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International Socialism, Autumn 1999


Phil Marfleet

Nationalism and internationalism in the new Europe


From International Socialism 2 : 84, Autumn 1999.
Copyright © International Socialism.
Copied with thanks from the International Socialism Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


For most politicians in Europe the war against Serbia was justified as a mission of mercy. They declared that oppression of the Kosovans was intolerable, an appalling injustice in a region so close to their own and one requiring exemplary humanitarian action. As British prime minister Tony Blair explained to a European Union (EU) summit, ‘This place Kosovo is right on the doorstep of Europe,’ and Europeans were required to act in solidarity with their neighbours. [1] For Blair, principles of ‘European justice’ and of ‘civilised society’ were to be defended against national antagonism and ethnic conflict. Leaders of EU states agreed, using the summit to commit themselves to salvation of the Kosovans. The hypocrisy was breathtaking, for these same politicians had worked for years to build an EU committed to exclusion of such people, especially asylum seekers from regions on Europe’s ‘doorstep’. EU states had expelled tens of thousands of refugees from the Balkans and others fleeing conflicts on Europe’s periphery and in the Third World. The EU excluded systematically those most in need of sanctuary, declaring them not European and therefore without rights in member states. Exclusion had in fact become a key area of collaboration between member states of the Union, to the extent that the EU had become what one newspaper called ‘a club for the racially privileged’. [2] This was institutionalised racism on a continental scale: a situation starkly at odds with Blair’s moral crusade and one which highlighted the contradictions of the EU and its ‘Europeanism’.

The EU is routinely presented by its supporters as an internationalist project. Its founding documents refer to ‘ever closer union’ between peoples of the region [3], and for decades it has been promoted as a means of overcoming national differences and state rivalries. The call to be a ‘good European’ therefore appeals to many on the left, who often identify the EU with modernisation, economic and social advance, and as a means of moving beyond the conflicts of the past. Social democratic and Communist parties, which have been strongly attached to national (often nationalist) agendas, have increasingly identified an internationalist dimension to the EU. Many leading figures in Socialist governments have been partisans of the Union and sometimes – like Jacques Delors, a minister in the Mitterrand government in France – they have been architects of its development. Much of the trade union leadership across Western Europe has embraced the Union, especially the ‘social dimension’ of the Maastricht Treaty, with its regulations on working practice and conditions which bureaucrats view as supportive of workers’ rights and cross-border relationships. The British TUC, for example, moved from ‘Euro scepticism’ during the 1980s to ‘a deep rooted and coherent pro-European economic perspective’ by the mid-1990s, and developed on ardent support for the Union as a guarantor of workers’ rights. [4] Most Communist parties have followed a similar path. The Italian Communist Party (PCI) is typical of those which now see the Union as a vehicle for radical change. It has called for ‘a People’s Europe’, not just an economic union but ‘a real political entity, a real European political Union with a substantial social dimension’. [5]

For German foreign minister Joschka Fischer, the leading Green in a coalition government with the Socialist Party, the EU has taken key steps required for economic integration and is now advancing rapidly towards political union, which he views as a desirable end in itself. In January 1999 he told the European Parliament, ‘Europe has already changed far more than most of our citizens have realised – a significant section of national sovereignty has been transferred.’ He argued that ‘political union must be our lodestar from now on’. [6]

The EU has the appearance of a body in which national differences, if not dissolved, are at least partly reconciled. Its states co-operate economically and seem to be moving towards political – even military – collaboration. Physical barriers are apparently of less importance, so that now it is possible for EU citizens to move across large areas of the continent without showing a passport. This Schengenland, the borderless zone created by the Schengen Treaty, now incorporates Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Austria. It is officially said by the EU to be an area of ‘freedom, justice and security’, yet non-EU citizens are ruthlessly excluded. [7] Such developments have encouraged arguments for ‘borderless’ political activity. In 1997 the British think tank Demos (which is close to New Labour) produced Politics Without Frontiers, a pamphlet which argued that political parties in Europe should be organised across borders because ‘power has moved beyond frontiers. The time has come for politics without frontiers’. [8] According to Demos, the EU has opened possibilities for wider and deeper democracy which should be exploited by the creation of organisations operating above sectional and national interests. But the EU is not a means of collaboration for the mass of people, far less a means of developing internationalism. Its structures inhibit effective solidarity. Its ‘Europeanism’ is an ideology developed within the capitalist class which draws upon the same notions of national difference which leaders of the Union have apparently been so anxious to reject.

’Europeanism’ is based upon the idea of ‘Europeanity’ – the notion that Europeans have a common heritage which sets them apart from ‘others’. It is this which gives them rights in the EU – most importantly, the right of residence. For EU strategists, wider awareness of a shared European identity, and of the imagined benefits it brings, is seen as vital for successful political integration. They hope to increase popular identification with the EU and to induce consent to decisions taken through the bodies such as the European Parliament. But this notion rests upon the idea of fundamental differences between ‘Europeans’ and ‘non-Europeans’, and upon the proposition that the latter have no rights in the EU. It is on this basis that people who wish to enter EU states are excluded. Poor and vulnerable people, notably refugees, are depicted as opportunists seeking to exploit the benefits of life within the Union. At the same time, citizens of EU states are invited to identify ‘internal enemies’ – those depicted as out of place or even ‘alien’ within the New Europe. The effect is to heighten racism, weakening solidarities within the working class across the continent and between workers of Europe and others worldwide. The EU has nothing to do with internationalism, a tradition which has always been built from below, against all ideas of national and ethnic difference, and against top down ‘transnationalism’.

In The Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels insisted that ‘the working men have no country’. They argued that the nation state was alien to the interests of the proletariat and that in order to advance their interests workers must ‘settle matters’ with the bourgeoisie of each state, that workers must challenge the power of their ‘own’ capitalist class directly. [9] This opened the possibility of internationalism – assertion of ‘the common interests of the whole proletariat, independently of all nationality’. [10] Internationalism implied uncompromising opposition to the local state and its dealings with the rulers of other capitalisms – other members of the ‘band of warring brothers’ that constituted the bourgeoisie at a world level. It also implied practical activity by workers to organise in mutual solidarity across national borders and in solidarity with those subordinated by colonial powers. This was not a merely a matter of abstract identification with the oppressed. Marx maintained that workers must free themselves of patriotism and national superiority in their own interests, for without discarding these aspects of bourgeois ideology they would never themselves be free.

Marx and Engels maintained this approach throughout their political activities. [11] It was also the position taken by others who made a major contribution to Marxist theory over the next 100 years: by Luxemburg, Lenin, Trotsky and their co-thinkers. It implied opposition by revolutionary communists to the many commercial and military alliances, diplomatic pacts and deals struck by national governments. These were initiated to bring advantage to one or another section of capital, thereby damaging the interests of the exploited class. During the First World War, Rosa Luxemburg warned socialists against the idea of collaborations between European states presented as internationalist projects focused upon peace and continental harmony:

World peace cannot be assured through apparently utopian but basically reactionary plans, such as international arbitration by capitalist diplomats, diplomatic arrangements about ‘disarmament’, ‘freedom of the seas’ ‘European communities’ [Staatenbunde], ‘Central European customs unions’, ‘national buffer states’ and the like. The only means of ensuring world peace is the political capacity for action and the revolutionary will of the international proletariat to throw its weight into the scales. [12]

The comments were prophetic. Forty years later the nation states of Western Europe declared a new project for peace and mutual understanding. This European community was another ‘apparently utopian’ but reactionary plan – a phoney internationalism which has used the rhetoric of unity in the interests of capital.


According to the ideologues of European union, Western European society has reached an advanced stage of development which makes possible rapid integration of its national states. The region is said to have progressed from its earlier history of national rivalries, war and mutual destruction, and to be a congenial environment for all manner of collaborations. Shore sums up this view:

The [EU] is typically portrayed as a logical development of the Enlightenment: a force for progress inspired by science, reason, rationality and humanism. These discourses also tend to portray the European Parliament and the European Commission as heroic agents of change, leading Europe forward in search of its supposed ‘federal destiny’. [13]

This is the official interpretation of the origins, role and historic task of Europe and of today’s Union. It suggests that the EU is a higher form of organisation, the development of which has been facilitated by farsighted economic and political strategists. According to this view, comments Michel Lowy, ‘Western Europe is presented as a harmonious world, well beyond irrational passions. Reconciled, the nations of this democratic and modern part of the continent are quickly moving towards their integration in a united European Community’. [14] The EU is often contrasted with eastern Europe, especially with the efflorescence of national movements and ‘ethnicised’ ideologies in the Balkan region. In a typical observation, the leading Eurocrat Jacques Attali describes the Balkans as afflicted by ‘tribalism’. Western Europe, with superior modes of social and political organisation, should fear its influence, he maintains, for ‘Balkan tribalism’ may spread like a contagion. Attali is worried that, ‘We [Western Europeans] have only a limited time to stop the slide towards tribalism before it engulfs eastern Europe and quite possibly takes us with it’. [15] The theme of a harmonious Union is taken up by many academics, even those who strongly reject the notion of ‘essential’ superiority of Western European society. Ernst Gellner, for example, has argued that developments in Western Europe have already diminished conflict in the region. As a result of ‘economic and cultural convergence [which] jointly diminish ethnic hostilities’, he maintains, nationalism in the region is now ‘relatively benign’. [16]

But ‘ethnic hostilities’ in Western Europe have not diminished; rather they have been generalised across the region and formalised by the EU itself. While Eurocrats and politicians in member states have declared for internationalism and harmony, they have simultaneously organised a regime of exclusion which divides ‘Europeans’ from ‘non-Europeans’ as effectively as any imagined differences which were earlier said to separate Germans, French, British or Italians. Their ‘Fortress Europe’ in fact draws upon ideas which earlier underpinned Europe’s rival nationalisms. It has encouraged racism in general and helped to provide rationales for the extreme right, where the vocabulary of Nazism has reappeared in the form of demands for ‘living space’ and talk of the ‘European home’.

