Can the Czech Runoff Election Impact the Country’s Stance on Migration?

On Friday and Saturday, voters will head to the polls in the Czech Republic for a presidential runoff vote between incumbent Miloš Zeman and his competitor, Jiří Drahoš. The polls are very close, with Czeska Televisa 24 / MF Dnes reporting a slight lead for Drahos with 47 percent of the vote to Zeman’s 43 percent, with ten percent still undecided.

In Czech, the president appoints the prime minister, making this vote more than a referendum on Zeman’s past performance. Waiting in the wings is billionaire populist and recently elected Prime Minister Andrej Babiš of the ANO (“Yes”) party, who has endorsed Zeman and expects his support if he wins in forming a government. A vote for Zeman then is a vote for Babiš, who is under investigation by Czech authorities for decades-old corruption charges related to EU subsidy fraud, charges which he denies. Whether this association is an advantage or a liability will only become clear this weekend.

As we have explained previously, the immigration debate in the Czech Republic is extremely tilted towards immigration restrictionist views, with nearly all parties and political figures united in their opposition to accepting asylum seekers as part of the EU’s proposed quota distribution system, and politicians making outspoken remarks against migrants from Muslim majority countries. Both Babis and Zeman have in the past made remarks characterizing people who migrate or seek asylum as dangerous threats to Czech citizens, with Zeman comparing Muslims in general to Nazis and warning of a “super-Holocaust” during an interview with the Guardian in 2016. Such violent rhetoric has been accompanied by a rise in hate speech and an antagonistic environment for minorities. (Given that there are very few accepted refugees in the country, threats and attacks have rather been aimed at minority groups such as Roma and groups who show support for refugees, according to Amnesty International.)  In addition, Zeman is an important figure in the Visegrad Group, the club of countries (with Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary) that have strongly opposed EU distribution of people seeking asylum.

But where does his opponent Drahoš stand, and would a win for him be an opening for a change in the country’s stance on migration?

Drahoš, formerly the president of the Czech Academy of Sciences, lays out his stance on refugees on his website, where it is second on his list of “frequently asked questions“. He states, “As a scientist, I am used to finding solutions to problems and I believe that even the refugee crisis has its solution.” This would consist of the following steps, according to Drahoš:

  • Strengthen secret services to help identify people entering the EU and offer assistance to Italy,
  • Invest in measures to improve the living conditions in countries people are currently fleeing from,
  • Distinguish between “real” refugees and people who are seeking welfare benefits, who he ideally would not let in at all,
  • Terrorism is not a reason for excluding refugees and can be combatted, but we must fight against the erosion of our values and standards,
  • Migrants should be interviewed at European borders to determine whether they are willing to embrace European norms and values.

In short, Drahoš embraces a center-right stance on asylum, a view that on the surface has much in common with other mainstream parties in Europe, such as Mark Rutte’s VVD in the Netherlands. These proposals also largely match the solutions stated by the Visegrad group. The “V4” also calls for aid packages to incentivize people to stay in their home countries and for better distinction between what they refer to as “economic migrants” and refugees. Drahoš’ policy proposals fit squarely in, with the exception that he does not outright oppose quotas (at least here), but rather argues that forcing people to stay in a country they to which they did not intend to immigrate violates the principle of freedom of movement, a creative argument that somewhat avoids the question.

His proposals also enter familiar territory for the center-right immigration stance: ideas that sound tough but end up flirting with illegality or impossibility. For instance, pre-selecting between “real” refugees and others, “ideally” outside of the borders is an idea frequently floated but in violation of the ground principals of the 1951 Refugee Convention and other laws and treaties. Namely, individuals have a right to leave their own country, to enter a country to ask for asylum and to have their claims evaluated while they remain in the country. Sending them back to a country where they potentially face persecution or preventing them from entering before evaluating their claim risks violating binding international and European law. (We have pointed this out repeatedly in response to similar proposals by the Front National and the Tories.)

Further, conducting interviews to ascertain whether individuals adhere to “European values” is perhaps not illegal but highly unrealistic. What are “European values”? How is asking someone to adhere to European values different or better than holding them to follow the law? How can you square the requirement to hold a certain set of beliefs in order to enter with the European legal concept of freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights article nine?

These policies differ from Zeman not so much in substance as in style. While Zeman has run a “non-campaign” and has not proposed concrete policies, he has made his opposition to migrants, and especially people from Muslim majority countries, well-known. In an interview with Večernje Novosti in 2017, he repeated his typical war-like language to describe migrants and Muslims more generally:

“…[I]t is said that in Africa, at least several million people are ready to migrate to Europe. Because they are mostly Muslims whose culture is incompatible with European culture, I do not believe in the ability to assimilate them. 

By the way, when you look at the history of Europe, it was actually a constant war with Muslims. And I think that Serbia has experienced it, among other things, in Kosovo’s field.” 

These comments don’t elucidate much in the way of policy recommendations and do not differentiate between migrants who are Muslim or citizens of Europe who are Muslim. In either case, he is suggesting that they do not belong because of their religious affiliation and should be viewed as a hostile enemy, as the Ottoman military forces were in Kosovo in 1389, but he does not promote any policy proposals to exclude them. It is rhetoric that promotes fear and enmity without directing it anywhere concrete- perhaps because policies that exclude or discriminate on the basis of religious belief violate numerous European laws and do not stand up to judicial scrutiny.

The fact is, even with a incomplete or unrealistic immigration policy, Drahoš presents an alternative to rhetoric that relies on fears from back in the Middle Ages. The policies he promotes do not suggest a major departure for the Czech Republic’s stance on refugees and migrants, but they do take a risk in actually spelling out ideas that can be subjected to debate. As the President of Czech does not legislate, his stance on the refugee issue is mainly symbolic. But for voters, its a question of a leader who sounds like other mainstream European leaders, or one who sounds like he is expecting all-out war against a religious minority.

 

Sources and Further Reading
The latest poll for the election favors Drahos, a tenth of voters still hesitate, [Czech] Czeska Televiza, Jan. 22, 2018
ANO supports Zeman for President, Babis for Prime Minister, [CzechNovinky (also linked to on official ANO website), Jan. 22, 2018
If I wanted to hide something, I would have stayed in the shadows, [Czech] Andrej Babis’ blog in iDnez.cz, Feb. 2016
Milos Zeman: the hardline Czech leader fanning hostility to refugees, The Guardian, Sept. 2016
Facebook has a problem with death threats in the Czech Republic, Vice News, Nov. 2017
Czech Republic 2016/2017, Amnesty International Report
Frequently Asked Questions, [Czech], JiriDrahos.cz (campaign website)
Guide to Article Nine: Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion, [pdf] Council of Europe
Interview of the President of the Republic for Večernje Novosti, [Czech], Reprinted on the President’s website, http://www.zemanmilos.cz
Header image: Via Ivan Centes on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2neIdqB (CC BY-NC 2.0)
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Austrian Elections: Where do the parties stand on asylum, immigration and integration?

