Posted on October 21, 2015

The Rising Migrant Tide

Christopher Caldwell, Weekly Standard, October 2015

The Austrian Freedom party (FPÖ) has a bit of international notoriety, thanks to the rhetorical provocations that its late leader Jörg Haider used to issue about his country’s Nazi past. Before he died in 2008 while driving drunk between a gay bar he allegedly favored and his mother’s 90th birthday party, he would, for instance, describe the Waffen SS as “honorable men.” One can debate what Haider meant by these things, but not their reception in the country’s capital. They went down like poison in “Red” Vienna, Western Europe’s most left-wing city, where Social Democrats have ruled without a pause since 1945. Vienna never votes for parties like Haider’s. Something must be going on, then, because on October 11, the Viennese gave the FPÖ, now led by Haider’s onetime rival Heinz-Christian Strache, almost a third of the vote. Two weeks before that, Strache’s party doubled its score in Upper Austria, tallying more than 30 percent.

Strache cannot claim the credit. An earnest dental technician, he had a hard time firing up crowds in Vienna’s Leopold-Mistiger-Platz when he spoke there a week before the election. He’s querulous. If Haider’s speeches were tirades, Strache’s are more like tizzies. Nor is the country generally drifting towards the FPÖ’s platform, to judge from Strache’s mumbled support for the principle of equal pay for women. The earthquake in Austrian politics is explained by one thing alone: Shortly before the Upper Austria elections, 61 percent of voters told pollsters they were preoccupied with “refugees and asylum.” No other issue came close.

The flood of Middle Eastern refugees into Austria began in the summer. By September they were arriving at the southeastern border at the rate of 10,000 or 12,000 a day. These migrants are associated in the public mind with the war in Syria but, in fact, come from throughout the Muslim world–Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh. Most of them are on their way to Germany. The great majority are young men. By the end of this year, Austrian authorities estimate, 375,000 will have passed through the country, and a quarter of them will have stayed to apply for asylum. Austria will have added 1 percent to its population in just about three months, with virtually all the newcomers Muslims. When migrant families follow, as they inevitably do, the effect will be multiplied. Donald Tusk, the Polish president of the European Council, warns that the biggest tide of migrants “is yet to come.”

{snip} The country has budgeted about $600 million for refugees, but a government study leaked in September set the true estimate (including family unification) at $14 billion over four years. Remember that Austria is about a fortieth the size of the United States. A proportionate human wave passing through this country would consist of 15 million people and cost as much as the Obama stimulus package.


{snip} Under the EU’s so-called Dublin regulations, passed in stages starting in 1997, refugees must apply for asylum in the first EU country they enter. Germany is nearly landlocked, and Middle Easterners need visas to fly into it. So Merkel’s invitation worked the way a lot of humanitarian philanthropy works: She got the reputation for “generosity.” But it was Germany’s EU neighbors, whose names the avid fortune-seekers couldn’t even remember, who shared the cost of Merkel’s million-man march.

Merkel accompanied her invitation with the insistence that the Dublin regulation was “broken,” and that Germany was not going to stand on bureaucratic ceremony. {snip}


Even before Merkel’s August invitation, Austria had been trying to relieve the stress on its main train stations by putting up migrants in smaller towns. It had a problem, though: The country’s constitution permits local authorities to veto local projects decided at the national level. Nothin’ doin’, said every burgermeister who was asked. So Austria’s ruling coalition of Social Democrats and Christian Democrats amended the constitution to let the central government override local control over housing policy. Under the law, should Vienna deem it necessary, all communities of more than 2,000 people must take asylum-seekers numbering up to 1.5 percent of their population. {snip}


There is something in this that reminds one of the financial crisis of 2008. Like a too-big-to-fail bank, Merkel has made a bet that will allow her to pocket the credit if she succeeds and spread the baleful consequences to others if she fails. It appears now that she is going to fail. Her defenders exult that she is showing a different face of Germany than the one the world knows from the last century of its history. It is premature to say so. Merkel is showing the face of a Germany that is acting unilaterally, claiming superior moral authority, and answering those who object by saying they’ll thank her for this someday. As such, she is dragging the whole European continent towards unrest. No German role is older.