Since the mid-1980s, when the EU began to construct its exclusionary regime, the idea of securing Europe against ‘threats’ from without and from within has become more general. By the late 1990s, with a ‘harmonised’ migration policy in place, EU states were focused intently upon removing migrants and others deemed ‘bogus’, ‘clandestine’ or ‘illegal’. The vast majority of those targeted were poor and vulnerable people, almost invariably of African, Asian, Latin American or Middle Eastern origin. But EU states have also targeted an ‘enemy’ long present within European territorial boundaries. Roma people were identified by fascist movements of the 1920s and 1930s as one of their two greatest enemies: at least 200,000 Zigeuner (Gypsies) were sent to the death camps. [17] They have recently faced new persecution, especially in areas of eastern and south eastern Europe in which the collapse of state capitalism has been followed by increased inequality, immiseration and social dislocation. [18] Kenrick notes that renewed anti-Roma activity comes at a time when commemorations of the Holocaust have been taking place across Europe: ‘As we recall the events of the Nazi period, it is shocking to see the beginnings of a new genocide against Gypsies in eastern Europe. Romanies have replaced the Jews as scapegoats for real or imagined ills of the majority population’. [19]

This persecution is not restricted to eastern Europe. Roma refugees from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania who have sought asylum in Western Europe have been subject to media attack and to assaults by racists. Most have been expelled – returned to countries in which they are increasingly vulnerable. In a chilling reminder of the cynicism with which racists and the British state responded to anti-Semitism in Europe in the 1930s, Roma arriving in Britain have faced a strident campaign for their removal. In 1998 Roma refugees claiming asylum were described in the press as ‘bootleggers’, ‘scum of the earth’ and ‘human sewage’. A headline in one local paper urged action: We Want To Wash The Dross Down The Drain. [20] The Refugee Council comments that this was not just the work of a few rogue journalists in the provincial press but was a ‘media pogrom’: ‘Apart from a handful of articles which attempted to look beyond the caricature of the wandering Gypsy ever on the lookout to rip off the honest taxpayer, coverage was unremittingly hostile, hysterical, and in specific cases directly incendiary of racial hatred. Hostility was carried across from the tabloid press to the broadsheets: indeed, The Independent newspaper carried one of the worst “attack” headlines, shouting Gypsies Invade Dover Hoping For A Handout.’ [21]

Following firebombings on houses in which the refugees were staying and demonstrations by fascist groups, and despite solidarity from the Anti Nazi League, the Roma were soon deported. The role of the British government demonstrated how hollow is talk of ‘harmony’ within and among Western European states. In full knowledge of the circumstances faced by the Roma in eastern Europe, the Labour government declared them to be ‘bogus’ asylum seekers who intended to ‘abuse the system’. Heads of Roma households were imprisoned en masse – in effect, interned – in a policy described by the Refugee Council as ‘crude and cruel’. [22] Meanwhile British immigration minister Mike O’Brien appeared on TV in the Czech Republic to spell out that further Roma asylum seekers arriving in Britain would indeed be seized and deported: this from a minister also responsible within the government for ‘race relations’.

Roma asylum seekers arriving in France, Austria and Spain later met a similar fate. Across Western Europe communities fleeing intensified oppression were greeted with the same hostility by a series of states mobilising a common asylum policy – the EU’s ‘harmonised’ asylum regime. So too with refugees from other regions. By the mid-1990s, a network of prison camps and holding centres had been established across the EU, especially along the southern borders of the Union, where frontiers were said to be ‘permeable’. Here, thousands of asylum seekers were held. Over a few weeks in mid-1998 the Italian government alone seized, incarcerated and later deported 15,000 asylum seekers, most to North African states. [23] In a sickening parallel to the attacks on Roma in Britain, right wing MPs in Italy took the opportunity to call for immigrants to be tattooed with identification codes – a blatant reference to Nazi practices which spelt out how official racism encourages the fascists. [24] This is the reality against which Eurocrats’ and politicians’ smug talk of a continent integrated by ‘European values’ and of ‘social peace’ should be tested. It makes true collaboration between workers’ movements and solidarity with the oppressed more urgent.

‘Rescue of the nation state’

EU propaganda depicts a happy transnational Europe in which old conflicts are being erased. As Lowy argues, these notions of a benign EU are absurd: they make for ‘an idyllic image, an illusion, if not a mystification’. [25] This ideological representation of the EU has emerged from politicians’ increasingly desperate attempts to maintain a project which has been riven with contradictions from the beginning.

The EU had its origins in attempts to stabilise European capitalism in the wake of the Second World War. At the end of hostilities, the victorious capitalist classes were at first concerned to prevent recovery of the German state and in the process to enrich themselves. The US, USSR, Britain and France set about pillaging German industry, dismantling the most advanced plants and re-erecting them hundreds or thousands miles away; according to the British government, this was essential for ‘denazification’. [26] When Moscow’s intention to incorporate Eastern Europe became plain, however, a new approach was adopted. US strategists concluded that the USSR was to be America’s main rival in the battle for global dominance. Their Cold War logic dictated that the Western Allies should quickly consolidate their portion of the German economy and stabilise areas of European capitalism which had not come under Stalinist rule. In 1947 the US proposed the Marshall Plan to provide support for Western Europe and as the means to rearm the region in alliance with Washington. In 1948 this was followed by establishment of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato), which mobilised North American and Western European states against the USSR and its satellites.

The first new grouping was the Organisation of European Economic Co-operation, which all states wishing to receive Marshall Aid were compelled to join. Problems soon became evident: local capitalist classes continued to pursue mutual rivalries and there was general suspicion of Germany. The French state proposed two collaborative schemes which it hoped would advance its own interests: the Schuman Plan for a ‘Europeanised’ coal and steel industry, and the Pleven Plan for a transnational army. The latter failed but the Schuman Plan produced the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), which for 15 years from 1952 facilitated a recovery of European heavy industry while restricting the independent growth of a key sector of German capitalism.

The ECSC expressed the pattern of accommodation and competition which characterised relations between European capitalisms during this period. This reflected the awareness of national capitalist classes that they had growing interests which transcended frontiers but that each was located firmly within structures of a specific state. The European Economic Community (EEC), established in 1957, was a further move towards collaboration but not one which subordinated interests of the state to a supranational ideal or a vision of co-operation. As the long boom of the world system continued into the 1960s, allowing unprecedented levels of growth, core EEC states (Germany in particular) were beneficiaries of more open access to the European market. This was De Gaulle’s Europe des patries – a liaison of capitalist classes seeking advantage through co-operation and competition. Twenty years after the Second World War, European capitalisms had fallen behind their global rivals but appeared to be far more robust than in the period of post-war chaos. It is in this sense that Milward has described the EEC/EU as ‘the European rescue of the nation state’. [27]

Alex Callinicos describes the EEC of the 1960s as a contradictory formation, ‘caught between the conflicting tendencies for the internationalisation and the national organisation of capital’. [28] It was being shaped by specific tendencies within world capitalism, producing a structure which was unstable and especially prone to crisis and to tensions between member states and between various factions of capital. It was not, as ideologues of the Union have claimed, a development towards continental integration based upon collaboration of peoples said to share a European cultural heritage or a common ‘identity’.

What is ‘Europe’?

Rietbergen comments that the notion of ‘Europe’ has always been elusive:

What is Europe? It is, of course, wrong to consider it as a ‘natural fact’, to call it a continent and to attribute to it the specious security of a distinct geographical entity, as so often happens. If anything, Europe is a political and cultural concept, invented and experienced by an intellectual elite. [29]

Ideas about Europe and Europeans did not take a definite political/cultural shape until the 18th century. Then the idea of a common continental heritage emerged as part of the consolidation of national ideologies which were associated with the rise of the capitalist state. Many leading Enlightenment thinkers suggested that European peoples shared traditions and ideals which set them apart from others. Voltaire, for example, maintained, ‘Today, there are no longer Frenchmen, Germans, Spaniards, even Englishmen, there are only Europeans’. [30] Such notions reflected some of the common experiences of the European bourgeoisies (especially commercial capitalists) in the wider world. As the main beneficiaries of colonial expansion, they drew readily upon ideas of a European ‘civilisation’ said to be dynamic, progressive and morally superior, and which provided rationales for the subordination of peoples they viewed as backward and inferior. To this extent, the idea of Europe was one generated by those who wished to assert a universal mission for capitalism.