By Klaudia Wegschaider

In a few days, on October 15, Austria will elect its new parliament. And unlike in the recent German election, it is uncertain who will be the next Chancellor and which parties will form the future governing coalition. Currently, Austria is headed by a coalition between the Social Democratic Party and the People’s Party. In the run-up to the election, however, disputes between these two parties have risen due to an imbroglio involving a well-known negative campaign manager and several leaked documents. The likelihood of another coalition between the two parties thus appears to be decreasing. Instead, the populist Freedom Party may gain further relevance after this election.

In the meantime, it is worth taking a look at what the party manifestos say on migration, integration and asylum. Similar to many other countries, migration has been one of the key topics in the public debates in the run-up to the election.

Social Democrats (Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreich, SPÖ)

Integration requires a limit on migration

Here’s the link to the SPÖ manifesto.

With a page count of more than 200, this is the second longest manifesto. Relevant for this post are two chapters — on integration and on migration.

The chapter on integration starts off by stating that the number of refugee arrivals has to be “reduced to a level that makes integration possible.” To specify this level, the chapter references the annual limit on refugee arrivals that the Austrian government passed since 2015 (37.500 per year). Integration – as envisioned by this manifesto – is a combination of rights and duties. Among those duties is the mandatory integration year for asylum seekers and refugees (Integrationsjahr). During this year, participants receive integration counselling, qualification checks, language and skills training, job application support, and more.

The manifesto then turns to several targeted approaches to foster integration. For example, the party stresses the importance of special programmes for asylum seekers and refugees who are no longer of regular school-age. Apart from proposing new programmes, the manifesto also draws attention to existing initiatives in need of more support – such as programmes aimed at preventing radicalisation as well as all forms of extremism.

The chapter on migration carries the title “migration with a sense of proportion” and the sub-heading reads “humanitarian, solidary, consequent.” After outlining the current challenges, the manifesto briefly delves into seven steps: (1) A clear plan for a cooperation with West African countries is needed. (2) The EU should invest in a Marshall-Plan for North Africa to strengthen local development. (3) The EU needs to protect its external borders. (4)  A joint European asylum system ought to be developed. (5) Information campaigns need to reach out to migrants in countries of origin and transit. (6) Refugees whose claims are granted should then be relocated within the EU. (7) Those whose claims are rejected need to return to their countries of origin. To this end, further return agreements at the EU level are needed. The manifesto calls for a new position at the EU level to speed up this negotiation process.

Summary of main positions:

  • Asylum arrivals have to be reduced to a level that makes integration possible
  • Faster asylum procedures
  • Special programmes for asylum seekers and refugees who are older than regular school-age
  • General reform of the EU asylum system needed
  • Marshall-Plan for North Africa
  • Need for more return agreements between the EU and countries of origin

People’s Party (Liste Sebastian Kurz, die neue Volkspartei, ÖVP)

Promising to halt illegal migration

The ÖVP manifesto was released in three parts. Here’s are the links to part one, part two, and part three.

This three-part manifesto is by far the longest. The first mention of the word migration is on page 46 and talks of rising social costs due to illegal migration. The manifesto then states that a change in migration policy could in the long-term save Austria up to 1.5 billion euros (a time frame is not mentioned).

One chapter elaborates on the importance of development aid to ease the migration pressure. The manifesto promises to almost double the budget of the Austrian Development Agency to 155 million euros by 2021. However, if a country of origin is not cooperative in facilitating return, then development aid would be cut.

The second part of the manifesto takes a closer look at integration. Children whose German skills are deemed insufficient ought to have access to and take special German classes. In addition, more teachers with a so-called “migration background” are needed to offer further support for those children.

The final part promises a “return to the top” by halting “illegal migration.” Those who are rescued at sea, for example, are to be brought to “rescue centers” outside of Europe. Those who reach Europe and are in need of protection are to be brought to “protection centers” outside the territory of the European Union.

Parallel to that, the manifesto proposes two legal pathways: First, some of the most vulnerable are to be resettled to Austria from refugee camps abroad. This ought to happen in close cooperation with UNHCR, IOM and the European Asylum Support Office. Second, the existing points system ought to be improved so that skilled workers needed by the Austrian labour market have the chance to immigrate.

Summary of main positions:

  • Increase spending on development and cut aid transfers for countries that do not facilitate return of rejected asylum seekers
  • Faster asylum procedures
  • German language support for children
  • Halt to illegal migration
  • Demand-based immigration of skilled workers

Freedom Party (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs, FPÖ)

Rejecting all forms of migration

Here’s the link to the FPÖ manifesto.

The Freedom Party places the principle of fairness at the center of its campaign. Throughout its manifesto, the party speaks of a “fairness crisis” and implies a division between “us” and “them.” For example, a brief look at the table of contents shows that each of the 25 sections in the manifesto starts with the pronoun “our.” The emphasis on the pronoun “our” is lost in translation, but the headings are nonetheless telling: “1. Protecting our borders — Austria is not a country of immigration.” “2. Protecting our sovereignty and self-determination.” “Guarding our culture, values and traditions” … etc.

The central FPÖ demand is unequivocal: “For the time being, the FPÖ rejects all forms of immigration due to the migration waves in the recent past.” In the following sentence, the party acknowledges the right to asylum of all people who are persecuted due to their race, religion, or political beliefs. However, this right to asylum in Austria is only granted if the claimant did not reach Austria by traveling through a safe third country (note: Austria is a landlocked country and surrounded by safe third countries). In addition, the FPÖ promises to eliminate all financial incentives for claiming asylum in Austria — by cutting social spending and by switching to non-cash benefits.

The manifesto has much less to say on integration. There appears to be no section that addresses the challenge of integration explicitly. Instead, the following calls are included in the manifesto: Chapter 1 clearly states the FPÖ does not see Islam as a part of Austria. Chapter 8 calls for a restrictive limit on the proportion of foreign students in school in order “not to jeopardise the success of the Austrian children.”

Summary of main positions:

  • Rejection of all forms of immigration
  • Asylum only for those who did not arrive through a safe third country
  • Rejection of Islam as a part of Austria
  • Replacing monetary support with benefits in kind (for asylum seekers)
  • Limits on the proportion of foreign students in schools

Greens (Die Grünen)

Solutions at the EU level

Here’s the link to the manifesto of the Green Party.

The manifesto of the Green Party counts 64 pages and is filled with bare text, no pictures. This makes the manifest of the Greens stand out at first sight because all other parties extensively rely on visual material in their manifestos.

