After Trump – now we must act against growing populism in Europe

For a long time populist, xenophobic and anti-EU parties have gained increasing influence in many European countries. With the election of Donald Trump for president of the United States, these parties have gained even more confidence and now pose a threat to EU cohesion. Their voters consist partly of groups with stagnating or declining incomes, but what really ties them together is their aversion against migrants and their fear of Islamic fundamentalism. Unfortunately, there is a risk that migrant flows and terrorism are not transient problems, but may increase in coming years. Despite that, they discussed too little. This favours populist groups with simple solutions to these problems. If the democratic society does not have long-term action plans to address them, this will act as a breeding ground for populist and fascist/Nazi movements, which will increase in Europe. In the worst case, increasing refugee flows and/or terrorism may create conditions for undesirable transformations of our free societies, either we are overpowered by external problems or by internal reactionary forces coming to power. Perhaps I am too pessimistic, but if the problems facing Europe are repressed as they are now, our free, democratic societies are threatened. We therefore need an open debate on these issues.

Refugee flows arise as a result of conflicts and wars, these are in turn caused by various factors such as dictatorship, economic misery and environmental changes. Oddly enough, one factor behind the increasing flow of refugees is never mentioned, namely the population growth taking place in Europe’s neighbouring regions. This in the world’s weakest countries, many of which are already on the verge of collapse. In a country like Syria, the sharp increase in population contributed to the country’s problems. According to the forecast for the Syrian population is that it will increase from 17.1 million in 2015 to 26.1 in 2030 increasing further to 31.2 million by 2050. Although the forecast must be considered uncertain during current circumstances, it shows an unsustainable trend. In countries such as Iraq and Yemen, the population is expected to more than double by 2050, while the Afghan and Pakistani populations increase by about 60-70%.

In Africa a country like Nigeria, with strong population growth and problems with fundamentalist terror from Boko Haram, is clearly at risk. The forecast is that Africa’s population will double from currently 1.2 billion people to 2.4 billion by 2050, an average increase of 35 million people per year. Outside our neighbourhood it must be mentioned that countries such as the Philippines and Haiti are expected to increase their populations by 45% by 2050. High population growth is of course favoured if the population is poor and ignorant, but in turn it causes poverty and ignorance. To break this vicious spiral not only requires poverty reduction, but also direct actions to reduce the birth rate.

Together with other negative factors, population increases in already hard-pressed countries provide great risks of increasing conflicts. As long as the population issue is absent in the public debate, sufficient investments in prevention will not be allocated. Birth control together with economic and democratic development in our region should be priority one for the EU. Instead the policy now consists of defensive measures including dubious contracts to exclude as many as possible of those fleeing war and misery.

Although today we have nothing to fear from fundamentalist Christians, we have the problem of one religion, namely Islam, heading back to the literal phase, sponsored by billions from Saudi Arabia for the promotion of Wahhabism. Both Al Qaeda and IS are direct consequences of this effort, in the same way as the terrorist group Red Army Faction was inspired and supported by Eastern Bloc communism. Therefore, Saudi Arabia should be considered to be the West’s enemy number one as they are actively spreading an ideology in order to undermine our free and democratic societies. Unfortunately little attention is paid to this threat. Both the US and recently the Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven seem to consider Saudi Arabia as a good trading partner, and gladly sell weapons, although those are used to spread its power even further.

Tackling extreme groups as IS and Al Qaeda militarily is not enough to overcome fundamentalism. The important part must consist of an ideological struggle like the one conducted against communism. It is as absurd to regard Saudi Arabia a friendly state, as if we had done the same with the Soviets during the Cold War! What we must do is to, at all times, act according to the moral and democratic principles that characterize our free societies and vigorously assert their advantages to create good communities.

Xenophobic populism claims it can solve the above problems by re-separating Europe into individual states, closing borders to each of these, as well as to have an increasing cooperation with Putin’s Russia. We Democrats need to convince them that they are wrong. First and foremost the surrounding problems are too large to be managed by individual countries. How can a country like Greece manage its borders on its own? And when migrants are there, how can you stop them from moving on? This is going to result in barriers between the countries of Europe like the one Donald Trump waffled on against Mexico. The closing of borders without other measures will increase the pressure to the unsustainable and make our communities dehumanized. Finally, why some might think that an approach to a dysfunctional state like Russia would bring any benefits to the citizens of Europe is a mystery to me. A rapprochement with Russia would not only lead to deficiencies in democracy and rule of law, but most likely also to financial shortcomings.

For too long, we Democrats have kept silent to the sensitive issues touted by populist groups. It is now time that we put these issues to the surface and suggest alternative solutions, solutions that meet the principles underlying our free and democratic societies.

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