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Tidal Waves? The Political Economy of Populism and Migration in Europe

by Leila Simona Talani (Volume editor) Matilde Rosina (Volume editor)
Edited Collection 224 Pages
Series: Global Politics and Security, Volume 3

Summary

In recent elections across the European Union, parties adopting an anti-immigration stance and making use of populist rhetoric have been gaining electoral breakthrough. Against this backdrop, and in order to contribute to a deeper understanding of the connections binding migration and populism dynamics in Europe, this volume aims to trigger a discussion on the causes and consequences of the rise of populism in Europe, and deconstruct the rhetorical frames it uses to depict migratory flows as an exceptional phenomenon.

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Contents
  • Figures
  • Tables
  • Introduction: Migration and Populism in Europe
  • Part 1: Understanding the Relationship between Migration, Populism and Crisis
  • Chapter 1: The Political Economy Roots of the Populist Vote at the Italian 2018 Elections
  • Chapter 2: Challenging the Mainstream? A Multidimensional Analysis of Political Competition on Immigration and the European Union in Italy
  • Chapter 3: What It Takes to Become a Crime: Italy and the Criminalisation of Irregular Migration
  • Part 2: Deconstructing Populist Discourse on Migration and Crisis
  • Chapter 4: Migration and Populism: Marine Le Pen as a Performer of Urgency
  • Chapter 5: The Securitisation of Migration in Populist Discourse: Emotional and Affective Mechanisms at Play
  • Chapter 6: The Italian Far Right at the Crossroads of Populism and Nationalism
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 7: The Roots, the Shoots and the Fertiliser: The Securitisation of Migration in an Age of Populism
  • Contributors

Matilde Rosina

Introduction: Migration and Populism in Europe

In recent elections across the European Union, parties adopting an anti-immigration stance and making use of populist rhetoric have been gaining electoral breakthrough. Yet, the dramatisation of immigration issues in Europe is not a new phenomenon, but rather dates back to the 1970s (slightly earlier in the United Kingdom) (Schain 2012), when the latter became politicised following the oil crisis. Before that moment, the region had a client system of immigration policy-making, in which decisions were taken technically and far from the public eye (Mudde 2013, Joppke 1998: 292, Boswell 2003: 9).

Against this backdrop, and in order to contribute to a deeper understanding of the connections binding migration and populism dynamics in Europe, this volume aims to trigger a discussion of the causes and consequences of the rise of populism in Europe, and to deconstruct the rhetorical frames it uses to depict migratory flows as an exceptional phenomenon.

In what follows, I first draw an overview of the impact of populism on migration policy in Europe, and then focus on the way in which populist actors conceptualise migration, arguing instead for a structural view of the phenomenon. Finally, I outline the aim and structure of the volume.

The 1973 crisis hit European economies strongly, in particular the heavy industry and manufacturing sectors, which were the main employers of immigrant labour (Hollifield 2004: 895) and brought the issue of immigration into the political debate. Foreigners were thus pictured as the cause of most of society’s ills, first of which unemployment and criminality, and as a threat to the cultural identity of the receiving society, as is exemplified by the motto ‘we are not a country of immigration’, which was adopted by both German and Austrian politicians (Mudde 2013, Joppke 1998: 292, Boswell 2003: 9, Weiner ←11 | 12→1995: 140–5, Minkenberg 2001: 13, Boswell and Hough 2008: 337). The quiet client politics system of managing immigration was thus replaced by heated debates, which not only raised the electoral value of the topic and attracted the interest of political parties and the media, but also led to the oversimplification of the discourse around it (Boswell 2003: 9 and 2011: 12).

In particular, much emphasis was placed on the security aspect of the matter, so much so that with the Maastricht Treaty (which allocated asylum and migration to the pillar of Police and Judicial Cooperation), the Schengen acquis (which placed the emphasis on European external borders), and the response to the terrorist attacks of the early 2000s (which explicitly linked foreigners with security threats), immigration has become securitised. In other words, policymakers now tend to link the topic to security concerns, such as crime or terrorism, to allow for stricter measures to be supported and implemented (Lindstrøm 2005: 589, Schlentz 2010: 6).

The group of parties which has benefited the most from the politicisation and securitisation of immigration is that of populist parties and, more specifically, populist radical right parties (PRRPs)1 which, by making reduced immigration one of their main objectives, have exploited the growing xenophobic sentiments to gain political relevance, while at the same time contributing to bringing immigration to the forefront, by giving a voice to the discontent that surrounded it (Mudde 2013, Schain 2006: 277; see also Aiolfi in this volume). Indeed, from Marine Le Pen in France to Matteo Salvini in Italy, to Nigel Farage in the UK and Viktor Orbán in Hungary, parties adopting inflammatory and unconventional rhetoric to depict migrants as the source of their countries’ problems have been gaining electoral breakthrough in recent elections across the European Union.2 The French National Front (Front National, FN), for ←12 | 13→example, obtained 34 per cent of the vote in the second round of the 2017 presidential elections (Clarke and Holder 2017), and the Lega emerged as one of the key winners of the 2018 Italian elections, which resulted in the party achieving 18 per cent of the vote and partaking in the governing coalition.3 Likewise, 52 per cent of UK voters favoured leaving the European Union at the 2016 referendum,4 and Orbán’s supermajority in the Hungarian parliament was confirmed in 2018 by 49 per cent of the national vote (Bayer 2018).