Migration features several times in the manifesto and often in relation to the European Union. Indeed, one of the central positions is that “actions taken by single states are not real solutions.” Thus, the European Union “requires a joint and harmonised immigration system.”

Just what exactly would this look like? The Greens focus on creating safe and legal pathways. For those who seek to study or work in Austria, there should be a system in place that selects candidates based on qualifications, language skills, age as well as additional integration factors. For those in need of protection, the Greens advocate for the reintroduction of the Botschaftsasyl, i.e. the possibility to claim asylum at embassies of EU member states. For asylum seekers that have already reached Europe, the Greens propose that they first stay at a joint initial reception center (Erstaufnahmezentrum) before being relocated to one of the 28 member states.

Integration is seen as “a key for social cohesion.” The manifesto goes on to mention the importance of language courses, the recognition of qualifications, education as well as coordination between the different levels of government. Among the more detailed policy proposals are the introduction of “Austria-for-Newcomers”-courses as well as initiatives on the equality between men and women, both aimed for refugees.

In addition, the Greens seek to enhance participation options for non-citizens. For example, the Greens call for the right to vote at the local level not only for EU citizens (which already exists), but also for third country nationals (after an undefined length of stay). At the same time, the Greens stress the importance of anti-racism initiatives and acknowledge the work by volunteers who stand up for refugees.

Summary of main positions:

  • Criteria-based selection system for those seeking to study or work in Austria
  • Reintroduction of the option of filing an asylum claim abroad at embassies
  • Joint initial reception centres for asylum seekers that arrived on EU territory
  • Relocation of refugees within the European Union among all 28 member states
  • Speedy and affordable access to language courses
  • Passing of a law that would ease the recognition of qualifications
  • Introduction of the right to vote for third country nationals at the local level (after several years of living in Austria)

NEOS 

Searching for a coherent policy approach

Here’s the link to the manifesto of the Neos.

The NEOS manifesto sees solutions neither in “left-wing dreams” nor in “right-wing hatred.” It then goes on to list a few specific measures. First, it promises a more coherent approach to integration. To achieve this, the party envisions a new department focussed on integration. Its responsibilities would span from kindergarten to labour market entry.

Second, the manifesto calls for faster and more efficient asylum procedures. To this end, they set a time frame of 180 days for a decision on an individual’s asylum case. Persons fleeing from war immediately ought to have the chance to apply for subsidiary protection — a status valid for a certain time. (Instead of first having their application for refugee status denied and then being considered for subsidiary status.) Those applying for asylum would have the duty to reside in their assigned town or city for as long as they are dependent on social spending (Residenzpflicht).

While a positive asylum decision ought to come with support for the integration process, a negative decision is grounds for immediate deportation. Therefore, NEOS seek to negotiate binding return agreements with the relevant countries of origin. In exchange, these countries would see their development aid significantly increased.

In the European context, the party reaffirms the importance of the free movement of people for EU citizens. At the same time, the manifesto states that countries unwilling to take part in the “alliance of responsibility” with regard to refugee migration no longer ought to reap the benefits of the Schengen area.

Summary of main positions:

  • Found a department dedicated to integration, developing solutions from kindergarten age to entry to the labour market
  • Faster and more efficient asylum procedures
  • Option to immediately apply for subsidiary protection
  • Binding return agreements with countries of origin
  • Requirement for asylum seekers to live in their assigned town
  • Benefits of Schengen area only for those who share responsibility within the EU

A note on the parties covered: This post only covers five of the 16 parties standing for election on 15 October 2017. Selected were only those parties that are already represented in the parliament. The order is based on the result of the last national election in 2013. Omissions of relevant sections and simplifications are possible, but not intended. For a complete picture, please see the linked manifestos.


*About the author: Klaudia Wegschaider graduated with an MSc in Migration Studies from the University of Oxford, where she focused on the intersection of migration and democracy. She now works for an independent German foundation and volunteers for the Oxford Monitor of Forced Migration. Klaudia is not affiliated with any political party.


Sources and further reading:
SPÖ Consultant Silberstein organized a right-wing Facebook page [in German], Profil, Sept. 2017
Austria’s Election Has Been Upended Over A Shady Meme-Posting Facebook Page, Buzzfeed, Oct. 2017
Campaign Platforms [all in German]
SPÖ: Plan for Austria: The Program for prosperity, security and good mood
ÖVP: Part 1: New Fairness and ResponsibilityPart 2: Awakening and prosperityPart 3: Order and Safety
FPÖ: Austrians Deserve Fairness
Die Grünen: This is Green
NEOS: The future manifesto for a new Austria 
Header Image: Austrian Parliament via SPÖ-Parlamentsklub  on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2gC1mQA (CC BY-ND 2.0)

 

 

 

UK General Election: Do UKIP losses show a swing away from anti-immigrant views?

Thursday’s truly astonishing British general election result has left the media with plenty of straws to grasp at. As we now know, the Conservatives missed the threshold for a majority (326 seats) after calling for a snap election with the hopes of a windfall to consolidate their authority in time for Brexit talks. In the meantime, Labour, led by the embattled Jeremy Corbyn, gained over 30 seats but did not manage to secure a majority. UKIP failed to gain any seats, and the Irish DUP arrived in the dubious position of kingmaker for the Conservatives by virtue of their ten seats.

The success of Labour and surprising turnaround of the Conservatives and UKIP have many people asking:

Was this result a rebuke to parties who take a strong stance against immigration?

In our view, not necessarily.

The UK Independence Party (UKIP), who has previously made a name for itself with strong opposition to immigration and the European Union, did extremely poorly in many of the districts where they had previously performed well, seeming to split their lost votes among Labour and Conservative candidates. For example, the chart below, based on official statistics reported by the BBC and the Guardian, shows how much UKIP lost in comparison to 2015 in the five districts that had the highest percentage of people voting to leave the EU.

Sample UKIP Losses in Leave Districts

In all of these districts, Conservatives won the most votes and the seat in parliament. However, Labour had strong gains in each, performing on average an additional 8% better than in 2015. Conservatives also did better, by an average of 12%. Considering UKIP lost an average of 20% in these districts, these numbers would appear to show people who formerly supported UKIP dividing their votes among Labour and Conservatives, favoring Conservatives, but not by much.

If voters had abandoned UKIP because they had changed their mind about Brexit, we would have expected to see surges in the parties promising to fight Brexit, particularly the Greens and the LibDems. This was not the case.

A possible interpretation is that UKIP, as a protest party standing strongly for Brexit, lost its appeal once Brexit was achieved. However, if the reasoning for wanting Brexit in the first place primarily lay with opposition to immigration, it would have been reasonable to expect the Conservatives, who took the harshest stance against immigration, sweeping up all or most of the UKIP votes so that the government could finish the job and make lasting changes to the immigration yste. Instead, a good chunk went to Labour as well- who were tepid on the subject of immigration reform, promising “fair rules and reasonable management of migration.”

