The Political Economy of the Eurocentric/Eurosceptic Divide in a Post-Crisis Europe

Cameron Gardner

Accord de Schengen



Dissension within the European Union has become gradually more volatile and diplomacy unpredictable between international governing regimes and sovereign states. Member states are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the governance of the European Commission and other regulatory bodies. The ultimate manifestation of this dissatisfaction is found in Great Britain’s decision to remove itself from the European Union entirely in June of 2016. This study is based in the assumption that the refugee crisis, at its height in 2015, has exacerbated the Eurocentrism/Euroscepticism gulf across the European Union by highlighting issues already present within the union itself. This divide manifests itself in a variety of dimensions; however, this analysis will focus primarily on two—the political and economic. Within the political dimension, the increasing success of far-right populist parties will be utilized as evidence of the profound effect of the refugee crisis. Economically, the Schengen area of the European Union is viewed as a prized invention of integration among member states. However, the influx of migrants within national borders has compromised Schengen’s primary purpose in allowing the free movement of people without controls. Cumulatively, these two indicators point to heightened tension between EU member states and dangerous diplomatic environment.


The UN 1951 Convention Relating to the Rights of Refugees laid the framework of modern refugee law and consequently the asylum policies that signatories signed on to adhere to. The receiving state, under the 1951 Convention, is required to uphold the principle of non-refoulment in that a refugee cannot be deported back to their country of origin if there is a well-found fear or history of persecution. Persecution is defined by the convention to be an instance where an individual’s “freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion” (1951 Convention, Art. 33).

The influx has caused member states with otherwise relaxed immigration policies to enact deterrence policies clothed as pragmatic asylum processes. However, these policies instead are “designed to prevent the entrance of refugees into their territory or jurisdiction to begin with (thereby avoiding, as well, any additional responsibilities that might be incurred” (Omsby, 2017: 1201). State policies are thereby aimed specifically to keep refugees from seeking protection within a territory. This appears to be the attitude of historically pessimistic EU members that includes more Eastern European states than Western European. Furthermore, statistics analyzed by Kancs and Lecca of the Economics and Econometrics Research Institute find that the number of first time asylum applications has more than doubled in the EU in this influx with almost 1.26 million applications in 2015 (Kancs and Lecca, 2016: 4). To briefly acknowledge the East/West divide, Kancs and Lecca notice the massive increases of asylum applications to destination countries such as Austria which received more than three times the yearly number in comparison to Central and Eastern European nations, which registered few (Kancs and Lecca, 2016: 4-5). This is necessary to note, however briefly, because it shows the rift in member states and their response to the influx of Middle Eastern and North Africans escaping persecution. An article by The Economist concerning managing the migrant crisis states:

The flow of refugees would have been manageable if European Union countries had worked together, as Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor has always wished (and The Economist urged). Instead, Germany and Sweden have been left to cope alone (The Economist: A Plan for Europe’s Refugees, 2016).

This statement shows that many see the disunity of the European Union in its approach to the refugee crisis. Later on in this same article, the authors attribute the chaos of 2016 to politicians in affected member states failing “to take a pan-European approach to what is clearly a pan-European problem” (The Economist: A Plan for Europe’s Refugees, 2016). A European Social Survey (ESS) additionally concluded that the European Union is rather divided over immigration as a whole. Opinions are extremely polarized with some member states strongly in favor of immigration as a necessary and enriching aspect of national identity and others fearing its effects in the economic and political spheres (Heath and Richards (ESS), 2014). There is a disconnect here that acknowledges the disunity within the European Union. This disconnect will be addressed economically and politically through the suspension of the Schengen Area and the rise of the Populist Party as indicators of Euroscepticism.

Methodologically speaking, reports by think tanks, The Economist news articles, qualified individuals, and various EU regulations and treaties forms the framework for the economic dimension of this paper. As for the political dimension, scholarly articles are referenced discussing the historical establishment of populism and it’s definition. Polling data and opinion polls including the European Social Survey and various EU Commission Reports uphold a Eurosceptic undertone.