The ‘Europeanism’ suggested in these approaches was contradictory. The colonising powers were fierce rivals and ideas about ‘Europe’ primarily served national ideologies. The Dutch historian Pim den Boer suggests that, although the idea of Europe now became much more significant, ‘various groupings had their own idea of what Europe had been and what it ought to be’. [31] Delanty comments that, in the case of France, ‘as far as the concept of Europe is concerned, it was a thoroughly French affair and proclaimed “the superiority of the European religion, the white race and the French language”.’ [32] The pan-continental vision was inextricably linked to the activities of capitalist classes for whom the nation state was a key framework for competitive activity. [33]

Ideas about Europe which accommodated specific nationalisms in this way dominated until well into the 20th century. [34] Then one current rapidly gained prominence: the idea of an ‘essential’, unified continent, in which local differences were merely superficial and should be set aside in the quest for a unity of nations. This fascist vision focused intently upon local nationalism but also maintained that the local state would be transcended as Europe was unified in pursuit of a historic mission to impose world order. Europeans were deemed to possess elemental qualities which placed them above others, hence Hitler’s Thousand Year Reich was presented as a ‘European Order’ rather than a German Reich. As part of this project, European society was to be cleansed of the ‘alien’ presence and would advance towards its task of subordinating ‘Asiatic’ and other influences worldwide. Delanty comments that such a vision can be seen as ‘the apotheosis of the idea of Europe’. [35]

Europe and the West

After the Second World War, Europe was divided among the victorious states. Each of the post-war superpowers declared the fascist vision intolerable and asserted that the future of the continent lay with their own models of social order: Washington’s liberal capitalism or Moscow’s Communism. American energies went mainly into engagement with Europe at the economic and military levels but at the same time its Cold War warriors began a battle for ideas which centred on the construction of a specific image of Europe, a region now held to be linked inextricably with the West. This was an urgent task, for the experiences of capitalist crisis followed by war, and then by promises of peace and reconstruction, had intensified class struggle. The masses were in a radical mood. In Germany invading armies had been directed to destroy a workers’ movement based on shop committees and councils. [36] In Italy workers had seized factories in the northern cities. In France they had set up local committees and conducted purges of wartime collaborators; in elections the Communist Party won five million votes and sent 161 deputies to parliament. [37] In Britain workers’ rising confidence was reflected in a crushing Labour victory over the Tories.

Invariably it was the strategy of Communist and Socialist parties which saved ruling classes from further crisis, surrendering possibilities of a genuine internationalism. Nonetheless, such developments caused consternation among the rulers of Europe and in the US, where attempts to develop a global strategy to assure American hegemony were now well under way. Expressing a preoccupation among American strategists, one US analyst commented that the situation in Europe required ‘ideological combat’, for ‘our principal weakness is not economic or military but ideological – of ideas’. [38]

The main thrust of systematic propaganda conducted by the US and its allies was to distance post-war European society from the recent experience of economic crisis, unemployment, fascism and war – and from ideas about political alternatives identified with the superpower to the east. This was to be achieved by developing new fictions about Europe and its destiny, what Burgess calls ‘a new non-racial [non-Nazi] self identity for Western society’. [39] The Europe to be depicted in official propaganda, in the media, and the education system, was a Western Europe made to stand in an imagined tradition of classical influences, high culture, economic advance and political liberalism. Meanwhile, the ‘East’, including Eastern Europe, was identified with backwardness, authoritarianism and repression. Churchill’s metaphor of the Iron Curtain was used to separate the continent in two senses: physically, along the borders of Poland, Czechoslovakia and the two Germanies, and politically/culturally, by suggesting that the social character of each zone was distinct. Ruling classes of the Stalinist bloc, locked into economic and military competition with the US, responded to every ideological gambit with their own, intensifying the propaganda battle.

Areas west of the East/West border now fell within the North Atlantic, a region invented in order to link Europe with its guardian capitalism in the US. Enormous efforts went into inventing traditions of Western civilisation said to be shared by (Western) Europe and North America. Academic study of the East focused on ‘totalitarianism’, with an often explicit message that fascism and communism were intimately related and were to be contrasted with the liberal democracy of the ‘true’ (Western) European tradition and of North America. This revisionism centred upon forgetting all that had just been learned by the mass of people about capitalist crisis and its consequences in Europe. It denied that fascism had its origins in the western regions of Europe where significant sections of the bourgeoisie had facilitated its rise and had sometimes participated in its most barbaric practices. These same classes were busy ensuring business as usual, their activities supported by the US. There were difficulties in maintaining the new perspective: for example, in accommodating Franco’s fascism within the vision of Western democracy and of incorporating Turkey (of ‘the East’) within Nato. The fiction was nevertheless maintained: Delanty comments that, at an ideological level, ‘Europe had in effect become America’s eastern frontier’. [40]

Rotten heart of Europe

By the 1980s the EEC (later declared the European Community (EC) and in 1993 the EU) was considered an unprecedented success. For the western half of the continent, suggests former Eurocrat Bernard Connolly, Pax Americana had brought ‘unparalleled prosperity, stability and democratic legitimacy’. [41] Britain had been the only major state eligible for membership not to have joined. Here a specific pattern of capitalist development had left the ruling class uncertain about its geo-strategic interests but in 1973 even the British had opted in. [42] Increasingly European capitalists sought to collaborate in ways they hoped would give them an advantage within the global system, especially vis-à-vis newly industrialising countries such as those of East Asia. Martiniello comments that the priority of the EC was ‘to complete the internal market as soon as possible and to assure the conditions of its efficiency’. [43]

But the old contradictions remained. Collaboration was accompanied by rivalries and sometimes by prolonged conflict between member states. The EC had also become a forum for competition between politicians who hoped to gain support at home by championing specific national agendas around all manner of European issues – exchange rates, agricultural quotas, fishing rights, commercial standards, military relations. At the most inconsequential level, hundreds of hours of debate in EC forums were taken up in disputes over the contents of the European sausage, or definitions of chocolate. More fundamental disagreements over the allocation of vast sums of money from EC budgets or over monetary policy put the most powerful states at loggerheads for years. For Connolly, the whole enterprise was carried out in an atmosphere of ‘mutual distrust and suspicion’ so intense as to subvert the notion of union and to constitute ‘the rotten heart of Europe’. [44]

By the mid-1980s European capitalism as a whole was facing problems which magnified contradictions in the EC. The long boom of the world system which had fuelled post-war recovery was long since over. A global recession in the early 1970s had been followed by a further crisis which now sharply reduced growth rates. There were vigorous attempts to re-organise traditional sectors of major European economies: some – such as the British coal industry – were largely eliminated. Everywhere unemployment rose, while most governments attempted to reduce state spending, prompting increased working class resistance. Governments became preoccupied by domestic difficulties; at the same time they turned more systematically to the EC for support. In particular, they sought financial stability through association with the strongest of the European economies, Germany. European currencies were linked through the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) to the Deutschmark, making the Bundesbank in effect a European central bank. This had the effect of generalising developments in the German economy across the EC, and by the mid-1980s, with the German economic ‘miracle’ at an end and unemployment rising, other economies were quickly affected. There was increased hostility to the EC from some factions of capital in several states, notably in Britain, where Europhobe elements in the Conservative Party began a campaign of strident opposition. A sense of crisis developed within the structures of the EC. There was a loss of confidence in the old vision of integration, summed up by Connolly as a new ‘Europessimism’. [45]

Eurocrats were also worried that they faced a general crisis of legitimacy among people of member states. They suggested that the EC’s raison d’être, its agenda for economic integration, was inadequate to stimulate popular identification with the Community, especially at a time of recession. The EC was not a nation state in which an ideology of ‘belonging’ could be mobilised during periods of instability or crisis. It lacked a framework for nationalism: myths of common origin, a national religious community, a monarchy. The Community had been constructed upon nation states which had emerged from centuries of local rivalry: there could be no reference point for an EC patriotism, no European Jeanne d’Arc. Waever and Kelstrup note the rising anxiety among ‘worried Eurocrats [who] fear that there are limits as to how far one can push integration in the political and economic spheres unless people feel sufficiently European’. [46] The Community seemed to be suffering from an ‘ideological deficit’: as the senior Eurocrat Jacques Delors commented, ‘people do not fall in love with an Inner Market’. [47]

One index of official concern about these issues was the creation at this period of the ‘Eurobarometer’ – a complex polling system designed to measure mass attitudes towards the EC. Martiniello comments that this amounted to the ‘creation of a tool to control evolution of “European public opinion” at the same time as it was trying to give birth to it’. [48] The modest symbolism of the EEC which had emerged in 1960s and 1970s – that of ‘balloons and flags’ [49] – now seemed inadequate. Eurocrats, pro-EU politicians and academics began to actively investigate the idea of promoting ‘Europeanity’ or ‘Europeanness’ – a Europe for the mass of people of the member states. They wished to stimulate what the European Commission itself called ‘a feeling of belonging to the European construction’. [50] This, it hoped, would amount to a substantial sense of being ‘European’ by means of ‘central elements of identification to the European Community’. [51]

The twin problems of feuding among member states and of the EC’s crisis of legitimacy were partly resolved by close collaboration in one area in which states could find common ground – that of immigration. From the mid-1980s a number of secretive inter-governmental meetings between ministers and senior Eurocrats developed policy on immigration and asylum. This was the basis of the Schengen Agreement discussed above. In a further series of agreements, notably the Dublin Convention of 1990, member states put in place draconian measures against migrants and asylum seekers. By the early 1990s a Fortress Europe had been constructed, within which those identified as European were permitted to reside, and from which most others were to be excluded.