We previously compared the Labour and Conservative positions on immigration as laid out in their manifestos and concluded that they could not be more different. While Conservatives promise to bring the number of people migrating to the UK from over 300,000 to in the tens of thousands, Labour does not have specific numeric targets for reduction. Conservatives would make it more difficult for family members to reunify, while Labour would make it easier (at first glance) by removing earnings requirements. Labour would ban indefinite detention, while Conservatives would change asylum rules to disfavor those who apply in-country. In addition, the parties differ significantly on international students and charges for employers who hire non-British workers.

The only place they come together in agreement over Brexit: it’s happening, and it’s going to change immigration from the EU and beyond.

So what conclusions can we draw from this baffling situation? There are a few possibilities.

Bored of Brexit

First, perhaps this outcome showed that while many people did want a change on immigration, they felt that change was already achieved by the vote to leave the European Union. If this were the case, it would be natural to turn their attention to other, more domestic priorities, such as employment, social services, health and education. These are areas that Labour spent a lot of time campaigning on, and perhaps this effort accounted for some of their success.

Not Convinced by the Conservatives

The promise to reduce numbers of people migrating to Britain is not a new one. David Cameron pledged to cap immigration in the tens of thousands back in 2010 and obviously did not, which may cast doubt for some on Theresa May’s pledge to do the same in 2017. Public opinion surveys, like one done by Ipsos, show that only 18% of British people think the goal of reducing immigration to the tens of thousands of achievable by the Conservatives, while 68% say its “either not at all likely or fairly unlikely that the Conservatives will be able to achieve this target”.

This would indicate not that people have changed their views on immigration, but that they are unconvinced that Conservatives can carry out their promises on reducing net numbers. By extension, the same applies to UKIP, who promised to reduce net migration to zero.

Cold Feet for Hard Brexit

A final possibility to consider is that the people who switched their votes were satisfied with the decision to leave the EU, but turned off by the hard-line approach favored by UKIP and the Conservatives. In terms of immigration, this could mean a desire for a measured approach to a changed system under Brexit rather than reduction by several hundred thousand or “net zero”. One of the difficulties of the hard-line approach favored by UKIP and the Tories is that people tend to differentiate between different kinds of immigrants- for instance, international students, doctors, and people rejoining their families, versus people seeking asylum or irregular migrants. An approach that puts all of these individuals in the same basket risks forcing people to prioritize efforts to reduce immigration over, for instance, having adequate doctors and nurses to staff the NHS. Perhaps some voters felt that Labour struck the better balance between leaving the EU while not totally changing the character of the country by advocating radical changes to the immigration system.

****

Of course, it’s possible that none of these possibilities encapsulate what voters were thinking when many abandoned UKIP and to a lesser extent Conservatives. (Perhaps UKIP voters simply abstained en masse!) The coming weeks may give us more opportunity to find out, as the fallout from the election impacts the Conservatives and their attempts to get Brexit negotiations underway with an almost hung parliament. For now, we assess that slashing numbers arbitrarily and not taking account of the migration needs of different industries and sectors is no longer a winning proposition. Judging from reports that May has promised to back away from some of her key immigration positions, the Tories would seem to agree.


Sources and Further Reading
Two of UK’s Top Leave Districts in Essex, BBC, June 2016
UK Election 2017: Full Results (Interactive), June 2017
Comparing the Conservative and Labour Manifestos on Immigration , MV
UK Parties Clash Over International Students, MV
What is the Tories’ Immigration Skills Charge and how will it impact the NHS?, MV
Most think Theresa May will not achieve her target to cut net migration to the “tens of thousands”, IPSOS Mori, May 2017
Theresa May buys time with apology to Tory MPs over election ‘mess’, The Guardian, June 2017
Header Image: UKIP Billboard, via Ian Burt on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2rl1aNj (CC by 2.0)

 

INTERVIEW: John Mullen on the French Left and an alternative to fighting over abstention

The French presidential election is only days away and for many on the French left, the discussion is less about whether to vote for Marine Le Pen or Emmanuel Macron, but whether or not to vote at all.  A survey among members of Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s organization showing that two-thirds intended to cast a blank vote or abstain sent panic through Europe- could Marine Le Pen end up the president of France because of indifference to Macron? Here at Migration Voter, we are somewhat biased towards voting, so we wanted to look into the question more deeply to see what we were missing and whether the press had been simplifying the view of supporters of Mélenchon and others who are opposed to Macron.

John Mullen, a historian, and activist on the French anti-capitalist left was kind enough to take some time to explain the debate and give us his unique take on what’s next for the divided French left. You can read more of Mullen on his blog.

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There is currently a huge discussion on the French left over whether to support Emmanuel Macron or to abstain from voting entirely. Can you sum up for us what’s happening?

There’s a sort of generalized panic on the Left. Although we’ve known for months that it was very likely Marine Le Pen would make it to the second round, there’s been no preparation about what to do and what sort of slogans would pull people together in the event that she made it. Now there’s lots of very unfraternal debate going on.

Macron represents for working people exactly the type of policies that have allowed Le Pen to build up support. Year after year of redundancies, encouraging Islamophobia and reducing union rights have led to this situation where large sections of the population, especially the poorer parts, distrust the establishment completely and are therefore prepared to vote for someone who is essentially a fascist. And so the left is stuck in a situation where both candidates are pretty horrible and there is the tactical question of what to do.

What’s the downside of tactically voting for Macron?

Well, it’s tremendously important to see this from a collective point of view. A lot of the debate has been very individualistic. ‘I would feel dreadful if I abstained!’ ‘I would feel so filthy if I voted for Macron’, and that’s just the wrong question. The question is what campaign will allow the interests of working people and minorities to be moved forward. So I do not campaign to vote Macron, but I also do not campaign for abstention. This question is dividing people so much that the most important thing to do is to find slogans that will bring people together, and a whole number of unions have come up with “Not a Single Vote for Le Pen.” I think that’s a good slogan. .. We’re not campaigning for a vote for Macron, but we are campaigning for no votes for Le Pen and leaving the question of abstention open.

What about those who say that if enough people abstain, Le Pen will end up in the Élysée Palace by default?

I think the important thing to remember is that politics is not arithmetic. All of the Left organizations who’ve called for a vote for Macron have disappeared from the debate for these two weeks because it’s all been summed up by being for or against Macron.  The Left organizations who are fighting Le Pen but not calling for a vote for Macron have, in my opinion, a great advantage, because they are showing the world, and particular the people who are tempted by Le Pen, that Le Pen is not the only opposition to the free-market neoliberal policies that Macron represents. In fact, not campaigning for a vote for Macron actually makes Le Pen’s job harder.