Perceived Economic Implications of Refugee Integration by The Economist:

Although the humanitarian obligations of the developed world have taken priority above economic implications of the influx of Middle Eastern refugees, they must still be studied as a major dimension. While employment is a major discussion topic relative to immigration, it will only be briefly addressed below, as the majority of the economic dimension concerns the Schengen Area and the crisis’ effect on its enforcement power. Nevertheless, fears of immigration by the general public include that immigrants will bring wages down or “pinch the public purse” (The Economist: For Good or Ill, 2016). The author of this article distinguishes between the short and long-term effects of refugee integration:

In the very short run, the IMF estimates that refugees will add around 0.19% of GDP to public expenditure in the European Union (0.35% in Germany) in 2016…Later on, as the new arrivals integrate into the workforce, they are expected to boost annual output by 0.1% for the EU as a whole, and 0.3% in Germany. They should also help (a little bit) to reverse the upward creep of the cost of state pensions as their share of GDP, given their relative youth (The Economist: For Good or Ill, 2016).


Historically, there have been cases for lenient immigration policies within nations established in the idea that migrants benefit the foreign economy and bring new skills and expertise in the long run (Merler, 2016). Again, these statistics by The Economist display the salience of the economic implications of the influx into Europe. However, I argue that the utmost attention is due to the Schengen Area as it has been the primary means of economic connection across national borders and symbolically unites the European Union.

The cost of reinventing the refugee system to provide more aid and quicker decisions on asylum applications should fall on the entire European Union. The aim here, according to another article by The Economist is “to establish control over its external borders” (The Economist: A Plan for Europe’s Refugees, 2016). However, the Schengen Area makes it difficult to maintain these borders since once inside, there is little to defer refugees from traveling to their preferred destination.


The Schengen Area was created in 1985 and is currently comprised of twenty-six European nations. Its founding purpose was to facilitate global integration and trade across the European Union by eradicating border controls and thereby promoting the free movement of goods, services, people and capital. This freedom greatly benefits citizens of the EU and others residing within member states. The refugee crisis has led to several states signed onto the Schengen agreement to reinstate border regulations and controls within their states. A report by the RAND Corporation equates public distrust of the EU with its failure to “effectively address the deficiencies exposed by the refugee crisis” (RAND Corp., 2016: 2). I argue that it is the refugee crisis specifically that has increased the tension between EU member states. It has discombobulated the EU and at some stages, has brought a halt to the Schengen area, indirectly affecting the interconnectedness and union of neighboring countries. Bertoncino and Vitorino (2016) spoke eloquently in an analogy referring to the Schengen area as a casualty of the asylum seeker crisis.

A report conducted by the RAND Corp. states the following:

The Schengen Member State notifications seeking to justify the reintroduction of internal border controls point to a political climate in which there is a loss of trust in the ability of (other) Member States to effectively guard the external borders, process asylum applications and cooperate together in the fight against terrorism and other serious crimes. Trust among the public in the EU also seems to have been undermined by the failure of the Union to effectively address the deficiencies exposed by the refugee crises (RAND Corp., 2016: 33).

This reference points to a trend of not only of political distrust of the EU as a governing body, but also individual member states in their abilities to safeguard each other rather than acting within their own self-interest. The controversy over the Schengen area, designed to be an economic means of unifying member states, uncovers the unreliability of member states to comply with overarching EU regulations. Therefore, there are two levels of distrust present in this scenario—between individual member states and between the European Union and the public (RAND Corp., 2016). The second level may reflect a general distrust of governments’ responsibility to address the crisis itself.

These “deficiencies” within the borders of overwhelmed smaller nations such as Greece resulted in a decision allowing five Schengen States (Austria, Denmark, Germany, Norway and Sweden) to maintain border controls at certain parts of their internal borders until November of 2016 (RAND Corp., 2016: 7). These controls, as of mid-2017, are still in circulation within these nations. However, according to the Schengen Borders Code, “border controls should take place only as long as required to address the threat to public policy and internal security” (SBC, Article 25). The Schengen Borders Code (SBC) provides the common rules if border controls were to be reinstated. These controls are permitted only six months according to Article 25 of SBC.

