Opinion: British “Progressive Alliance” failed from bad politics and bad faith

By Phil Butland

This is the latest in Migration Voter’s opinion series on strategic voting. Read our previous article on France here.

At the beginning of the British election campaign, the Green Party touted the idea of a “progressive alliance” against the Tories. To many people this seemed like a no-brainer. With the Tory manifesto showing the return of the “nasty party”, surely anything would be better than Theresa May coming back into power.

Here’s how a progressive alliance works. One of the peculiarities of the British election campaign is that an MP only needs to win more votes than any other candidate in his or her electoral district. With multiple candidates, most MPs do not even have the support of half the people who voted.

A progressive alliance would mean that in each district the local parties would decide which candidate would be most likely to beat the Tories. All other candidates would stand down, and the result would be a Tory wipe-out.

So why did the progressive alliance not happen? In this article, I will argue that it was a mixture of bad politics, bad faith, and the pessimistic (if, at the time, understandable) view that just because Labour was polling 20% behind the Tories they were incapable of winning on their own.

Bad Politics

Firstly, the bad politics. One of the conditions on which the Greens insisted was the inclusion of the Liberal Democrats in the progressive alliance. This posed a number of problems, not least that just seven years ago the LibDems fought an election campaign based on one major promise  – the withdrawal of tuition fees.

The Liberal Democrat election manifesto of 2010 declared “We will scrap unfair university tuition fees so everyone has the chance to get a degree, regardless of their parents’ income” around the time of the National Union of Students conference in April of that year. LibDem leader Nick Clegg issued a youtube video titled “Say goodbye to broken promises”. The first frame was a piece of paper on which was written “No student tuition fees – Labour”.

libdem vid

On 28 April Clegg claimed tuition fees would double under a Conservative or Labour government: “We think it’s unfair when you graduate and you haven’t even taken your first step in the world of adult work to be saddled with £25,000 worth of debt”. Every Lib Dem candidate who was subsequently elected signed a “Vote for Students” pledge, promising to vote against any rise in tuition fees in the next parliament.

The election resulted in a hung parliament and the LibDems could have joined a coalition government led by Labour or by the Tories. They chose the Tories – who promptly tripled tuition fees. On 9 December 2010, in the Higher Education (Basic Amount) (England) Regulations Act, MPs approved raising the cap on tuition fees by a 323 to 302 vote. 28 LibDem MPs voted for the bill and only 21 voted against. Indeed one of the arguments that claim current LibDem Leader Tim Fallon is somehow progressive is that he was one of the minority of MPs who voted for party policy.

The LibDems propped up the Conservative government for its full term, and were punished at the subsequent election where they lost nearly all their MPs. In 2010, boosted by a strong campaign in student constituencies, 57 LibDem MPs were voted into parliament. In the 2015 election, only eight remained.

But surely they’ll have learned from their mistakes? Apparently not. Under new leader Tim Farron, an evangelical Christian who has received due flak for his views on gay marriage, the LibDems have repeatedly refused to rule out entering another coalition with the Tories. Under these circumstances, they had no need for a progressive alliance – and a progressive alliance had no need for them.

Despite putting on a progressive front, Farron has called abortion “wrong at any time”. Former Campaigns manager to the gay LibDem MP Simon Hughes, Mark Gettleson has said:

“Tim Farron now presents himself as a changed man. He says he now regrets abstaining on equal marriage, despite not distancing himself from his amendments. He’s changed his mind too on his opposition to the Equality Act’s ban on discrimination in the provision of goods and services … But it is not enough to repent of the past when it becomes convenient to do so.”

When Corbyn won the Labour leadership, Farron appealed to the Labour MPs working against Corbyn (and the majority of their party) and Conservatives, telling The Guardian “Over the past few days I have received a number of messages and calls from friends within the Labour party distressed by the direction that their party is taking. To the right, I have talked with a new Conservative MP taken aback by the attitudes that they have encountered within their own party.”

His appeal to centrists in both parties continued in April 2017, when he refused to rule out forming another coalition with the Tories. As with former LibDem leader Nick Clegg, who opposed student fees out of office then helped push them through, we must judge Farron not on what he says but what he has done and what he’s likely to do in the future.

That’s a maybe, but surely Labour could make some deal with the Greens? After all, during the dark years of Tony Blair, the Greens remained the conscience of the nation, with many people – including myself – voting for them as a progressive alternative to Blair’s politics of war and austerity.

Now I could certainly see a good case for the Greens and Labour making a voting alliance, especially in the (many) constituencies held by Labour MPs who have consistently campaigned against Corbyn. Since the general election in 2015, Labour has trebled its membership to over 500.000 people. Although most people have joined because of Corbyn’s leadership, a majority of MPs, and their house journal, the supposedly progressive newspaper The Guardian have tried to undermine him every step of the way.

Following a continuous barrage of Guardian articles declaring Corbyn to be “unelectable” 172 Labour MPs submitted a no-confidence vote in Corbyn with just 40 supporting him. 20 shadow cabinet ministers and around 30 other junior ministers resigned, coordinating their resignations at hourly intervals to sustain media pressure on Corbyn. Nonetheless, in this second leadership election, Corbyn won an increased majority with over 60% of the vote, including a vast majority of individual party members.

Despite this, in the current election campaign, many candidates have openly snubbed the Labour Leadership. Phil Wilson, Tony Blair’s successor as Labour MP for Sedgefield proudly told Facebook that “I am no supporter of Jeremy Corbyn” and “it is my name on the ballot paper here, not Corbyn”. In Newcastle-under-Lyme, Paul Farrelly said that voters would “laugh me off the streets” if he put Corbyn’s policies on his leaflets (

As Corbyn has gained ground on the Tories, both The Guardian and the rebel MPs have largely fallen into line. The Guardian’s sister paper The Observer even claimed that Corbyn “should be commended for the dignified way in which he has dealt with an immensely hostile media onslaught from the rightwing tabloids”, even though some of the greatest hostility came from its own stable. Nevertheless, it is clear that even if Corbyn wins the election, he cannot be sure of the support of the majority of his parliamentary party, and will need the backing of other progressives both inside and outside parliament.

Unfortunately, it seems that the Green’s suggestion of a progressive alliance this time round was tainted by bad faith from the start.

Bad Faith

It wasn’t just the insistence that the LibDems be involved. As soon as Labour wavered on the idea of a progressive alliance, the Greens – and their only MP, the genuinely progressive Caroline Lucas – spent much more time attacking Labour than they did the Tories. A particular low point was their election broadcast of 12 May. This broadcast lambasted Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May equally, while saying that the Greens were the only true anti-establishment party.