So the strategy is, in a way, to make a point to the people who might be tempted to vote Le Pen, by providing an alternative to neo-liberal policies outside of Le Pen?

I think that the Insubordinate France movement is the reason that Le Pen got 21% and not 27% in the first round. Because the radical left program was able to pull people away from Le Pen in key areas. For example, among young adults and among unemployed people, Melenchon got more than Le Pen. And these are historically very strong areas for Le Pen. So, those of us around Mélenchon’s campaign are particularly furious with the campaign going on against Mélenchon, which suggests that he doesn’t care about fascism and so on.

Mélenchon’s immigration policies were by far the most favorable to migrants and refugees. But now we’re faced with Macron versus Le Pen, Macron continuing the status quo or going slightly stricter while increasing skilled migration, whereas Le Pen wants to do a lot to restrict migration, closing the borders, eradicating the possibility of seeking asylum from within the country, increasing police and border guards, and making other changes that would significantly impact people who immigrate and people of color. To not vote Macron because of economic issues and allow in Le Pen – do you think that is pushing economic issues and opposition to neo-liberalism above the safety of immigrants and people of color?

That sounds like a leading question.

Oh, it is!

I must admit I don’t know much about Macron’s immigration policies. I know something of his attitude towards racism, and interestingly enough, almost for accidental reasons, he has been a sort of modernizing wing of the right wing of the socialist party, who isn’t interested in rapidly whipping up Islamophobia, like Manuel Valls was. And Macron even said the other week that colonialism was a crime against humanity, it was absolutely stunning to hear a right-wing socialist leader say that! So he’s trying to renew and modernize a certain section of the discourse around human rights issues and racial equality issues because France has been very backward on that.

Obviously, the whole society is absolutely soaked in racism, but I don’t think it’s possible to separate out the economic opposition to Macron from the questions about racism, where Macron is not the major factor. I think it’s true that one of the reasons that Le Pen has grown so much is because of the disastrous attitude of almost the entire French left on Islamophobia.

So for example, counter-terrorism policies that have had a disparate impact on people of color- by pushing such policies the socialists have pushed people towards the right?

I think so, but even more, the direct Islamophobia. For example, last year we had a campaign by right-wing mayors who passed bye-laws to stop Muslim women from wearing full body swimsuits on beaches, and they were publicly applauded by the socialist prime minister.

Really? That’s surprising. We did see Macron in the debate agreeing that what Muslim women wear on the beach is a public order issue.

To be just to everyone concerned, Mélenchon was not very good on that either. He said we have to denounce both the right wing mayors who stop people from wearing what they want and the people who are selling burkinis because they want to push an Islamic fundamentalist agenda. Which is nonsense?

I’d like to take a moment to talk about the international scene. The conversation in France is reminiscent of the conversation on the Left in the US. Many people who supported Sanders felt it would be nearly as bad to vote for Clinton as Trump, Trump ended up winning and installing policies that both people who voted for Sanders and Clinton are totally appalled by, and the two sides still haven’t really come together. Is this a warning for the Left in France, or are the two situations incomparable?

I’m not convinced that Trump won because leftists were not enthusiastic enough about Clinton…  I would say that we’ve seen this before in France. In 2002 Jean-Marie Le Pen got through to the second round and almost the entire left supported the conservative Jacques Chirac against him, and we discovered that this total unity in the ballot box did not put a significant brake on the building of the fascist party in France. And I think we’re obliged to understand that it’s the long-term building of a national, broadly based anti-fascist campaign that can make a difference. And what we need to be looking at in any given political situation is what will help to build a radical left alternative that is active and exciting and going out there supporting strikes and anti-racist demos and demos to defend hospitals, etc., getting really involved in everyday life, and also involved in a national permanent anti-fascist campaign, which doesn’t exist in France. Today the working class is paying for the lack of that campaign, in my opinion.

Final question. Did you read Yanis Varoufakis’ endorsement of Macron?

Yes, I was horrified!

He wrote, “Is Emmanuel Macron worse, from the left’s point of view, then Jacques Chirac in 2002? If this isn’t the case, then why do certain leaders from the left today refuse to support Macron against Le Pen? For me, it’s a veritable mystery.” How do you respond to that?

The thing is that since 2002 in many elections- legislative, regionals and so on- we’ve had often had this huge pressure. ‘Oh, you must vote for the right against the fascists.’ And the result is, 20 years later, the fascists are stronger than ever. But what is interesting today is that when Jean-Luc Mélenchon had a consultation of 240,000 members of his organization, only a third wanted to vote for Macron. That’s not just because they’ve all gone mad. It’s because it is clear to a lot of people that Macron’s politics are the sort that will make fascism stronger. Although people are very frightened in case she wins, many are still favoring abstention.Although it must be said, lots of people who are in favor of abstention will change their mind on Saturday night. Because the pressure is huge.

I wondered whether it would be the opposite- that lots of people who were considering voting would end up getting turned off and staying home.

I don’t think so, the pressure on the television, in the press, on social media, in the workplace is huge, it’s absolutely stunning. And I remember in 2002 there was a huge amount of pressure, even though at the end Chirac got 80%!

I’m not campaigning for abstention because people are scared and I understand that. But I certainly can’t campaign for Macron because he doesn’t represent in any way a future that can cut the grass under fascism. I’m campaigning for no vote for the fascists, and get involved in left-wing politics.

Sources and Further Reading
Results of the Consultation on the Election. La France Insoumise (French).
A Radical Departure? Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s party on migration and asylum. Migration Voter.
Macron v. Le Pen on immigration, asylum and integration. Migration Voter.
Emmanuel Macron calling colonialism a crime against humanity in interview. (Video) (French)
Manuel Valls speaking in favor of the burkini ban. La Provence (French), Aug. 2016.
Macron came to Greece’s aid during our crisis. The French left should back him. Yanis Varoufakis op-ed in The Guardian, May 2017.
Image via Jeanne Menjoulet on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2pd9Vmz (CC by 2.0)

A radical departure? Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s Party on Migration and Asylum

With mere days until the first round of the French presidential election, the polls have evened out to the extent that it looks a four-way race (within the margin of error), with centrist Emmanuel Macron taking a narrow lead and closely followed by far-right Marine Le Pen, center-right Francois Fillon, and far-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Sunday’s vote will most likely narrow down the race to two candidates, who will face off in a runoff election two weeks later.

There is an upside to the fact that the election is so wide open: practically the entire range of possible views on migration are represented! This is unusual, especially in comparison to the more common scene: candidates who say the same thing on migration policy in different ways, while heavily favoring the status quo.