As early as 1989 Cohen and Joly commented that European governments ‘bicker endlessly about lamb imports, agricultural subsidies, monetary policy and the potential shape of a possible political union’, but that a uniform migration policy had ‘quietly emerged’. They concluded that ‘the European Community looks more and more like a gilded cage with ministers of the interior bracing and painting the bars’. [52] Those to remain outside were migrants from regions adjoining Western Europe and from the Third World. For decades they had been subject to restriction and most were now to be excluded from the EU as a whole. Any doubts about rights of entry were to be resolved by a new definition of citizenship of the Union. Martiniello comments that the measures constituted formalisation by the EC of a new ‘ethno-racial conception of European society’. [53]

Living space

Although the EU could not mobilise a national ideology, it drew upon the nationalist traditions of European states and in particular upon the ideas of a resurgent right. Economic crisis had opened opportunities for fascism to re-emerge in a series of countries. [54] In France the National Front (FN) recorded a vote of just 0.3 percent in 1979; by 1984 this had increased to almost 11 percent and the FN had won a large parliamentary representation. [55] By 1988 it had become a significant national force, with veteran fascist leader Jean-Marie Le Pen winning some 15 percent of votes in the first round of the presidential elections. [56] In Germany a clutch of smaller parties rose to prominence. The Republican Party (REP), the National Democratic Party (NDP) and the German People’s Union (DVU) all recorded big gains: by 1991 the DVU was able to secure over 10 percent of the vote in local elections in some major cities. [57] Meanwhile more ambiguous populist movements, such as the Austrian Freedom Party, the Flemish Vlaams Blok, and in Italy the Northern Leagues, made dramatic advances.

These organisations campaigned on racist agendas, mainly on the impact of recession and the imagined threat of non-Europeans to national states and to Europe as a whole. In France the FN led with the slogan, ‘Two million immigrants equals two million unemployed’. [58] Its main target was people of North African origin alleged by the Front to have stolen French jobs and to be threatening the good health of French society. According to Le Pen, migrants undermined the purity of France and of Europe as a whole. Evans sums up the FN perspective: ‘North Africans must go back to North Africa; the cultural superiority of Western Europe must be affirmed; all [racial] intermingling must stop; in short there must be a return to the colonial order of things’. [59] The REP made a similar connection between immigration and economic crisis, portraying Germany as a boat overflowing with migrants who were sucking the German economy dry. An REP poster declared that ‘Germany cannot accept any more foreigners because the boat is full’. [60] German fascists identified Roma as a special enemy, describing them as part of a ‘Gypsy plague’, while they targeted non-Europeans in general, calling upon Germans to take the ‘immigrant problem’ into their own hands. [61] Evans comments that the imagery peddled by the DVU and REP, of a beleaguered national identity under threat from foreigners, had precise outcomes: there was a huge increase in racist violence. [62]

In a crisis stricken Europe images of the past were returning. It was soon clear that the extreme right was able to influence mainstream bourgeois parties which feared that they were being undercut by a more assertive populism. This was especially marked where fascist and crypto-fascist organisations had a presence in national or regional governments. In France centre-right currents such as the Union for French Democracy (UDF) were easily affected. The UDF candidate for mayor in Marseilles ran a campaign under the slogan ‘Marseilles for the Marseillais’. [63] In Toulon the UDF mayor argued:

[France] was never supposed to have a role as a refuge for the unemployed of Africa and Europe. Our country has become a dustbin for all the collection of revolutionaries, delinquents and anarchists of all types. We should kick them out. [64]

The reformist left was also influenced. The Socialist Party candidate for mayor of Paris attacked the media for ‘frightening’ voters by carrying images of ‘dark skinned faces’ which antagonised the ‘domestic electorate’. [65] Meanwhile the Communist Party had already led protests against what it called dumping of African migrants in the Parisian suburbs. Fysh and Wolfreys comment that this ‘helped to legitimise the central plank of the FN programme’. [66] The impact on government policy was plain to see. Wihtol de Wenden comments that migration policies had been discussed earlier in the context of economic objectives, or ‘clothed in technocratic discourse’:

Immigration policies are now formed in response to the collective insecurities and imaginings of public opinion; the clampdown on illegal immigrants, the need for tighter border controls, the threat of delinquency and of religious fundamentalism, the perceived loss of French identity, and the fears of demographic invasion are characteristic reactions. [67]

One striking aspect of the right wing revival was the use of fascist notions of an earlier era, such as that of the ‘pollution’ of Europe and the notion of ‘living space’. In Germany the REP argued that access to Germany must be restricted to Germans; its leader, Franz Schönhuber, declaimed: ‘We’re not a welfare office for the Mediterranean. We want to protect the German people’s ecological living space against foreign infiltration’. [68] The notion of ‘space’ recalled Nazi campaigns of expansion and of extermination but was now given a new gloss. In public statements neo-Nazis talked less about biological difference and the importance of ‘race’ than about ‘culture’ and ‘cultural space’. This was consistent with a shift within the fascist discourse from a focus on ‘scientific racism’ to ideas about ethnicity and the ethnic group. A new fascist ‘culturalism’ emphasised people’s common identities, said to be formed in a common ‘space’. Le Pen argued, ‘Nature assigns all living things living zones suitable for their aptitudes and affinities. The same is true of men and peoples’. [69] He concluded, ‘We must act by occupying our vital space, because nature has a horror of space and if we do not occupy it, others will occupy it in our place’. [70]

The charge against European governments and against the EU is that in constructing new policies on migration and on asylum they drew upon nationalisms which were strongly influenced by such ideas. This is not to suggest that bourgeois parties shared the fascists’ agenda. They had independently reached the conclusion that it was necessary to mobilise populist rhetoric to ameliorate the effects of crisis and that they should construct a Fortress Europe. But they calculatedly used the language and national symbolism of the extreme right, appearing to endorse fascist demands and to give legitimacy to Le Pen, Schönhuber and their supporters. Delors had long attacked critics of the EU who summoned the earlier history of European nationalism against the Union, deriding them as ‘those who awaken phantoms’. [71] But now the EU was borrowing from these traditions to define itself as a community of exclusion, establishing all manner of measures to identify, seize and expel those who illegitimately entered ‘the European space’.

In a study of the development of migration policy in the EU, the Minority Rights Group concludes that before the mid-1980s it was not possible to speak of a ‘European policy’. By the end of the decade this had become ‘one of the central issues deserving special declarations, resolutions and policy formation. All the main European bodies [took] it up and some were created specially for that purpose’. [72] For the EC this outcome was entirely satisfactory. Immigration had provided a unique area of co-operation among member states and appeared to show that, despite the problems faced by local capitalisms, and despite the resentments, rivalries and chaos associated with economic, commercial and financial strategy, the Community could still be made to ‘work’. Although it was not a nation state, the EC was already mimicking the state ideologically, producing a Europeanism constructed from the materials of nationalism.


The collapse of the Stalinist regimes in the late 1980s gave added impetus to the quest for ‘Europeanity’. Rationales for a Europe defined by reference to the East/West divide were gone. The Cold War had fixed both the territorial and political/cultural frontiers of Western Europe. At a time when its internal problems seemed almost insurmountable, the Union had lost its Communist bogey and key reference point. EU ideologues turned almost immediately to a new imagined threat: that of the inundation of Western Europe by unwanted migrants.

Castles and Miller note, ‘By 1990 a new spectre haunted Europe: that of an influx from the East. In Western Europe there was speculation about mass migration on a scale not seen since the collapse of the Roman Empire’. [73] Official reports suggested that tens of millions of people freed from Stalinist rule were ready to trek westwards. In 1991 the Council of Europe commented that ‘Western European countries [are] disturbed – in some cases terrified – by the prospect of migration from countries of the former Eastern bloc’. [74] EU countries promptly reached deals with eastern neighbours, including Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, providing ‘aid’ in return for undertakings that the latter would act as buffer states to keep the expected hordes at bay. Meanwhile, Italian and Austrian troops were deployed to counter the perceived threat of migratory Roma communities, judged to be the greatest menace. [75] In effect, EU states bolstered the old East/West frontier, the very borderline they had long depicted as a symbol of Stalinist tyranny. But there was no mass migration, for, as Burgess observes, ‘fear of foreign numbers [was] an expression of Western anxieties, not Eastern realities’. [76]

The collapse of the East had not brought a new European dawn in which the EC project could flourish. The capitalisms of Europe were soon suffering from the impact of a further world recession, the third since the early 1970s. They were said to be afflicted by ‘Eurosclerosis’ and to be increasingly inefficient and uncompetitive vis-à-vis global rivals, principally the US and the then booming tiger economies of East Asia. The unification of Germany had had unexpected outcomes: expansion of state spending had been followed by a clampdown that generalised recession across the EU. Working class resistance again intensified, especially in France, Italy and Germany, where major strikes forced government concessions. At the same time, the right wing revival continued. As member states entered negotiations over the Maastricht Treaty, which was intended to speed up economic integration, the Community was more insecure and divided. In 1992 the ERM effectively collapsed and the prospect of further integration looked increasingly implausible. Callinicos describes the EC at this period as less an effective collaboration than a ‘bizarre European amalgam of supranational institutions and intergovernmental co-operation’. [77] Such legitimacy as the EU possessed was widely questioned: one expression of the problem was the number of academic projects set up to investigate ‘Europeanity’ and ‘European identity’, [78] together with increased interest in the Eurobarometer. [79]

The crisis of the 1980s had produced an EC focused upon migration control, and that of the 1990s intensified these concerns. This was the only area in which the Community advanced as its partisans wished. The Maastricht Treaty of 1992 aimed ‘to strengthen the protection of the rights and interests of its Member States through the introduction of a citizenship of the Union’. The wording was significant: it was not the interests of people but of states that was central. Article 8.2 declared, ‘Every person holding the nationality of a Member State shall be a citizen of the Union.’ The EC set about excluding all those not embraced by the new definition. It now enacted further measures on migration and asylum, producing what Joly calls ‘a coherent and watertight body of policies’. [80] These were promptly directed towards another region seen as a source of threat: North Africa.