And yet what has characterized this election campaign had been Corbyn’s ability to tap into an anti-establishment feeling shared by millions who have suffered under the Tories. Addressing rallies of thousands of people and with the support of actors like Maxine Peake and film directors like Ken Loach, Corbyn has turned the election into a two-horse race. A couple of weeks ago, the Tories led by 20% in the polls. At the time of writing, polls are predicting a hung parliament. A yougov survey for the Sunday Times put support for the Conservatives on 42% and Labour on 38% . On top of this, the Scottish and Welsh nationalists are unlikely to support the Tories, nor are the Greens or Sinn Féin who are likely to take their seats in Westminster for the first time.  And there’s still over a week to go.

Voting intention 1-2 Jun]-01

Corbyn’s success comes from a series of positive demands – for a minimum wage, a decent health service and for humane treatment of refugees , that comes from standing for something. Horse trading with the Greens and particularly the Liberal Democrats would have blunted this message. A progressive alliance is based on preventing the worst from happening and is in its very nature negative and reactive.

The Greens may have called upon Corbyn to join them in stopping the Tories, yet they only have one MP, and their only real chances of getting any more lies in constituencies with Labour MPs. Standing down in other areas would have helped them concentrate their resources – and to save a lot of money they will lose from lost deposits.

Does this mean that a progressive alliance is always a bad idea or that British progressive voters should vote Labour everywhere? I do believe that this time round, all British voters should vote for Jeremy Corbyn, but in two areas there is a case to be made that the Corbyn candidate is not necessarily the Labour candidate.

The first area is Scotland. After decades of Labour misrule and a refusal to address the national question, Labour was punished in Scotland at the last general election, where the SNP ran a left social democratic campaign and won all but 3 of the 59 seats available. One of the few pleasures of the last parliamentary sessions has been watching the 22-year old SNP MP Mhairi Black regularly excoriating the Tories for their soulless policies (see, for example, here, here, here and here).

The Corbyn effect is only just starting to take hold in parts of Scotland, and in many cases, progressive voters will be torn between choosing between the SNP and Labour. Scotland would actually be one place where a progressive alliance could be effective, yet the SNP have no interest in helping Labour try to win back the support that they have squandered in Scotland.

The other constituency where progressives should consider voting against Labour is Bradford West,  where I lived for many years and would be voting if I still had the right to vote in the UK.  Salma Yaqoob is a former leader of RESPECT, the party set up by George Galloway after Tony Blair launched the war on Iraq. In 2017, Salma is standing against Naz Shah, a Labour MP who has gleefully joined the plots against Jeremy Corbyn. There is no question that Salma is the candidate with the better politics and the more personal integrity.

There are still two possible reasons not to vote for Salma. The first would be if her candidacy would split the progressive vote and let the Tories in. This seems to be highly unlikely – and there is some talk of the possibility of Salma actually winning.

The second reason to doubt is that this election – more than most others – will be used to judge the personal and political qualities of the two main leaders – Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn. There are many Labour right wingers who will jump on any losses of Labour under Corbyn to remove him and to return the party to its old neo-liberal leadership.

And yet it seems to me – albeit from 1000 kilometres away – that even if Corbyn wins the election (something few people were even considering even a week ago) he will be opposed by most of his own MPs and the presence of someone like Salma in parliament would be of considerable use to him – not to mention the platform it would offer her to speak out for genuine progressive politics.

Lessons for Germany?

Finally, I would like to sum up by asking what this all means for the coming German elections and for the LINKE party, of which I am a member. Many party members are excited by the possibility of die LINKE entering government, as a junior partner to the SPD and Greens. I am more sceptical – not least because taking part in a government following the same austerity programme as today’s SPD would open the way to the mixture of neo-liberals and out-and-out fascists in the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) being able to pose as being the “real” anti-establishment party.

But even if die LINKE wants to join a coalition government, Jeremy Corbyn has proved how it is possible to gain electoral support by offering clear, progressive politics. Which is why die LINKE campaign must be centered on supporting the weakest – including migrants and refugees – and fighting together for a better society.

If we limit our offer to saying “at least we’re not as bad as the other lot”, we shouldn’t be surprised if we fail to inspire.


Phil Butland is the speaker of die LINKE Berlin Internationals (https://theleftberlin.wordpress.com/, lag.internationals@die-linke-berlin.de)


Sources and Further Reading
Green Party Urges Electoral Alliance, The Guardian, June 2016
Nasty Party“, Wikipedia
 Liberal Democrat Election Manifesto 2010
Liberal Democrats: Say Goodbye to Broken Promises. Youtube, April 2010
Tuition Fees and the Lib Dems, Channel 4, Oct. 2010
Fact Check: Lib Dem Rebellion on Cards, Channel 4, Oct 10
Higher Education (Basic Amount) (England) Regulations Act, UK Parliament, 2010
Mark Gettleson: Why Tim Farron’s Record on Gay Marriage MattersHuffington Post, July 2016
Tim Farron: Corbyn win ‘potentially changes everything’ for Lib Dems, The Guardian, Sept. 2015
Tim Farron: Lib Dem leader refuses to rule out coalition with the Conservatives (Video), The Independent, April 2017
Labour shadow cabinet and ministers resignations – the letters in full. The Telegraph, June 2016
Green Party – Party Election Broadcast: 2017 General Election, Youtube, May 2017
SNP MP Mhairi Black “excoriating the Tories” in Parliament (videos): July 2015, Feb. 2016, Dec. 2016, July 2016, Youtube.
Header Image via Andy Miah on Flickr, (CC BY-NC 2.0) http://bit.ly/2qQ7Q1x
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UK Parties Clash Over International Students

With the UK General election in less than two weeks, the gap is narrowing between the two largest parties, the Conservatives led by current prime minister Theresa May and the Labour party led by Jeremy Corbyn. As we concluded in our analysis of the two parties’ manifestos, their massively different views indicate that this will be a uniquely impactful election for Britain’s immigration system. Adding to the mix three parties that are staunchly opposed to ending free movement, which will almost certainly be part and parcel of Brexit, and you have a volatile set of possibilities for people living in the UK from EU countries as well. One of the groups at the center of the controversy over migration is international students, who stand to be targeted by big changes if the Conservative party is victorious. MV takes a deep dive to understand what’s happening.

