Europe's Far Right Seeks To Exploit Post-Paris Attack Fears

Populist politicians have called for closed borders following last week's tragedy.
Benoit Tessier / Reuters

In the wake of the Paris terror attacks that killed at least 129 people on Friday, Europe's nationalist parties have renewed calls for borders to be closed and are using the attacks to bolster support for their opposition to the European Union's immigration policy.

On Monday, Marine le Pen, leader of the French National Front party, issued a statement declaring that France should immediately stop taking in refugees and migrants over security fears. This followed Le Pen's remarks two days earlier that the country had to "regain control" of its borders, as well as deport all undocumented immigrants.

Elsewhere in the European Union, far-right leaders echoed Le Pen's sentiments.

"We don't think that everyone is a terrorist but no one can say how many terrorists have arrived already, how many are coming day by day," Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban said in an address to the nation's parliament on Monday.

"Those who said yes to immigration, who transported immigrants from war zones, those people did not do everything for the defense of European people," he said.

Francois Lenoir / Reuters

Orban has been one of the most staunch opponents to allowing refugees and migrants into Europe, erecting an $80 million fence to prevent them from crossing into his country, and rejecting EU resettlement plan proposals. His personal approval ratings and support for his ruling Fidesz party have gone up during the course of the crisis.

Far-right politicians in the Netherlands, Britain, Belgium and other nations added to the rhetoric this week, conflating the migration crisis with threats to security.

Dutch anti-Islam, anti-immigration Party of Freedom leader Geert Wilders directed a statement to the Netherlands' Prime Minister Mark Rutte urging him to immediately close the nation's borders and "protect the Dutch people."

Poland's newly-elected government made perhaps the most tangible policy change out of the far-right parties after the attacks, saying that it would no longer go ahead with plans to resettle thousands of refugees due to security concerns. The nation's foreign minister suggested that instead of being resettled refugees could perhaps be formed into an army that could fight for freedom in Syria.

The link between the refugee crisis and the Paris attacks relates to European authorities' statements that one of the attackers entered the continent posing as a refugee. Fingerprints of one of the attackers matched those taken from someone who passed through the Greek island of Leros in October, and then Serbia later in the month. A Syrian passport, which authorities say is likely fake, was found near the assailant's body.

Germany's interior minister Thomas de Maiziere also raised the possibility that the Islamic State militants who claimed responsibility for the Paris terrorist attacks had intentionally planted the passport to foment fear of refugees in Europe.

Human rights experts have said the possibility that militants may be embedding with refugees highlights a further need for a unified EU policy to address the unregulated migration toward Europe. Far-right parties have balked at such proposals, which involve distributing the hundreds of thousands of people currently seeking asylum more equitably across European nations.

Anti-EU leaders, such as Hungary's Orban, say that the quota system is an unjust imposition and have vowed to fight against it.

Some analysts have criticized nationalist parties for engaging in rhetoric that ultimately aids the Islamic State's wider propaganda goals, and could potentially lead to radicalization within Muslim communities.

“Anti-Muslim and anti-refugee sentiment really play into ISIS hands," Shadi Hamid, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution think tank and author on Islamist politics, told The WorldPost. "The more that happens, the more French Muslims feel alienated and are susceptible to extremist recruitment."

While the Paris attacks are the latest event eurosceptic political parties are using to call for anti-immigration policies to be implemented, Europe's populist conservative political movement has advocated for tighter immigration controls since at least the 1980s.

These parties have until fairly recently operated mostly on the fringe of European politics, but amid increasing criticism of the EU and concern over rising immigration, many have become politically powerful in recent years.

The refugee crisis, which has resulted primarily from Syria's civil war and the subsequent lack of a coherent EU response has been a boon for anti-EU politicians. In countries that have openly accepted refugees, such as Germany, anti-immigration parties have drastically risen in the polls.

Few eurosceptic parties have been elected to run governments, but analysts of European politics note that their popularity has undercut more moderate conservatives and forced the political agenda to the right.

Far-right parties, however, have largely failed to get enough traction to actually shift government policy after the Paris attack. Indeed, French President Francois Hollande vowed on Wednesday that the country would accept 30,000 refugees.

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