A truck drives through the Danish border. Photo: Getty
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Denmark is the first EU country planning to run anti-refugee adverts in foreign papers

The controversial Danish “information campaign” will be run in foreign newspapers and is intended to deter potential refugees from Syria and Northern Africa.

The Danish words for “marauding” and “swarms” may not yet be a feature of the rhetoric of the country’s politics, but the same sentiment is at work. The government in Denmark has announced plans to advertise in foreign newspapers, beginning in Turkey.

This “information campaign” is intended to deter potential refugees from Syria and Northern Africa. No other nation in Europe has yet advertised its desired deterrence so explicitly, or so far away. But the rise of the populist Danish People’s Party, now a dominant force in the new rightwing minority government, reflects a changing tide of opinion that is taking immigration policy into new territory.

The plans confirmed by Inger Stojberg, the integration minister, have been controversial. Denmark received 14,815 Asylum applications in 2014, almost double those of the year before. Reports in the Danish press have revealed that documents comparing the benefits of several European countries are given to refugees by smugglers. The suggestion is  that the refugees are making a calculated choice to travel to Denmark, to reap the benefits not available elsewhere. 

The new government has swiftly cut benefits for asylum seekers by 45 per cent, with further benefits made conditional on meeting language requirements. Stojberg has asserted that the information campaign will only contain “facts“ such as these, and will allow them to reach  refugees in Turkey and the Mediterranean who are considering Denmark as a destination. The point is that diminishing the benefits on offer will only have a deterrent effect if the refugees themselves are made aware. 

The plans have been deeply polarising. Critics insist that the disincentives are pointless: they assert that neither the cuts to benefits, nor the ads themselves, will actually decrease the number of refugees seeking asylum. 

But the opposition to the plans goes beyond the merits of their effectiveness. Many fear that the ads could diminish more than just the number of people seeking to claim asylum, but also Denmark’s international reputation for tolerance.

A Danish Facebook campaign that started out of opposition to the policy has already funded ads in the Danish newspaper Politiken and in the Guardian, with a message which reads: “Dear refugees, we welcome you to Denmark.”

The group, which has over 20,000 followers plan to run a similar ad in Germany’s Taz newspaper this week.

As the “ad wars” persist, politicians on both left and right have expressed unease. Some from the ruling Venstre party have labelled the plans “un-Danish”, and business leaders have warned that the ability of Danish businesses to compete for foreign recruits could suffer. One CEO put it starkly to the Berlingske newspaper: “Many foreign graduates are concerned about how their colleagues will look at us and fear that we are a bunch of closet racists.” 

In truth, the desire of governments to appear intolerant to all forms of immigration has continent-wide resonance. Denmark’s new policy is of a piece with those of Britain where, confronted by the growing migrant crisis in Calais, the government has pushed through new legislation to clamp down on immigrants in private tenancies. Landlords could face up to five years imprisonment for failure to evict migrants whose visas have expired, too.

The implication is clear. Europe’s governments are drawing a line in the sand in front of millions of refugees from war-torn, deprived parts of the world, too desperate not to cross it. 

Other European countries have advertised in foreign media to dissuade asylum seekers in the past: both Austrian and German governments have advertised in Kosovan newspapers this year. They argued that this was necessary as the vast majority of applicants from these countries were rejected, on the grounds that Kosovo is officially a safe country. The adverts did result in a net decrease in applications to Austria, at least.

But the Danish policy is a new frontier: unlike previous such ads, it’s aimed at refugees who would have a good chance of successfully claiming asylum. Austrian ministers have considered adopting the Danish approach but are reticent.

“The situation for people from Syria is completely different,” Interior Ministry spokesman Karl-Heinz Grundböck has said. “There is a very high probability that those people will be granted asylum and so there is no reason for an information campaign in these other countries.

With the number of refugees arriving at European borders increasing, this reticence will be tough to maintain.

The ethics of this policy are shaky at best – but if it works, countries may turn a blind eye to the morality of it. And it is striking that it is one of the countries that has historically been most accepting of those fleeing war and famine that is pushing the ethics of EU immigration policy. 

Emmanuel Akinwotu is a journalist based between Lagos and London who writes about Africa, migration, and specialises in Nigeria.

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Emmanuel Macron's power struggle with the military

Reminding your subordinates that you are "their boss" doesn't go as far as listening to their problems, it may seem.

