Electoral results in the Western world clearly show that nationalism is a key source of identity for many voters. Yet the term nationalism does not have a monolithic meaning: it can be equally inspiring to those who believe in a society based on solidarity and the common good and those who believe in a society that is strictly aligned to one identity, whether religious, cultural or ideological.
Needless to say, migration is a key social and political issue across Europe. One social scientific survey after the other confirms that people across the continent are concerned with the matter. It would be irresponsible for politicians and policymakers to ignore this, although this does not mean that there is one way how to address the issue. I also don’t believe that a simple magic formula exists for such complex matters.
In the meantime, political parties that are articulating strong exclusionary discourse on the matter are currently riding on a wave of discontent in countries across the continent. Even in Sweden, often considered the most refugee-friendly country in the world, the populist Democratic Party is currently topping the polls. Recent national election results in Italy, Austria, Hungary and other countries are clear tasters of what to expect in upcoming European elections unless more electorally effective political strategies are formulated.
Yet there are exceptions to this trend: Emanuel Macron and Angela Merkel immediately come to mind, even though the latter is constantly facing calls for tougher migration policies. The logic of parliamentary numbers means that often she must compromise on her otherwise solidarity-oriented stances.
At the same time, some political scientists have found that when moderate mainstream parties in countries such as Italy and Germany adopted a tougher stance on migration compared to their previous stances, this still did not stop populist parties from doing well in elections. But does this mean that the such parties should do the opposite and simply ignore people’s concerns on migration? I believe that this will open even bigger windows of opportunity for populists.
To me, the current scenario means that nationalism should be articulated in a politically productive way that values solidarity and the dignity of the person. I think that what should be done is to articulate discourse that seeks freedom and the common good through both rights and responsibilities within the nation in particular and the EU in general. Such a nationalism should not be exclusively associated with one identity at the exclusion of others: what it can do is to define the common good in a way that people with different backgrounds can be part of society if the basic norms are adhered to.
This form of patriotism would therefore not be aligned to a colour, race or belief. It would be aligned to basic values that unite people, such as respect and tolerance. It would emphasise the need to have shared language so that people can communicate.
It would value mainstream traditions and welcome traditions of newcomers, as long as there is mutual respect and the established rights of the individual are not trampled upon.
Lifestyles and cultures that promote intolerance, violence and oppression should not form part of such a scenario.
Cultural, ideological and political majorities would need to respect the rights of minorities, but the opposite would have to be in place too. The adversary of this form of nationalism would be the various forms of fundamentalism that are either too exclusive or else which want a free-for-all scenario with no binding norms and values.
Of course, implementing such politics is easier said than done. In an EU context, responsibility sharing for refugees is a tough nut to crack, and as things stand I cannot foresee a solution other than voluntary responsibility sharing through coalitions of willing nations.
This, in turn, requires a give and take approach among member states, which are ready to assist each other and to subscribe to basic European values. It also requires a more solidaristic give and take approach with third countries facing humanitarian crises. An example of this would be to assist with resources and aid in return for accountability and respect of people’s human rights.