The Issue

Students from all over the world vie for the chance to study in the UK, home to some of the world’s top universities. In 2015-2016, over 2 million students studied in undergraduate or post-graduate programs in the UK, and over 231,000 were students from other countries- including some 59,100 from the EU, according to HESA, an agency providing official statistics on the subject of higher education in the UK.

Ivy Bar43 South St. North Carolina (1)

As can be seen, international students make up circa 10% of total higher education students in the UK (this includes both graduate level and post-graduate level students.)

However, this total covers students total in the UK, so it is not an accurate reflection of yearly immigration by people seeking to study in the country. That number, according to Britain’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) was 136,000 for 2016 – down 36,000 from the prior year.

The numbers of both students generally and incoming students from abroad have remained relatively stable over the last years, but since at least 2010 international students have come under political focus by politicians promising to reduce migration levels. The debate was rekindled this year as British Parliament tackled widespread reforms to British higher education through the Higher Education and Research Act of 2017, partially in response to Brexit.

Brexit, International Students, and the Higher Education and Research Act

Following the referendum result, there was significant concern awakened about what the British exit from the EU would mean for the higher education system. With multiple links with Europe at stake, through students, research grants, joint programs and more, some feared Brexit would make Britain a less desirable destination for students, or leave current international students with huge uncertainty over their status and ability to remain in the UK. British students could also be at risk of losing university spots in the EU, or being unable to access the popular Erasmus program. The multi-partisan House of Commons Committee on Education was tasked with evaluating the situation and making recommendations for the government’s course on higher eduction after Brexit. The resulting report covers a wide range of topics, but is fairly clear in its endorsement for a university sector as open as possible to international students from the EU and beyond.

intl students1

Around the same time, Parliament mulled the Higher Education and Research Act, a bill meant to tackle widespread challenges to the system and provide stability and quality oversight for the univeristy and research sector. During debate over the bill at the House of Commons, the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation Joseph Johnson (who is, notably, a Conservative party member) emphasized that the bill would not change course on the topic:

I reiterate that the Government value and welcome international students who come to study in the UK. We recognise that they enhance our educational institutions, both financially and culturally, enrich the experience of domestic students, and become important ambassadors for the UK in later life. It is for those reasons that we have no plan to limit the number of genuine international students who can come to study in the United Kingdom. I need to be very clear that that commitment applies to all institutions. We have no intention of limiting any institution’s ability to recruit genuine international students. We have no plans to cap the number of genuine students who can come to the UK to study, or to limit an institution’s ability to recruit genuine international students based on its TEF rating or on any other basis.

The bill was passed by royal assent in late April with no limits to international students or discussion of including those students in the migration targets. Now, the Conservative manifesto (which we explored in more detail here) has reopened the debate by proposing to include international students in their net migration target after all.

Tories Stand Alone

One of the key promises the Conservative Party makes in its manifesto is to cap migration numbers, down from current levels (they cite circa 270,000 annually) to under 100,000 entrants per year. As part of this reduction, they are the only party to explicitly promise to include international students in their count of “migrants” (page 54).

We will toughen the visa requirements for students, to make sure that we maintain high standards. We will expect students to leave the country at the end of their course, unless they meet new, higher requirements that allow them to work in Britain after their studies have concluded. Overseas students will remain in the immigration statistics – in line with international definitions – and within scope of the government’s policy to reduce annual net migration.

No matter how you reckon this, it would mean a decrease in visas issued for international students. Whether taking the overall figure or the number of visas issued yearly, it alone is already higher than 100,000: meaning even if they made no decreases to family reunification or work migration, there would be decreases here. Who will make up for these missing places? The Conservatives offer a clue in their section on “Prosperous Towns and Cities Across Britain”:

… we want to see universities make their full contribution to their local community and economy, sponsoring local schools and being creative about how they can open up opportunities for local people, especially those from ordinary working backgrounds.

In addition to reducing student places and toughening requirements for student visas, the Conservatives also commit to increasing the Immigration Health Surcharge for international students to  £450 “to cover their use of the NHS.” Studying the manifesto, we haven’t found anything to suggest these changes will not also apply to people from the EU who wish to study in the UK. Indeed, given their stance that migration from the EU must be controlled and reduced, it is logical to conclude that students from the Eurozone are embraced in these policies as well.

It’s interesting that the Conservatives have taken this stance on international students. It goes against the recommendations of the Committee on Education, whose six Conservative party members make up a majority of the 11-member strong committee.

It also contradicts the stance of Conservative Minister Joseph Johnson who we quoted above saying that government has no intention of reducing students or restricting freedom of movement.

It also sets them apart from every other party, including the strongly anti-immigrant UKIP.

Where the other parties stand

In their election manifesto, UKIP pointedly criticizes the “failure” of the Tories on immigration, saying they are “the only party with the political will and the plan to cut immigration.” In their plan, they envision an Australian-style points system with visas for students included, and immigration halved over a five year period to reach a goal of zero net immigration. Students, they say, will be welcomed, but abuse won’t be tolerated. Its unclear what this concretely means for student visa numbers, but UKIP does not seem to spell out cuts to the sector explicitly.

For the other top parties, there is relative unanimity on the subject.

Labour “welcomes international students who benefit and strengthen our education sector, generating more than £25 billion for the British economy and significantly boosting regional jobs and local businesses. They are not permanent residents and we will not include them in immigration numbers, but we will crack down on fake colleges.

Liberal Democrats will “recognising their largely temporary status, remove students from the official migration statistics.”

Greens will “protect freedom of movement, press for remaining within the single market, and safeguard vital rights for people and the environment.”

SNP: “will continue to make the case for the reintroduction of a Post-Study Work Visa scheme for Scotland, to enable international students who come here to study to then stay and contribute to our society and economy after they graduate.”

The public would appear to back a welcoming stance towards international students. In a poll published in April of this year by ComRes for Universities UK, a majority (64%) of British adults consider international students a benefit to the economy, and only 26% consider international students “migrants” when it comes to government immigration policy. (Full study can be downloaded here.) Back in 2014, a poll on the same topic found that 66% of  people who vote Conservative are opposed to reducing student numbers.

So why are Tories fixed on reducing International Students?

It is somewhat confusing as to why the Conservative party manifesto takes such a strong tack against international students, when public opinion, members of their own party, and universities themselves take the opposite position.

It is possible that the party is not so much concerned about students at university as they are about the ties that form during this period. People who study abroad form relationships and meet partners, gain employment opportunities or make connections with communities that may entice them to stay indefinitely rather than just for the period of their study. In that way, students from other countries always have the potential to become indelibly tied to their university and the country it is in, even if only a small percentage actually stays.

