Rising Anti-Immigration Sentiment in the EU
Immigration remains a sensitive issue in Europe, as the pervasive economic crisis on the Continent is increasing the flow of migrants from the periphery to the core, and governments are under pressure from nationalist parties to stop the arrival of foreigners.
The United Kingdom, Germany and France are the main recipients of immigration in Europe, both legal an illegal. Earlier this week, Germany announced that slightly over a million foreigners arrived in 2012, the highest number since 1995. Most immigrants in Germany come from countries in Central and Eastern Europe such as Poland and Romania, but last year saw a significant jump in immigration from Spain, Greece and Portugal, the countries with the highest levels of unemployment in the eurozone.
This is having several consequences. In the periphery, emigration offers some temporary relief for unemployment. But in the long run, it also poses the threat of a brain drain and threats to worsen the already serious process of population shrinking and aging. In the core, the arrival of foreign workers is a controversial issue, as some countries are dealing with a rise in anti-immigration sentiments.
The United Kingdom is a clear example of this. In a speech marking the State Opening of the British Parliament on Wednesday, Queen Elizabeth II announced an immigration bill on behalf of David Cameron's government. Among other reforms, the bill will seek to limit the access of foreigners to the British National Health Service, something that could potentially go against EU legislation. Earlier this year, Cameron announced that Britain is currently analyzing ways of limiting the arrival of workers from Romania and Bulgaria, who will be legally allowed to work in the U.K. beginning next year.
These moves come as Cameron's government is under pressure from the United Kingdom's Independence Party, a Euroskeptical, anti-immigration party that had a strong performance in the council elections that were held last week. Growing support for this party recently pushed London to announce a referendum on the country's EU membership, which will take place after the general elections of 2015.
Anti-immigration parties are becoming popular elsewhere in Europe's core. Last year, the National Front got almost 18 percent of the vote in France's presidential election, making it the third largest party in the country. In the Netherlands, support for the anti-immigration Party for Freedom grew since the beginning of the crisis, even if the party lost some seats in the 2012 elections.
Immigration from the periphery to the core of Europe is not new. The difference is that the economic crisis is finally hitting the core, with countries such as France and the Netherlands dealing with slowing economic activity and rising unemployment. In these countries, criticism of immigration is often linked to criticism of the European Union, as the citizens of the 27 members of the bloc are legally allowed to live and work anywhere in the EU. As the economic crisis deepens, so does the rejection of the free movement of people within Europe, thus threatening one of the founding principles of the European Union.