There is still much that is unknown about how the refugee crisis in Europe will unfold and the impact it will have. But one thing is certain: The massive wave of immigration onto European shores will usher in a powerful backlash that will benefit right-wing anti-immigrant parties. The phenomenon is already becoming visible, but it will continue to build, creating new friction and challenges for moderate and leftist parties.
The intensity of the backlash will depend on how many more refugees ultimately enter Europe and how the process of integrating them into existing social structures proceeds. In addition, the political impact will be determined by a malleable public sentiment, itself greatly influenced by individual stories that capture the popular imagination.
Already Europe has become the stage for thousands of dramas, big and small, buffeting the public’s emotions as they play out nightly on television screens, social media and the pages of newspapers. The tragedies, the happy endings, the uplifting and the dispiriting—each and every story helps mold a political perception of the dilemmas faced by nations and individuals. Ultimately, it is the collection of these impressions and the debates surrounding them that will craft the political impact of the current crisis.