In this way it seems that the Conservatives are embracing a view of migration that makes little distinction between lawful and unlawful, skilled and unskilled. If even star students are considered a risk that must be controlled and reduced, it sends a message about other types of immigration that people consider even less desirable. It signals that the Conservatives have become the party that is tough on immigrants, with no exceptions.


Sources and Further Reading
MV Coverage of the British General Election
Statistics on Students and Graduates, HESA
Migration Statistics Quarterly Report, Office for National Statistics, May 2017
Brexit: What will it mean for universities, students, and academics? Dame Julia Goodfellow, The Telegraph, July 2016
Higher Education and Research Act of 2017, UK Parliament
Exiting the EU: Challenges and Opportunities for Higher Education, House of Commons Education Committee, April 2017
Debate in House of Commons, April 2017
Manifestos: Conservatives, Labour, SNP, Liberal Democrats, Greens, UKIP
Public Perceptions of International Students Survey, ComRes, April 2017
International Students and the UK Migration Debate, Universities UK, 2014
Header Image via Chris Robinson on Flickr, (CC BY-NC 2.0) http://bit.ly/2rnz9kK

Dominated by Brexit? A closer look at Liberal Democrats, Greens, UKIP and SNP manifestos on migration

In our previous article, we examined the Labour party and Conservative party manifestos for the quickly approaching UK General Election. Today we’ll take a closer look at the Liberal Democrats, Green Party, UK Independence Party (UKIP), and Scottish National Party (SNP), who altogether make up a share of about 16%, together with others, according to recent polling by IPSOS Mori.

vi-political-monitor-may-2017

Liberal Democrats- Supporting Immigration while Opposing Brexit

In their manifesto, the Liberal Democrat party is positioning itself as true opposition to both Labour and Conservatives, highlighting their steadfast opposition to Brexit.

On the biggest question facing all of us, Brexit, which has such huge implications for our young people and our future, Corbyn ordered his MPs to stand down against Theresa May’s government. Where the Liberal Democrats are fighting every step of the way, Labour is holding Theresa May’s hand as she jumps off the cliff edge of a hard Brexit.

The Liberal Democrats say they are offering up a strong opposition that counters the pro-Brexit or Brexit acceptance of the two largest parties. So what would this opposition look like for immigration?

Brexit: In policies that highlight their opposition to Brexit, Liberal Democrats propose protections for citizens of EU countries and British people living in EU countries. They would guarantee the rights of people from the EU currently living in the UK and streamline these people’s ability to register, receive permanent residence and/or apply for citizenship. They oppose abandoning the principle of free movement in either direction, and want British citizens to retain benefits of travel and international study in programs like Erasmus. They would ensure respect for international students and guarantee the rights of people from abroad working for the NHS or Social Care (but they are vague as to how.) In short, the Liberal Democratic approach is to try to ensure that individuals currently in Britain as migrants don’t lose their jobs or ability to stay as a result of Brexit.

Immigration: “Immigration is essential to our economy” according to Liberal Democrats, and their approach to newcomers (not those already present in the UK) is based for the most part on economic impact. They would consult with parliament in a yearly debate to determine which areas of the market need skilled people from other countries, and they would continue to allow visas for high-skilled job-seekers as well as family reunification visas. International students would not be counted in immigration statistics, and students studying STEM areas would be able to stay and additional period if they find employment within 6 months. Finally, a “Migration Impact Fund” would be available to communities “adjust” to pressures associated with migration.

libdems

Asylum: On asylum, Liberal Democrats differ greatly from the other parties. They would end indefinite detention by applying a 28-day limit to the time period where people seeking asylum can be detained, and attempt to offer safe routes to the UK by, for example, reforming family reunification rules to make it easier for people to join their families without risking dangerous routes. Additionally, they would expand acceptance of people fleeing Syria to 50,000 in the next five years under Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme and accept 3,000 children who are unaccompanied, offering them leave to remain indefinitely in Britain.

Green Party – Reject Brexit

Like the Lib Dems, the Green party is openly opposed to Brexit and uses terms to like “big”, “bold” and “brave” to describe their vision for the future. They want citizens to be able to vote for an option to remain in the EU, and place environmental concerns like climate change front and center. Immigration is not a focal point of their comparatively brief manifesto, but there are several points which show them generally in favor of immigration.

Brexit: The Green party wants an option for Britons to reject the Brexit deal and remain in the EU after all, through a referendum to be held following negotiations. Failing that, they want to retain freedom of movement from both directions and remain in the common market. They call to “immediately guarantee the rights of EU citizens to remain in the UK and urgently seek reciprocal arrangements for UK citizens in the EU.” They would also seek to guarantee rights for British citizens to work and study in the EU, including taking part in the Erasmus program.

Immigration and Asylum: The Green Party guarantee on this topic is short and vague: “A humane immigration and asylum system that recognises and takes responsibility for Britain’s ongoing role in causing the flow of migrants worldwide.”

UK Independence Party (UKIP) – Net Immigration at Zero

Britain’s UKIP party sees itself as radical, agenda-setting outsiders, as party leader Paul Nutall states in the party’s manifesto.

When we first said that Britain could not only survive but prosper outside the European Union, the political class laughed at us. When we spoke of the need for a points based system for migrants we were derided as racists and xenophobes by the same people. … Be it our stance on balanced migration, constitutional reform or integration, I predict we are leading where the other parties will eventually follow.

But a risk of setting the course is that bigger parties hijack and co-opt your ideas. With Britain’s largest party, the Conservatives, endorsing Brexit and taking a hard-line stance to reduce immigration, can UKIP offer something new?

Brexit: UKIP stands for the hardest of hard Brexits, rejecting Article 50 as a trap by Brussels, and setting out a list of “tests” that can be used to evaluate whether the extraction from the EU has been thorough enough. One of these is the rejection of all forms of free movement.

UKIP

Nevertheless, in their section “Defending our National Health Service”, UKIP promises to guarantee the right to remain for health care workers from EU countries, regardless of what happens to British citizens in EU countries.

Immigration and Asylum: UKIP seeks to differentiate themselves from both the Labour and Conservative parties on their immigration plan, promising to ease public fears while still welcoming “the best and brightest from around the word” to Britain.

