Since yesterday, a number of media outlets have reported that the Trump Administration is strongly considering a plan to close the southern border with Mexico as a measure to prevent members of the Central American migrant caravan from crossing into the United States. According to the New York Times, the plan calls for broad executive action on the part of the president aimed at fortifying the southern US border with additional troops, and denying asylum requests by Central Americans for a period of time. Whether or not this plan becomes reality remains to be seen. If it does, a number of challenges will likely be filed against it in US courts. The saga of the migrant caravan comes with less than two weeks remaining until the US midterm elections. This has been a raucous political season in the United States, and both Democrats and Republicans are both using the caravan to gain leverage over the other.
Unfortunately for Democrats, the president is fully within his rights to shut the southern border if he deems it necessary to protect the United States from an external threat and the migrant caravan falls into this category. The organizers and leaders of the caravan have plainly stated their intentions to force entry onto US soil. In essence, they’ve declared war on the US and turned their humanitarian pilgrimage into an invasion force. President Trump cannot, and will not allow them to enter the United States.
Border security is central to national sovereignty. The ability of a nation-state to remain both politically stable, and internationally reliable, is jeopardized the moment its borders become porous. The European Migrant Crisis produced numerous examples of this, having eroded the sovereignty of numerous European nation-states, and of the European Union as well. The after-effects of that crisis continue to be felt across the continent.
The US doesn’t appear likely to make the same mistakes that Brussels, and Berlin have. The Trump administration has made border security a priority since the beginning. Progress on building a wall on the southern border has been hampered by opposition efforts, and congressional infighting, however. It is not secret that President Trump has been frustrated by his inability to firmly gain control of the border. This caravan, and the crisis surrounding it, presents him with the opportunity to turn reverse these fortunes. The United States needs a secure southern border as much as it does strong leadership in Washington.
The European Union’s 28 national leaders hammered out an eleventh hour deal on migration after twelve hours of talks. The deal, though somewhat vague, appears to be enough to appease German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s rivals and keep her fragile coalition government in power for the time being.
The deal proposes screening potential asylum-seekers for their eligibility before they reach EU soil. Middle Eastern and North African nations that agree to set up screening centers will be granted EU financial aid to cover the costs. EU Leaders also agreed to toughen internal checks to prevent asylum-seekers from freely choosing an EU nation to apply for asylum. 3 Billion euros will also be paid to Turkey as part of the 2016 compensation deal with the Turkish government to pay for Ankara’s efforts at keeping migrants away from Europe.
The EU deal is less than perfect, though it does promote more stringent future efforts on the part of the union to contend with irregular migration from the Middle East and North Africa. Many questions remain unanswered, such as the timetable for implementation. How quickly the terms of the deal can be become reality will influence Merkel’s own political fortunes.
For now, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer and his allies appear to be satisfied with the EU deal, and what it will do to help correct Germany’s asylum policy woes. If there are any delays, or disruptions in implementing the deal, however, Merkel could pay a steep price. Seehofer still has to sell the deal to his party, the Christian Social Union. CSU will face a heavy challenge from the far-right AfD (Alternative for Germany) party in the coming October state election in Bavaria. If the party deems this deal to be ‘too little, too late’ Seehofer himself might be replaced as party head. The rumor mill in Berlin points to Bavarian State Premier Markus Söder as the next chairman if Seehofer falters.
If that scenario becomes reality, the CSU could bring Merkel’s brittle coalition government crashing down.
The Italian general elections on Sunday ended up as a triumph for Italy’s populist parties. The Northern League and Five Star Movement (M5S) were the major winners. Both parties campaigned on anti-establishment, anti-immigration, and anti-European Union platforms. A new government has yet to be formed and it could be some time yet before that happens. However, that government will almost assuredly be staunchly anti-European Union in sentiment, as well as in deed.
Italy has long been considered to be one of the economic problem children of the European Union, along with Greece, Portugal, and Spain. The growing debt and economic vulnerability of of the Southern European EU members brought about an era of austerity from Lisbon to Athens. Austerity was more than enough for Southern European nations to contend with. But then came the European migrant crisis which saw continuous waves of African, and Middle Eastern migrants washing up on Southern European shorelines.
Italy was arguably the hardest hit. Austerity, and the migrant crisis combined to bring about a political shift in Italy. In recent years, voters have moved away from mainstream political parties, and tossed their lot in with populist parties that are opposed to essentially everything that the European Union supports. Brussels, and Rome appear to be fated towards a clash down the road and the EU is not waiting for the new government to form before it fires the first shot.