In September of 2015, eight nations within the Schengen area—Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Norway, Slovenia and Sweden—reintroduced border regulation using Article 25 of SBC in light of “secondary movements of irregular migrants” (RAND Corp., 2016: 14). Germany was the first country to reinstate border controls that September with Austria and Slovenia following swiftly.


The indefinite suspension of the Schengen Area resulting in a full reintroduction of border controls could result in an immense financial burden on the European Union. On a smaller scale, if the five countries that still maintain these controls (Austria, Denmark, Germany, Norway and Sweden), continue to maintain them, each national government could face an aggregate cost ranging between 12.37 billion euro and 23.1 billion euro over a ten-year period (RAND Corp., 2016: 23). On the larger scale, a permanent reintroduction of border controls in the Schengen Area (across all member states signed onto the agreement) is estimated to cost 20 billion euro in fixed costs and 2 to 4 billion euros in operating costs per year. These statistics quantify all that is at stake if Schengen is removed as a common regulatory policy.

There have been attempts by the European Commission to allocate refugees according to a common system based on national population, GDP, etc. Article 80 of the TFEU (Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union) stipulates that sovereign states are required to adhere to their obligations, which include migration and asylum. However, redistribution of migrants and failure to do so among member states quickly became a dilemma to solve, as enforcement became an issue. Some states have taken on too much, i.e. Germany, Austria, Sweden, etc., while others have taken too little (Czech Republic, Hungary, etc.). This variance is concerning considering there are treaties in place such as the TFEU that demand uniformity and cohesiveness between member states. What is to be done about incompliance in uncooperative states? This is still a valid and unanswered geopolitical question, since the EU may fear pushing already Eurosceptic states to the edge.


Populism as a Political Indicator of Rising Euroscepticism:

Populism defined by political scientist Dr. Robert R. Barr is “a mass movement led by an outsider or maverick seeking to gain or maintain power using anti-establishment appeals and plebiscitarian linkages.” (Ayac and Onis, 2014: 42). More often than not, populist parties form as a result of interests being neglected by the ruling political class. Hartley (1993) discusses “Europe’s New Populism” shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union. He believes that this era was conducive in promoting an ideology that brings power back to the people. Furthermore, the scapegoat responsible for social disorder was the “system” or “political class” (Hartley, 1993: 37-39). Populism has historically carried similar characteristics. In general, whether the ideology is classified as a movement or ideology within a political party, populism tends to carry nationalistic sentiments. Hartley expands on this to argue that the divide between “us” and “them” only widens as these sentiments become hostile (Hartley, 1993).

The Economist also picks up on this trend of elevated xenophobia as well as the rise of political populism also called right-winged nationalism (The Economist: A Plan for Europe’s Refugees, 2016). Even historically, xenophobia tends to be a characteristic of what Hans-George Betz (2001), an academic at the University of Switzerland, calls exclusionary populism. Other characteristics include: protectionism, dissatisfaction with popular political parties, anti-foreigner and anti political establishment (Betz, 2001). Nationalistic sentiments play an integral role in the formation of some far-right political parties. Betz states that these sentiments, in extreme scenarios can make exclusionary populism look like “cultural nativism” (Betz, 2001: 394). This is manifested contemporarily within the context of the present crisis as an attempt to protect traditional European culture and defend it against challengers to this paradigm—Islam is the most profound of these challenges in the eyes of many.

According to Betz, exclusionary populists “market themselves as champions of a new politics of identity, aimed at defending Western culture and values, particularly against the growing presence and increasing assertiveness of Islam in Western Europe” (Betz, 2001: 417). In his opinion, populist parties acquire power by channeling long-held resentment and exploiting that resentment politically (Betz, 2001). The European refugee crisis does this and has exacerbated primarily a humanitarian and political issue.

