Migrant Influx May Give Europe’s Far Right a Lift

Steven Erlanger and Alison Smale, New York Times, September 7, 2015

As Europe basks in good feelings over its generosity to thousands of migrants and asylum seekers last weekend, critical voices from the political right and far right are poised to become among the biggest beneficiaries of the continuing flow.

Parties that have been growing in opposition to immigration, the influence of Islam and the European Union seized on the decision by Austria and Germany to welcome the migrants, pointing out the difficulty of now shutting the migrant tap.

And after the shambles of Greece, the image of a European Union seemingly incapable of defending its borders, while trying to impose mandatory quotas on nations for accepting refugees, fit Euroskeptics’ portrayal of Brussels as a European Union capital at once incompetent and domineering.

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The new rightist government in Denmark has taken out advertisements in the Lebanese press warning refugees not to come, that the government has toughened immigration laws and cut benefits.

In France, in a speech on Sunday to her National Front party, which warns about Islam, immigration and a powerful German-dominated Brussels, Marine Le Pen accused Germany of opening its doors to refugees to exploit them for cheap labor, while imposing its immigration policies on its neighbors.

“Germany seeks not only to rule our economy, it wants to force us to accept hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers,” she said in Marseille.

Referring to the death of a Syrian boy in Turkey and other asylum seekers in a truck in Austria, all at the hands of human traffickers, she accused European politicians of “exploiting the death of the unfortunate in these trips organized by mafia. They show pictures, they exhibit the death of a child without any dignity, just to blame the European consciences and make them accept the current situation.”

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In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel voiced something close to pride on Monday that Germany is now seen as a desirable and welcoming destination for refugees. “That is something very valuable, if you look at our history,” she said.

But many fear a backlash. She spoke only hours after another arson attack–the latest in more than 200 attacks on asylum seekers or their shelters this year in Germany. Six people were injured when a fire broke out at 2 a.m. in a facility housing 84 people in the pretty south German town of Rottenburg am Neckar.

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In Austria, arson attacks are rare. But a strong populist party, the right-wing Freedom Party, has made noticeable gains in the months of refugee crisis.

Austria expects the same proportion of asylum applications, 1 percent of the population, as Germany. In bellwether elections in Vienna in October, the Freedom Party now threatens to outperform the Social Democrats, making inroads particularly among lower classes with strident anti-Muslim rhetoric.

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