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Europe’s largest party wants to take on the far right by curbing migration

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Good morning. A scoop to start: The head of the Swedish union taking on Elon Musk has told the Financial Times that Tesla’s refusal to sign a collective agreement risks undermining the long-term future of the country’s industrial model.

Today, our European parliament correspondent hears from the head of the largest party about how he wants to rein in far-right votes by staying tough on migration. And staying on the topic, Laura previews a meeting on tackling people smuggling into Europe.

Shades of right-wing

EU governments must “win back control” over immigration or face an onslaught by the far right in June’s European parliament elections, the leader of the bloc’s biggest political party tells Andy Bounds.

Context: Geert Wilders shocked Europe by winning Dutch elections last week with 24 per cent of the vote. The far-right politician is known for his attacks on Islam, immigration and the EU more broadly.

Wilders’ win could herald other far-right victories unless countries curbed arrivals, said Manfred Weber, president of the conservative European People’s party.

“It’s crystal clear that people want solutions. No more speeches, no more. They want to have solutions. And that’s why the numbers of arrivals must go down,” Weber said.

“If we cannot limit the number of arrivals until June next year, then the European elections will be a historic vote for the future of Europe, because then extremists from left and right . . . will benefit,” he added.

Weber dismissed fears that campaigning on immigration played into the hands of the far right. The Dutch liberal VVD party has been criticised for fighting the election on an anti-immigration ticket and not ruling out a coalition with Wilders’ Freedom party. Analysts say this caused people to vote for him, believing he could get into power.

“The reception centres in Belgium, in Germany, in Austria and the Netherlands are full. You cannot avoid having a debate about this,” Weber said.

He added that the Dutch Christian Democrats, which are part of the EPP group, would not support Wilders to form a government.

But Weber also has other goals for the next legislature: “The top priority is jobs, jobs, jobs.”

The German said other key issues were trade, forging stronger links with democratic allies, and defence and security, including a “military pillar” based on joint EU procurement.

One of the EU’s founding principles was “the guarantee that you can live in peace”, Weber said.

“At this moment of time, people are worried. People are concerned. War is coming close . . . We have to do whatever we can to keep our societies peaceful.”

Chart du jour: Downsizing

The European Central Bank is likely to discuss speeding up the shrinkage of its balance sheet, president Christine Lagarde has said, by ending the last of its pandemic-era bond purchases earlier than planned.

Smuggling business

The EU wants to crack down harder on people who are smuggling migrants into Europe for financial gain, writes Laura Dubois.

Context: The EU has been dealing with rising immigration, with Frontex recording some 331,600 irregular entries in the first 10 months of this year. Countries such as Italy and Germany have announced tougher immigration measures as far-right parties across the continent have cried out over the rise.

Representatives from almost 50 countries, the UN and law enforcement will meet in Brussels today to discuss how to rein in the smuggling of people to Europe in a more concerted way.

“The whole idea is that we get people from all along the route,” one EU official said.

The European Commission will preview two new pieces of legislation at the conference. One aimed to beef up the capacities of Europol in order to improve data sharing and operations, EU officials said.

Another new law is expected to harmonise and update penalties for people smuggling. The law would, for instance, distinguish more clearly between offences, with harsher penalties in cases where organised crime was involved or where people’s lives were put at risk, an official said.

According to the UN Office for Drugs and Crime, there is big money in smuggling migrants into Europe for organised crime groups, with prices depending on the route. A recent study estimated that being smuggled from Libya to Italy cost about $1,500-$1,800 per person.

Human rights organisations have pointed out that people use the service of smugglers because they often have no choice.

“For many refugees as well as other migrants, there is no alternative to using smugglers, due to an absence of safe routes,” said Catherine Woollard, head of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, an NGO alliance. 

What to watch today

  1. Two-day meeting of Nato foreign ministers begins in Brussels.

  2. The chair of Ukraine’s parliament, Ruslan Stefanchuk, visits Brussels; press conference with European parliament president Roberta Metsola at 10.00.

  3. Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba meets with EU chief diplomat Josep Borrell, press remarks at about 14.50.

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