We’ve already summarized where the major candidates stand on migration and asylum, and examined Le Pen more closely, as she has campaigned continuously and heavily on the theme of restricting immigration. But far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon deserves a closer look as well. He and his brand-new party, Unsubmissive France, have been steadily gaining in the run-up to the election, and his proposals on immigration would present as much of a departure from current French policy as Le Pen’s.

The Business of Xenophobia

In Unsubmissive France’s in-depth explanation of their migration policy, (not written by Mélenchon himself, we should note) the authors offer an anti-capitalist critique of the European migration crisis. The European Union, by creating a migration policy based on borders and security have incentivized both the exploitation of migrants and the fear of them, they write.

“…[S]ecurity policies lead to the development of a “business” of fear and xenophobia by giving the transnationals of the security industry the opportunity to benefit from a new financial windfall at European level. These policies keep migrants in a state of permanent insecurity, in particular encouraging them to put their available work force of employers who want to benefit from exploitable labor, and place them at an inability to meet their most basic rights.”

Given this diagnosis of the problem, the party proposes numerous EU-wide policies that would solve it: work for peace and avoid military deployments, end the imposition of unfair trade deals that destabilize other countries and regions, work on adequate development and climate change policy that will make home countries more livable, and people less ready to leave them for Europe.

These policies have the advantage of being unique among French candidates and speaking to larger global and economic issues. A major downside is that they are not policies that can be implemented by Mélenchon if elected. He can work to promote these views at the European level, but as one member state, even an influential one, he cannot meaningfully promise voters the ability to enact an entirely new EU security or trade policy (and cannot accomplish these by threatening to leave.) In that sense, these proposals are unrealistic, but give an idea of the general worldview of the party: anti-capitalist, pacifist, labor-oriented.

Unraveling migration laws and trade agreements

The party goes on to elaborate a plan that would fundamentally alter the legal situation of migrants in France, from acquisition of citizenship to family reunification to asylum. Many of the proposals aim to erase restrictions now existing, while others propose new laws or policies.

For instance, the party calls for France to:

  • Decriminalize illegal residence and end detention of immigrants, especially children
  • Break with European directives and repeal the successive laws that aimed to restrict the right of asylum in France,
  • End free trade agreements and replace with protectionist solidarity

In effect, Melenchon is calling for “amnesty” for undocumented migrants and for authorities to stop enforcing immigration laws. This could, theoretically, be achieved but would require the dismantling of an entire system created to apprehend, detain, and deport undocumented migrants, which employs many people and is connected to numerous criminal and civil code provisions. It would no doubt create some upheaval and be difficult to get past the legislature.

As for the idea to break with European directives, this could be less tricky, depending on how it is operated. Many European directives applying to asylum regulate “minimum standards” for the asylum process in member states. In other words, they regulate the least the state can do in certain situation but do not prevent that they do more. In fact, they deliberately allow for this possibility. For instance, the 2013 EU Asylum Directive in article 5 states “Member States may introduce or retain more favourable standards on procedures for granting and withdrawing international protection, insofar as those standards are compatible with this Directive.” So if Melenchon “breaks” with EU directives in a way that offer more protection to asylum seekers, it will probably not be a legal problem at the European level.

Ending free trade agreements unilaterally, on the other hand, will. The EU generally negotiates as a block on trade agreements and is currently implementing deals with numerous countries and regions, such as one with West Africa, East Africa, and Canada. Could France withdraw from these and replace them with “solidarity” or development schemes?

The answer is probably no, unless they withdraw from the EU as Britain plans to do. Trade policy is an area that is firmly within the scope of exclusive EU competences- meaning only the European Commission can negotiate trade deals with other countries or regions, and individual member states can’t alter these or exit them. This also applies to foreign direct investment. So without withdrawing from the EU customs union more generally, which as Brexit has shown is no small undertaking, France will probably not easily extricate itself from EU trade policy.

Granting More Rights

Unsubmissive France has more in their program than just repealing laws and treaties. They also have some positive legal proposals with ranging levels of realism:

  • Restore jus soli citizenship rights for people born in France
  • Allow asylum seekers to work while they wait for their cases to be reviewed
  • Allow for “flexible” return scenarious, with fluidity between France and other countries and ability to return elsewhere without losing residence rights

“Our collective mission is to respect the human dignity of migrants and their fundamental right to family life,” Unsubmissive France writes, and their policy proposals support this migrant-centered mission and present new ideas that make France more welcoming both to new immigrants and for people already living in France who are not citizens. 

The introduction of jus soli citizenship would make France the first country in Europe to have an US-style citizenship law, wherein being born in France entitles a child to automatic citizenship. This idea, in combination with decriminalization of undocumented migrants, would mean that multi-generation families without residence rights would be a thing of the past. This proposal would represent an extension of the form of jus soli citizenship already in place under the French civil code, which was detailed in our article on Le Pen (who, in contrast, wishes to eradicate Jus soli citizenship.)

The priority of workers rights and the value that UF places on work is visible from policies granting work permission to asylum seekers and people who wish to return to other countries for temporary periods to work. These promises are a little vague, and one can’t help but wonder whether proposals like these would encounter resistance from powerful French labor unions. But as with many of these proposals: its usually easier under the law to give new rights than to take them away.

Radical, and Sometimes Unrealistic

Overall,  Melenchon’s party proposes radical changes to the status of migrant under the French system that could be difficult to get through the legislature, but overall comport with their own constitution and international commitments. They propose ideas that would be a major change from how things are done now, but do not necessarily break with French values as embodied in the constitution- in many cases they just extend them further. 

Where UF’s plans are weakest are when they refer to EU-wide activities, like trade. Its not impossible for France to follow Britain out of the EU in order not to be bound by EU-wide trade agreements and other commitments, but this would make it far more difficult too simultaneously influence EU policy on distribution of asylum seekers or military engagements in other countries. And organizing a “Frexit” referendum would require Melenchon to spend valuable political capital that could otherwise be used to reorganize immigration law in the way he proposes.

For pro-immigrant voters, Melenchon’s policies have lots of appeal. But voters will have to weigh this against the overwhelming ambitiousness of UF’s plans, to consider whether one candidate can really achieve so many massive changes at the same time without setting priorities.

Sources and Further Reading
Respect Migrants, Regulate the Causes of Migration. L’Avenir en Commun, Migration Program of Unsubmissive France (in French.)
How France’s Presidential Election could break- or make- the EU. The Guardian. (April 2017)
DIRECTIVE 2013/32/EU (Common procedures for granting and withdrawing international protection). Official Journal of the European Union. (2013)
The EU’s Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreements- Where are we? European Commission (2013).
Trade- overview. European Commission website.
What is Trade Policy? European Commission website.
Le Pen’s Promises on Immigration and Asylum: A Closer Look. Migration Voter (April 2017)
Cover image via Pierre-Selim on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2pYjgzr. (CC by-SA 2.0)

Unsubmissive, apolitical, revolutionary: the diverse migration views of the French presidential candidates

The French presidential race is just around the corner (April 23rd, to be exact) and the strongest performers couldn’t be more divided on the topic of immigration. Here’s our sum up of where the top five stand on migration and asylum.