UKIP would reduce net migration to zero over five years (meaning that the number of people coming and leaving would be balanced, which would require dramatic reductions to incomers or larger numbers of people leaving.) They would achieve this by emulating the Australian immigration system, which awards points to people wishing to immigrate based on various pre-selected indicators and requires a certain number of points to obtain a visa. (You can read an example of points calculations here.) Unlike Australia’s system, however, UKIP would add an additional integration requirement to “test the social attitudes of migration applicants to foster community cohesion and protect core British values.” What this would entail is uncertain, although they mention attitudes towards women and gay people as possible indicators.

The party would not seek changes to Student visas or earnings thresholds for family reunifications visas, and pledges to continue to respect the 1951 Refugee Convention. However, newcomers to Britain would only gain access to public services and the NHS after paying taxes into the system for five consecutive years. UKIP would also ban immigration of people with “low skills” for five years after Britain leaves the EU.

Scottish National Party- Passionately “in”

The Scottish National Party did not spend significant time discussing immigration in their 2016 platform, which is the latest one available and reads a little like a “greatest hits” review of the party’s success as Scotland’s largest party (and third largest party overall in the UK). The main policy proposals by the SNP that would impact immigration is their continuing pledge to fight against Brexit, and at the same time, to fight for Scottish independence.  On their website, their immigration stance is similarly sparse, proposing “a fair, robust and secure immigration system that meets Scotland’s social and economic needs.”

As third biggest party in British parliament, the SNP’s opposition to Brexit, and very real threat to secede from the UK, has the potential to wield substantial opposition to a “hard Brexit.” This in turn could impact the plight of EU migrants and Britain’s adherence to EU obligations regarding migration and asylum. But this is an indirect effect of the SNP’s Brexit stance, and could be said as well for the Lib Dems and Greens.

The SNP declares that Scotland will actively help to tackle the refugee crises, and will continue to resettle people seeking asylum in Scotland. Apart from that, the party offers “crises grants” for families seeking refuge in Scotland, and wants to fight for access to tuition-free education for newcomers, as Scottish citizens are entitled to. Additionally, on their website, they suggest extending work visas to individuals who study in the UK.

Sources and Further Reading

Comparing the Conservative and Labour Manifestos on Migration, MV
May 2017 Political Monitor, IPSOS MORI
Change Britain’s Future- The Liberal Democrat Manifesto 2017
The Green Party for a Caring and Confident Britain 
Britain Together- UKIP Manifesto 2017
SNP 2016
What is the SNP’s policy on immigration? SNP Website
Image via UK Parliament on Flickr,  (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Comparing the Labour and Conservative Manifestos on Migration

Following an approved motion by British Prime Minister Theresa May, the UK will hold snap general elections on June 8th.

Under Britain’s Fixed Term Parliaments Act, elections are held every five years unless a snap election occurs through either a vote of no confidence with no follow-up government installed or the approval of a motion for snap elections by two-thirds of parliament, as occurred in this case. You could forgive the people of Great Britain for being tired of making decisions, but a great deal is at stake as the country heads to the polls.

The election comes just before Britain prepares to enter into negotiations of their exit from the European Union, and is seen by many as an effort of May to consolidate authority before undertaking the tremendous task ahead. For voters, the election represents a final say on what kind of Brexit they want, and where they stand on economic and social issues, particularly migration.

So what options are the parties now offering regarding immigration to the UK after Brexit? Let’s delve into the campaign programs of Britain’s two largest parties to see how sensitiveer on this senstivie topic.

Labour: People who migrate can be workers too

The section on immigration in Labour’s election manifesto starts out with acceptance: “Freedom of movement will end when we leave the European Union.  Britain’s immigration system will change…” This hints that Labour does not intend to challenge one of the key likely impacts of Brexit: the end of freedom of movement.

The new system they envision, however, has some changes in store that will impact people migrating from the EU and beyond.

Asylum: Labour promises to end indefinite detention and continue to take “our fair share of refugees” and meet international commitments. They also plan to review current housing arrangements for refugees as they are “not fit for purpose”.

Migration: The party platform prioritizes British workers but does not rule out the possibility of immigration as an augmentation. They say they will consult with industry to determine specific skill/ personel shortages and arrange the system based on the country’s economic needs. “This may include employer sponsorship, work permits, visa regulations or a tailored mix of all these which works for the many, not the few.” International students are welcomed and will not be included in any immigration numbers. Income thresholds- i.e., mininum amounts of savings or income a person must have before being able to come work or join a family member in Britain, will be replaced with a bar on access to public welfare.

We will replace income thresholds with a prohibition on recourse to public funds.

This small sentence on page 28 of the Manifesto hides a surprisingly controversial idea- can you legally bar people who immigrate from accessing public funds? This issue bears further examination.

Labour goes on to ensure that people who are already in the country working will be protected “regardless of their ethnicity”, and specifies that people who immigrate make valuable contributions to the economy and tax system. They promise to end exploitation, discrimination and unscrupulous overseas hiring practices- but are lacking any concrete details regarding how this would be carried out- will they install new anti-discrimination laws? Increase inspections of company hiring practices? Publicize existing workers rights to newcomers?

As a statement of intent, Labour’s intentions seem clear: migraton should be seen as a means to improving the economy and fulfilling work shortages, and people who migrate are seen primarily through the lens of their role as workers or potential competition to British workers. It seems that people seeking asylum might see their situation improve under a Labour government, and workers have some vague but promising benefits to look forward to.

Conservatives: Control and Reduce

The Conservatives address immigration at numerous points throughout their manifesto. They envision multiple changes to de-incentivize migration described as “too fast and too high.”

Asylum: The Conservatives promise a big change in British asylum policy: “We will work to reduce asylum claims made in Britain and, as we do so, increase the number of people we help in the most troubled regions.” In other words, a shift towards granting asylum to people who are outside of the country rather than inside when they apply. A similar idea was offered by the Front National in the French election, and we pointed out that it is problematic under the law to disallow asylum claims from being filed within the national territory, since it may violate the principle of non-refoulement. However, the Conservatives do not offer concrete details on how they will reduce asylum claims from within Britain, so its not clear if what they have in mind will violate their current legal obligations.

Migration: In their first mention of migration, the Conservatives sound quite similar to Labour in saying they will make changes suited to augmenting skills or shortages currently lacking in the British market. Rather than consult directly with industry as Labour promises to, the Conservatives will enlist the assistance of the independent Migration Advisory Committee.

We envisage that the committee’s advice will allow us to set aside significant numbers of visas for workers in strategically-important sectors, such as digital technology, without adding to net migration as a whole.

