How the Global Refugee Crisis Has Transformed Europe

A banner in a town square in the French Alps reads “Welcome Refugees,” Chamonix, France, Oct. 22, 2016 (AP photo by Bertrand Combaldieu).
A banner in a town square in the French Alps reads “Welcome Refugees,” Chamonix, France, Oct. 22, 2016 (AP photo by Bertrand Combaldieu).

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As the nationalist, anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats claimed their best result yet in Sweden’s parliamentary elections in September, the nation’s newspapers went bold with their headlines. “Chaos,” read the front pages, in all caps, of the two largest tabloids. Dagens Industri, a financial newspaper, called the outcome “a political earthquake.” But the subject of their worry was not the rise of the Sweden Democrats, the latest party to surf Europe’s anti-establishment populist wave. Instead, it was the utter fragmentation of the country’s political landscape.

That few focused their attention on the far-right party’s performance—it gained seats but still came in third behind the center-right bloc and the ruling center-left coalition—speaks to its normalization. By the time voters went to the polls Sunday, the Sweden Democrats had already drastically reshaped the political climate. Immigration, once the exclusive rallying cry of the Sweden Democrats, dominated much of the pre-election debate in a country renowned for its humanitarian values. Over 160,000 asylum-seekers arrived in 2015, adding to a population that has rapidly grown more diverse. Of Sweden’s current population of 10 million, 18 percent were born abroad. Changing demographics are not new to Sweden—just ask the indigenous Sami population—but never before have they influenced an election like this one.

To learn more about how the refugee crisis helped normalize the far right in Sweden, read As Populists Gain Ground, Sweden Sheds Its Taste for Compromise for FREE with your subscription to World Politics Review.

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The Refugee Crisis Reshuffles Germany’s Political Landscape

Sweden isn’t the only country where the backlash against asylum-seekers is shifting politics to the right. Earlier this summer, the leaders of Bavaria’s conservative Christian Social Union, the sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, threatened to bring down the German government in a showdown with Merkel over stricter measures for refugees and asylum-seekers. The move was largely seen as an attempt by the party, which was facing a challenge from the far-right, anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany, or AfD, to prove it was tough enough on migration issues. It didn’t work out the way they intended. After Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, the head of the CSU, first went head-to-head with Merkel, the party’s fortunes declined even further, culiminating in a historic collapse for the CSU in Bavaria’s regional elections in October. The AfD benefited, pulling in more than 10 percent of voters and easily earning representation in the state parliament for the first time. The collapse of the CSU as well as of the center-left Social Democrats Party did not push everyone rightward, though. Voters increasingly horrified by the rise of the far right, and who see the SPD as tarnished by its association with the CDU/CSU, are also looking for a political home. In Bavaria, at least, they appear to have found it in the Greens.

To find out how Germany’s politics are being reshuffled by the refugee crisis, read The Extremes Made Gains in Bavaria, but Germany’s Political Center Isn’t Dead Yet for FREE with your subscription to World Politics Review.

Spain Is Now the Top Destination for Europe-Bound Refugees

Although the number of new arrivals has declined dramatically since the height of the refugee crisis in 2015, asylum-seekers continue to feature prominently in European political debates, and Spain is no exception. According to the International Organization for Migration, more than 22,500 migrants reached the Spanish coast by sea in the first seven months of this year—more than in all of 2017. Another 307 have died trying. As Italy’s populist government continues to pursue hard-line anti-migrant policies, Spain has recently replaced Italy as the top destination for Europe-bound migrants. The uptick has roughly coincided with the early days of Spain’s new socialist, center-left government led by Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who was sworn into office in early June. Sanchez came to power after a corruption scandal triggered a no-confidence vote that ended the tenure of his predecessor, Mariano Rajoy, from the more conservative People’s Party. He lost no time setting himself apart from Rajoy on a number of issues, perhaps most prominently immigration.

To find out why Spain is an outlier when it comes to its policies toward asylum-seekers, read Spain Is the New Magnet for Europe-Bound Migrants. How Will They Be Received? for FREE with your subscription to World Politics Review.

The Impact of the European Refugee Crisis on Legal Immigration

The backlash against the refugee crisis is also having an impact on European responses to legal immigrants and children of immigrants. In March, Denmark’s right-wing coalition government announced a plan ostensibly intended to combat the social problems that plague struggling neighborhoods and improve the lives of their residents. The “ghetto package” of laws targets 25 neighborhoods around Denmark that the authorities consider the most vulnerable, a determination based on unemployment and crime statistics as well as the portion of the population made up of immigrants. Lars Lokke Rasmussen, Denmark’s center-right prime minister who combines a generally boring demeanor with brash rhetoric on immigration, has referred to them as “black holes on the map of Denmark.” The tough talk is matched by harsh measures. Once they enter, Danes and immigrants living in the targeted areas will quickly notice their impact.

To learn more, read Assimilation, or Alienation? Denmark Mulls ‘Ghetto’ Laws Targeting Immigrants for FREE with your subscription to World Politics Review.

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Editor’s Note: This article was first published in July 2018 and is regularly updated.

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