The present crisis is not the only experience the European continent has had concerning the rise of far-right parties within the same time frame as major influx of migrants. For example, during the NATO intervention in Kosovo, Europe experienced an influx of Muslims into Italy, predominantly. The far-right party in Italy, Lega Nord, led by Umberto Bossi began organizing demonstrations exhibiting its anti-Muslim views (Betz, 2001: 412). Additionally, in the 1990s, the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) became one of the most successful exclusionary populist parties. In 1999, under the leadership of Jorg Haider, the number of seats in parliament taken by the FPÖ had risen to 52, almost tripling in four years (Betz, 2001: 398). Haider himself did not place his full ideology on the abolition of immigration within Austria, but believed that a multicultural society has been time and time again, tried, tested, and ultimately has failed in each experiment (Haider, 1993, as cited Betz, 2001). The recent Austrian election in October of 2017 seems to be an echo of Haider’s reign over Austria.


The success of these parties is growing and expanding to more citizens in favor of their ideologies in correlation with the influx. This is occurring across Europe from the Alternative Party in Germany to Austria’s People’s Party (ÖVP) winning the 2017 election on October 15th 2017. New leader, Sebastian Kurz plans to form a coalition government with the Freedom Party (FPÖ), historically associated with Nazism. Europe appears to be rapidly shifting to the right side of the political spectrum. This shift appears to be an indirect effect of a rise in Euroscepticism—discontent within the European Union. Although various iterations of populism have been present in the past, there appears to be a newfound prevalence of its ideology within Member States in conjunction with the influx. The director of the London School of Economics, Michael Cox calls this rise one of the greatest threats to the stability of the European Union (Cox, 2017: 2). Cox uses his article to express his discontent with U.S. President Donald Trump, claiming that his influence has assisted in stoking the fire to European populism (Cox, 2017). Additionally, although millions continue to critique populist ideology, millions are also rooting for its candidates in the polls. Cox uses the examples of both Brexit and Donald Trump’s election as an analogy of this support (Cox, 2017: 5). The success of Germany’s Alternative Party in its September 2017 elections is also unprecedented, winning 13% of the vote for the first time in history. France’s Nationale Front party was a force to be reckoned with as Marine Le Pen fought hard against Emmanuel Macron. Le Pen ran on a platform rooted in a return to French nationalism, an exit from the Eurozone and strict immigration policies. The 2002 election was the last time that a far-right French party had made it to the second round of the elections. This global political environment exposes a breeding ground for populism. Many may scowl with discontent at this reality, but the in most of these cases, the majority won.

In a 2016 article by Newsweek, Judy Dempsey asks a selection of experts in European foreign policy and security about the noticeable rise of Populism. Koert Debeuf, a research fellow at the Centre fro the Resolution Intractable Conflict at Oxford University as well as the director of the Tahrir Institute holds that populist parties already have a leading position in guiding European politics. He reminds us that in 2014, within the European Parliament, “the number of seats won by populists grew by 50 percent compared with the 2009 elections” (Dempsey, 2016).

Populists tend to be nativists and therefore weary and suspicious of anyone who might present a threat to national values (Cox, 2017: 7). Globalization and immigration tend to be a common ground of disdain among advocates of populism. To reiterate, these sentiments manifest themselves within party platforms such as anti-globalization, anti-Eurozone, anti-establishment, anti-European union, anti-immigration and anti-Islam (New York Times, European Populism, 2016). Eurosceptic parties include France’s Front National Party, Italy’s Northern League Party and Poland’s Law and Justice Party. All identify as being suspicious of the future benefits of being within the European Union and are anti-immigration.

The European Commission regularly runs public opinion polls concerning specific topics. In 2016, it ran a report entitled “The Future of Europe.” The report states, “Nearly six in ten respondents agree the rise of political parties protesting against the traditional political elites in various European countries is a matter of concern (59%)” (European Commission, 2016:4). While it is comforting to know that the majority find the parties concerning, they are still a forced to be reckoned with as Michael Cox argued (Cox, 2016). Furthermore, as Hartley argues, it appears that discontent with the ruling system is exacerbated when the interests of the public are ignored. A statistic within the European Commission report states that 54% of respondents selected that they disagree that the interests of the public are taken into consideration by operating political systems (European Commission, 2016). This is a large percentage; over half of all respondents feel as if their interests are taken seriously by their national governments, creating an environment that cultivates populism.

