In Europe, xenophobia is winning over rationality

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    UK's Polish community targeted in hate crimes


UK's Polish community targeted in hate crimes 03:11

Story highlights

  • Right-wing extremism has been growing in Europe
  • Brexit is the tip of the iceberg

Andrea Mammone Historian at Royal Holloway, University of London, writing and commenting on Europeam politics and the far right. The opinions in this article belong to the author. Follow @Andrea_Mammone on Twitter.

(CNN)In the early 2000s, European intellectuals such as Jurgen Habermas engaged in discussions on the common identity of Europeans and the structure and rationale of the European Union.

The famous German philosopher, a main advocate of a shared Europeanism, suggested, for example, the need for "harmonisation," "cosmopolitanism," and a "civic solidarity." He argued that only when Swedes and Portuguese stand up for each other "could they be expected to support a roughly equivalent minimum wage, or the general equality of conditions for pursuing individual life projects, even if they remain shaped by national belonging."
    How much of this is relevant today? On June 23, an independence day for many, Great Britain became the first EU member state to withdraw from the Union. This represents for some the beginning of the end of a European community born out of the war. Although I do not share such a pessimistic view, this, in many ways, is a triumph of national interests over common projects, solidarity and rationality.
    The UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd's proposed restrictions on foreign students and the stigmatization of British companies hiring too many overseas workers and professionals go exactly in such direction. It also represents an evident legitimization of xenophobia.
    This raises many questions. What will be the future of British universities deprived the fees of many foreigners? And what about the dynamism and attractiveness of a global, business-friendly city such as London?
    The Telegraph's James Kirkup correctly highlights the issue. He says Prime Minister Theresa May cites "low-skilled immigration" as an issue in her country's politics but says there's scant evidence that Britons are unemployed or earning less because of it.
    The reality, Kirkup says, is that we have "more British-born people ... in work today than ever." Yet, Brexit is the tip of the iceberg of what is happening around Europe.
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    Right-wing extremism has been growing in Europe since the mid-1980s. Today it is rising everywhere. Regional elections in Germany, for example, showed the incredible growth of Alternative for Germany (AfD), an anti-euro and anti-immigrant movement challenging Angela Merkel's party in some areas. German nationalism has been taboo since the end of the Second World War; it is deeply concerning that a party is achieving political success for using it unashamedly.
    Does the rich and powerful but aging Germany not need any foreign workers for its massive industrial sector?

    Europe, once home of culture and the Enlightenment values, seems to have lost some of its rationale thinking.

    A few days ago the Swiss region of Ticino approved a referendum prioritizing local workers over foreigners traveling across the Italian borders. This vote may undermine the existing economic relations with the EU, but for many it was seen -- as the Brexit vote was in Britain -- as a challenge to the EU's free movement of people. Once more, immigrants are, according to these "Us First" referendum campaigners, bringing down wages and generating unemployment.
    Setting aside the fact that Switzerland is a very prosperous country, official data from the Federal Statistical Office tells us that in the second quarter of 2016, the number of jobs "rose by 1.6% in comparison with the same quarter a year earlier". In August, the unemployment rate was 4.3% (essentially half of the EU).

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    Yet, rather than fighting for a basic income, higher minimum wages, and a necessary redistribution of wealth, and considering why the local economy needs migrants, the public is focused on building imaginary fortresses to stop globalization and protect national citizens.
    These poorly informed discussions undermine any rationality and are simply fueling unrealistic and unachievable solutions in a post-national world.
    If this is not our dreamed Western society -- potentially the new home of an outdated nationalism -- we should probably persuade politicians to open a book and notice what ignorance mixed with fear and demagogy brought to the history of the humanity.