In 1991 the Western European Union warned of new migrations from the south that were likely to affect Europe’s economic health and political stability, while an EC report alerted member states to the implications of a ‘population explosion’ in the Maghreb. Collinson remarks that these and other analyses generated a mood of alarm in official EC circles: ‘a growing paranoia complex in Western Europe which centred on apocalyptic images of a Europe under siege’. [81] Lister comments that North African countries were now ‘frequently referred to by [European] Commission officials, politicians and academics as a “threat”, a “population bomb” or “time bomb”.’ [82] She notes that these phrases echoed those used in the 1960s book The Population Bomb by Paul Ehrlichs – a neo-Malthusian analysis of developments in the Third World which predicted that uncontrolled reproduction of peoples of Africa, Asia and Latin America would result in mass starvation and global disorder. Lister comments, ‘It is worth recalling that this book had significant racist and sexist undertones’. [83] Its vocabulary was nonetheless shamelessly borrowed by Eurocrats and academics. [84]

What The Guardian called a ‘doomsday metaphor’ was conjured up by EU officials. [85] They portrayed Western Europe as a target for tens of millions of unwanted people from the south, whose presence would destabilise societies seen as prosperous and harmonious. There was indeed a mass of evidence to show that repeated crises of the world system had had a serious impact in many areas of the Third World. The great majority of refugees, however, moved into neighbouring regions. A fraction of migrants reached Europe: during the second half of the 1980s the increase in asylum applications to states in the EC represented under 5 percent of the total rise in numbers of refugees worldwide. [86] The pattern did not change radically. By the mid-1990s the number of refugees in Africa, Asia and Latin America dwarfed the numbers in Western Europe. In Uganda there was one refugee for every 93 of the total population; in Iran 1 : 29; in Guinea 1 : 16; in Lebanon 1 : 11; and in Malawi 1 : 10. By contrast, the combined total of refugees and asylum seekers in Germany was 1 : 633; in France 1 : 2,876; in Britain 1 : 3,431; and in Italy 1 : 33,300. [87] The EU nonetheless continued relentlessly to depict Western Europe as a region in imminent danger from the migrant hordes.

Green menace

The principal ‘threat’ was not only that of the number of imagined migrants but the danger presented by their culture. The rise of religious activism since the Iranian Revolution had given Islam a higher political profile at a world level; the new development was to impute to all Muslims the beliefs, aims and strategies of ‘fundamentalism’, which was portrayed as an elemental threat to European culture. The media routinely carried analyses of a global Islamic menace, with Europe depicted as a target zone for migrants who would make common cause with resident Muslim communities increasingly depicted as a fifth column within European society.

This was not a novel scenario. The Orientalist tradition had long depicted societies of ‘the East’ as backward, perverse, menacing and inferior. [88] The colonial venture in the Middle East and Asia had mobilised such perspectives as a key element in its ideologies of domination. In the early 1990s these were revitalised, mainly by conservative American academics seeking to identify a new world enemy which could provide a reference point for US imperialism. Cold War warriors such as Huntington, Krauthammer and Pipes replaced the Communist Red Menace with a Green Menace (green being the colour of Islam). For Huntington, Islam, with its ‘bloody borders’, was now the main threat to Western Europe and North America. [89] For Pipes, Islam should be seen as a new totalitarianism:

Fundamentalist Islam is a radical utopian movement closer in spirit to other such movements (communism, fascism) than to traditional religion. By nature anti-democratic and aggressive, anti-Semitic and anti-Western, it has great plans. Indeed, spokesmen for fundamentalist Islam see their movement standing in direct competition to Western civilisation and challenging it for global supremacy. [90]

The proposition that Islamic activism equalled fascism/communism was absurd. It was nonetheless absorbed by many partisans of the EU. Willy Claes, Belgian prime minister and later Nato chief, placed the new threat of Islam precisely in the space vacated by the Red Menace:

Muslim fundamentalism is at least as dangerous as Communism once was. Please do not underestimate this the conclusion of this age it is a serious threat, because it represents terrorism, religious fanaticism and exploitation of social and economic justice. [91]

Other leading European politicians pursued a similar approach. In France the leading conservative, Jacques Chirac, complained of an ‘overdose’ of foreigners, targeting Muslims and blacks. [92] In an analysis of anti-Muslim sentiment across Western Europe, Bjorgo comments upon the link between attitudes to Islam in general and hostility towards Muslim communities: ‘Even among political elites, Islam is more and more replacing Communism as the perceived main threat to Western civilisation’. [93]

Alarmist pronouncements about the Islamic threat appeared in the mainstream European press. In Britain Charles Moore, editor of The Spectator and later of The Daily Telegraph, declared:

You can be British without speaking English or being Christian or being white, but nevertheless Britain is basically English speaking, Christian and white, and if one starts to think that it might become basically Urdu speaking and Muslim and brown, one gets frightened and angry. Because of our obstinate refusal to have enough babies, Western European civilisation will start to die at the point when it could have been revived with new blood. Then the hooded hordes will win, and the Koran will be taught, as Gibbon famously imagined, in the schools of Oxford. [94]

Moore’s lament for new blood echoed Le Pen’s assertion that the body of Europe must defend itself against the ‘virus’ of Islam, with the FN as a ‘natural defence mechanism’ which had sprung forth to protect French identity. [95] Meanwhile, the popular press produced attacks on Muslims that would not have been out of place in fascist publications. Cartoon depictions of Islam – hooded, veiled, violent – often with bloody sword in hand – became a tabloid genre. [96] These developments were so marked that the term Islamophobia was coined to capture the idea of fear or dislike of Muslims in general.

It was against this background that the EU moved towards an unprecedented foreign policy initiative. In 1995 all the EU foreign ministers met their counterparts from Middle East and North African states at Barcelona. Their purpose, said Spanish foreign minister (later also Nato chief) Javier Solana, was to deal with ‘a kind of paranoia’ about threats emanating from the Middle East which was abroad in Europe. The Barcelona Agreement which emerged to deal with this problem was an astonishing document. It promised vast sums of money (some 7 billion Ecu – about £5 billion) to Middle Eastern states, ostensibly to assist their development and to stimulate fraternal relations across the Mediterranean region. In order to mobilise this money, the EU virtually liquidated its aid budget to other areas of the world, including the most needy African states. By the end of the decade this had had the effect of reversing the EU’s entire development policy. [97] The quid pro quo, evident only in the small print of the agreement, was an undertaking by these states to stop migration and to use all measures to inhibit the Islamic movements.

Following the Barcelona deal, the EU moved to close its ‘leaking’ southern borders. Immigration officials’ main anxiety was the ‘permeability’ of Greece and Italy, whose long coastlines on the Union’s southern borders were being ‘violated’ by thousands of refugees from conflicts in the Balkans and the Middle East. A series of disasters at sea, in which hundreds of refugees drowned off the Italian coast, highlighted what The Guardian called ‘trafficking across the moat of Fortress Europe’. [98] The EU was less concerned with the refugees’ fate than with pressuring Italy and Greece to police the moat effectively. Italy was compelled to introduce new laws in line with the Schengen provisions and to intercept the ‘illegals’. Those denied entry to Italy were placed in prison in camps in Puglia and in Sicily. In July 1998 alone 3,000 were intercepted and incarcerated; following riots at a camp in Agrigento, police fired on refugees, injuring at least ten. [99] Meanwhile, Spain set out to plug gaps in the EU’s southernmost border around the Spanish enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta in Morocco. Fences ten feet high and dotted with sensors, cameras and control towers were put in place to prevent onward movement into Spain, while Spanish forces were deployed to put down riots at a ‘reception centre’ in the city. [100] The EU has indeed been fortified against those portrayed as a threat to its citizens. In fact threats to the mass of people in member states come from elsewhere – from their historic class adversaries who established the EU and are determined to make workers pay the cost of further integration of the Union.

