The EU has evolved from an organisation focussed on regional free trade into one which also enforces fashionable orthodoxies, most of which are as popular as wet bread east of the former Iron Curtain. The most famous and persistent area of east-west difference is on borders and immigration. And those on the eastern side of the Cold War divide argue it’s no accident that the latest terrorist horrors have, as always, struck Europe’s western half.
The Chechen-born Abdullah Anzorov, who in October beheaded French teacher Samuel Paty, was in France because Poland, like its east-central European neighbours disinclined to accept Muslim migrants, refused asylum to his family – several of whom are suspected of complicity in the murder. Soon afterwards, ethnic Albanian Kujtim Fejluzai killed at random four people in Vienna. Fejzulai had been sentenced to 22 months’ gaol for trying to join Isis in Syria but was released and given a flat after just eight months because he was young, ‘showed good behaviour’ and had completed a deradicalisation programme. He subsequently tried to buy ammunition and met Islamist extremists, but remained free. Terrifyingly, the motive for Fejluzai’s murderous rampage in the country which had treated him so kindly seemed to be nothing more than that Austria is part of the Christian West. Then there was the slaughter by the Koran-carrying Tunisian illegal immigrant Brahim Aouissaoui of three people who happened to be in the Notre Dame Basilica in Nice.
The background to these outrages is grimly familiar. Western countries wanting to be compassionate to asylum-seekers. Police reluctant to intervene, despite worrying signs. Gentle judicial systems desperate to believe that young Muslims drawn to Islamist extremist have genuinely deradicalised.And, perhaps most fatally of all, failure to secure borders. After it emerged that the latest jihadi murderer in Nice, Aouissaoui, had arrived in Italy as an illegal immigrant soon before, but had been released, Italy’s left-dominated government admitted ‘numbers of repatriations are always limited compared with the number of migrant arrivals’. Indeed, 32,000 have arrived in Italy so far this year. 2,988 have been deported. Nobody knows where the rest are.
In the lead-up to presidential elections in 2022, Macron needs to sound tough against the genuinely-tough-on-illegal-immigration Marine Le Pen, who, at the 2017 election, despite a lacklustre performance, won a record 33.9 per cent of the vote. So Macron responded to the latest outrages more robustly than usual, criticising ‘Islamic separatism’ and cracking down on extremist mosques and clerics. Macron said that the EU must ‘intensify our common border protection with a real security police force at the external borders’. But this, as usual, is just hot air. The left-progressive EU establishment of which Macron is a key pillar will never take direct, robust action to stop the people smugglers’ boats. Usually it’s the reverse: when, earlier this year, the EU’s external border protection agency Frontex sent vessels to Greece in response to a new wave of illegal immigrants sent by Turkish president Erdogan, its idea of helping was to escort people-smugglers’ boats into Greek ports.
Until recently, radically different attitudes to immigration have been the main faultline continuing to divide Europe’s west and east. The West Europeans, except for Italy’s short-lived centre-right government in 2018-19 and Greece’s current conservative government, have opposed robust Australian-style approaches to illegal boats. The faultline shot into prominence in 2015 when Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, supported by several of the EU’s other easterners, opposed Angela Merkel’s decision to open Europe’s flood-gates to Third World would-be immigrants (mostly not genuine refugees), erected a protective fence and rejected EU plans to share asylum-seekers around the member-states.
The divide became a major issue again recently when Brussels tried to make budget allocations to member-states dependent on a ‘rule of law’ mechanism – a step clearly aimed at the easterners. However the EU strategy to force change on them appears not to be to use triggers in relation to the usual immigration issues or unconvincing complaints that they are somehow ‘authoritarian’, but to make their commitment to traditional family values illegal. The European Commission recentlly announced its ‘Strategy for LGBTIQ equality’. If enacted, it would mean that east-central European countries like Hungary, where the law decrees that there are two genders, where gender cannot be legally changed, where marriage is defined as between a man and a woman and where gay couples cannot adopt children, would be found to be breaching EU values and laws. In the face of inevitable opposition from the easterners, the EU’s December Council meeting compromised, allowing both sides to claim victory. The mechanism won’t be implemented until member-states have had a chance to challenge it in the European Court of Justice. But the issue will probably return.
Consistent with woke pieties, the EU establishment never misses an opportunity to condemn the imperialisms of the past. But it’s hard to see much difference between Brussels mandarins’ efforts to impose their values on their eastern subjects and colonial administrators’ imposition of their idea of civilisation on people they saw as savages.