For the past two decades, European countries didn't need the Statue of Liberty or the world's first multiculturalism policy, like Canada, to show that on balance they accepted immigrants. As economies boomed, migrants from within and outside Europe heeded the demand for labor from Ireland to Greece, Sweden to Spain.
Many European countries encouraged high-skilled migration even as they struggled with asylum flows and immigrant integration. Anti-immigrant groups existed but were not part of the mainstream, and policy debates, when they occurred in the public sphere, revealed fear more than xenophobia. Policymakers understand that immigrants can stave off a rapidly ageing Europe from shrinking and welfare systems from collapsing.
Over the past two years, as economies sputtered or contracted, flows declined and in some cases reversed (see Issue #7: When All Else Fails, Leave: Emigration from Europe's New Destinations on the Rise). Protectionist policies have not become the norm, nor have legal foreign residents seen their rights disappear.
And yet, a number of events in 2010 across the continent, and particularly in places long seen as moderate, seem to indicate a larger shift away from openness.
While ethnic-minority Roma have long faced discrimination in Europe, France and Italy publicly ramped up their crackdowns on settlements. France claimed its dismantling of Roma camps — where recent arrivals from EU Member States Romania and Bulgaria were living — and deportations of EU citizens last summer were in the name of security, even though internal memos revealed Roma camps were the main target.
France also sent a strong message to its approximately 5 million Muslims when the French parliament banned face veils in public, a measure the French courts upheld in October, making it effective immediately.
Although few women in France wear a burqa, which covers the face and body, the law is intended to show that France does not accept what it calls a symbol of female oppression. So far, only France has made it official: Belgium and the Spanish city of Barcelona considered but ultimately did not pass a burqa ban.
In the Netherlands and Sweden, far-right parties experienced unprecedented success.
The Freedom Party of Geert Wilders, famous for his anti-Islam and anti-immigrant rhetoric, won 24 seats in the Dutch parliament, double the number in 2006. Wilders is now an unofficial partner in the center-right coalition in the Netherlands that took power in October, meaning his party has no cabinet seats but can dictate terms to a government that ultimately needs his vote.
Sweden never thought it could move as far to the right on immigration as neighboring Denmark. But the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats garnered nearly 6 percent of the vote and 20 seats in parliament in September's elections, prompting thousands of shocked Swedes to protest in Stockholm. When Swedish Prime Minister Frederik Reinfeldt formed a minority government in October — without the Sweden Democrats — he pledged that Sweden would remain an open and tolerant country.
No one would argue that Germany easily accepted its status as an immigration country. But Social Democrat Thilo Sarrazin, an executive with Germany's central bank before being forced to resign, recently ignited a heated, continuing national debate about the role of Muslim immigrants in German society with his book Germany Does Itself In.
Sarrazin argues that Muslim immigrants (specifically Turks) and their descendants will drag Germany down because, through their high birth rates, they will become the majority in Germany and because, in his view, they do not succeed in education or the labor market. Not surprisingly, Turkish and other immigrants dismiss Sarrazin's claims and feel the debate discredits them.
Chancellor Angela Merkel appeared to agree indirectly with Sarrazin's point about failure to integrate when she declared in October that multiculturalism in Germany had "utterly failed" although it is questionable that Germany's less than 10-year-old integration policy has had time to succeed. Germany continues to fund integration programs at full levels even as other countries, strapped by the recession, make cuts.
Question: Has acceptance of immigration taken a beating to the point where it will not return?