Class logic

Miles notes that Fortress Europe has a class character, being ‘intended to deny entry to almost all of those seeking a buyer for their semi- and unskilled labour power, as well as those seeking sanctuary from civil conflict and repression’. He concludes that ‘there is a predominant class logic to the structure of exclusion’. [101]

The vast majority of those denied entry are poor and vulnerable; those with wealth and privilege are invariably admitted. People who wish to enter the EU from Middle East states repeatedly find that proof of a well padded bank account produces a visa to visit London, Paris or Rome for shopping. Most other requests are refused. Business people usually move freely across the Union and those who face difficulties can buy their way in. In the early 1990s British passports were being offered legally to Hong Kong businessmen for £60,000. In 1999 it was revealed that Conservative Party treasurer Michael Ashcroft had been selling Belizean passports for £33,000, promising ‘trouble free travel’ around the world: Belize is closely linked to Britain and hence to the EU. [102] There are countless similar stories.

Migrants may sometimes be admitted officially to countries in which there are demands for cheap labour. During the 1990s thousands of workers were flown from Third World countries direct to European states to work in the North Sea oilfields. In 1999 Danish and British companies were employing Mauritian labourers at 81 pence an hour – said by the TUC to be the lowest wages in Britain. [103] States may also turn a blind eye to limited entry of ‘illegals’ in order to relax wage pressures, as in Spain, where one report notes that, despite EU controls, ‘cheap, illegal African labour is becoming an ever more common sight’. [104] It is control of migration that is important for states and for the EU: the ability to regulate migratory movements and to use the issue of migration instrumentally. This racist policy has specific, often tragic, outcomes. In Germany the collapse of the Stalinist regime in the Democratic Republic in 1989 initially prompted triumphalist predictions about unification, including promises of massive growth of an integrated German economy. These ceased when Europe as a whole was affected by world recession; hundreds of workplaces closed and by 1992 unemployment in the German east had risen to 35 to 40 percent. [105] The fascists soon profited: Turner comments on the ‘vacuum of uncertainty and despair in which neo-Nazi skinheads and others could seek out foreign born scapegoats on which to blame the economic crisis’. [106] The German foreign minister nonetheless chose this time to declare that immigration was threatening German democracy. [107] Alarmist statements were appearing regularly in the media, with the issue ‘firmly planted in national and European Community political agendas’. [108] Confidence among fascist groups rose accordingly: during 1992 there was a tenfold increase in reported racist violence across the country. [109] Evans describes one outcome:

In June 1992 DVU activists began to agitate in Rostock on the Baltic coast of the former GDR against Romani refugees and guestworkers. Pamphlets distributed by the DVU stigmatised these groups in familiar ways. Romani Gypsies were attacked as non-conformist nomads, part of a general ‘Gypsy plague’ engaged in the systematic harassment of ordinary citizens; immigrants were portrayed as a ‘flood’ or ‘invasion’ whose separate culture was threatening to ‘swamp’ that of Germany; while African guestworkers from the former GDR were characterised as a health threat, infecting the German nation with AIDS. DVU propaganda went on to urge German citizens to take the ‘immigrant problem’ into their own hands, and there is little doubt that the DVU played a key role in the large scale anti-foreigner pogrom on 24 August 1992 when a guestworker hostel was burnt down. [110]

The Rostock pogrom was a particularly chilling incident but did nothing to halt the increasingly overt racism of governments and EU bodies. Across the Union there were attempts to induce the white majority population to police non-white people. In France the government brought forward proposals to oblige householders to report non-citizen ‘guests’ to the police; in Britain legislation appeared which directed employers to check the immigration status of employees. When hundreds of workers in an east London borough were checked by the Home Office on the basis that they had names of African origin, the local MP accused the government of ‘Gestapo tactics of the police state. It’s a Nazi style witch hunt’. [111]

Although the intensification of racism is always related to specific circumstances, the EU has played a significant role in generalising hostility towards minorities. This is seen in the case of Ireland, where until the mid-1990s there had been no record of consistent opposition to immigration. In 1992 there were a mere 29 applications for asylum in Ireland; by 1997 the figure had risen to 3,883. [112] A key factor was the impact of Fortress Europe legislation in other EU states which had been favoured destinations for asylum seekers. In 1993 Britain introduced an Asylum Act which resulted in a 400 percent increase in decisions against refugees. [113] Allen comments, ‘Clearly a number of refugees who did not wish to spend their time in detention in Britain decided to make their application in Ireland instead’. [114] The Irish government introduced a Refugee Act. This was a relatively liberal law by EU standards but, as Ireland was obliged to operate within the framework of the harmonisation of European migration legislation, it incorporated all the usual restrictions. Most important, Ireland was to deport refugees to any third country through which they had travelled in their search for asylum. As Ireland is the most westerly outpost of the EU, most refugees have to touch down in another EU state first. When later there was a wave of hostility towards refugees, the media and politicians undertook an unprecedented attack on asylum seekers, describing them as ‘professional beggars’ and ‘welfare fraudsters’, and as bearing a culture ‘not akin to Irish culture’. [115] The EU provisions to exclude third country asylum seekers were duly imposed, followed by a policy of detention and proposals for new draconian immigration legislation. In 1998 the first anti-refugee group in Ireland, the Immigration Control Platform, was established. There was soon a further campaign against Roma asylum seekers from eastern Europe, which alleged that ‘racial tensions’ in the country were about to boil over. [116]

There is similar evidence from Spain and Portugal. Despite the experience of fascism in both countries, until recently there was no active movement which targeted migrants. A recent sharp rise in racist violence cannot be disconnected from the regime of exclusion introduced by the state as part of efforts by the EU to firm up its ‘soft underbelly’. The Spanish and Portuguese governments have fallen into line with policies generated by northern neighbours which had already accommodated to populist pressures from the right. Corkill comments, ‘Immigration policy has evolved in parallel with the closer alignment between northern and southern Europe,’ producing a ‘Fortress Iberia’. [117]

For decades Portugal had a relatively open migration policy, especially in relation to its former colonies in Latin America and Africa, and to seasonal migrants from North Africa. Since the harmonisation of EU migration policies, it has become ‘a ‘’gendarme” for the European Union’. [118] The Spanish government has joined the most strident elements in the EU by warning of migrant threats from North Africa, and of heightened conflict between Europe and Islam. [119] It strongly supported the EU’s Barcelona Declaration of 1995 and a year later introduced a deadline for registration of ‘illegals’, threatening mass deportations. Writing in 1996, Corkill expressed anxiety that expectations of the mass of people in Spain and Portugal that the EU would deliver new prosperity were likely to turn to disillusion: ‘They may begin to regard their immigrant populations as scapegoats for a wide range of social and economic ills’. [120] In 1998 there was a rise in racist attacks, directed primarily against North Africans. [121] In 1999 gangs organised three nights of attacks on Moroccan workers in Catalonia in the country’s first large scale incident of racist violence. Their slogan was ‘Moors out’. [122]

Movements from below

Governments routinely lament such incidents. Following the attacks in Catalonia, an official spokesman declared, ‘We must show understanding and make sure these people, who have seen the need to leave their country, feel welcome and have opportunities here’. [123] This from the representative of a state which boasted of having made its colonial enclaves in North Africa ‘impassable’ to migrants, so inhibiting onward movement into Spain and the EU. [124] Similar sentiments have been expressed in Britain, where the Labour government attempted to rationalise its leading role in the war against Serbia by reference to the suffering of Balkan refugees. The British state has been imprisoning asylum seekers, many originating from this region, at the rate of 10,000 a year. [125] In June 1999 it announced the opening of the country’s first asylum seeker jail, to be built in Kent, an area judged ‘geographically and physically ideally suited’ because of its proximity to Channel ports through which many refugees attempt to enter Britain. [126] The EU too sheds crocodile tears over the plight of refugees, all the while directing member states to comply with every element of the Fortress legislation. In February 1999 its tabloid newspaper in Britain, EP News (itself an attempt to induce wider popular identification with the European Parliament) reported ‘a deterioration in asylum policy in Europe’. [127] Only weeks later NATO bombers were creating millions of new refugees in Kosovo and in Serbia.

Such hypocrisy is an expression of the aim of national governments and of the EU to use immigration opportunistically. They hope to accommodate pressures from the right; at the same time they attempt to capture support for their military adventures from those who identify with victims of oppression. This is an ideological project. It aims to bind workers in member states to their rulers and to a particular vision of ‘union’. It rests upon the capacity to fragment and divide the mass of people, above all to weaken solidarities of the working class. It is for this reason that the search for ‘Europeanity’ and the drive for exclusion have been defined most sharply at times when the EU project has fallen into crisis – and invariably these crises have been linked with heightened working class struggle.