To read about how the French election works, read our handy election explainer!


Marine Le Pen – Front National

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I want to put an end to immigration, that’s clear.

Since the start of her campaign, far-right Front National candidate and current forerunner Marine Le Pen has argued for “one culture and one language.” Thus, simplifying her immigration policy.  Le Pen calls for France to leave the Schengen zone and increasing the requirements to become a French national- eradicating so-called jus soli citizenship, and dual citizenship for non-Europeans. Additionally, Le Pen says that her immigration policy will reduce annual legal immigration into France by 80% , to about 10,000 individuals per year. Le Pen advocates the continuing of asylum applications overseas in French embassies and countries of origin, but states that many of the current migrants in France requesting asylum are illegal (undocumented) immigrants. She thus advocates a swift deportation policy and makes it impossible to legalize their situation. For immigrants who commit crimes, she suggests establishing bilateral treaties that allow people convicted in France to serve out their sentences in their countries of origin.


Emmanuel Macron – En Marche!

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The European Union cannot accept on its soil all those who are in search of a better life.

Former banker and finance minister Emmanuel Macron is the great question mark in the campaign- the leader of a brand new political party, he’s never held an elected post but is nevertheless steadily polling among the top two along with Le Pen and is likely (at this point) to make it to the runoff. His political stance generally rejects simple categorizations of left and right, but his immigration policy takes a relatively standard center-right line. He says the EU must continue to accept its “fair share” of refugees, while ensuring anyone not entitled to asylum is promptly deported, with decisions being handed down within 8 weeks of arrival. He also expects immigrants to integrate into local communities and introduces policies aimed at increasing integration, such as mandatory (funded) language courses. Finally, he wishes to make France more attractive for desirable types of migrants (desirable to Macron at least) such as researchers, students, investors, and artists.


François Fillon- Les Republicains

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Our demography is one of the most dynamic in Europe so that, in contrast to most of our European neighbors, we do not need immigration to support our growth.

François Fillon is the candidate of the center-right Republicans, once thought to be a strong contender but now under fire constantly following a scandal involving alleged payments made to his wife (“Penelopegate”). Facing calls to step down, he defiantly remains in the race and can’t be counted out. Regarding his immigration policy, he is barely to the left of the Front National, calling for legal immigration to France to be reduced “to the bare minimum.” To this end, he proposes strict limits on family reunification and even ethnic quotas for various regions to avoid concentration of communities in the same municipalities. To the extent that EU standards conflict with his proposals, he wants to renegotiate. He would also significantly reduce benefits for migrants, including healthcare, limiting it to minors and emergency treatment. He also calls for restoring detention for asylum seekers, and would have decisions handed down within four months. Finally, he wants to restrict citizenship to those immigrants who have shown themselves to be “clearly assimilated”, and allow for citizenship applications to be opposed by the state in cases of doubt, especially, he says, in the case of children of undocumented immigrants.


Benoit Hamon- Parti Socialiste

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The bulk of international migration is not on a South North Axis but a South-South axis. I will be working on both.

Benoit Hamon represents the French Socialist party (parti socialiste), whose currently reigning president Hollande declined to run for re-election. Hamon is the minister of education, and its fair to say that migration comprises a relatively minor part of a wide-ranging program,  focused on reforming labor, the economy, and the justice system. His migration proposals focus mainly on the European level. He calls for a reform of the Dublin regulation based on “welcome and solidarity” and proposes the creation of a humanitarian visa for refugee reception. Further, he endorses “fluidification” of labor migration (presumably making it easier for travel in and out of France for labor purposes.)


Jean Luc Melenchon- La France Insoumise

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Turn off the causes of their departure one after the other.

Jean-Luc Melenchon’s  has argued that the immigrants that are currently here are not going anywhere, “Once people are there, what do you want to do? Reject them to the sea? No, it’s absolutely impossible.” As a result, his party presents a radical departure for the immigration system: decriminalizing undocumented migration, allowing more flexible work migration and easier acquisition of both residence rights and citizenship. The party also advocates standardizing asylum procedures across France and distributing asylum seekers equally across the country, and giving people who seek asylum the right to work while they await a decision.

In terms of restriction, Melenchon advocates a policy targeting the reasons that people leave in the first place. In a sense, Melenchon’s immigration policies are much more a preventative immigration type of foreign policy, suggestive of increasing foreign development aid. In his 2016 book “Le Choix de l’insoumission” outlines his position, “If we do not want people to come, it is better that they do not leave… We must stop believing that people leave for pleasure. So turn off the causes of their departure one after the other.” 

READ MORE
Candidate Programs: Le Pen, Macron, Fillon, Hamon, Melenchon
Penelopegate casts dark shadow over Fillon’s presidential prospects” (Jan. 2017) The Guardian.
Mélenchon, J., & Endeweld, M. (2016). Le choix de l’insoumission (1st ed.). Paris: Éditions du Seuil.
Analysis: The Far Right’s Coalition Conundrum (MV)
(Cover image via Mutualité Française on flickr, (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Where do the Dutch parties stand on refugees?

One of the unusual features of the Dutch electoral system is the large number of parties and multiple possibilities for coalitions. When it comes to refugee politics, a very hot issue in the upcoming race, the parties are all over the map and range from very strict on refugees- saying the Netherlands should not take a single one- to very welcoming, saying refugees should be welcomed without a limit and entitled to the same rights as Dutch citizens. To make it a little easier to navigate we’ve divided the top parties by their stances, using their own positions from their own platforms. Remember: multiple of these parties will have to find enough common ground to govern together, so we are likely to see big compromises.

PVV- Zero refugees, close the borders, exit the European Union and ban Islam

The Partij voor de Vrijheid, PVV, is the far right party of Geert Wilders and takes the strongest stance against refugees and people seeking asylum, particularly if they are Muslim. Their platform is that the Netherlands should accept zero refugees, close all asylum centers, withdraw residence permits that have already been granted, and use the money that is currently given to people in the asylum process to support the “ordinary Dutchman.” In addition, immigration from Muslim countries will be banned, and people who hold dual citizenship and have a criminal record will be de-nationalized. Finally, a vote on leaving the European Union will be posed by referendum (the so-called “Nexit”), and the Koran would be banned (this would likely also require a referendum to change the constitution to allow for discrimination against religious groups.)