Nevertheless, they will double the Immigration Skills Charge to £2,000. (The Immigration Skills Charge is a fine employers must pay for hiring workers from outside of Britain, and the British Medical Association has complained that the National Health System or NHS stands to lose millions to this law under the current system- if it is doubled as under the Conservative plan, one should expect additional outcry.)

Later, in a section dedicated to immigration under ‘A Country that Comes Together’, the party announces their intention to significantly reduce immigration levels.

It is our objective to reduce immigration to sustainable levels, by which we mean annual net migration in the tens of thousands, rather than the hundreds of thousands we have seen over the last two decades.

To get the numbers of people down on such a large scale, they suggest the following:

  • Increase earnings thresholds for family reunification visas
  • toughen visa requirements for international students who wish to study in Britain as well as requirements for them to stay and work after graduating
  • accept fewer people from the EU

Security and Borders: Here, the Conservatives also depart from Labour by offering enhanced measures to prevent people from entering the country and for deporting people not allowed to stay. The manifesto proposes satellite tracking for people subject to deportation orders and says they will make it more difficult for individuals with criminal convictions to enter the country.

Conclusion: Aside from an end to free movement, little agreement

The Labour Party and Conservatives appear on two opposite sides of the sprectrum when it comes to nearly every immigration topic raised. Neither opposes leaving the Schengen Zone as Britain is expected to do under Brexit, but on everything from international students to earnings thresholds they at total odds. In our next installment, we’ll take a look at other parties to see where they stand on some of the migration topics that could change Britain for years to come.

 

Sources and Further Reading
The Fixed Term Parliaments Act of 2011, Legislation from Britain’s National Archives
Report of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, House of Commons Library
For the Many, Not the Few: Labour Party Manifesto 2017
Forward Together: The Conservative and Unionist Manifesto 2017
Migration Advisory Committee Website 
Immigration Skills Charge – UK.gov
NHS could lose millions to Immigration Charge, British Medial Association, March 2017
Header image via David McKelvey on Flickr, (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) http://bit.ly/2rKEqlr

 

Dutch coalition talks collapse over differences on immigration

Dutch coalition talks have come to a halt over disagreements on migration, infomateur Edith Schippers announced Monday.

The Dutch election took place over two months ago, but coalition talks are still underway, (which isn’t unusual for the Netherlands). At the time, we pointed out that it was going to be a tremendous uphill battle to make changes to asylum and immigration because of a few factors. First, the fact that the top parties all excluded the possibility of forming a coalition with Geert Wilders’ PPV party (which came in second, with 20 seats) meant that it would be necessary form a broad, and maybe unstable coalition. In this case, the center-right VVD, Christian conservatives CDA, environmental leftists GL and democratic liberals D66 have been attempting to negotiate an agreement- despite representing a broad spectrum of different political views. (Read our explainer of where the parties stand on migration and asylum here.)

The second issue was the fact that there were big gains for both pro- and anti-refugee parties. The three parties with the strongest results all took harsh stances on asylum policy, but the parties that made the biggest gains in seats campaigned on multiculturalism and openness to people seeking asylum. So it’s understandable that politicians might not be completely clear exactly where the public stands on immigration and asylum policy. This uncertainty, in combination with a coalition stretching across the center right to the left, was bound to create disharmony on the topic of migration and asylum. And it looks like it has.

Health Minister Edith Schippers, acting as informateur, announced in a press conference that the negotiating factions were unable to overcome their differences on migration, among other topics. “The substantive differences proved too great,” Schippers said.

What differences were the final stumbling block? It could have been a number of specific issues, but we would be willing to bet that the largest differences were between VVD and GL. Remember, the VVD, led by current PM Mark Rutte, wrote in their platform that while refugees have a right to security, that right applies to their own region, and people who make it the Netherlands are more likely to be “economic migrants.” “Asylum applications in Europe are no longer needed.” This strict view varies totally from Groenlinks, who support working rights for people seeking asylum, minimum assistance for rejected asylum seekers, and a continuation of the practice of accepting asylum seekers to the Netherlands. CDA’s position is much like the VVD’s, and while D66 had a more liberal stance on asylum policy, they also concur that the Netherlands should accept smaller numbers of people. It’s reasonable to assume that Groenlinks was the barrier to an agreement, a view most of the press is concluding as well.

On twitter, GL leader Jesse Klaver wrote, “We have made every effort, but this formation attempt has failed. The differences were too great. And that is a great pity.” Geert Wilders also chimed in, tweeting, “As the second party of the Netherlands PVV is fully available.”

Now that its back to square one, will anyone take up Wilders on his offer? Or will we see Groen Links out, in favor of a minority government that is willing to back VVD’s tough asylum policy? There could still be a long way to go before we know what kind of government the Netherlands will have.

Sources and Further Reading
Election Explainer: Netherlands, MV
Dutch Election Results: Mixed Signals on Migration, MV
Where do the Dutch Parties Stand on Refugees?, MV
Press Conference: Edith Schippers on Formation Failure, RTL (video) (Dutch)
Jesse Klaver on twitter
Geert Wilders on twitter 
Dutch Must Restart Coalition Talks After Collapse on Immigration, Bloomberg, May 16.

With AfD back on the rise, MV takes a closer look at their new leaders. Part 1: Alexander Gauland

On Sunday, regional elections were held in North Rhein-Westphalia (Nordrhein-Westfalen or NRW in German) and the results were striking for two reasons. First, the center-left Social Democratic party fell significantly in comparison to 2012, from 39% to 31% in Germany’s largest state (as measured by Infratest Dimap below). Their national government partners the Christian Democrats (CDU) outperformed them, in the latest test of the appeal of SPD’s new leader Martin Schulz versus current CDU chancellor Angela Merkel.

Secondly, two parties made significant gains: the neo-liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) and the far-right Alternative für Deutschland, which will sit in the state’s parliament for the first time.

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Its been a good few weeks for the AfD, with their success also being reflected at the national level, as this opinion poll from Ipsos demonstrates. AfD has risen to become Germany’s third biggest party.

Ipsos_Public_Affairs_Wahlforschung_07-05-2017

This upswing comes after AfD’s party congress in Cologne in late April, where they voted to go a new direction in party leadership. Frauke Petry, the popular party chief who garnered widespread media attention as well as comparisons to Donald Trump, has been replaced by two people to stand as candidates (“Spitzenkandidaten”) for the party in September elections: AfD founder Alexander Gauland and investment banker Alice Weidel. This was a major rejection for the internationally well-known Petry, who’s proposal for a “Realpolitik” revamp of the AfD was not even debated at the party congress.

