From Sweden to Brexit, immigration is the issue dividing Europe

The Italian Coast Guard rescues migrants bound for Italy (File photo). © Francesco Malavolta/IOM
The Italian Coast Guard rescues migrants bound for Italy (File photo). © Francesco Malavolta/IOM

Simon Jenkins* – The Guardian

Xenophobia is sweeping the continent. European agreement to address migration is vital

The message is glaring from Sweden’s election result. There is one dominant issue in Europe’s politics at present, and it is immigration. It rules in Italy and Germany. It rules in Hungary and Austria. It rules from Serbia to Scandinavia. It dominates every meeting of the leaders of the EU. It obsesses the United Kingdom, except there it cloaks itself in the euphemism of “reaching trade agreements with the rest of the world”.

Europe’s swing to the far right – or rather a surge in emotional xenophobia – was inevitable from the moment the European Union raced towards a single market in the 1980s, including an open market in people across the continent. Of the four freedoms of movement – in goods, services, capital and people – the first to fail was always going to be people.

An open border and the Schengen agreement on passport-free travel came in before the mass movement of low-cost labour from eastern Europe, and before the youth migration from Asia and Africa. Since geography renders Europe’s southern border porous, there is no way Europe’s governments, democratic or autocratic, will any longer tolerate unrestricted borders within the EU.

The one thing that will be catastrophic will be to pretend otherwise. An organised and racist nationalism has risen in Sweden to defy half a century of liberalism. The old liberal fallacy – that noble ideals will ultimately trump mere majorities – is crumbling at every election. We can cheer the sea captain who pleads to land his refugees “out of common humanity”, but we cannot enforce his passengers on Europe’s citizens. There must be a pan-European regime, both to help frontier states police Europe’s southern border – on both sides of it – and to regulate and distribute migrants who do get across. But such a regime will never be accepted if individual European states cannot regain a degree of sovereignty over their populations. Indeed any regime will depend on it.

It is tragic that the outcome of this debate – greater European migration control – would almost certainly have negated Brexit. In the minds of most British voters, migration has nothing to do with economics or tariffs or trade regulation, except at the margin. This argument is not over trade, but over people being able to control their community’s character and pace of change. We can dismiss such control as licensed bigotry, intolerance and nasty identity politics. That will not stop people voting. To them, such rights are a cry for self-respect and values they hold dear.

Either way, the debate cannot be ignored. Yet Britain’s government has still not set out its Brexit migration policy, beyond a palpably “hostile welcome” to all incomers. Instead, Westminster warbles on about tariffs, trade and Boris Johnson. The place has gone mad.

—————–

* Simon Jenkins is a Guardian columnist , author and BBC broadcaster. His recent books include England’s Hundred Best Views, and Mission Accomplished? The Crisis of International Intervention

————–

Annex:

Sweden faces hung parliament as far right makes gains

Al Jazeera and news agencies

Ruling left-wing bloc moves to form alliance with centre-right bloc as anti-immigrant party emerges as a third force.

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven has invited the opposition to talks aimed at a “cross-bloc cooperation”, after his left-wing party failed to gain a majority in Sunday’s elections that saw anti-immigrant party making gains.

The ruling Social Democrats remained the biggest party with 40.6 percent of votes, marginally ahead of the centre-right Alliance, which garnered 40.3 percent in the polls, results showed after most votes were counted on Monday.

That gave the centre-left 144 seats in the 349-seat parliament against 142 for the Alliance, suggesting weeks of uncertainty before a workable government can be formed.

The nationalist Sweden Democrats (SD) vowed to exert “real influence” as kingmaker after emerging as the third-largest political force in one of Europe’s most liberal nations.

The SD, a party with roots in the neo-Nazi movement, won 17.6 percent and 63 seats, up from 12.9 percent and 49 seats in the last election four years ago, the biggest gain by any party in Sweden‘s parliament, the Riksdag.

Turnout in the election was reported at 84.4 percent, up from 83 percent in 2014.

Prime Minister Lofven, who brought the Social Democrats to power in 2014, said he intended to remain in the job.

Sounding sombre and firm, Lofven told his supporters late on Sunday that the election presented “a situation that all responsible parties must deal with,” adding that “a party with roots in Nazism” would “never ever offer anything responsible, but hatred”.

“We have a moral responsibility. We must gather all good forces. We won’t mourn, we will organise ourselves,” he said.

Final election returns were expected later in the week.

The results also fell short of SD leader Jimmie Akesson’s predictions of 20 percent of the vote or more. However, he told a party rally it was, nevertheless, the winner of the election.

“We have strengthened our role as kingmaker … We are going to gain real influence over Swedish politics,” he told cheering supporters at an election night party.

Mattias Karlsson, SD parliamentary leader, called the poll results “a political earthquake” and “rare to Swedish political history”.

“The leaders of the two big parties, the Social Democrats and the Moderate party, need to listen to this signal from the Swedish people, need to change the policies that the Swedish people want to see,” he said.

The SD, which wants Sweden to leave the European Union and freeze immigration, hopes it can play a decisive role in negotiations over forming a government.

The party has called on Ulf Kristersson, the centre-right Alliance’s candidate for the premiership, to choose between seeking support from the SD for an Alliance government or to accept another four years of Lofven.

Kristersson called on Lofven to resign, but rebuffed Akesson.

“We have been completely clear during the whole election. The Alliance will not govern or discuss how to form a government with the Sweden Democrats,” he said.

He said he planned to build a government that would “unite our country and take responsibility”.

Al Jazeera’s Jonah Hull, reporting from the Swedish capital, Stockholm, said it was unlikely that the SD would gain a role in government.

“No party at this stage is even willing to talk to them. But they will continue to exert indirect influence on the way ahead, having already succeeded, to the horror of many, in putting nationalism and identity politics on the Swedish agenda,” he said.

Sweden has been known for its comparatively open doors to migrants and refugees.

Sunday’s general election was the first since the country of 10 million took in a record 163,000 refugees in 2015 as mass migration to Europe rose dramatically.