The divisive force of migration politics and the end of the coalition negotiations in Germany 

November 20, 2017 - by Oliver Schmidtke, Centre for Global Studies, University of Victoria

CTV News Channel - interview

To the great surprise of the German public, the attempts to form a coalition government have failed. Last night, the Liberal Party pulled out of the negotiations putting an end to the effort to bring together the free-market liberals, the environmentalist Greens and the two Christian Democratic parties under the leadership of Chancellor Angela Merkel. Next to the controversial phasing out of coal-burning power plants, the main sticking point in the negotiation seems to have been how to handle the ongoing challenge of governing immigration and refugees in Germany. While the Green party was adamantly in favour of allowing family members of refugees to move to Germany, both the Bavarian CSU and the liberal FDP demanded strict restrictions on family unification.

The current stalemate in German politics has been shaped in a twofold way by the thorny question of migration. First, it was the rise of the so called Alternative for Germany (AfD) that, for the first time in the postwar history of the country, has succeeded in being elected to federal parliament. The 13.3% support for the national populists indicates how Germany’s response to the ‘refugee crisis’ over the past years has antagonized the German electorate. The AfD could tap into growing anti-foreigner sentiments and the anger over the lack of a genuine opposition during the time in which Germany was governed by the Grand Coalition.

The issue of migration also had a decisive effect on the negotiations to put together the four-party coalition under Chancellor Merkel’s guidance. Not at least for electoral reasons, the Bavarian CSU and the Liberals opted for a reversal of Germany’s liberal refugee policy. While the right-wing AFD is shunned in parliament, its political ideology has already changed the political culture in Germany. As was evident in the recent election in Austria it is difficult for centre-right parties to resists the lure of populist, anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Welcoming our first junior expert in our CEDoM network

Ahmed Hamila is a Ph.D. candidate at the Department of Political Science, Université de Montréal. Currently he is also the  FNRS-F.R.S. research fellow at the Institute of Sociology, Université Libre de Bruxelles and the President of the Young Researchers Network of the European Community Studies Association – Canada. Ahmed was awarded the Robert Bourassa Foundation Excellence Award for the most promising doctoral thesis project in European Studies. The title of his PHD is: European Asylum Policy Related to Sexual Orientation: A Common System, Several Implementation Models. Ahmed's research areas include asylum policies in the EU and the refugee crisis in Europe. You can read more about his reasearch here

New expert profile

November 1st, 2017

Harald Bauder joint our CEDoM network last month. He is the founding Director of the Ryerson Centre for Immigration and Settlement (RCIS) at Ryerson University in Toronto. He is Professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, and the Graduate Program for Immigration and Settlement Studies (ISS). Professor Bauder published several books, dozens of popular and academic articles on issues of immigration. In 2015 he was awarded the Konrad Adenauer Research Award in recognition of his academic achievements and to promote further collaboration projects between Canada and Germany.  For more check out his full CEDoM profile!

The Austrian elections mirroring the failed European migration policy

October 2oth- by Arnold Kammel, director of the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy (AIES)

The outcome of the Austrian parliamentary elections on 15 October 2017 confirmed the anti-immigration sentiment as an emerging trend which will certainly be reflected in other parliamentary elections in Western Europe. Following the count of all votes, the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), considered far-right, anti-immigration and anti-Islamic, finished third after the former coalition partners, the conservative Austrian People's Party (ÖVP) and the Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ). The dominating topic of the elections centred on the question of how to best address the challenge posed by migration to both, Austria and Europe. One of the main arguments of the leader of ÖVP, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, was to close the main migrant routes into the European Union (EU), via the Balkans and the Mediterranean Sea. This proposal was strongly supported by the FPÖ in whose view all refugees should be deprived of access to the social security system and the Austrian welfare state. In the view of the FPÖ, securing and closing off the Austrian border was a necessary step in order to achieve their party political goal of zero immigration. In contrast, the SPÖ relatively late changed its attitude towards migration and as a consequence of polls moved from a very friendly migration policy towards a more restrictive one.

