Sometimes small things indicate great change. The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, also referred to as the United Nations Migration Pact, is a nonbinding document addressing the governance of global migration and is to be adopted at an intergovernmental conference in Marrakesh, Morocco, in December.
The document is deeply pro-migration. It calls it a source of innovation and growth, while also proposing measures to allow more migration and integration of migrants into developed nations. Yet its nonbinding nature has created a perception that it is humanistic boilerplate with no real political consequences.
First tensions appeared when the United States opted out of the pact by the end of 2017, citing security concerns. It was followed by the conservative nationalist government of Hungary in summer of 2018. But interpreted as a nod to domestic constituencies, the actions by Trump and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban appeared to be exceptions that would not seriously derail the adoption of the pact.
But things have since become much more complicated. The Austrian government, led by a center-right coalition of the conservative People’s Party and the nationalist Freedom Party, surprised fellow EU member states at the end of October by announcing that it will also not sign the pact, describing the content as potentially leading to a dangerous “human right to migration.”
What makes this move particularly extraordinary is that Austria is currently holding the rotating presidency of the European Union, yet Vienna is directly contradicting the official position held by the European Commission. This is a highly unusual break with precedent, and signals that when it comes to questions of migration, national interests now even supplant a perceived European consensus.
What's more, within hours of the Austrian announcement, the levies started to break all around Europe. The Czech Republic, Poland, Switzerland, and Italy suddenly began reconsidering their support for the document.
Siding with the United States and Hungary, Austria has declared that even the slightest possibility of losing full sovereignty over its migration policy is unacceptable. The experiences of the last three years are outweighing the desire for consensus: Driven by the massive influx of refugees as a consequence of German chancellor Merkel’s open borders policy in 2015, Austria was faced with 90,000 applications for asylum, more per capita than in any other EU member state. It was on this wave that the current government was swept into power in the fall of 2017 and immediately started to take a tougher stance on migration.
This change of direction is nothing short of a political earthquake. Until 2017, Hungary's government was seen as a lone neo-nationalist state in Europe, a country whose nationalism was supposed to be restrained by public condemnation and the threat of soft sanctions. The Austrian decision to ally itself with Orban is a significant move toward making nationalism acceptable again in Europe. Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz and his vice-chancellor Heinz Christian Strache have been working in tandem to mainstream a new form of nationalism in Europe that lacks the usual nationalistic antics reeking of xenophobia and outright racism. The Austrian version of nationalism is almost light-footed, constantly invoking the will of the people and, most importantly, winning at every local election that could be seen as a referendum on government policy.
This new nationalism is getting increasingly popular not only in Eastern, but also Western Europe. Germany, supposedly a bulwark against new nationalism, is in a deep crisis, with governing parties having to deal with losses in the double digits in the most recent regional elections. Angela Merkel’s decision not to seek re-election in 2021 has been mourned by many in the political establishment throughout Europe, but the voters abandoned her agenda a while ago. For the first time since the Second World War, a far-right party was able to gain seats not only in the federal parliament, but all regional parliaments as well.
The nationalist pressure has been increasing in elections from France to Sweden, but this was the first time that an openly nationalist policy will potentially prevent the adoption of a U.N. document. It is likely that we will see more of this in the future.
Ralph Schoellhammer is a lecturer in economics and political science at Webster University Vienna in Austria.
Original Link: https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/op-eds/europes-consensus-on-migration-is-suddenly-breaking-up