The current political climate in Europe in light of these parties is dangerous and concerning, not only in regard to their platforms that advocate xenophobia and disregard civil liberties and human rights, but also in the plight of mainstream parties to accommodate them. Fredrik Erixon, the Director of the European Centre for International Political Economy picks up on this phenomenon in reiterating that mainstream parties are “forced to tap into populist constituencies to win elections or avoid death by opinion polls” (Dempsey, 2016). Consequently, each party gradually moves right on the political spectrum.


Concluding Remarks:

It appears that the European Union is in danger of proliferating discontent across its member states. In the European Commission report highlighted above, the majority of respondents (71%) in all member states believe it necessary to have a greater degree of European level decision-making dealing with migration outside of EU borders (European Commission, 2016: 129). It appears as if EU citizens are longing for more integration and attention from their national and international government and this dissatisfaction is indirectly fueled by the refugee crisis. Consequently, this discontent is tangible within the rise of far-right populist parties across Europe. Furthermore, economically, ties between member states have been broken as a result of the influx as the Schengen Area has been suspended in multiple nations, halting the flow of goods, services and capital. Both these are indicators of disunity and in many cases, Euroscepticism. These sentiments appear to have already been present within the European Union and were catalyzed by the refugee crisis. Right-leaning groups continue to have a growing presence on the European continent and they continue to gain popularity in the polls during election season.


Works Cited

Aytac, S. and Onis, Z. (2014). Varieties of Populism in a Changing Global Context: The Divergent Paths of Erdogan and Kirchnerismo. Comparative Politics, Vol. 47 (1), pp. 41-59

Betz, H. (2001). Exclusionary Populism in Austria, Italy, and Switzerland. International Journal, Vol. 56 (3), pp. 393-420

Cox, M. (2017). The Rise of Populism and the Crisis of Globalization: Brexit, Trump and Beyond. Irish Studies in International Affairs, pp. 1-9

Dempsey, J. (2016, March 10). Will Populist Parties Run Europe? Newsweek. Retrieved From

European Commission. (2016). Special Eurobarometer 451 Report: The Future of Europe

Haider, J. (1993) Die Freiheit, die ich meine. Frankfurt, Ullstein, pp. 89-94

Hartley, A. (1993). Europe’s New Populism. The National Interest, No. 30, pp. 37-40

Heath, A. and L, Richards. (2014). Attitudes Towards Immigration and their Antecedents: Topline Results from Round 7 of the European Social Survey. ESS Topline Results Series No. 7

Kancs, A. and Lecca, P. (2016). Long-term Social, Economic and Fiscal Effects of Integration into the EU: The Role of the Integration Policy (EERI Research Paper Series No 08/2016) Economics and Econometrics Research Institute

Merler, S. (2016, January 16). The Economic Effects of Migration [Blog Post]. Bruegel Retrieved from

Omsby, E. 2017. The Refugee Crisis as Civil Liberties Crisis. Columbia Law Review, Vol. 117 (5), pp. 1191-1229

RAND Europe. (2016). A Research Paper on the Costs of Non-Schengen from a Civil Liberties and Home Affairs Perspective. Brussels, Belgium: European Union

Schengen Borders Code (SBC), 15 March 2006, Article 25

Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, 25 March 1957, Article 80

(2016, February). A Plan for Europe’s Refugees: How to Manage the Migrant Crisis. The Economist. Retrieved from

(2016, January). The Economic Impact of Refugees: For Good or Ill. The Economist. Retrieved from 


Cameron Gardner's HeadshotCameron graduated with a M.A. in International Studies in 2018 from Chapman University. She also holds a Bachelor’s degree in Religion, motivating the majority of her research interests towards the role and effect of religion in recent mass migration movements from the Middle East to Europe. Cameron currently works in Los Angeles, California and an international marketing research company in Century City.



Featured Image: “Accord de Schengen” provided by Jon Worth is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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