The Sun, November 22, 2018
Europe must get a handle on immigration to combat a growing threat from rightwing populists, Hillary Clinton has said, calling on the continent’s leaders to send out a stronger signal showing they are “not going to be able to continue to provide refuge and support”.
In an interview with the Guardian, the former Democratic presidential candidate praised the generosity shown by the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, but suggested immigration was inflaming voters and contributed to the election of Donald Trump and Britain’s vote to leave the EU.
“I think Europe needs to get a handle on migration because that is what lit the flame,” Clinton said, speaking as part of a series of interviews with senior centrist political figures about the rise of populists, particularly on the right, in Europe and the Americas.
“I admire the very generous and compassionate approaches that were taken particularly by leaders like Angela Merkel, but I think it is fair to say Europe has done its part, and must send a very clear message – ‘we are not going to be able to continue provide refuge and support’ – because if we don’t deal with the migration issue it will continue to roil the body politic.”
Clinton’s remarks are likely to prove controversial across Europe, which has struggled to form a unified position ever since more than 1 million migrants and refugees arrived in the EU in 2015.
While some countries who have borne the brunt, such as Germany, Italy and Greece, have argued for the burden to be shared more evenly, some, particularly in central and eastern Europe, have rejected demands to take in refugees.
Migration numbers have fallen sharply since 2015, while a series of initiatives have been tabled, from a 10,000-member European border and coastguard agency to an overhaul of EU asylum procedures.
Clinton was one of three heavyweights of the centre-left interviewed by the Guardian to better understand why their brand of politics appears to be failing. All three have seen their countries upended by political events that to some degree can be explained by the success of rightwing populism.
The other two interviewees, Tony Blair and Matteo Renzi, agreed that the migration issue had posed significant problems for centrist politics.
“You’ve got to deal with the legitimate grievances and answer them, which is why today in Europe you cannot possibly stand for election unless you’ve got a strong position on immigration because people are worried about it,” Blair said. “You’ve got to answer those problems. If you don’t answer them then … you leave a large space into which the populists can march.”
Clinton urged forces opposed to rightwing populism in Europe and the US not to neglect the concerns about race and identity issues that she says were behind her losing key votes in 2016. She accused Trump of exploiting the issue in the election contest – and in office.
“The use of immigrants as a political device and as a symbol of government gone wrong, of attacks on one’s heritage, one’s identity, one’s national unity has been very much exploited by the current administration here,” she said.
“There are solutions to migration that do not require clamping down on the press, on your political opponents and trying to suborn the judiciary, or seeking financial and political help from Russia to support your political parties and movements.”
Brexit, described by Clinton as the biggest act of national economic self-harm in modern history, “was largely about immigration”, she said.
Clinton, Blair and Renzi all said rightwing populism had not just fed off issues of identity but was also driven by a disruptive way of conducting politics that dramatises divisions and uses a rhetoric of crisis. The centre left struggles to get its voice heard over the simplistic, emotional language used against it, they said.
Blair said populism would continue to rise until mainstream parties found a way to cut through the reductive soundbites that populists deploy so effectively.
“I don’t think it’s reached its peak,” he said, when asked about the electoral success of populists globally. “I think it will peak, in my view, when the centre ground recovers its mojo and has a strong forward agenda.”
“A significant part of the problem here is people’s desire for a leader that is going to just push through change without regard to political pressures, you know, that ‘getting things done’ mentality.”
Clinton said rightwing populists in the west met “a psychological as much as political yearning to be told what to do, and where to go, and how to live and have their press basically stifled and so be given one version of reality.
“The whole American system was designed so that you would eliminate the threat from a strong, authoritarian king or other leader and maybe people are just tired of it. They don’t want that much responsibility and freedom. They want to be told what to do and where to go and how to live … and only given one version of reality.
“I don’t know why at this moment that is so attractive to people, but it’s a serious threat to our freedom and our democratic institutions, and it goes very deep and very far and we’ve got to do a better job of shining a light on it and trying to combat it.”
She also reveals her contempt for Steve Bannon, whose attempt to bolster rightwing populist parties in Europe is stalling everywhere outside of Italy. “Rome is the right place for him since it is bread and circuses and it’s as old as recorded history. Keep people diverted, keep them riled up appeal to their prejudices, give them a sense they are part of something bigger than themselves – while elected leaders and business leaders steal them blind. It’s a classic story and Bannon is the latest avatar of it.”
Renzi bemoaned a generational shift that he said had elevated hate and confrontation over admiration and respect. “There is a climate of hate that has come from the Five Star Movement and the League,” he said of his political opponents in Italy. “This is the problem of the new generation – they are educated to hate and to envy.”