Putting Numbers on European Xenophobia

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 11/17/2010 12:07:00 AM
The United States likes to fancy itself as a "melting pot" but suffers from multiple failings on the cultural understanding front. Among others, witness the Tea Party's spelling-challenged standard bearer discouraging the construction of a mosque merely in the vicinity of the World Trade Center or the not uncommon American belief that their country is led by a Muslim. Similarly, the European Union likes to portray itself as a champion of classic liberalism on the world stage espousing values like moderation and tolerance. But alas, it seems there are any number of political parties that don't see things that way as the table above gives a quick indication of. Declining religious participation and birth rates aside, European countries seem to share a common longing for a golden (or is that lily-white?) age when those other people knew their place. Such is the EU's concern that they've convened a panel to study intolerance in the EU:
Concern about the populist right and the social attitudes that nourish it has risen to such proportions that a panel of nine eminent Europeans – including Joschka Fischer, the former German foreign minister; Vladimir Lukin, Russia’s human rights commissioner; and Javier Solana, the Spaniard who retired last year as the European Union’s foreign policy supremo – was set up in September to investigate the problem. They will report next May to the Council of Europe’s foreign ministers on how to combat the rise of extremism and religious and ethnic intolerance.
But, as we all know, the larger problem is that the Franco-German powers-that-be driving the European project show little sensitivity about playing race and religion cards. Current French President Nicolas Sarkozy famously branded immigrant protesters as "scum" during the 2005 Paris riots while still the interior minister. Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently said "multiculturalism has failed" without fully understanding what multiculturalism is [hint: it is not simply having several cultures side by side]. Together, France and Germany have helped block several chapters for Turkey's European accession, offering a "privileged partnership" instead that's tantamount to second-class EU membership. The greater fear for those of a generally tolerant bent like Eurocrats (and myself to be honest) is not that xenophobic parties can achieve prominence, but that more mainstream ones will play elements of the same tune. For instance, UK conservatives have trumpeted placing caps on migration while thinking up less tolerant regimes. And so it goes:
The transformation is also noticeable in the way that leaders such as Angela Merkel, German chancellor, and Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, are hardening their rhetoric on the topics that have brought electoral success for their adversaries. Even more so than the rise of the populist right per se, it is this subtle intrusion of the extremists’ language into the public arena that disturbs exponents of classical European liberalism.

Among those worried is Thomas Hammarberg, a Swedish diplomat who has served since 2005 as human rights commissioner at the Council of Europe, the 47-nation grouping charged with upholding democracy and individual liberties in Europe. “Recent elections have seen extremist political parties gaining ground after aggressively Islamophobic campaigns,” he says. “Even more worrying is the inertia or confusion that seems to have befallen the established democratic parties in this situation. Compromises are made that tend to give an air of legitimacy to crude prejudices and open xenophobia...Political leaders have on the whole failed to counter Islamophobic stereotypes.”
As always, immigrants are easy scapegoats for what ails whichever country they are in. With negligible political clout, blaming them is particularly easy. Perhaps it's time the US and Europe began investigating the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its ability to facilitate cross-cultural and interfaith dialogue. Southeast Asia's diversity necessitates getting along in a way more "assimilationist" cultures don't necessarily champion. The former are hindered by attachments to American exceptionalism (the general belief that this world would be alright if we all behaved like [white] Americans) and its European equivalent hearkening to some combination of Christian traditions and the Enlightenment. The numbers certainly don't look very promising, and Turkey remains a litmus test for many observers as to whether Europe looks backward or forward.

Ultimately, I believe that the financial woes of peripheral EU states are less of a problem for the EU than handling migration. Like the US, many EU countries are on the hook for promising large benefits--especially given the latter's more corporatist compromise with a generation now beginning to retire en masse. As before, the numbers don't add up: you'll have more retirees drawing state benefits but fewer folks of working age paying into the system due to declining fertility rates. Someone must pick up the slack, and I'd venture those countries that more proactively address migration challenges will come out better.