EL PERIÓDICO has traveled to the English Channel, specifically to Calais, the British border on French territory. It is the scene of a new humanitarian crisis in the heart of Europe, against the backdrop of the tragedy that occurred on November 24 when at least 27 people died trying to cross the canal to travel to England in an inflatable boat. Since then, the governments of London and Paris letters have been exchanged – including a tweet from Boris Johnson – in which they shirk their responsibilities and they accuse each other of mismanaging the crisis.
Behind the migratory hell of Calais emerges an auction between the populist discourses on the rise on both banks of the Channel. In Britain, the forward flight of the Conservative prime minister, started with Brexit, has been peppered with repeat scandals. The last of them, the revelation that Johnson He hosted closed-door parties at his Downing Street residence in the midst of a pandemic in December 2020, when he asked fellow citizens to forgo family gatherings.
In France, the president Macron tries to counteract the criticism that this migratory crisis unleashes on his right, in particular for the emergence of Eric Zemmour, a talk show turned into a candidate for the presidential elections in the spring of next year, with a speech in which he combines the denunciations against immigration and the inaction of the elites. Zemmour’s populism contaminates the pre-campaign: on Saturday, in the second round, the Republicans – heirs of neo-Gaullism – elected a moderate candidate, Valérie Pécresse, in front of Éric Ciotti, an ultra-conservative candidate and friend of Zemmour.
On Sunday in Villepinte – the northern periphery of Paris – Zemmour gathered around 11,000 people in a high-voltage media rally, in which he lashed out against “political correctness, threats from the extreme left and hatred from the media.” This is the context in which to place the diplomatic disagreements between Paris and London that the migration crisis has exacerbated. We are not facing the classic discourse of the extreme right, embodied in France by Marine Le Pen, or that in the United Kingdom led by Nigel Farage’s UKIP, but rather a Newly minted national populism.
This is the case of Boris Johnson, trained at Oxford, and Éric Zemmour, who passed through Sciences Po – the emblematic school of political science in Paris – and was forged as a chronicler in the newspaper ‘Le Figaro’. Both are populists, but enlightened populists who contaminate the traditional politics of their respective countries and place the issues of their particular agenda at the center of the debate: emigration as a scapegoat of all evils, the identity fold and the rupture of the European construction project.
This climate makes it difficult to channel the tragedy of Calais: Johnson’s political irresponsibility and Macron’s electoral calculations, who, four months before the presidential elections, must cover his right flank. The words of Pope Francis at the end of his journey through Cyprus and Greece are instructive, in which he exclaimed: “Let’s stop this shipwreck of civilization.” Yes, as the Pope recalled, European leaders are not in the first line of reception. And populism continues to contaminate European politics.