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Populism Watch: Immigration Propels France in World Cup, But Splits Europe

By / 7.18.2018

France erupted into celebration following their victory in the World Cup. The success of the multicultural soccer team offered a moment to reflect on the benefits of international migration. The win was also a fulfillment of Macron’s call for more heroes to unify the country. Amid division sowed by populists and nationalists, Macron communicated this call at the funeral of nationally exalted (and half-Belgian) singer Johnny Hallyday last year. Within France’s soccer team, 15 out of a total of 22 players came from families which had recently arrived from non-EU countries. These countries included the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Morocco, Angola, and Algeria. The multi-faith team also included muslim players such as Paul Pogba, Ousmane Dembele, N’Golo Kante, Adil Rami, Djibril Sidibe, Benjamin Mendy and Nabil Fekir. The win was a bright spot in an otherwise turbulent time for the EU, engendered by anti-immigrant agendas.

Immigration continues to roil transatlantic politics. While the U.S. fixated on Trump’s child separation policy, the EU dealt with immigration challenges of its own. In a counter to the EU system, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini proposed a union made up of nationalist, populist, and anti-immigrant parties across Europe. He described the network as“a League of the Leagues of Europe, bringing together all the free and sovereign movements that want to defend their people and their borders.”These leaders would include France’s National Front leader Marine Le Pen, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, Nigel Farage, who lobbied for the referendum that resulted in Britain leaving the union, and others. Not to be accused of only protecting the borders, Salvini set his sights inward. Locals reported authorities had cleared out an official Roma camp, and cited concern for the future of the Roma population in Italy.

The EU summit, held June 28th-29th, focused on reducing the immigration challenges which form a prominent platform for populist parties. The summit, held June 28th-29th, focused on redistributing and lessening the flows of migrants arriving by boat to the EU’s southernmost countries. Populist and nationalist parties which run on anti-immigrant platforms include Italy’s 5Star / the League Coalition, Germany’s Christian Social Union, and France’s National Rally (previously the National Front).

At the summit, EU leaders agreed to:

  • Share the responsibility of refugees arriving in the bloc on a newly voluntary basis,
  • Increase financing to Turkey, Morocco and other North African countries to prevent migration to Europe,
  • Support the development of regional disembarkation platforms for people saved at sea, aimed at “rapidly and safely”distinguishing between economic migrants and asylum seekers.

EU leaders also discussed the creation of an external migration management facility to be included under the next EU long-term budget. The plan would need sign-off from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, as well as the International Organization for Migration. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel called specifically for alignment with all international legal standards regarding the facility. In 2016, Merkel led the creation of a similar program, in which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğanagreed to take back migrants who had reached Europe in exchange for billions in euros to cover basics for Syrian refugee in Turkey. Germany also took in some Syrian refugees. In its first year of operation, Doctors Without Borders highlighted the “devastating human consequences of this strategy on the lives and health”of those sent to Turkey. Other examples of offshore immigrant processing facilities, such as the Australian detention centers on the islands of Nauru and Manus, have been sites of human rights concerns,hunger strikes, and other challenges.

On the last day of the EU Summit, the impact of these immigration challenges on human life was made clear. The Libyan Coast Guard reported a boat filled with migrants bound for Europe had sunk. One hundred people were missing, and the bodies of three infants were recovered.