The rise of Geert Wilders is one more symptom of a fast-shuttering 'Fortress Europe'

There are many other signs of the European dysfunctional troubles with migration

Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch Freedom Party, talks to the media in the Hague, Netherlands. AP Photo
Powered by automated translation

Welcome to the future. Europe is closed. The frontiers are sealed. The northern and western spigot of the Eurasian continent had to draw a line.

The impetus for a European drive to not only curb but quash immigration is now undeniably strong. The outcome will no doubt be contested and highly messy, but be in no doubt that the continent is on a turn towards becoming a very hostile place, especially for asylum seekers, in the months ahead.

Geert Wilders has been around for so long as an agitator that his breakthrough in last week’s Dutch general election – his Freedom Party emerged as by far the largest, though it is by no means assured of taking power – must have come as a surprise even to him.

Not that he will let on, given that his whole ideology rests on the idea that the Dutch would one day rise up against the changing nature of their society. Mr Wilders’s philosophy is grounded in Islamophobia. It was thought that this would confine him to the shadows, but the platinum-haired disruptor has angled to capitalise on alienation, largely derived from the cost-of-living crisis.

To read the Dutch as famously liberal was to miss the point of their character. To people such as Mr Wilders, the Dutch are militant in their ideas and will, above all, see to it that they are prevalent in their own country.

Mr Wilders wants to stop all migration and chuck out those he terms illegals. Deeply hostile to the EU, he will see the atmosphere towards migration in the bloc friendly to his cause.

Friction is rising in reaction to how many people are entering Europe.

Brace for some uncomfortable new initiatives that will see not only a European fortress frontier

In Dublin, the stabbing last week of children at a school gate triggered riots of a scale not seen in living memory. The hotels that housed migrants were targeted by the fiery mob. The trigger was internet reports that the suspect, who had been an Irish citizen for 20 years, was originally from Algeria.

This incident captured world headlines because Ireland is not a place with a history of this sort of tension. The internet-based radicalisation cited by the country’s police commissioner is a demonstration of the vulnerability of European societies, especially when disinformation is so potent.

To understand the scale of the disinformation that the continent faces, a recent photo depicting Frans Timmermans, the former European commissioner for climate action, is a case in point. I’m going to call the propaganda against him the six-fingered lie.

An image shared millions of times of Mr Timmermans, who led the centre-left to second place in the Dutch general election, was that of the green campaigner in a private jet in front of an opulent plate of oysters and fruits de mer. In fact, on the particular trip, Mr Timmermans had flown scheduled services.

The giveaway of a doctored image in this depiction of the “fat cat commissar” was that his hand boasted six fingers. The Dutch paper Algemeen Dagblad detailed posts that asserted the lie to huge audiences, including one on a parody account that got 370,000 views.

Attempts to thwart disinformation, some of it allegedly emanating from Russia, have struggled to produce timely results. Indeed, the sanctions wall that the West has erected in the wake of Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine is proving ineffectual.

“State media sanctions have only partly reduced the Kremlin’s ability to spread disinformation in the EU and interfere in elections,” Felix Kartte, a disinformation specialist, said. “The Kremlin’s propaganda machine is quick to exploit loopholes in new regulations. At the same time, tech companies’ efforts to limit the Kremlin’s information warfare have been patchy and half-hearted.”

There are many other signs of the European dysfunctional troubles with migration.

The day of Mr Wilders’s celebrations saw the UK political scene rocked by an estimate that net migration in 2022 was 745,000, unprecedented in recent years. The eastern EU border with Russia, too, has periodically featured in the headlines since the start of the Ukraine war.

More than 800 migrants from nations including Afghanistan, Kenya, Morocco, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen have entered Finland via Russia in recent weeks. Helsinki says Moscow is funnelling these people to the border and has taken the almost unknown action of closing its border points at night.

It is not just the Scandinavians. Latvian Prime Minister Evika Silina said on Friday that migrants seeking to enter Latvia recently via Belarus are used to attack by Russia. “We have to understand that those are not just asylum seekers. This is hybrid attack from Russia and Belarus,” she said.

The Mediterranean is the place where the brunt of the new arrivals is felt most. Italy has its own far-right government, which has tens of thousands of asylum seekers landing at its docks, and Rome is now going to ship new arrivals to Albania. Greece has operated a version of this scheme with Turkey for years.

The UK, meanwhile, is promising a deportation revamp alongside its efforts to send new arrivals, now deemed illegal, to Rwanda or their countries of origin.

Few of these solutions are working yet, in political terms, for European states. That is why the rise of Mr Wilders matters. The pressure is coming to a head, and it puts countries such as France and Germany on notice that they could be next when elections are held for the national helmsman.

Brace for some uncomfortable new initiatives that will see not only a European fortress frontier. The skies are set to fill with people who have fled in desperation but are instead sent to new dumping grounds.

Europe’s arrivals set off in hope of refuge and a new life. Increasingly, however, they face the bleak prospect of virtual imprisonment and ejection.

Published: November 27, 2023, 4:00 AM