Thus far, the party has taken a hard-right line on migration issues, calling for the closure of German borders and an end to social-welfare access for people seeking asylum, among other things. Are Gauland and Weidel likely to alter this course? We’ll be taking a closer look at the new candidate duo and their influence on the AfD platform, starting with AfD founder Gauland.


Alexander Gauland: A Focus on Education and “Self-Preservation”

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Alexander Gauland is a conservative journalist and politician who founded the AfD together with Konrad Adam and Bernd Lucke after the Greek financial crises and leads the party in Brandenburg. Born in Chemnitz (former East Germany) he sought and received asylum in West Germany in 1959, fleeing after high school. He then studied at the University of Marburg, where he received his doctorate. He served as the state secretary of Hesse under Walter Wallman, and is the author of various history and political books, such as Instructions for Conservatives (2002) and more recently Worry about the West? A Debate (2017).

According to FAZ, as state secretary under Wallman, Gauland traveled to Hong Kong in 1979 to bring 250 Vietnamese people who had fled from the war on boats to Hesse as refugees. This is quite a contrast to his position in recent years, where he has stated that boats containing people seeking asylum should be turned away (in violation of international law). However, in Hong Kong Gauland himself allegedly hand-picked which individuals would come to Germany, selecting highly skilled workers that he thought could easily integrate, such as watchmakers and mechanics. One could conclude from this that Gauland is not against migration, but wants Germany to welcome only people with high skills or education levels. This view is consistent with the original AfD party platform, which says “We welcome highly-skilled immigrants with a distinct willingness to integrate.”

But at some point after his mission in Hong Kong, he seems to have stopped believing that there are highly skilled or educated people among migrants to Germany.

This can be seen in a recent press release about the German school system. Gauland said:

“It is becoming increasingly clear that the vast majority of the millions of migrants who come to us are not skilled at all but illiterate and very low-educated people*…. Germany does not need non-integrable illiterates, which are left to the welfare state for a lifetime. We need highly qualified specialists, which we have to choose according to a points system ourselves. Everything else hurts our society.”

(*It is unclear what Gauland is basing his statement on, and should be noted that prior to the civil war, the adult literacy rate of Syria was 84% and primary school enrollment was over 99%, according to UNICEF.)

AfD’s newly agreed upon campaign program, which details their platform for the upcoming election in September, echoes Gauland’s doubts that any of the people in the current wave of migration can integrate. The AfD’s immigration program now starts by detailing a “demographic problem” between Africa/the Middle East and Europe, and says the aim of their immigration and asylum policy is not self-selection, but rather self-preservation.

The aim of the AfD is self-preservation, not self-destruction of our state and people. The future of Germany and Europe must be secured in the long term. We want to leave our descendants a country, which is still recognizable as our Germany.

The new platform strays away from talking about who is welcome in favor of who must be kept out, and takes a much stricter tact, echoing Gauland’s press release claiming that a majority of people seeking asylum are illiterate and unable to integrate (again, without offering evidence.)

The borders must be closed immediately. The unregulated mass immigration into our country and its social systems by mostly professionally unqualified asylum seekers is to be terminated immediately. A successful integration of all these people, including a considerable proportion of illiterates, is impossible.

The campaign platform goes on to call for an end to jus soli (birthright) citizenship and a reduced number of people with dual citizenship, both measures that would apply to people who already here, regardless of whether their parents arrived through the asylum process.

This sounds like the Gauland not of 1979 but of 2016, who evidently takes issue not only with people who have migrated but also with people whose parents have immigrated to Germany, like Jerome Boateng, the football star who was born in Berlin to a German mother and a father originally from Ghana. Talking to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Gauland said about the German player: “People find him good as a football player. But they wouldn’t like to have a Boateng as a neighbor.” Thus even a uniquely skilled individual like Boateng is viewed as potentially not belonging (though he was born in Germany.)

The AfD campaign platform seems to have shifted slightly to allow for Gauland’s ethno-nationalist views to take precedence: migration is viewed as a threat to German identity, whether the person is highly skilled, integrated, or even born in Germany. As Gauland himself sought asylum in West Germany and managed to receive an education there and succeed to high ranks of the German government, it is worth asking why he now assumes the same trajectory is impossible for others.


Sources and Further Reading
NRW election Results, Infratest Dimap, May 2017 (German)
Sunday Questionaire, Ipsos Germany, May 2017 (German)
Federal Party Day: Voter Program agreed to and new lead candidates selected. AfD, April 2017 (German)
Meet Frauke Petry, the Donald Trump of Germany“, Newsweek, Mar. 2017.
Interview: Alexander Gauland on the topics and objectives of the AfD. HNA, Sept. 2014 (German)
Bio of Alexander Gauland. AfD (German)
Books by Gauland, Amazon.com
Searching for the Earlier Gauland, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, June 2016 (German)
Gauland: Send boats with migrants back, AfD, Oct. 2016 (German)
Manifesto for Germany: The Afd Party Platform, AfD
Gauland on the Migrant Quota, AfD, April 2017 (German)
Syria at a Glance, UNICEF
Campaign Program for September 2017 Elections, AfD (German)
Gauland insults Boateng, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, May 2016 (German)
Image: Gauland via Metropolico.org on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2oSPRdZ (CC by-SA 2.0)

With Macron in the Élysée, what’s next for migration in France?

Emmanuel Macron of his En Marche! party won handily in Sunday’s runoff election, defeating far-right Marine Le Pen (formerly of Front National) with a margin of 66% to 34%, among people who voted for either candidate. The number of abstentions, blank or null votes was also significant, making up around 33% of registered voters. (Read our interview on the abstention debate here.)

FrenchElectionResults

Within our previous analyses, we noted that Macron does not suggest many changes to the migration system, and did not campaign as heavily on the topic as his opponent. Now that Macron will be president of France, what should people interested in migration be watching for?

How will Macron draw people with high education or special skills to France?

In his campaign proposals on immigration, Macron promises to introduce new types of visas for professionals, scientists, and creators while streamlining existing procedures to make it easier for Masters students, artists, entrepreneurs and other highly qualified people to come to France. He even took to youtube to invite American scientists to immigrate to France to fight against climate change.

But will he have a legislature willing to extend working rights to people who immigrate for these purposes? Will they be amenable to creating new visas? And will any highly-skilled people already in the country but lacking a visa be able to apply for such benefits?

