The debate on the social integration of the Muslim minority totalling 5 to 8 per cent of the population has risen to the highest political level in the large receiving countries in Europe. In the past months, Angela Merkel, David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy all talked about the “failure of multiculturalism,” while the fear of Islamic refugees and immigrants flooding Europe has been further strengthened by the crisis in the Arab world. As a consequence of all the above, there are signs of a retreat from the achievements of European integration, including the permeability of Schengen borders, as well the process expansion.
The following social and political risks arise from this situation:
- The spreading of Islamophobia in Europe and the focus on cultural and religious differences do not further the social integration of migrants. On the contrary: they raise the likelihood of cultural separation and conflicts.
- The climate pushes leading European politicians into the same direction, and they seem to adopt the catchwords of anti-immigrant parties that are gaining strength in more and more countries, including the Netherlands, France and the Scandinavian states. This strategy, however, is not necessarily effective when it comes to opposing the radical right, as is also shown by the rise of the National Front in France.
- The proclamation of the failure of the multiculturalist idea, which can indeed be criticized from several standpoints, is often used to cover up sheer perplexity on the part of politicians. At the same time it strengthens the view that there are other solutions and general principles that could be used for dealing with the problems of integration. There are, however, no universal solutions: different problems arise in various receiving states, and the socio-economic status of migrant groups may also be very different. It is far from true that the majority of the 40 million European Muslims are unintegrated.
- The fear of Islamic immigration may hinder the process of European integration not only in the case of Turkey but also regarding South-East European countries. This risk exists despite the fact that the Islamic population of the Balkan is not composed of immigrants, is mostly secular, and only an insignificant proportion of it is susceptible to Islamic fundamentalism.
Muslims in Southeastern Europe
As a side-effect of European Islamo-phobia the European integration of countries in southeastern Europe appears to have stalled. While obviously the Islamic issue is not the main objection to these countries and continued integration is a declared policy of the European Union, from time to time there are reports claiming that radical Islam is bent on establishing a foothold in the Balkans. However the odds of such an outcome are negligible in a region of 15 million, mostly secular Southeastern European Muslims, especially in respect to such strong candidates as Montenegro and Serbia, not to mention Croatia with a miniscule Muslim minority.
In this context, it is primarily Albania, Macedonia and Kosovo that represent risks in the region, and these countries are also the likely sources of future Westward migration. Moreover, West European countries consider the emigration of Gypsies from the Balkans an additional migration risk. In respect to Serbia, this has been a crucial issue that led Brussels to consider the withdrawal of the country’s visa-free status.
Muslims in European developed countries
Based one of the latest surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center, currently the Muslim population in Europe is estimated at 44 million. By 2030 this number may reach 58 million, representing an increase from current 5 to 8% in terms of total population numbers. In several large countries with a tradition of welcoming immigrants, e.g. France, Belgium, Sweden and Austria, the Muslim minority will account for around 10% of the total population. At the same time, Great-Britain, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Germany will also be home to significant Muslim communities. It is no coincidence that in recent years anti-immigration political forces made spectacular advances in the very same countries.
Aside from the movement of populations, demographic indicators fuel European reservations about Islam. Most of that fear has to do with the fact that more children are born in Muslim families, so their proportion within the population as a whole is also due to increase. Young Islamic countries place a growing migration pressure on an aging Europe.
Under these circumstances European societies are particularly alarmed by changes taking place in Arab countries generated mainly by social discontent fed by a vast population unemployed young people. The series of political upheavals demonstrate more than ever before that the economies of these countries are unable to sustain a fast-growing population. Waves of migrants arriving from North Africa and the Near East to Europe can be traced to that single cause, while tensions between European host countries and Muslim immigrants are on the rise. The largest risk lies in the fact that in a tense situation both the radical Islamists and the European radical right tend to find a solution in fetishizing their respective cultures. However if the European immigration issue does become a war of cultures, the very reasons immigrants have come to Europe for many years, economic and communal security, may be undermined.