This is the sixth in a series looking at why Emmanuel Macron isn't the liberal hero he has been painted as. Each week, I examine an area of the new French president's politics that doesn't quite live up to the hype. Read the whole series.

It had started well between Macron and the army. He was the first president to chose a military vehicle to parade with troops on the Champs-Élysées at his inauguration, had made his first official visit a trip to Mali to meet French soldiers in the field, and had pulled a James Bond while visiting a submarine off the Brittany coast.

It’s all fun and games in submarines, until they ask you to pay to maintain the fleet.

“Macron wanted to appear as the head of armed forces, he was reaffirming the president’s link with the military after the François Hollande years, during which the defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had a lot of power,” Elie Tenenbaum, a defence research fellow at the French Institute for International Relations, told the New Statesman. The new president was originally viewed with distrust by the troops because he is a liberal, he says, but “surprised them positively” in his first weeks. Olivier de France, the research director at The French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs, agrees: “He sent good signals at first, gathering sympathy.” 

But the honeymoon ended in July, with what Tenenbaum describes as Macron’s first “real test” on defence: the announced cut of €850m from the army’s budget, despite Macron’s (very ambitious) campaign pledge to rise the defence budget to 2 per cent of the country’s GDP by 2025. A row ensued between the president and the French army’s chief of staff, general Pierre de Villiers, when the general complained publicly that the defence budget was “unbearable”. He told MPs: “I won’t let him [Macron] fuck me up like that!”

Macron replied in a speech he gave to military troops the day before Bastille Day, in which he called soldiers to honour their “sense of duty and discretion” and told them: “I have taken responsibilities. I am your boss.” After the general threatened to quit and wrote at length about “trust” in leadership, Macron added a few days later that “If something brings into conflict the army’s chief of staff and the president of the Republic, the chief of staff changes.” That, Tenenbaum says, was the real error: “On the content, he was cutting the budget, and on the form, he was straightening out a general in front of his troops”. This is the complete opposite of the military ethos, he says: “It showed a lack of tact.”

This brutal demonstration of power led to de Villiers’ resignation on 19 July – a first in modern French politics. (de Villiers had already protested over budget cuts and threatened to quit in 2014, but Hollande’s defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had backed down.)

Macron did his best to own up to his mistake, assuring the military that, although this year’s cuts were necessary to meet targets, the budget would be rised in 2018. “I want you to have the means to achieve your mission,” he said.

But the harm was done. “He should have introduced a long-term budget plan with a rise in the coming years right away,” says de France. “It was clumsy – of course he is the boss, everyone knows that. If he needs to say it, something is off.” The €850m will be taken out of the army’s “already suffering” equipment budget, says Tenenbaum. “There are pressures everywhere. Soldiers use equipment that is twice their age, they feel no one has their back." The 2 per cent GDP target Macron set himself during the campaign – a “precise” and “ambitious” one – would mean reaching a €50bn army budget by 2025, from this year’s €34m, he explains. “That’s €2bn added per year. It’s enormous.”

Read more: #5: On immigration, Macron's words draw borders

Macron has two choices ahead, De France explains: “Either France remains a big power and adapts its means to its ambitions” – which means honouring the 2 per cent by 2025 pledge – “or wants to be a medium power and adapts its ambitions to its means”, by reducing its army’s budget and, for instance, reinvesting more in European defence.

The military has good reason to doubt Macron will keep his promise: all recent presidents have set objectives that outlast their mandates, meaning the actual rise happens under someone else’s supervision. In short, the set goals aren’t always met. Hollande’s law on military programming planned a budget rise for the period 2018-19, which Macron has now inherited. “The question is whether Macron will give the army the means to maintain these ambitions, otherwise the forces’ capacities will crumble,” says Tenenbaum. “These €850m of cuts are a sign than he may not fulfill his commitments.”

If so, Macron’s row with the general may only be the beginning.  It didn’t help Macron’s popularity, which has been plummeting all summer. And the already distrustful troops may not forgive him: more than half of France’s forces of order may support Marine Le Pen’s Front national, according to one poll. “It’s hardly quantifiable and includes police officers,” Tenenbaum cautions. All the same, the army probably supports right-wing and hard-right politicians in higher numbers than the general population, he suggests.

James Bond would probably have known better than to irritate an entire army – but then again, Bond never was “their boss.”