France horror brings major crossroads in Europe’s refugee crisis
NEVER WASTE a crisis.
This dictum of shrewd politicians everywhere has been enthusiastically implemented by Europe’s growing clique of nationalist politicians since the summer, as migrants from Africa and then refugees from the civil wars of the Middle East began to arrive in the EU in record numbers. An estimated 800,000 have arrived so far this year.
They have used the migration crisis to strengthen themselves electorally — most recently in Poland, where a Eurosceptic, right-wing government replaced a pro-Europe centre-right one. Marine Le Pen’s National Front has ridden fears about immigrants to make political gains in traditional Socialist Party regions in northern France.
Then came Friday the 13th in Paris.
The hard right in Europe is going to ride the wave of anger created by the atrocities that shook the world.
The dead were still being counted when Poland’s new Foreign Minister, Konrad Szymanski, told a press confer- ence in Warsaw: “The attacks mean the necessity of an even deeper revision of the European policy towards the migrant crisis.”
Poland would no longer accept refugees without “security guarantees”, Mr Szymanski added. What guarantees might satisfy his government he did not say.
But even before the Paris attacks, any kind of European consensus on the refugee situation was proving elusive. In a classic case of bad timing, just as the attacks in Paris were just getting under way, German television showed an interview with Chancellor
Under fire: Merkel Angela Merkel, in which she despaired at the difficulty in finding “a way to share the burden fairly” in Europe.
The interview may have been granted to rebut the growing perception in Germany that the Chancellor has for the first time in her remarkable career misjudged the mood of her people with her call for Germany to be generous and take in as many as 800,000 refugees.
Certainly, she has misjudged the mood of her Christian Democratic Union party colleagues. Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, discussing the situation last week, quipped, “avalanches can be triggered when a somewhat careless skier heads down the hill, shifting just a little bit of snow”.
The remark was widely interpreted as being a criticism of Mrs Merkel. This in turn led to headlines about a CDU coup against the leader.
It has been a whiplash six months for the Chancellor. In the spring, as the Greek debt crisis reared up again, she was compared to Hitler in that country over her hard line on debt repayments.
In the event, Greece accepted another dose of bitter medicine and, in Germany and elsewhere, she was acknowledged as the most powerful person in Europe.
Late in the summer, as the refugee and migrant crises became acute, a crystallizing moment arrived: photographs of the body of two-year-old Aylan al-Kurdi, drowned, face down on a Turkish beach, flashed around the world.
Mrs Merkel immediately spoke out in favour of taking in refugees, and committed Germany to taking in 800,000 people fleeing Syria and Iraq. The Chancellor was no longer a Hitler figure imposing her will on Europe’s weakest nation, now she was being portrayed as Europe’s merciful angel.
But very quickly, right-wing, nationalist politicians began to push back and Mrs Merkel looked a lot less powerful.
A German plan with French backing to have EU member states take in refugees in proportion to their population size immediately ran into problems.
Hungary’s Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, a right-wing nationalist politician of the old school, became the voice of the refuseniks. “They are overrunning us,” he said. “They’re not just banging on the door, they’re breaking the doors down on top of us. Hungary is under threat and so is Europe.”
Mr Orbán made his remarks shortly after a meeting among ministers from the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, at which the quota plan was discussed. Only three weeks had passed since the young boy drowned.