Rotating presidency obliges, it is Austria which stands at the head of the Council of the European Union, since the 1st last July. Funny era, where an ally of rank of the far-right Austrian, Chancellor Conservative Sebastian Kurz is responsible for “build bridges” between the countries of Europe, to use the expression of the former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt. His accession to power in October 2017 was not exactly a surprise to the youngest Foreign Minister in the history of the European Union who built his popularity on an extremely firm policy – some will say cruel, and we are among those – towards the migrants. Once Chancellor, the youngest head of state in the world hastened to make an alliance with the FPÖ, a far-right nationalist party, which was not a real surprise either. Expulsion of imams to fight against “political Islam”, militarization of the fight against migrants, the one his opponents already nickname Baby Hitler is one of those who make politics as others do reality TV: by little blows and provocations, working his image “child prodigy of politics”, and resuming the proposals of the most nationalist parties in his country, behind a cherub facade.
The plan works, by the way. If it is the coincidence of the calendar that brought him to the head of the Council of the European Union, his popularity in his country has not known, as is usually the case for burn victims, a particular decline during the first months of his mandate. The ideal son-in-law of Bobby Newport, for those who followed the excellent series Parks and Recreations , was pleased to see last Friday the title” The European Union validates the plan of Sebastian Kurz for asylum centers “on the front page of the German daily newspaper Heute. Designed to limit the number of people arriving in Europe, this plan includes the creation of “controlled centers” and “regional landing platforms” to accommodate migrants. Encampment, expulsion, exclusion. A ” dangerous and selfish ” plan, according to Amnesty International, which is alarmed by the risks of this plan for human rights – but it has become common, it seems, to think that some, after all, are more humane than other. It has been feared that populism will never adapt to the European institutions. No worries, the European Union seems to be very comfortable with populist projects. It seems to have convinced itself of the dangerousness of the “migrant crisis”, and that it does not matter that the number of people coming to Europe keeps decreasing since 2015, meaning that there is no crisis. “Migrants”, but a “crisis of solidarity“. What does it matter, indeed, when it is urgent to seduce, to reassure, and above all, not to change anything?
But the worst is yet to come – experience should tell us that the worst is still to come, that it’s still possible, and that we’re probably doomed, like Walter Benjamin’s Angelus Novus, to contemplate the history and the chain of its events as “one and only catastrophe, which constantly piles ruins on ruins ” A very recent article from Le Monde. Yesterday morning revealed the content of the plan of the Presidency of the Council of the EU to manage migration. It stated in particular that the situation revealed the inability of the European elites to stem the flow, a questionable assertion, at least as much as the figures provided, false or distorted, or the description of the profiles of migrant people. A disturbing document, which would have quite angry the European experts present at the meeting where it was presented, the latter exasperated, among other things, that most of the Austrian proposals were illegal. But what more could one expect from a country that deployed Black Hawk helicopters a few days ago – helicopter maneuvers, more than assault, it is true – for a crisis management exercise on a border that, according to the local police, does not accept more migrants?
What can we expect from a far-right government at the head of the Council of the European Union? Ordinarily, one could expect what the far-right usually offers: venom, wind, bloated ego and few political results in the face of more liberal opposition. But we do not live ordinary times anymore. The so-called liberal opposition is in crisis: Merkel is more fragile than ever, Macron also takes the proposals of the extreme right on migration issues, May leaves, Spain is in a period of transition … And the the extreme right will find support: it already governs in Poland, Hungary, Italy … As much to say that there is this time reasons to fear the six months to come – the presidency of the council changes every 6 months, the Romanian succeeding Kurz in December. According to Cyril Bret, interviewed by the Atlantico site, “the Kurz Presidency will prioritize structuring a coalition of small countries hostile to migration policies considered imposed by France and Germany to the rest of the Union“, dangerously reinforcing the position of the Visegrad group within the European Union. It is not on this point alone that Austria can be influential. Among European leaders in clean energy, the presidency will face the question of reforms of the electricity market in Europe and therefore the thorny debate about fossil energy – especially coal. Another thorny issue is the Turkish question: Austria has, even more firmly than the rest of Europe, declared its opposition to the Erdogan regime, for various reasons, including concern over the rights of the people. man is not necessarily in first place. Internationally, rumor has it that Austria has at one time been willing to host the long awaited meeting between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. It is worth remembering, on this point, that Austria, like Italy, pleaded for a lifting of EU sanctions against Russia, a subject that we mentioned earlier in the year. Finally, for a positive note, the close relationship between Austria and the Balkans could lead to developments in terms of European integration. How, however, can we hope to reach an agreement in such a short time, and with a relatively Eurosceptic government? Especially since Bulgaria shared this same relationship, without this leading to particular progress on the issue.
Many clouds are piling up at European borders. It should, of course, be remembered that the Austrian presidency will certainly not be a turning point in European history. The role of the President is limited, and this is counterbalanced by the presence of two other countries (Estonia and Bulgaria, outgoing Chair). The risk is mainly contained in Kurz’s use of the symbolic role of the president, responsible for leading states to political compromises, if he tries to ally himself with other European governments, or even extra-European, to produce a “populist international”, an expression used by the Italian Minister of the Interior who would see himself at the head of it. Austria and Italy have already promised, for their part, to form an anti-migration “Axis”, an expression with an unfortunate name, or worse, carefully chosen – difficult to say. It is therefore on the migratory plane that the Austrian presidency will certainly illustrate itself, a prediction that is hardly original, considering the importance of the question of recent months.
This Austrian Presidency will not be a turning point, therefore, but it can act as a thermometer. To what extent will the European Union be able to cope with populism? To what extent will they be able to adapt to the European institutions? If the latter do not necessarily seem to want the death of Europe – that is at least Juncker’s opinion of Kurz – can not we fear that this is because they have understood that it is is comfortable enough with their presence, and that they can make some profit? It will be objected, and it is true, that the European Union can be fierce towards certain governments in full drift, like the Polish government. But if it can, it is also that this government is hardly fierce itself, as shown by its numerous setbacks on various major social reforms. The ability of the European Union to deal with far-right or populist governments is, in the end, relatively weak. It is only in Greece that it succeeds in inflicting a setback, from which she perceives today the terrible price. The European Union, moreover, is only politically strong when its main political and symbolic powers – Western Europe, in short – are united. As she emerged as a new “European leader” against Trump or Putin, Chancellor Angela Merkel is now threatened at home, and may turn away from European claims to avoid collapse. political edifice she built all these years. Emmanuel Macron, successor appointed for this role, is facing more and more internal challenges. It is more than urgent that the latter pull themselves together if they want to hope to save the Europe in which they believed.
Perhaps the danger facing the European Union is not its dislocation, but its corruption. If we want to save Europe – since this is what we are talking about today – we must identify the danger correctly, and it seems that it is less the gradual withdrawal of states, – the domino effect so much feared after the Brexit – as the corruption of its institutions, of its aims and means, by states such as Austria, or Italy, by giving way to blackmail to secession. The so-called populist movements in Europe and elsewhere have shown, generally, their ability not to overthrow institutions, but to use them as they please. The number of Eurosceptic MEPs in the European Parliament is an indication in this respect. This is the greatest danger posed by the Austrian Presidency to the Council of the European Union, the progressive acclimatization of the European Union with governments that it should not be able to tolerate, but which it tolerates anyway, because it can not do otherwise. That, the future alone can tell us. Meanwhile, the far right chairs the council of the European Union.
- The World, Migrants, the disturbing proposals of Austria
- Atlantico, How Austria could use the Presidency of the EU Council to structure a coalition of anti-immigration countries