The EU’s progress towards a fortified Europe, and the heavy cost in terms of intensified racism and growth of the right, would present a dismal picture if it were not for the responses of a whole range of movements from below. Anti-racist and anti-fascist movements in several countries have been decisive in slowing or even halting fascist advance. In the 1970s the Anti Nazi League in Britain played a key role in derailing the National Front, a task requiring years of focused activity. In France, where in the 1980s it seemed that the FN might achieve a formidable national presence, young activists overcame the accommodationist politics of parties of the left to challenge Le Pen. Although their movement was fragmented and its activities were sometimes ineffectual, there were massive mobilisations of youth, especially in the mid-1980s when hundreds of thousands of school students demonstrated against racist attacks. [128] The movement reasserted itself in a more militant form in the mid-1990s, with large mobilisations against the FN, even in the fascists’ electoral strongholds. A demonstration in Paris in 1997 attracted 100,000 people, setting down a marker against fascism which later developments suggest was critical in weakening the right. A significant feature of this demonstration was the presence of large contingents of anti-fascists from other European countries. Similarly, events in Germany from the early 1990s prompted a strong movement of solidarity with victims of racism. There were huge demonstrations in the wake of the Rostock killings of 1992: Turner comments on the contrast between the ‘hideous face’ of neo-Nazism, ‘protested by thousands of silent, candle bearing demonstrators’. [129] In 1999, following attacks on Moroccan workers in Spain, large demonstrations assembled in the Catalonian town of Terrassa under the slogan, ‘We are all neighbours’. [130]

Measures of state racism, in line with EU policies on exclusion, have also prompted movements of opposition. While EU ministers met in Barcelona in 1995, an ‘alternative conference’ of socialists and anti-racists was held in the city which attacked the hypocrisy of the Union and especially the Islamophobia implicit in the Barcelona Declaration. [131] In Greece measures to close the country’s ‘permeable’ borders to refugees were criticised on the left as xenophobic and ‘drafted to please Brussels’. [132] Such solidarity, built from below, is likely to become more important. There is every sign that European economies and the EU itself are going to pass through further crises. A key issue will be a contraction of state spending in Germany, where in June 1999 major budget cuts were announced. The German government also declared its intention to reduce sharply the country’s contribution to EU finances, currently about two thirds of the total. [133] These difficulties must be added to continuing problems over the euro and EU monetary policy, with its pressures on spending in every member country.

These developments take place at a time when inequalities across Europe are becoming far more marked. By 1995, 53 million people in the Union were impoverished (receiving half average per capita income) – a 40 percent increase since 1975. [134] Wealth in the EU is now concentrated in a long narrow strip of territory stretching from London, through Belgium, Frankfurt, Munich, and northern Italy up to Paris, and called ‘the blue banana’ by Eurocrats. [135] This zone is home to the very rich; it also contains many of the most poor, notably in London and in the Paris region. In Belgium per capita income of the old mining area of Hainault is less than half that of neighbouring Brussels. [136] There are further concentrations of poor people in regions with large rural populations – in Portugal, Spain, southern Italy and Greece – but very large numbers are in decaying industrial centres in Britain and in eastern Germany, where the poor are now poorer than peasants of the Mediterranean zones. [137] Further pressure from governments intent on reducing state spending is likely to increase volatility, stimulating resistance, workers’ struggles – and other reactions, including interventions from the right.

Some Euro-politicians have already warned of the need to secure the EU against new ‘global threats’. According to Tom Spencer, Tory leader of the Security and Defence Policy Committee of the European Parliament, Europe faces immense pressures from the Third World. He warns that economic crisis, population growth and political collapse are likely to drive northwards tens of millions of desperate people: ‘the wretched of the earth’. [138] Europe requires a more coherent policy to deal with this inundantation, argues Spencer, and to quell ‘the genuine fears and perceptions of our citizens’. Urgent action is needed before ‘civilisation’ [i.e. Western Europe] is submerged by this ‘tide of misery’. [139] There has also been increased concern about refugees from neighbouring regions, those described by Blair as on ‘on the doorstep of Europe’. Before the EU briefly admitted Kosovan refugees during the war against Serbia, there was a sustained campaign of deportation of Bosnians and many Albanians were refused entry. The German government told the EU that its doors were ‘closed’ to such asylum-seekers. Turning once more to the slogans of the extreme right, foreign minister Klaus Kinkel declared, ‘Our boat is practically full’. [140] It seems certain that events will follow a well worn path, with resistance from below prompting governments and Eurocrats to accommodate the populists and to reach for the racist card.


The record shows that decisive struggles against nationalism and nation-like ideologies such as Europeanism are those mobilised from below. This is clear from the most recent events, including the mobilisations against racism. Turner notes the contribution of the defiance of workers to the anti-racist movement in Germany. Turner comments that in 1993, despite mass unemployment, closures and general insecurity, the mass strikes of workers in the east played a key role. [141] They were largely successful, part of a movement across the country which maintained collective confidence, ‘acting in this way as a barrier to the rise of an extremist right in both eastern and western Germany in a potentially dangerous period of turbulence’. [142] There was a similar experience in France, when at a period in the mid-1990s the FN was on the rise, opposition to government cuts and proposals for privatisation produced a sustained mass strike movement of enormous power. Millions participated in workplace actions and in demonstrations which stimulated renewed confidence within the working class. The effect was to increase collective confidence in general, helping to prompt widespread solidarity with sans papiers – ‘illegals’ – and demonstrations against racist laws. Fysh and Wolfreys comment that, despite the FN’s earlier surge, ‘after the strike movement of December 1995 had severely dented the government’s self confidence, by the end of 1996, the initiative was passing decisively to the left, thanks to a revival of militant anti-racism’. [143]

Sustained mass struggles emphasise the real class character of the EU. In 1997 the European Commission threatened action against strikers in France for preventing a free movement of goods across the single European market. Later the European Court of Justice ruled that the French government had failed to act decisively against the strikes and warned that member states must move effectively against ‘perpetrators’ of disruptive action. [144] Solidarity, especially active solidarity across national borders, will become more important. There are already precedents, such as the demonstration in 1997 of 50,000 people from across Europe who converged on an EU summit in Amsterdam to protest against Europe wide unemployment. In the same year car plants in seven countries were closed by a strike in solidarity with sacked Renault workers in Belgium. Demonstrators from many countries and a host of companies then protested at Renault HQ in Paris denouncing ‘sweatshop Europe’ – an exemplary action which caused alarm in corporate boardrooms and in European capitals. These mobilisations were notable for their multicultural character, bringing together workers of many origins, notably those officially placed outside ‘European culture’. Reporting on these events, The Guardian commented that ‘the Euro-demo is born’. [145] Here is a glimpse of internationalism, of a movement from below which can emerge from what Luxemburg called ‘the capacity for action and the revolutionary will of the international proletariat’.


Thanks to John Rees, Judy Cox, Adrian Budd and Ronny Geller for their comments on this article in draft

1. The Guardian, 26 March 1999.

2. The Observer, 7 January 1996.

3. In 1957 signatories to the Treaty of Rome, which established the European Economic Community (EEC), agreed to ‘establish the foundations of an ever closer union among the European peoples’.

4. G. Strange, The Role of Economic Policy in the Europeanisation of the TUC, Contemporary Politics, vol. 1, no. 4 (1995), p. 42.

5. V. Fonskos, The Italien Left and the enlargement of the European Union, Contemporary Politics, vol. 3, no. 2 (1997), p. 135.

6. The Guardian, 13 January 1999.

7. The Independent, 27 May 1997.

8. The Guardian, 4 August 1997.

9. K. Marx and F. Engels, Collected Works, vol. 6 (London 1980), p. 495.

10. Ibid., p. 497.

11. Their attitude to the nation state was modified only to the extent that they endorsed struggle for ‘national independence’, when masses of people asserted the right of independence of nations from colonising powers.

12. P. Nettl, Rosa Luxemburg (Oxford 1969), p. 393.

13. C. Shore, Imagining the New Europe: Identity and Heritage in European Community Discourse, in P. Graves-Brown et al. (eds.), The Anthropology of Europe: Identity and Boundaries in Conflict (Oxford 1996), pp. 102–103.

14. M. Lowy, Fatherland or Mother Earth? (London 1998), p. 70.

15. Attali is former head of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Quoted in A. Burgess, Divided Europe (London 1997), p. 60.

16. E. Gellner, Nationalism and Politics in Eastern Europe, New Left Review 189 (1991), p. 131.

17. D. Kenrick, Selective Memory, Jewish Socialist 39 (1998), p. 12.

18. Ibid., p. 13. Human Rights Watch has reported ‘blatant discrimination and violent crimes’ against Roma communities in the Czech Republic and Slovakia (see The Independent, 21 October 1997). There have been repeated murders of Roma and systematic attacks, described as ‘pogroms’, in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Bulgaria. For an account of the predicament of Roma in Eastern Europe see Refugee Council, Unwanted Journey (London 1999).

19. D. Kenrick, op. cit., p. 13.

20. From articles published in newspapers in south east England, quoted in The Independent, 17 November 1998.

21. Refugee Council, op. cit., p. 67.

22. Ibid., p. 72.

23. The Guardian, 7 August 1998.

24. Ibid.

25. M. Lowy, op. cit., p. 70.

26. The Common Market, International Socialism 77 (old series), p. 7.

27. A. Milward, The European Rescue of the Nation State (London 1994).

28. A. Callinicos, Europe: the Mounting Crisis, International Socialism 75 (1997), p. 25.

29. P. Rietbergen, Europe: A Cultural History (London 1998), p. xvii.

30. G. Delanty, Inventing Europe (Basingstoke 1995), p. 71.

31. Quoted in O. Waever and M. Kelstrup, Europe and its Nations: Political and Cultural Identities, in O. Waever, B. Buzan, M. Kelstrup and P. Lemaitre, Identity, Migration and the New Security Agenda in Europe (London 1993), p. 65.

