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February 10, 2014
February 10, 2014

Unprecedented populism

Author: Jordi Vaquer Translator: Eleni Nicolaou
Source: El País  Category: Letters from home
This article is also available in: eles
Unprecedented populism

The most affected, the migrants, barely react to the hysteria for the arrival of foreigners.

The victory of the initiative “against mass immigration” in Sunday’s referendum in Switzerland is a serious warning in view of a crucial election year for Europe. Its instigator, the Centre Democratic Union (UDC), is the most successful nationalist right wing party in Western Europe, the first party in Switzerland since 1999. If opinion polls prove to be correct and the trend does not change, then, the forces sharing UDC’s aversion towards European integration, multiculturalism and migration, in the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, Austria, Sweden, Denmark and Finland, might get, within the next months, magnificent results. The migrants coming from outside the EU and the Muslims have been their favorite targets until recently. Now that the economic crisis turned half of the EU Member States into emigration countries, these parties demand quotas on free workers’ movement, as in Switzerland, or restrictions on social benefits.

The populist hysteria broke out before the end of the restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians, but extends to all migration from eastern and southern Europe. After the first month, there is no sign of the dreaded Balkan invasion. It is enlightening to quote the data: Romania has an unemployment rate of 7% and the highest growth rate in the EU, in some destination countries there is a labour shortage and almost no unemployment (3.5% in Switzerland, Austria 4.9%, 5.1% in Germany), the number of Community citizens in the United Kingdom (2.3 million) is almost equal to the number of British in the Community, other host countries, such as Germany, France and Italy, are also large exodus countries (eg towards Switzerland).

It is of concern the small electoral price paid for the anti-immigration discourse. Many national-populists are willing to give them the benefit of the doubt in order to punish the traditional parties. And, unlike the United States, the most affected, the migrants themselves, barely react. The second (and subsequent) generations of migrants with voting rights represent a substantial part of the electorate in many countries (UK ethnic vote, mostly tied to the more or less recent migration, reached 11% of the electorate), yet they seem to be among the abstaining groups. Community citizens may register and vote in local and European election, but so far they have not made use of their numerical strength, neither the more established groups –such as Polish, Italian and Romanian– nor those who recently migrated from countries devastated by the crisis and the bad governance, such as Hungary, Greece or Spain. Most of them are more focused on criticising the system they left behind than on defending their rights in their host countries. In which case, attacking immigration, to a large extent, does not cost anything. In the upcoming election, the campaign will be marked by insulting attacks. It’s likely that millions of people, directly affected, will not make use of their right to give an answer through their vote. It would be a shame, because, as happened in Switzerland, on Sunday, the supporters of the enclosed Europe will, certainly, not miss the appointment.

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