Immigration debate shielding populist parties’ real policies

The European elections take place between 22nd and 25th May. It marks an interesting point in the lifespan of the EU, with Euro-scepticism reaching new heights. France’s the National Front and Britain’s the UK Independence Party (UKIP) are just two of the many populist parties expected to win significant numbers of seats when the votes are counted.

At the core of these parties’ manifestos is the aim to reform immigration policy to prevent certain foreigners from arriving to their lands. UKIP hopes to ensure only “quality” immigrants come to Britain. Given the fact the theme of immigration attracts attention from all sides, it’s a good way to get people to listen. Nobody is doubting ultra-nationalist parties’ ability to rack up votes – polls have shown UKIP is likely to get about a third of British votes – but who has bothered to look into their manifestos?

Eurosceptic voters tend to view the EU as the cause of the financial crisis. Conversely, however, they also dislike the EU’s regulation and intervention in national business and finance policies. It is my understanding that a lack of financial regulation played a pivotal role in the financial crisis, so why would anyone vote for the very parties now trying to block EU regulation that aims to prevent another ‘Great Recession’?

Factual distortions

The immigration debate is the perfect shield for preventing voters from digging deeper into political parties’ real policies.  These policies will have a profound impact on the future of each  country and the EU as a whole.

UKIP denies that Irish people working in Britain are immigrants. It argues that the history between the two islands privileges Irish employees by putting them on the same footing as British workers. It is certainly helpful to be welcomed in Britain but UKIP’s logic is flawed. There is a resounding shared history across Europe – Western, Central and Eastern – and to be selective about this history exposes the gaping hole in UKIP’s immigration narrative. (For anyone questioning that shared history, ask which country has gone untouched by its neighbour?)

UKIP states that only 5% of British companies export to the EU. While that may be true, the Euro Area countries Germany, Netherlands, France, Ireland, Belgium, Italy and Spain account for more than 40% of total UK exports, compared to 13% for the US. Those same countries are just behind Norway, the US and China as the UK’s main import partners.

A glittering image  

The 21st Century appears to be an interesting period in history, but it’s not. It’s another 100-year milestone on the verge of repeating the mistakes of the past. People have always been consumed by the threat of the foreigner, but we were supposed to have evolved enough to favour cooperation over division.

EU citizens eligible to vote this May should do their homework. Political parties wrap themselves up in shiny paper that says nothing about their values or interests. The European elections offer an opportunity to send Europe a strong message. But as an electorate, we need to be clear on the message we’re trying to send.

About natashabrowne

Natasha is a freelance journalist and aspiring economist.
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