its own sovereignty. In short, a post-Brexit EU could lead to a multi-speed Europe with the various nationalist movements, in which there would be varying levels of economic growth overall.
It is also argued that Putin’s Russia has had involvement in the rise of Western European Nationalist movements. Relations between Russia and the EU have always been unstable to an extent. However, this was further catalysed in recent years, following the annexation of Crimea in 2017, violating Ukraine’s sovereignty.
In short, since the beginning of the refugee crisis, the European Union has seen a decrease in its influence over international socio-politics in dealing with the crisis itself as a result of anti-immigration sentiment and retraction of previous sacrifices of sovereignty by member states, leading to the rise of nationalist movements across the continent —undermining EU solidarity and reinforcing Euro-pessimism.
As of 2020, the United Kingdom is in the process of leaving the European Union with the aim of being independent of its authority by 2021. The EU itself is amidst a crisis of authority as a result of the actions of Poland and Hungary both internationally with the refugee crisis and the increasingly popular nationalist movements internally.