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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Marine Le Pen’s new disguise: a bid to rebrand her far-right party as the “National Rally”

Le Pen hopes to present her renamed party as the working-class alternative to Macron’s bourgeois elitism.

Marine Le Pen had just declared: “When foreigners are in France, they must respect the law and the people” when chants of “On est chez nous!” (“We are at home!”) broke out in the audience. French flags were waved in the air.

On 11 March, Le Pen, 49, was re-elected leader of her far-right party, Front National (FN), and announced it was to be renamed Rassemblement National (“National Rally”). “It must be a rallying cry, a call for those who have France and the French at their heart to join us,” she declared at the party’s conference in Lille, northern France.

It’s a pivotal moment for the party her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, founded in 1972 and led until 2011. After going from a “jackass” far-right outfit known for its xenophobia, to the nationalist, anti-immigration party defeated in the final round of the 2017 French presidential election by the liberal candidate Emmanuel Macron, its goal is now to move “from opposition and into government”, Le Pen said.

For the FN leader, this is also a decisive moment. Le Pen’s credibility was damaged by her weak performance in the run-off debate and polls show her campaign eroded the political gains made during the party’s decade-long “de-demonisation”. “Her image is clearly tarnished,” Valérie Igounet, an expert on the French far right, told me. “But she is still supported by the party.” The FN claims its membership is around 80,000; Igounet says it is likely to have fallen to 50,000.

The proposed name will be put to a membership vote – as Le Pen’s re-election was, though she was the only candidate – but the move has already prompted concern.

Asked if they were happy with the rebrand, only 52 per cent of FN members answered yes. “It is a name that has negative connotations in French history,” Igounet said. Rassemblement National was a collaborationist party in the 1940s. It was also used in 1965 by defeated far-right presidential candidate Jean-Louis Tixier-Vignancour, whose campaign was run by Jean-Marie Le Pen. “For a party that wants to free itself from Le Pen’s father, it’s a surprising choice,” Igounet said. Another political organisation, Rassemblement pour la France, claims the FN has no right to the name.

Not all of the FN’s fundamentals have been abandoned. The logo, a red, white and blue flame inspired by an Italian neo-fascist party, remains. Membership surveys show 98 per cent still approve of the anti-immigration rhetoric, Igounet said.

Le Pen hopes the rebrand will enable new political alliances. Thierry Mariani, a former minister under Nicolas Sarkozy and member of the right-wing Républicains, has called for an alliance with the FN (which, he said, “has evolved”). But the Républicains’ leader, Laurent Wauquiez, is firmly opposed: “As long as I am leader, there will be no alliance with the FN,” he vowed. “The FN want to make alliances, but they have nowhere to go,” said Antoine de Cabanes, a researcher on the far right for the think tank Transform! Europe.

Can Le Pen’s party really be “de-demonised”? The former Donald Trump aide Steve Bannon, who is currently touring Europe, was invited to speak at the Lille conference. “Let them call you racists, let them call you xenophobes, let them call you nativists. Wear it as a badge of honour,” he told activists, to rapturous applause.

Bannon has also praised Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, Marine’s more conservative 28-year-old niece, as the party’s “rising star”. The younger Le Pen is on a “break” from French politics but addressed the US Republicans in Washington in February, where she declared her ambition to “make France great again”. Marion is tipped as a possible future leader. “She has the right name,” noted De Cabanes.

Marine Le Pen insisted she didn’t want to “make an ally” of Bannon, but rather to “listen to someone who defied expectation to win against all odds”. Yet even her father, a Holocaust denier whose politics are closer to Bannon’s than his daughter’s, described the choice of speaker as “not exactly de-demonising the party”.

It was not an isolated incident. On 10 March, Davy Rodríguez, a parliamentary assistant to Le Pen, was forced to resign after he was filmed using a racial slur in Lille.

The FN defended Bannon’s invitation on the grounds that “he embodies the rejection of the establishment, of the European Union and the system of politics and the media”. Le Pen called President Macron’s politics a “great downgrading of the middle and working class” and declared her party “the defender of the workers, the employees, the sorrowful farmers”.

The road to the 2022 presidential contest includes four elections – municipal, departmental, regional and European –  in which Le Pen hopes to present her renamed party as the working-class alternative to Macron’s bourgeois elitism. But in Lille, activists cheered wildly not when Le Pen spoke about the road ahead, but when she declared: “Legal and illegal immigration are not bearable any more!” Plus ça change… 

Pauline Bock writes about France, the Macron presidency, Brexit and EU citizens in the UK. She also happens to be French.

This article first appeared in the 13 March 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Putin’s spy game