In early October, Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann traveled to the eastern Aegean island of Lesvos, escorted by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. The purpose of his visit was to view first-hand the impact of the refugee crisis.
What Faymann saw certainly made him realize that Greece’s sea border cannot be secured in the way a land border can. You cannot build a maritime equivalent of Vienna’s once-famous walls along the Aegean. The Austrian, a social democrat, praised locals for their humanitarian efforts. He also added that “there cannot be one country in the EU that can solve the issue of refugees alone.”
Back then the two politicians agreed that the problem called for a “progressive” solution which would be effective but also address humanitarian sensibilities.
These days are long gone. Now the Austrian government is at the forefront of the pack of skeptics who aspire to a fragmented Europe of walled nation-states. Now Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, a member of the country’s conservative Christian Democrats, is saying that Greece “has clearly expressed no interest in reducing the [refugee] influx” – as if Athens is behind the bombing attacks on Syria or the trafficking networks operating off Turkey’s coast.
Now Austrian President Heinz Fischer claims that he was taken aback by Vienna’s unilateral actions on the migrant crisis and the decision to overlook Greece in a meeting between Balkan nations.
So what has happened since Faymann visited Lesvos in October? The answer, it seems, is the Trumpification of EU nations as well as of aspiring members. A specter haunts Europe and that is the specter of Donald Trump, the real estate tycoon who is in the lead among the Republican candidates for the US presidency. The man who said he knew “nothing about white supremacists” following his endorsement by the KKK, and who already imagines himself king of the world.
Trump is cheered by the most reactionary section of US voters every time he cynically pledges to protect his nation behind walls so as to impose a complete shutdown on Muslims, Mexicans, Latinos and, who knows, later on maybe also on Canadians.
An Trump-style Europe is the Europe envisaged by Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founder and former leader of Front National. It is the Europe of those who see all refugees as jihadi invaders in disguise. There is no shortage of them in Greece. Some, like Golden Dawn supporters, are openly racist. Others style themselves as preachers of an intimidating and amoral “common sense” doctrine.