Yesterday, the European Commission urged Italy to increase economic reforms. The nation’s recovery from the 2008 crisis continues, yet at a sluggish pace. The commission also cited ‘excessive economic imbalances’ present in Italy. To be fair, the commission’s report also pointed to Cyprus and Croatia as having similar problems, yet their inclusion serves to highlight the fact that the EU’s southern flank is becoming increasingly vulnerable.
This increases the scrutiny which will be placed on Rome in the coming months. The new Italian government will not be as receptive and compliant to EU ‘economic suggestions’ as Greece and Alex Tsipras’ government was in 2015. More to the point, Rome will not submit itself to the wishes of Brussels, and the veiled threats of Angela Merkel like Athens did. The EU feels it would be in its best interests to have a stake in determining Italy’s economic policies for the foreseeable future. How far Brussels is willing to go to keep its influence alive remains to be seen?
What will Italy’s reaction be to increased EU bullying? An Italexit could have severe consequences for Brussels and signal the final nail in the coffin for the great European Experiment.
Angela Merkel has her coalition. The Social Democrats voted in favor of forming a new government along with Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union conservatives. Merkel will stay in the chancellery in Berlin, and political stability is set to return to Germany, at least for the moment. Forming a coalition after months of deadlock is assuredly a victory for her, though the scope and magnitude of it is up for debate. During the next few months, Merkel needs to tread carefully. One errant slip can turn it into a Pyrrhic victory and then the coalition becomes an albatross around her neck.
Make no mistake about it, Merkel has her work cut out for her. In spite of the grandiose proclamations of a ‘Grand Coalition,’ the government that has been put together more accurately resembles a diminished coalition at best. Germany was rattled by the political paralysis that followed the September elections, leaving many to wonder if the nation will ever be the same again. Support for the coalition is dropping, according to polls. At the same time, the right wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party is building momentum. AfD is also setting itself up to be the main opposition party in parliament, raising the prospect of a clash with the new government somewhere down the line.
Merkel has promised to place more focus on domestic issues, though this might be a matter of too little, too late. Immigration is what brought Merkel and Germany to this point. The clumsy way she went about opening of Germany’s borders to the migrants is what caused German voters to turn on their chancellor. Merkel finds herself having to make amends, and possibly even give some of the new government’s positions and policies a slight tilt to the right. Last week she openly admitted that there are no-go zones in Germany after vehemently denying their existence for years. There are reports that Germany could even be seeking a reset in its relations with the United States. It’s a well-known truth that Merkel’s relationship with President Trump has been cool to say the very least.
The fact that she is making these moves now, and that Germany finds itself in this position shows the clout that right wing political parties, and populist movements now hold in Germany.
The shadow of the European Migrant Crisis continues to loom over the continent with its influence being felt in social circles, economic matters, and most prevalently, in domestic politics. The waves of refugees from Syria and North Africa, coupled with the rash of terror attacks in recent years is reshaping the political landscape of Europe. These events are the catalyst that has brought a number of right wing political parties in from the wilderness and placed them in political mainstreams of many European nations. Electorates from Warsaw to Central Europe are shifting right. Even Germany has not been immune from the shift. In last month’s election, Alternative for Germany, a right wing party, made significant gains, a precursor that a new political reality could very well be on the horizon for the central and eastern areas of the continent.
Now it’s Austria’s turn. On Sunday the conservative People’s Party staged a political upset in snap parliamentary elections. The party’s leader, 31 year old current foreign minister Sebastian Kurz, is expected to be chosen by Austria’s president to form a new government once the results are finalized. The People’s Party captured 31.4 percent of the votes and emerges from the elections as the strongest political force in Austria. The new government, when formed, will be a coalition. But it will be a far different coalition than any that Austria has seen in recent years. Conservatives will not be the junior partners this time around. The main partner of the People’s Party in a new coalition will likely be a populist party with similar political leanings like the Freedom Party. Back in May the Freedom Party almost captured the presidency. The results of that election allowed Brussels to breathe a sigh of relief and hope that Europe’s amour fou with populist, right wing politics was over once and for all.
Last month’s German elections, and today’s results in Austria show beyond a shadow of a doubt the relationship between European electorates and right wing political parties is anything but a fling. Not surprisingly, immigration was the main issue in Austria. While governments dally on effectively dealing with immigration problems, and the European Union sits on its hands hoping the immigration issue will disappear at some point soon, European voters are putting these leaders on notice. What happened in Austria today was no aberration and it will serve the EU well to keep that in mind.