Europe’s Identity Crisis: Immigrants Are Scapegoats

The New York Times - 02 December 2013

Socialist France isn’t working, and immigrants have become the scapegoat. As unemployment spirals past 10 percent, and the cost of living skyrockets, François Hollande, the deeply unpopular French president, is maintaining a ferocious onslaught against anyone perceived as a newcomer.

President Hollande’s government has kept up a host of oppressive policies first introduced by his reactionary predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy, including rounding up and deporting Roma gypsies and arresting Muslim women who dare to cover their faces in public. The hatred encouraged by such stigmatization came to the fore this month when Christiane Taubira, France’s black justice minister, was taunted with banana skins and called a monkey by a group of middle-class children supported by their parents.

Modern, moderate France has traditionally been a champion of the European project, yet the resurgent far-right National Front party is currently drawing much of its legitimacy from Brussels. The Front’s leader, Marine Le Pen, is a member of the European Parliament, but has yet to win a seat in the Paris National Assembly. There is a dark irony in listening to Le Pen’s anti-immigration, protectionist agenda being delivered from a governmental body that is supposed to represent an efficient European superstate populated by a single dynamic workforce.

In fact, Europe’s unwieldy institutions have become as bloated and unresponsive as France’s. The result is economic chaos, and increased anger and frustration. Unable to rely on their traditional politicians – ones who have proved to be self-serving and often corrupt – Europeans flirt with protest parties like the National Front.

I don’t think that demagogues like Le Pen will ever form a government, but her growing influence is symptomatic of a continent-wide malaise that has infected democracy at every level. Both France and Europe are going through a serious identity crisis – one that will not be resolved until politicians regain a modicum of trust from electorates whom they have let down so badly.

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