Immigration and National Identity Issues in Europe

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One of the biggest challenges faced by the European Union is also one of the most ignored by academics. Many talk about an economic, ecologic or democratic crisis but few focus on a key-issue: the European identity crisis. This paper looks into how significant the existence of European Union or EU in addressing such kind of issues, the identity issues in the region. I would like to start this written work by answering the question above, which followed by presenting the problems in chosen countries, France and Germany for us to understand what was/is going on in Europe. lastly is the presentation of argument that supporting my stands by presenting the European Union strategies or their policies in dealing with the migration crisis which lead to the identity issues in the region. European Union is less significant in addressing the identity problems in the region especially in the recent periods when war refugees and asylum seekers from Africa and Middle East flocked to Europe which imposing huge problem in the European identity. European governments under the roof of European Union are adopting their own policies in adopting the new phase of the European history.

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Tracing the European history in the past centuries especially in the ancient period the people didn’t worry what were their identity, because their identity was completely ascribed to them by their surrounding society, including what were their religion, whom they marry, etc.. These were not decisions that any individual could take for himself or herself. Therefore, the question “Who am I? Who am I really?” never came up for people in those period. With modernization, this began to change, as sated by Charles Taylor in his book “The Source of the Self”:

“The articulation of the complex interactions of ancient Greek, medieval Judeo-Christian, and eighteenth century Enlightenment ideas that are part of the modern sense of self. He finds that the moral sources of the modern self are multiple and in conflict, that hypergoods may themselves conflict or that their pursuit may end in mutilation.”

The European identity is evolved over the course of time. France in particularly the Capuchin dynasty, accordingly started as a small enterprise around Isle de France which began to incorporate more and more territories, where people spoke different languages and had very different customs. It required a high degree of political will to create the hexagonal-shaped country we all recognize as modern France, with a common administration, common language and common culture. All of this was the product of deliberate social creation2. In the twentieth century, the issue of identity became strong in the national level, Germans, French, Italians, English, etc. wave their own flags with their own different identities. After second World War, Britain under Prime Minister Churchill in particular looked for ways to promote a strong sense of European identity in a region long racked by internecine conflict. He was one of the first to call for the creation of a ‘United States of Europe’. Following the Second World War, he was convinced that only a united Europe could guarantee peace. His aim was to eliminate the European ills of nationalism and war-mongering once and for all. In his speech at University of Zurich on 19 September 1946 :

“ I must now sum up the propositions which are before you. Our constant aim must be to build and fortify the strength of the United Nations Organization. Under and within that world concept we must recreate the European Family in a regional structure called, it may be, the United States of Europe3.”

In this period the sense of regional identity started to grow until European community which later became European Union emerged together with the European integration. Today Africans and Asians mostly Arabs are gradually flocking to Europe legally and illegally as war refugees, asylum-seekers and job seekers, etc. who according to European scholars posed great threats than bullets to their identity as a whole or identities in the national level.

Since the 1960s, the main source countries of migration from Africa to Europe have been Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, resulting in large diasporas with origins in these countries by the end of the 20th century. In the period following the 1973 oil crisis, immigration controls in European states were tightened. The effect of this was not to reduce migration from North Africa but rather to encourage permanent settlement of previously temporary migrants and associated family migration. Much of this migration was from the Maghreb to France, Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. From the second half of the 1980s, the destination countries for migrants from the Maghreb broadened to include Spain and Italy, as a result of increased demand for low-skilled labour in those countries.4 International migration from countries in sub-Saharan Africa has grown dramatically over the past decade, including to Europe and the United States. Indeed, most years since 2010 have witnessed a rising inflow of sub-Saharan asylum applicants in Europe, and lawful permanent residents and refugees in the United States of America.

Events in the Arab world sent new immigration waives to Europe like the Palestinian exodus, the Lebanese Civil War, the first and second Iraq War, Libyan Civil War and Syrian civil war and the ISIS war. Many other Arabs emigrated to Europe because of political issues in their native countries. Arabs who studied in European universities and decided to stay are another source of migration. In 2015-2016 the European continent witnessed its biggest Arab immigration as part of the European migrant crisis when millions of Arab families escaped from Syria and Iraq.5 In 2017, sixth years after the outbreak of Syrian War, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 4.8 million have fled to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq, and 6.6 million are internally displaced within Syria and about one million have requested asylum to Europe. Germany, with more than 300,000 accumulated applications, and Sweden with 100,000, are EU’s top receiving countries.

European integration processes and migration constitute two powerful processes that concurred in dramatically changing national identities of EU member, sometimes not without conflict. The European integration process, on the one hand, has worked in Western Europe since 1945, pooling and mediating the sovereignty of the states participating in the European project, fostering intra-EU mobility and causing the transformation of the classical model of the nation-state as a sovereign entity. Migration from outside the European Union has also been impacting EU member states for several decades, especially the most developed ones in Western Europe. However, as Anna Triandafyllidou and Willfried Spohn wrote, not only has this phenomenon intensified over the last decade, but its impact has also been increasingly felt in Southern and Central Eastern Europe. The sudden influx of immigrants in the beginning of the 90s hit the reflex of the Greeks; fear and anxiety was created. More so, these feelings were strengthened by Greek governments inability or difficulty to control undocumented immigrants and media’s negative depiction of immigrants. There are several estimations on the numbers of undocumented and therefore illegal immigrants. People have started demonising immigrants for all the evils of the Greek society, like unemployment and criminality.

Migration as stated above posing different kinds of problems and threats to European security and identity. Since the topic has something to do with identity problems let’s just uproot specific problems pose by the migration. The fact that international migration might pose challenges to national identities is widely accepted and investigated by the academic literature. However, the extent and media exposure of migration influx in the European Union (EU) since the beginning of 2015 are increasingly posing identity issues not only at the national, but also at the supranational (European) level. European world is accordingly collapsing under the onslaught of mass arrivals from cultures that they cannot possibly mingle with6. In this work of mine, I’ll just present France and Germany who encounter identity issues in Europe.

Immigration and national identity are often cited as contributing to France’s chronic state of moroseness. But when the former president Nicolas Sarkozy established a “ministry of immigration and national identity,” the implication that immigrants threatened French identity prompted an outcry. In France the argument about identité nationale or “national identity”, has been rumbling for many years, but it has become the most important topic leading up to the 2017 presidential election. Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who was running again for the office he once held, threw the country in a tizzy by announcing that immigrants to France should be taught that, upon entering the country, their ancestors are now Gauls. In his own words: “If you want to become French, you speak French, you live like the French and you don’t try and change a way of life that has been ours for so many years”. A theory called the “great replacement” has spread to a large part of France. It states that, as a result of immigration, the nation’s core population is set to be replaced by non-European outsiders who will wreck the country’s identity. A French writer Michel Houellebecq wrote a book entitled “Submission”, the French edition of the book was published on 7 January 2015 and instantly became best selling. The book predicting the Muslim’s domination in France by 2022. Another popular and most talked book written by Philosopher Alain Finkelkraut entitled “Unhappy Identity” claims that the French no longer feel at home in their own country when the cybercafe is called ‘’ [bled is Arab slang for the countryside] and the butcher’s shop and the fast-food are halal. Finkelkraut writes, “French people experience exile without having moved. Everything has changed around them.” The implication of this is that the French people are aware of the identity crisis in their country and France’s identity is mixing with the Muslims which many French are opposing, accordingly it posed threats to theirs.

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