Upcoming European elections show rise of anti-migrant discourse

Many are concerned about the rise of anti-migrant discourse.
Sunday 25/02/2018
Women walk past torn candidates’ posters in Rome, on February 21. (AFP)
Democracy crisis. Women walk past torn candidates’ posters in Rome, on February 21. (AFP)

LONDON - With elections in Italy and Hungary approaching, many in Europe said they were concerned about the rise of anti-migrant discourse amid fears of an increase in populist nativism.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who is seeking to secure a third term in office in parliamentary elections April 8, proposed a “global alliance” against migration during a state of the nation speech February 18.

Orban, a combative right-wing nationalist, warned of the “Islamisation” of Europe, describing Christianity as the continent’s “last hope.”

“If hundreds of millions of young people are allowed to move north, there will be enormous pressure on Europe. If all this continues, in the big cities of Europe, there will be a Muslim majority,” he said.

Orban pledged solidarity with “those Western European people and leaders who want to save their country and their Christian culture.” He specifically named the V4 — the so-called Visegrad Group of former communist-bloc countries Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

“We don’t think the fight is hopeless. On the contrary, we are winning,” said Orban, who heads the right-wing populist Fidesz party. “The V4 is firm. Croatia has come around. Austria has turned in the patriotic direction and, in Bavaria, the [Christian Social Union] CSU has created a resistance.”

“We are waiting for the Italian elections, during which Silvio Berlusconi can again occupy the government positions,” Orban added. Berlusconi, however, is banned from political office because of a tax fraud conviction.

While Orban’s Fidesz is predicted to win comfortably in the April 8 elections, a right-wing coalition in Italy’s elections is going from strength to strength ahead of a March 4 vote but it may not secure an outright parliamentary majority.

The coalition, which is led by Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and includes the far-right Brothers of Italy and the Northern League, is seeking to exploit anti-migrant sentiment.

All three parties have issued strong anti-migration statements, with Berlusconi, who has three times been Italy’s prime minister, describing migrants as a “social bomb ready to explode” and promising to deport 600,000 illegal immigrants.

Northern League Federal Secretary Matteo Salvini has explicitly listed Orban as one of his political idols.

“Donald Trump and Viktor Orban are role models,” he told the Britain’s Daily Express newspaper, praising their populist nativist economic and social policies.

“He [Orban] is a role model because he builds walls in the heart of Europe to stop migrants. He defends borders, defends banks, defends the currency and stops immigration,” Salvini said.

“If I have to choose a well-governed country, I choose that one [Hungary],” he added.

Italy has seen an increase in anti-migrant sentiment, including a high-profile attack against migrants February 3 in the central Italian town of Macerata. Luca Traini, a failed Northern League election candidate, shot six migrants days after a Nigerian migrant was arrested in connection with the death of 18-year-old Macerata resident Pamela Mastropietro. Her dismembered body was found hidden in two suitcases.

In the last opinion polls issued before the March 4 elections, Berlusconi’s right-wing coalition was predicted to win the highest share of the vote but would fall short of an absolute majority. Italy bans election polls the final two weeks before voting.

The YouTrend poll, which compiled the data from seven polling institutes in the second week of February, put Berlusconi’s bloc ahead of competitors with 37.2% of the vote. The anti-establishment Five Star Movement was second with 27.8% of the vote, ahead of Italy’s left-wing bloc, which includes the ruling centre-left Democratic Party, at 27.4%.

Even the Five Star Movement, which refuses to join electoral coalitions as a matter of policy, has adopted strong anti-immigration views. It pledged to increase the number of police and strengthen checkpoints, as well as calling for the immediate repatriation of illegal immigrants. The Democratic Party has acknowledged the swelling anti-migrant sentiment amid a weak economy and high unemployment.

“Nativist and Eurosceptic actors… spurred ideas of migrants as a security threat in order to attack the government and build support for their far-right agenda,” a statement from the European Council on Foreign Relations warned.

“This effort has been remarkably successful at painting migrants as the root of Italy’s problems, leaving the government feeling that it had no choice but to respond with an anti-migration stance of its own.”

Italian law mandates that a party needs at least 40% of the vote to secure an automatic majority. Local media reports indicate that as many as 10 million Italians are undecided on the election although it is certain that migration will be a central issue.

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