Europe must get a handle on immigration to combat a growing threat from rightwing populists, Hillary Clinton has said, calling on the continent’s leaders to send out a stronger signal showing they are “not going to be able to continue to provide refuge and support”.
Democratic presidential candidate praised the generosity shown by the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, but suggested immigration was inflaming voters and contributed to the election of Donald Trump and Britain’s vote to leave the EU.
“I think Europe needs to get a handle on migration because that is what lit the flame,” Clinton said, speaking as part of a series of interviews with senior centrist political figures about the rise of populists.
As Europe started to recover from its financial woes following its sovereign debt crisis of 2011, the continent witnessed an influx of migrants and refugees fleeing conflict in the Middle East, particularly the civil war in Syria.
“I admire the very generous and compassionate approaches that were taken particularly by leaders like Angela Merkel, but I think it is fair to say Europe has done its part, and must send a very clear message — ‘We are not going to be able to continue provide refuge and support’ — because if we don’t deal with the migration issue it will continue to roil the body politic.”
Migration numbers have fallen sharply since 2015, while a series of initiatives have been tabled, from a 10,000-member European border and coastguard agency to an overhaul of EU asylum procedures.
Clinton was one of three heavyweights of the centre-left interviewed by the Guardian to better understand why their brand of politics appears to be failing. All three have seen their countries upended by political events that to some degree can be explained by the success of rightwing populism.
“The use of immigrants as a political device and as a symbol of government gone wrong, of attacks on one’s heritage, one’s identity, one’s national unity has been very much exploited by the current administration here,” she said.
“There are solutions to migration that do not require clamping down on the press, on your political opponents and trying to suborn the judiciary, or seeking financial and political help from Russia to support your political parties and movements.”
Renzi bemoaned a generational shift that he said had elevated hate and confrontation over admiration and respect. “There is a climate of hate that has come from the Five Star Movement and the League,” he said of his political opponents in Italy. “This is the problem of the new generation – they are educated to hate and to envy.”