Testing Times for Globalization
Testing Times for Globalization
Globalization might be facing a major test in the upcoming European Parliament elections. The results — coincidentally, coming close on the heels of India’s general elections — will provide an indication of just how much European sentiment has soured on the open-door policy. Despite being little more than a debating club, the European Parliament serves as an important bellwether for its member governments, and so the rise of right-wing anti-immigrant, anti-globalization parties would send shudders through European Union capitals. The centrist parties in power from the Netherlands to France would be forced to take note of the public sentiment and adopt policies marking a retreat from the pan-European and pro-globalization stances of the past.
In the wake of the eurozone crisis and rising unemployment, the long-established policy of welfare states and relatively open door to immigration have faced growing resistance from middle-class citizens. Since late last year, when the anti-immigrant Progress Party of Norway won enough seats to join the coalition government and claim a portfolio, there has been a succession of victories by such like-minded parties in local elections throughout the continent.
In February, Switzerland (a member of the European trade bloc) narrowly voted in a referendum — pushed by the ultra-right-wing Swiss People’s Party — to restrict residency and asylum seekers and prioritise jobs for Swiss citizens. Right-wing groups all over Europe celebrated the Swiss victory as a harbinger of things to come. Geert Wilders, leader of the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant Dutch Freedom Party, which is expected to win 20 per cent of Dutch seats in the European Parliament, exulted: “What the Swiss can do, we can do too: cut immigration and leave the EU.” French National Front leader Marine le Pen similarly congratulated Swiss voters on their decision.
The success of Le Pen’s National Front in municipal elections (winning 11 towns) has led President François Hollande to change his prime minister. Such successes could also presage significant gains by right-wing parties in the European Parliament — as many as one-quarter of the seats.
In electing anti-immigrant candidates to the largely symbolic European Parliament in Strasbourg, voters would be sending a strong signal to their national governments: they are impatient over their jobs and benefits going to outsiders — not just Muslims from North Africa but also from the poorer member countries in eastern and central Europe.
The impact of the rising anti-immigrant sentiment is visible in countries like France and Britain, where governments have undertaken measures to discourage immigration. Reacting to the popular anti-immigrant campaign by the United Kingdom Independence Party, the conservative government of David Cameron has stepped up its own efforts to place caps on immigration.
Responding to the anger over unemployment, liberal governments have tried to wrap themselves in the flag: France’s socialist government and Britain’s Labour Party have begun campaigns to promote national products. France’s minister of Industrial Renewal, Arnaud Montebourg, who shot to the limelight with his slogan of ‘deglobalization” has now embraced patriotism as the answer to globalization, which he claims has hollowed France. He has been championing ‘Made in France’ products. Similarly, British Labour leader Ed Miliband laments not hearing enough words like ‘Made in Britain’.
Given the integrated nature of today’s manufacturing process, goods manufactured exclusively in one country cannot not compete in price. However, having proved incapable of framing policies that could keep their economies open while reducing unemployment, European governments are now floundering while the forces of anti-globalization are casting long and ominous shadows.