Among the most significant consequences of the entry of PRRPs into most European countries’ political arenas have been the shift of the median voter (and therefore of the median migration control policy) to the right of the political spectrum (Neumayer 2004: 166), and the impossibility for mainstream parties to depoliticise and de-securitise the issue. Both these effects are well illustrated by the FN, which managed to affect right-wing parties as well as left-wing ones: by obtaining the vote of 47 per cent of the youngest cohorts of the working class (generally expected to have a preference for left-wing parties) in the legislative elections of 1997, the FN compelled the Socialist Party to support tougher immigration entry measures, in the attempt to build a central consensus that would have weakened the far right (Schain 2006: 276, 283). Similarly, the presidential elections of 1995 are instructive of the impossibility of letting the political relevance of immigration issues de-escalate: while all the candidates of the established parties had neglected immigration concerns during the electoral campaign, the FN put substantial emphasis on them, and was eventually rewarded with over 15 per cent of the vote, thus obliging its opponents to act in the same way (Schain 2012: 105 and 2006: 274). The difficulty the mainstream has in depoliticising migration also becomes apparent in the Italian case of criminalisation of irregular migration, a norm which, although effective ←13 | 14→in neither reducing arrivals nor increasing returns, was still impossible to repeal, even for Renzi’s centre-left government (see Rosina in this volume).

The domestic appeal of populist radical right parties and, more generally, of populist parties with anti-immigration stances, have been aggravated by the recent economic crisis, from which Europe is only slowly recovering (see Talani in this volume). Indeed, the porousness of the Mediterranean border has become more visible at a time when the still high rate of unemployment, personal frustrations and economic struggles of the people hit by the crisis were making them vulnerable and disillusioned with the national leadership. As a consequence, immigration has been transformed into a ‘lightning rod’ for other problems (expression used by Ulrich Beck, cited in Boswell 2003: 4), and policymakers have been urged to support and emphasise high-profile immigration policies with an expected immediate effect, rather than to commit to long-term, wide-ranging goals, in the hope of avoiding a domestic backlash (Hollifield et al. 2014: 27).

Even so, until not long ago, the literature has found populist parties not to have succeeded, on average, in directly shaping entry policies. A study by Akkerman (2012) on nine European countries finds that the presence of a PRRP in a government coalition did not significantly alter the severity of the changes made to migration policy. As a matter of fact, PRRPs are likely to encounter, once in power, several difficulties that limit the implementation of their agenda. First, because they are usually junior parties (Mudde 2013), with the notable exception of the Lega, they tend to be quite vulnerable to internal strife between those who prioritise ideology and those who attribute more relevance to holding office (Akkerman and de Lange 2012: 582). This, together with the normal political compromise that parties have to accept, can trigger a ‘de-radicalisation’ process (Michels 1962, cited in Schain 2006: 278), which makes parties lose their most extremist fringes. It can also result in a split of the party (in the French case, Mégret created the National Republican Movement (Mouvement National Républicain, MRN), from the flanks of the FN in 1999, compromising on his programme but exploiting organisational advantages) (Schain 2006) or in a high turnover rate of PRRPs’ ministers (in Austria, for example, six ←14 | 15→ministers of the Freedom Party of Austria left office in just two years) (Akkerman and de Lange 2012). Second, there are inherent tensions between the inclusionary logic of liberal states and the exclusionary one of strict immigration control (Boswell 2011). As an example, it would be problematic, according to Boswell (2011), to exclude immigrants from basic healthcare, as it would not only be difficult to implement, but also lead to increased pressure on the emergency system, with no final positive result for the overall welfare structure of the state. Third, PRRPs in government coalitions have often adopted an oppositional stance, holding ‘one foot in, one out’ in order not to be associated with the ‘élites’ (Mudde 2013). Whereas doing so might be rewarding in electoral terms, it is less so in terms of policy outcome (Akkerman and de Lange 2012). Even when the Lega was part of the Berlusconi II government, by then a stable and well-established party, it was forced to moderate the restrictive Bossi-Fini law it had put forward by accepting the regularisation of 646,000 people in 2002–3 (one of the biggest in Europe), under pressure of Christian-democratic CCD and CDU, the Church, and the confederation of Italian employers (Geddes 2008: 350).

Biographical notes

Leila Simona Talani (Volume editor) Matilde Rosina (Volume editor)

Leila Simona Talani is professor of International Political Economy at the department of European and International Studies at King’s College London. Her research interests currently focus on the global political economy and the migration crisis and on the consequences of the global financial crisis on the capitalist structures of European countries. Matilde Rosina is a PhD candidate in the Department of European and International Studies at King’s College London. Her research focuses on the concept of deterrence in the context of international migration, and in particular on the criminalisation of irregular migration.

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Title: Tidal Waves? The Political Economy of Populism and Migration in Europe