There is a concern running through the EU establishment elite as to the growing level of hostility to the EU. In France, Marine le Pen the Leader of the Front National Party is expected to be the leader of the largest block of French MEPs after the election. She has already made alliances with the likes of the Dutch maverick campaigner Geert Wilders. In Brussels, the talk is of “populists, xenophobes, extremists and fascists” gaining around 25 per cent of seats in the next parliament. Then using that platform to try to paralyse EU policy-making. This block is set to make an electoral appeal to Euro sceptics and those disenchanted with politics after the last four years of austerity. Ms. Le Pen has predicted the demise of the EU stating her objective of restoring freedom to nation states and the people of Europe. The EU Presidency passes to Greece in January and it will be interesting to see how that operates. Alexis Tsipras who is the European United Left’s candidate for the President of the EU Commission, is also the leader of Syriza the Greek opposition party. His performance during the EU Presidency will be closely watched .
Meanwhile, as the “populists” are grouping, governments have the migrant/immigration issue to address. The French Interior Minister is seeking a meeting with his UK counterpart to discuss a “renegotiation” of the agreement between both countries, which lead to the closure of the Red Cross refugee camp which was located close to the Channel Tunnel. When it was established it dealt mainly with Afghans, Pakistanis, Syrians, and Somali migrants. The majority of these migrants refuse to apply for asylum in France as if they did so they would lose their right to seek asylum in the UK. The French Minister says about 300-500 migrants are now living rough in the Calais area.
We have watched on the TV news bulletins the plight of refugees who seek to enter Europe through the Mediterranean countries. The German Courts have now referred a case to the European Court to decide on the eligibility of non-nationals to receive state support. The UK is tightening the rules under which non UK nationals may be eligible for State Benefits. The new rules are designed to address growing fears in the UK of an influx of migrants. Controls are to be relaxed next month on the free movement of Romanians and Bulgarians. Ian Duncan Smith the UK Home Secretary says he is intent on introducing new rules designed to strengthen the UK’s Habitual Residence test. These rules will require migrants to show what efforts they have made to find employment in their own country, while demonstrating that their English language skills are sufficient to allow them to find employment in Britain.
The direction of the EU is changing. The outcome of the election of the new parliament in May will have a major effect on that direction. We all have the opportunity to have our say on election day. Before that, it is important that we take the time to consider the issues, not just those which immediately impact us, but we need to consider what kind of Europe we want.