VVD- Netherlands is obligated to accept refugees, not economic migrants

The Die Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (VVD) is the party of current PM Mark Rutte. Although they arrive at the conclusion in a different way, their position on refugees is nearly as hardline as PVV’s. While refugees are entitled to a safe haven, that should be granted in their own region and not in Europe. In the current situation, they say it is no longer possible to distinguish between refugees and economic migrants, so efforts should be given to stabilizing the region refugees originate from and preventing them from endangering themselves and making problems in the Netherlands. The majority who come to the Netherlands cannot possibly be refugees, VVD argues, as they traveled all the way there, passing through safe regions, so they should not be given false hope and resettled in municipalities. Those who do make it should be processed as quickly as possible and deported as quickly as possible. Anyone who remains must integrate as quickly as possible and pay their own way through language courses, and is entitled to the minimum of public assistance- container houses, healthcare, and food. People who fail to integrate should lose residence rights.

CDA- Refugees must be set up to be able to return

The Christen-Democratisch Appèl or CDA is the once dominant Christian union party that has a center-right viewpoint. On the issue of refugees and asylum, they partially echo the VVD in granting that refugees are entitled to protection, but this protection can be better granted in their own region. This way, they are also better enabled to return when a conflict has ceased. Thus, they support the creation of regional “safe havens” and financial support for governments hosting refugees. Refugees already in Europe should be distributed according to a quota system, with countries who don’t participate losing EU funds. Refugees already within the Netherlands should receive training so that they can be well-prepared to return to their countries as soon as possible- and those countries who will not accept their citizens back should be ineligible for trade or development cooperation. Anyone who will eventually receive Dutch citizenship must give up their previous citizenship, take an integration test and learn Dutch.

SGP – Allow refugees, but combat abuse of the asylum system

The Staatkundig Gereformeerde Parti or SGP is the Dutch Calvinist party, a socially conservative center- right party that received some international attention when it was sued for refusing to allow women into its ranks.  The SGP believes that the Netherlands should continue to accept refugees, especially those who have been persecuted because of their faith, but that as a small and densely populated country, the number of disadvantaged/ economic migrants must be limited and there should be stricter requirements for family reunification. Only those who agree, in writing, that they want to contribute to Dutch society should receive funds for integration courses, and public funding for refugees should be limited to the basics.

CU- Certain groups of asylum seekers are at a higher risk

The ChristenUnie or CU is a socially conservative Christian party, which nevertheless is somewhat liberal on issues such as the environment and immigration. Their position on refugees is that the Netherlands should continue to accept refugees while supporting assistance for them in their origin region and supporting a more equal distribution of refugees throughout Europe. Refugees should be distributed throughout the Netherlands, but in good communication with local municipalities and lots of opportunities for integration and volunteer activities in the home. The asylum process should be sped up so people know what their prospects for staying are as soon as possible and can start to integrate. They are especially concerned about the safety of LGBT and Christian refugees in asylum homes and favor more support for these groups. They also want more attention and special assistance for victims of trafficking, FGM and child marriage, and support a more liberal policy for child refugees. They also advocate basic support (food, shelter) for rejected asylum seekers.

PvDA – We accept refugees but our capacity isn’t limitless

The Partij van de Arbeid or PvdA is the left-leaning worker’s party that focuses on employment and social welfare. In their plan they embrace a European response to the refugee crises with a distribution system, and specifically cite the Geneva Refugee Convention as being the decider of who may stay. But the Netherland’s capacity to help is limited and the country has been put under pressure by accepting refugees- thus they take a strict stance against economic migrants, and encourage more say for municipalities in choosing how many refugees they will accept. A fair asylum policy must make special provisions for the vulnerable, especially children.

SP- Provide ample assistance here and in sending countries

The Socialistische Partij is a leftist social democrat party that takes a Euroskeptic stance on issues like the euro and freedom of movement, hoping to restrict EU policies and migration that suppresses wages. Nevertheless, in their platform they propose a European solution to asylum, namely, that reception centers are placed at international borders and then people found legally able tEo stay are distributed throughout Europe, incuding throughout the Netherlands. Like other parties, they support regional assistance to prevent people from leaving in the first place, and development cooperation in Africa but not with a “post-colonial process.” Refugees within the Netherlands should be equally distributed (“not just in poor neighborhoods”) and should receive ample assistance including mental health care. ‘No one should have to sleep on the streets”, they say, and people in asylum shelter that are at additional risk of violence should receive extra attention.

D66- Smaller numbers mean better opportunities

The Politieke Partij Democraten 66 or D66 is a progressive, pro-democracy and pro-European party founded in 1966. While “not everyone can come to the Netherlands,” they point out that the majority of Syrian refugees are sheltered by neighboring countries. They support strengthening European borders and capacities and accepting genuine refugees (but not economic migrants.) A smaller number of refugees will make opportunities for them to integrate stronger. In the meantime, they deserve assistance and the same rights to housing and healthcare as Dutch people have.

GL- Be realistic and humane towards refugees

The GroenLinks party advocated for a “confident and relaxed” Netherlands and is explicitly in favor of multiculturalism and against racism and discrimination. Their platform on asylum calls out as unrealistic proposals like closing the borders and instead proposes a workable and humane solution. While international development is in order, in the mean time international humanitarian obligations should be followed. They are in favor of European distribution but also believe the applicant’s choice should carry weight – especially in the case of minors who might want to live with relatives.Asylum seekers in the Netherlands should be able to work from day 1 and should have a decision within a reasonable amount of time. Rejected asylum seekers are also entitled to minimal assistance so they don’t end up on the streets.

With these positions in mind, we should be in a good position to speculate where parties have common grounds or irreconcilable differences once we have coalition options come election day (in less than a week!)

Interested in testing out which party suits you best? Stemmen Tracker lets you take a survey and matches your answers to a party.

(Image via Flickr, (CC BY-NC 2.0) http://bit.ly/2m7mezk)

The Far-Right’s Coalition Conundrum

As elections approach in the Netherlands, France and Germany, people interested in immigration issues are no doubt focused on the chances of the far-right parties, whose platforms focus explicitly on reducing flows of immigrants and refugees. The Dutch Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV) has promised to reduce immigration of Muslims, leave the European Union, and strengthen borders. The Front National‘s (FN) Marine Le Pen has similarly proposed a Brexit-like referendum to leave the European Union and opposes immigration of refugees and EU migrants into France. And Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) calls for closing German borders to Europe and revamping the law to reduce asylum.

All three of these parties have seen major increases in popularity in their home countries, with both PVV and FN leading in some polls, while AfD, although losing a bit of support, is still making a very strong showing considering the relative newness of their party and their position in comparison to more established national parties such as the Greens. As a result, some are saying that, after Brexit and Donald Trump’s victory in the US, Europe should be prepared for a big upset. Continue reading