New EU asylum rules could boost rightists

Struggling to cope with the largest migration crisis in recent history, the European Commission is due to release details of its plan to overhaul the EU asylum system Wednesday.

The report is expected to touch off a renewed debate on how Europe should handle the influx, and analysts warn imposing quotas could continue to fuel anti-immigrant sentiments that are giving rise to far-right movements across eastern and western Europe, as well as efforts, like that in Britain, to break from the European Union.

The new regulations will seek to correct EU failures in dealing with the migrant crisis, most notably its inability to get member states to absorb a total of 160,000 refugees.  Officials say European countries have taken in only slightly more than 1,000 of those asylum seekers.

An estimated 1 million refugees and migrants arrived in the European Union last year.

Among the most contentious of the proposals is a possible plan to charge nations that do not take in their share of migrants.  EU officials, in leaks to the Financial Times newspaper, said the charges could reach nearly $300,000 per migrant.

A European Commission official contacted by VOA declined to confirm the report.

Any such proposal will likely trigger opposition, but may also provide an alternative to those who have refused to accept migrants.

Poland and Hungary will likely oppose financial penalties, but analysts say some politicians in those countries see the payments as one way to avoid having to accept migrants.

In both countries, the migrant issue has fueled the rise of right-wing political movements.  Concerns over the imposition of EU quotas and general skepticism about migrants helped bring rightist Beata Szydlo to power in Poland last year.  Similar concerns have strengthened the base of Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Hungary.

The trend is spreading in western Europe, where analysts warn of signs the political center could be shrinking.

Anti-immigrant parties have scored election victories in Austria and in Germany, where the three-year-old Alternative for Germany party, AfD, won record votes in three state elections and is now represented in half of Germany’s eight states.

The party on Sunday adopted a manifesto that says, “Islam is not a part of Germany.”

AfD supporter Michael Stuerzenberger, a Munich activist known for his campaign against Muslim immigration, voiced support Tuesday for the idea of having German taxpayers face financial penalties rather than accept migrants.

“It’s better to pay money for them to stay in the areas where they come from than to have them come to Europe,” he told VOA.

Some analysts, however, see an overwhelming swing to the right as unlikely.  They note mainstream parties that have switched to less liberal stances have not done well in elections and those who vote for populist parties do so in protest of the ruling parties’ inability to deal with the migrant crisis, not necessarily because they oppose the migrants’ presence.

“Mainstream parties do not gain from copying claims made by populist parties; quite the contrary; they make populist parties more respectable by this strategy,” Mattias Kortmann, a politics professor at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, told VOA.

“However, I think that it is still a minority, which indeed agrees with these parties’ ideas.  Most voters rather try to express their disappointment with the mainstream parties by voting for the populist ones,” he said.


(Photo: UNHCR/M Henley)