Will Macron move to detain all people seeking asylum?

Among Macron’s promises on immigration is the pledge to reduce the time for people seeking asylum to receive decisions on their applications (which also presumably reduces the time for deportations. ) He suggests that detention is the best way to speed up the process. As we explained previously, European law is pretty solidly against universal detention of people seeking asylum.

Detaining all people seeking asylum (including, presumably, children) so that their applications can be handled more quickly might infringe on international law, and Macron may be called upon to give a different justification for such a policy, or to restrict it to certain types of people (such as, e.g., people considered flight risks or threats to public security.)

It will be interesting to see if Macron comes up against European law on asylum detention if and when he attempts to reform the asylum system.

Will he face opposition from both the right and the left?

Finally, it is very much worth watching France in the run-up to their parliamentary elections in June to see whether the energy stirred up in this contentious election campaign dissipates or builds. On the right, Marine Le Pen’s base is no doubt gratified by her best result ever and a respectably solid number of supporters that has been growing in recent years. Many may have realized that there is a pool of abstainers as well as plenty of smaller parties on the right that could be potentially persuaded to join a broad-based movement based on opposition to immigration and national identity. Will Le Pen now be able to build a movement outside of the Front National and persuade voters across the right to build a unified and vocal opposition?

On the other side, many of the the 33% of people who abstained or voted blank or null are probably supporters of Jean-Luc Mélenchon and will present an additional layer of opposition to Macron’s centrist policies. With the traditional socialist party facing a historic defeat in the first round, and the far-left represented by Mélenchon’s Unsubmissive France coming off an election high, will there be space for the left to come together to oppose both Macron’s neo-liberal policies and the growing influence of the far-right? Will the mainstream socialists be absorbed by En Marche, or Unsubmissive France?

These questions will probably play out over the next few years, but we’ll get our first clues when France goes to the polls once again in June.

 

Sources and Further Reading
Official Election Results 2017, French Ministry of Interior (French)
Results of the Second Round, Ipsos France (French)
Macron v. Le Pen on Migration, Asylum, and Integration. Migration Voter.
Macron’s Campaign Platform on Immigration, En Marche (French).
Macron’s Message to American Scientists, Youtube, May. 2017.
Cover Image via Laurie Shaull on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2pxHscc (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)

Dutch Election Results: Mixed Signals on Migration

The day after the parliamentary elections in the Netherlands the global press is still firmly focused on PVV candidate Geert Wilders. His far right party had a solid evening but failed to beat incumbent VVD or receive enough seats to make a coalition without him impossible, meaning that he will likely remain in the opposition despite being the second largest party in the Netherlands. (For more on why this is, see our Dutch Election explainer or our previous analysis of Wilders’ coalition conundrum). Many are hailing this as a defeat for populism and a victory for Europe/ centrists /the progressive left. But of course, we are interested in digging into what the implications of the results are for immigration and asylum policy in the Netherlands.

Pro-Refugee parties won big…

The parties with the most liberal views on refugees made significant gains. GroenLinks, whose campaign focused on diversity and opposition to racism and xenophobia, while endorsing rights for refugees and rejected asylum seekers, more than tripled the number of seats they gained in comparison to 2012, going from 4 t0 14 seats, while D66, perhaps the second most pro-refugee party (at least on paper) gained 10 seats to tie for third biggest party. Meanwhile, brand new party DENK gained 3 seats, with a message of tolerance for people with migration background to the Netherlands, backing such positions as diversity quotas for government positions and the introduction of policies that de-stigmatize foreigners and counter racism.

In one of the biggest shockers of the evening, workers party PvdA lost a staggering 29 seats. That they did so poorly while other liberal parties made gains is interesting, but from our perspective its worth noting that this was the only party who was Left on social issues but took a somewhat harsher tone on refugees and especially economic migrants, and they were decimated.

…But Anti-Refugee parties won big too

Geert Wilders’ PPV, who took by far the harshest stance of any of the parties against all forms of refugees, immigrants and foreigners, gained 5 seats, becoming the second largest party in the Tweede Kamer. Less hyped but equally important, the CDA surged to tie for third place, picking up 7 seats. The CDA‘s position is similar to the VVD (who remains biggest party despite losing 10 seats) that refugees should stay in their own region, and those who do come to the Netherlands should only receive support to the extent that they can be well set up to return. Additionally, they support tightening up rules on family reunification. SGP and CU both did solidly with a similarly strict stance on refugees (while making provisions for especially vulnerable groups, such as children.)

Meanwhile, the far-right Forum voor Demokratie (FVD) made it into the parliament for the first time, gaining two seats running on a platform that centered on direct democracy, restricting immigration and leaving the EU. Party leader Thierry Baudet presents himself as a younger and more intellectual Wilders-type, with connections to the US alt-right scene.

The resulting government seems unlikely to make big shifts in asylum policy

It always takes some time to form a government in the Netherlands, and given that all major parties have vowed to exclude PPV, the second most popular party, any likely coalition will probably be a combination of VVD, CDA, D66 and one or more others. Rutte will likely remain PM, and parties that are basically opposed to the Netherlands accepting more refugees in one way or another will hold at least 72 out of 150 seats in parliament and will dominate the ruling coalition. Its thus safe to say we can expect more of the same: subsistence level support for asylum seekers, lots of rejections, and suport for development cooperation in regional sending zones.

Depending on whether Groenlinks or SP also join the ruling coalition they may seek to liberalize immigration policy, but will face an uphill battle.

Questions going forward:

Is high voter turnout far-right kryptonite? As the evening unfolded the media was surprised by the extremely high voter turnout – 82% overall. High turnout doesn’t necessarily benefit the left or the right, but as state broadcaster NOS reported, younger people favored more liberal parties, and high voter turnout usually means increased youth participation.

Does flirting with the far-right work equally well for the center right and the left? As many have pointed out, the VVD and CDA both took a page (or at least a line) out of Wilders’ book in the way they talked about refugees and immigrants, most notably when Rutte said immigrants should act normal or “piss off” in a tv interview. Talking tough on refugees and immigrants, but not using what Rutte called “the wrong kind of populism” managed to keep these parties in the lead. Not so for PvdA, who campaigned on protecting Dutch identity and patriotic values while backing restrictive measures for refugees and asylum like VVD and CDA, but lost terribly for it. Left/liberal parties who didn’t emulate this type of rhetoric, however, did well, especially among young people.

What does this mean for the French election? That may be the most important question, but the answer is far from apparent.

 

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