vendredi 18 janvier 2008

Increasing Xenophobia in the EU: Immigrants as Scapegoats - What about internal factors?

by Fatma Yilmaz

“Scapegoating” is a religious term symbolizing a ritual. Accordingly, all sins of the community are loaded onto a goat and the goat is sent to the desert. Then, the community will get rid of their sins with the dying goat full of sin. As well as this ritual is used as an expression into literature, it is in fact transformed into a strategy for some social facts. Racism and xenophobia in Europe starting to give alarm in 1990s and then showing an increase in current century is one of the facts through which this ritual is transformed into the strategy. Naturally, migrants are the scapegoats on which burdens of the European integration and economic degradation due to the global economic process are loaded.

It is the fact that there is an increase in the foreign-born population in total European population. Data of 2005 indicates that in the majority of Western European countries, the foreign-born population has accounted for between 7 and 15 percent of the total population in EU-25. Relative to population size, Luxembourg (37.4 %) has the largest stock of immigrants, followed by Switzerland (22.9 %), the Baltic states of Latvia (19.5 %) and Estonia (15.4 %), Austria (15.1 %), Ireland (14.1 %), Cyprus (13.9 %), Sweden (12.4 %), and Germany (12.3%).[1][1] Besides, with regard to the changing demographic structure, it seems easy to realize aging European population and decreasing potential workforce. Increase in the burden of young workforce but contrarily growing unemployment rate of this group are another challenges of the European demographic structure. Unsurprisingly, the social structure in the EU having a trend going downward drives European nationals to be worried about increasing foreign population. Actually, on one hand when considered in a rational way together with the fact that migrants and outsiders are the ones who are employed in the jobs no EU nationals want to work, it requires for outsiders to be considered as the potential workforce within an aging European society. In contrast, reason of the increase in unemployment rate in Europe is considered as related with the existence of migrants and minorities. Other reasons having effect on the perceptions of European nationals are, on one side, statements made by the opposition parties via migrants in order to get votes and the confessing faults of the governments via migrants because of the economic degradation in the country on the other. As a result, the scapegoats which do not go to the desert by their own are tried to be pushed outside of Europe by means of exclusion with the racist and xenophobic attitudes.

However, it is worth keeping in mind that irregular and uncontrollable migration towards Europe does not show an incline towards these countries for the reasons just belonging themselves. Firstly, the European integration project and globalization are the ones among the factors triggering migration. Still, controlling the migration which is an unavoidable fact of the globalization and European integration and making it useful includes adoption and development of a strategic and comprehensive policy. A controversial case, i.e. a system in completely excluding and accusing manner, will cause an opposite situation to the idea of European integration based on human rights and liberties and freedom of movement.

It is of course not correct to be in an approach just based on economic factors in order to explain increasing racism and xenophobia in Europe. However, while talking about effects of the globalization, it will not also be right to skip mentioning the relation between nation-state crisis and weakening in prosperous society structure. As a result of increasing in competition in the globalization process, it is observable that there is a weakening in the nation-state issue. Factors such as relative loss of sovereignty in economic field and increasing effects of the international organizations make not possible a situation in which the nation-states can give decisions completely independent. It is possible to state that the notion of nation-state is being diluted by being inactive without the influence of other factors for their national policies. In such circumstances, accusation of the nationals for the governmental policies and linking economic degradation directly to misapplication of the policies could lead the governments to look for a scapegoat inside the country. Economic indicators slowing down are therefore linked to the existence of migrants, minorities and third-country nationals which European nationals assume they share their prosperity with.

Occurrence of racism and xenophobia in Europe frequently, as mentioned above, does not only ground on the economic factors but also political, judicial and social ones. For instance, globalization and European integration lead ethnic differences to become more pronounced as well as resulting in economic interactions. Regarding differences as the ‘other’ on one hand does help to form an identity; on the other hand, it does cause to increase in discrimination. Lack of the political awareness on the discrimination which reflects within society creates another problem as well. This essential lack could mostly bring about the ‘ghettoization’ process among ethnic and migrants group mainly because they feel need to hang on to each other. This fact then causes the European nationals to feel disturbed. Also, gaining ground of all these factors within the far-right political parties and winning adherents within society give rise to spread racist and xenophobic ideas. Besides, EU enlargement is showed as a prosperity-share in opposition to the applicant country via media. Such perception then naturally causes to increase intolerance towards outsiders within the European society.

In regard to the judicial dimension of the issue, legal terms made up by the legal arrangements form another factor which results in putting outsiders in a different statute. Legal terms such as third-country nationals are the elements consolidating the ‘foreign’ perception on outsiders among the European nationals.

Consequently, just by looking from one dimension, it would not be fair to state that the only reason of increasing racist and xenophobic attitudes is the existence of migrants in Europe. Trying to ‘externalize’ the internal problems as many EU countries do – particularly as some politicians intending to get votes via migrants do - is one of the most important facts which trigger racism and xenophobia and also impede formation of effective solutions on the issue.

16 January 2008

Fatma Yilmaz, ISRO researcher
Center for EU Studies

[1][1] Rainer Muenz, “Europe: Population and Migration in 2005”, June 2006,

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