I had the good fortune to interview recently a great leader, a woman that I greatly admire: Mary Robinson, the first female President of Ireland (1990-1997), and a former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997-2002). We discussed the work she is doing on climate change justice through the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice. We touched upon the role of women in climate change, human rights, the role of business and the what to do about the refugee crisis (over a month before much of the English-speaking press finally started to cover it with the depth it deserves).
Trying to push for a new EU policy whilst at the same time using the sort of EU-bashing language that creates anti-European sentiment in the first place may work in the short term but it will backfire in the long term. This is particularly true in the UK context (and may be less so in other countries), and British activists need to watch their language.
Last week I was concerned about the language used by Save the Children in their very important campaign, which I support. Today, I have similar concerns about the language used by anti-xenophobia groups, which I also think are doing amazingly good work – particularly the “I’m an immigrant” poster campaign. But precisely because they are so great, they need to watch their language on the EU if they want to have an impact. In particular, they should avoid saying that thousands dying in the Mediterranean are due to something that has been “imposed by the European Union”. This is what they do in a leaflet calling for a demo this weekend in front of the EU offices in London.
Of course, I don’t mean to say the European Commission is devoid of all responsibilities when it comes to “Fortress Europe” – i.e. the de facto impossibility for migrants to come to Europe from outside other than by risking their lives. Of course not. But it is important to remember that the European Commission does not IMPOSE anything on member states. The idea of things being imposed is classic Europhobic misleading language, and it won’t help the anti-xenophobia cause to adopt it. The Commission makes proposals, generally designed in ways that are perceived to be realistically able to survive the scrutiny of member states and the European Parliament. These are the ultimate decision makers. If the proposals that are being made now by the Commission on migration are woefully inadequate – and it seems they are – it is most likely because there is a fear that many governments in the grip of right wing, xenophobic rhetoric will not be able to support something better.
So I am all for protesting in front of EU offices in London to show the need for EU action, and the European Commission also needs to feel the pressure. But activists may also want to consider a more urgent need to protest in front of the Daily Mail, UKIP and even more mainstream political parties that are using misleading information (including on the EU) and xenophobic language and on a daily basis. This is the real background problem that needs solving, without which no EU level action supported by the UK will ever be possible.