32. G. Delanty, op. cit., p. 71.

33. Such attitudes were conceived within the European bourgeoisies, or among intellectuals who were influenced by changes brought by capitalism. Elsewhere ‘Europe’ was viewed differently: in the Middle East and North Africa, for example, the franj (‘French’ – a synonym for Europeans) were widely held to be violent and unsophisticated.

34. For analyses of variations on the ‘Europe’/‘Europeans’ theme, see G. Delanty, op. cit.; P. Rietbergen, op. cit.; T. Patterson, Inventing Western Civilization (New York 1997); and S. Federici (ed.), Enduring Western Civilization (Westport 1995).

35. G. Delanty, op. cit., p. 112.

36. G. Kolko, The Politics of War (London 1969), p. 361.

37. The Common Market, International Socialism 77 (old series), p. 9.

38. G. Robinson, writing in 1949 in the US State Department’s ‘house journal’, Foreign Affairs, quoted in Burgess, op. cit., p. 146.

39. Ibid.

40. G. Delanty, op. cit., p. 121. This comment points up the extent to which the US actively intervened in Europe in both material and ideological senses, though it risks understating the extent to which European ruling classes were engaged alongside American capitalism in attempting to shape the post-war order.

41. B. Connolly, The Rotten Heart of Europe (London, 1995), p. ix.

42. Britain’s imperial past had left a pattern of overseas investments and strategic interests which caused some sections of capital to oppose further engagement in Europe. In 1957 the British bosses’ organisation, the CBI, declared against the EEC, because ‘this would mean for the UK the end of the imperial preference system’ (Quoted in The Common Market, International Socialism 77 (old series), p. 10. See also A. Callinicos, op. cit.

43. M. Martiniello, Citizenship of the European Union: A Critical View, in R. Baubock (ed.), From Aliens to Citizens: Redefining the Status of Immigrants in Europe (Aldershot 1994) p. 33.

44. B. Connolly, op. cit., Preface.

45. Ibid., p. 33.

46. O. Waever and M. Kelstrup, op. cit., pp. 65–66.

47. Ibid., p. 65.

48. M. Martiniello, op. cit., p. 40.

49. O. Waever and M. Kelstrup, op. cit., p. 66.

50. Quoted in M. Martiniello, op. cit., p. 40.

51. Ibid.

52. R. Cohen and D. Joly, Reluctant Hosts: Europe and its Refugees (Aldershot 1989), p. 15.

53. M. Martiniello, op. cit., p. 33.

54. Had the British NF not been defeated by anti-fascist mobilisations in the 1970s, Britain too would surely have seen a further revival of the right.

55. C. Bambery, Euro-fascism: The Lessons of the Past and Current Tasks, International Socialism 60 (1993), p. 57.

56. Ibid.

57. M. Evans, Languages of Racism within Contemporary Europe, in B. Jenkins and S. Sofos, Nation and Identity in Contemporary Europe (London 1996), pp. 47–48.

58. C. Bambery, op. cit., p. 57.

59. M. Evans, op. cit., p. 49.

60. Ibid., p. 47.

61. Ibid., p. 48.

62. Ibid.

63. P. Fysh and J. Wolfreys, The Politics of Racism in France (London 1998), p. 45.

64. Ibid.

65. Ibid.

66. Ibid., p. 44.

67. C.W. de Wenden, North African Immigration and the French Political Imaginary, in M. Silverman (ed.), Race, Discourse and Power in France (Aldershot 1991), p. 100.

68. M. Evans, op. cit., p. 47.

69. P. Fysh and J. Wolfreys, op. cit., p. 111. See these authors’ account of changes in the ideology of fascism in France during the 1970s and 1980s, ch. 5.

70. M. Evans, op. cit., p. 49.

71. C. Grant, Inside the House that Jacques Built (London 1994), p. 223.

72. Minority Rights Group, Refugees in Europe: The Hostile New Agenda (London 1997), p. 22.

73. S. Castles and M. Miller, The Age of Migration (London 1993), p. 127.

74. Quoted in A. Burgess, op. cit., p. 57.

75. Ibid.

76. Ibid., p. 58.

77. A. Callinicos, op. cit., p. 31.

78. See, among numerous publications, Waever et al, op. cit., ch. 4; S. Garcia (ed.), European Identity and the Search for Legitimacy (London 1993); M. Gabel and H. Palmer, Understanding Variation in Public Support for European integration, European Journal of Political Research, 27 (1995).

79. S. Panebianco, European Citizenship and European Identity: from the Treaty of Maastricht to Public Opinion Attitudes, Jean Monnet Working Papers in Comparative and International Politics (University of Catania 1996).

80. D. Joly, Haven or Hell, Asylum Policies and Refugees in Europe (London 1996), p. 82.

81. S. Collinson, Shore to Shore: The Politics of Migration in Euro-Maghreb Relations (London 1996), p. 40.

82. M. Lister, The European Union and the South (London 1997), p. 101.

83. Ibid.

84. Ibid. Lister notes that there was ample evidence available to show that human fertility rates in North Africa had in fact declined sharply.

85. The Guardian, 16 November 1991.

86. S. Collinson, op. cit., p. 19.

87. Minority Rights Group, op. cit., p. 13.

88. E. Said, Orientalism (London 1978).

89. S. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations?, Foreign Affairs (Summer 1993).

90. Quoted in M. Salla, Political Islam in the West, Third World Quarterly, vol. 18, no. 4 (1997), p. 733.

91. The Runnymede Trust, Islamophobia (London 1997), p. 9.

92. P. Fysh and J. Wolfreys, op. cit., p. 185.

93. T. Bjorgo, “The Invaders”, “The Traitors” and “The Resistance Movement”: The Extreme Right’s Conceptualisation of Opponents and Self in Scandinavia, in T. Modood and P. Werbner, The Politics of Multicultualism in the New Europe (London 1997), p. 67.

94. The Spectator, 19 October 1991, quoted in The Runnymede Trust, op. cit.

95. M. Evans, op. cit., p. 49.

96. See The Runnymede Trust, op. cit., p. 9.

97. New Internationalist, April 1999, p. 5.

98. The Guardian, 4 November 1997.

99. The Guardian, 28 July 1998.

100. The Guardian, 29 June 1998. Elsewhere in Europe, refugee protests at such centres had become almost routine. Repeated riots at the Campsfield centre in southern England went almost unrecorded, despite warnings that the prison had become a ‘powder keg’.

101. R. Miles, Racism After Race Relations (London 1991), p. 18.

102. The Guardian, 21 July 1999; The Independent, 21 July 1999.

103. The Observer, 7 February 1999.

104. The Guardian, 29 August 1998. In 1997 Spain was admitting up to 5,000 workers a year. Financial Times, 30 August 1997

105. L. Turner, Fighting for Partnership: Labor and Politics in a Unified Germany (Ithaca 1998), p. 44.

106. Ibid.

107. B. Buzan and B.A. Roberson, in O. Waever et al., op. cit., p. 132.

108. Ibid., p. 131.

109. Ibid.

110. M. Evans, op. cit., p. 48.

111. Brian Sedgemore, Labour MP for Hackney South, speaking after 600 workers with ‘African’ names working for Hackney council were checked by the Home Office. The Observer, 25 June 1995.

112. K. Allen, Immigration and the Celtic Tiger: A Land of a Thousand Welcomes, in G. Dale and M. Cole, The European Union and Migrant Labour (Oxford 1999), p. 117.

113. Ibid.

114. Ibid.

115. This was associated, argues Allen, with the greatly increased inequality and sense of relative deprivation which accompanied the boom of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ economy. Ibid., pp. 123–127.

116. The Guardian, 5 August 1998.

117. D. Corkill, Multiple National Identities, Immigration and Racism in Spain and Portugal, in B. Jenkins and S. Sofos, op. cit., pp. 164–165.

118. Ibid.

119. Spanish foreign minister Javier Solana, The Independent, 8 February 1995.

120. D. Corkill, op. cit., p. 169.

121. The Guardian, 29 August 1998.

122. The Guardian, 17 July 1999; The Independent, 21 July 1999.

123. Josep Pique in The Guardian, 17 July 1999.

124. The Guardian, 29 August 1998.

125. The Independent, 28 June 1999.

126. Ibid.

127. EP News, January/February 1999.

128. P. Fysh and J. Wolfreys, op. cit., ch. 6.

129. L. Turner, op. cit., p. 133.

130. The Guardian, 17 July 1999.

131. The Guardian, 28 November 1995.

132. The Guardian, 27 November 1996.

133. The Guardian, 21 July 1999.

134. L. Leontidou and A. Afouxenidis, Boundaries of Social Exclusion in Europe, in R. Hudson and A. Williams (eds.), Divided Europe (London 1999), p. 259.

135. The Independent, 14 August 1998.

136. Quoted in M. Haynes, European Union and its Periphery: Inclusion and Exclusion, Economic and Political Weekly, 29 August 1998, p. 87.

137. Report of the Urban Task Force in The Observer, 27 June 1999.

138. The Independent, 11 June 1997.

139. Ibid.

140. The Guardian, 20 March 1997.

141. L. Turner, op. cit., p. 139.

142. Ibid.

143. P. Fysh and J. Wolfreys, op. cit., p. 201.

144. The Guardian, 5 November and 10 December 1997.

145. The Guardian, 12 March 1997.

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