The high impact of migration issue on the outcome of elections came for many foreign observers as a surprise as Austria has always been considered as a country with an open society supporting refugees as past experiences especially in the 1990s with the Balkan Wars had shown. At the beginning of the crisis, Austria was together with Germany among the more welcoming nations in Europe for refugees. However, many voters stated that they felt that Austria was overrun in 2015 when hundreds of thousands of people entered the territory without any proper controls and security mechanisms in place. In 2015, almost 90.000 people applied for asylum in Austria, making it the third highest country for such applications within the EU, and Austria registered more than 40.000 asylum applicants in 2016.

Kurz, who most probably will become the world’s youngest head of government, frequently referred to the fact that as foreign minister he had closed the Balkan route for asylum seekers in the spring of 2016 by shutting Austrian borders to new arrivals in close cooperation with the countries on the route. He has promised to pressure the European Union to do the same now with the central Mediterranean route, the main path for migrants and refugees seeking to enter the continent. At the European Council meeting of 19 October, Council President Donald Tusk has supported this idea.

What will be the consequences of the election outcome? As it stands, a coalition between the ÖVP and FPÖ seems to be the most likely option for forming a new government. The other two options, ÖVP with SPÖ or even SPÖ with FPÖ, are quite unrealistic in terms of political feasibility. Aside of closing the central Mediterranean route and cutting access to the Austrian social system, it seems that the new Austrian government – also in the view of the upcoming Council Presidency in the second half of 2018 – will try to shape the European agenda on migration which will aim at securing the external borders of the EU and promote the establishment of hotspots in North Africa and the fight of illegal migration.

Elections in Austria: Refugee and Migration Issues Moves Austria to the Right

October 19, 2017 - by Markus Reisenleitner, York University

Last Sunday, Austria elected a new government. Less than a year after the Green party-backed social liberal, Alexander van der Bellen, was elected president, both the centre-right Conservative party (Austrian People’s party), the junior partner in the incumbent coalition government, and the far-right Freedom party made big gains while the Social Democrats, the senior partner in government, stagnated, and the Green Party all but disintegrated, losing 2/3 of its previous votes, which brought it below the 4% threshold that is required for parliamentary representation. The Conservatives landed a solid first place with 31.47% of the popular vote (a plus of 7.48%), the Social Democrats hung on to second place with 26.9% (+/-0), and the Freedom party ended up with 26% (a plus of 5.46%) of the vote.

This outcome, which constitutes a major shift to the right and will most likely lead to a coalition between the Conservatives and the Freedom Party (negotiations are ongoing at the time of writing), had been more or less predicted by the polls. Both the Greens’ and the Social Democrats’ campaigns had been marred by scandals, internal rivalries and missteps, while the recently elected new leader of the Conservatives, Sebastian Kurz, Foreign Minister in the last government, had successfully campaigned on his youth, personality, and a populist, socially divisive program of reform that promised to lower taxes, secure borders, and limit the influx of refugees and migrants, thus adopting many topics that had previously been the stronghold of the Freedom Party. Kurz renamed his party “The New People’s party”, presented it as a “movement”, and give it a new colour scheme, obvious but effective strategies that convinced many Austrians that a party that had been in government since 1986 (albeit as a junior partner for most of the time) would usher in a new era in Austrian politics.

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CEDoM events at the International Conference: Borders in Globalization - Ottawa, Dec 6-7

Engaging public, policy makers and civil society actors during the International Conference "Borders in Globalization"

CEDoM invites scholars, policy makers and the wider public to participate in a dialogue on current issues in the wider field of borders and migration studies . During two events experts will provide the audience with the newest responses on visions in the EU and in Canada with a view on how to proceed in the future.

Dec 6: Doug Saunders (Author, Journalist, The Globe and Mail) will deliver a talk on "Making population growth work: European and North American lessons in removing barriers to integration and inclusion"

Dec 7:  Panel Canada Europe Dialogue on Migration (CEDoM). This event addresses the recent irregular migration from the United States into Canada and the  Canadian public debate on migratory movements, Canada’s Safe Third Country agreement with the United States, approaches to refugees and refugee systems in both countries, and the extent to which Canada’s current approach, system, and legal framework are adequate. This comes at a time when Canada’s Prime Minister had already initiated an independent review of Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board. This panel looks at available data to gauge patterns, trajectories, continuity, and change in irregular migration across the Canada-US border, offers perspectives by Canadian and US border practitioners, as well as a comparative European assessment of lessons from Germany’s recent experience.

Participants: Dick Fadden (former National Security Advisor), Lesley Soper (IRC), Oliver Schmidtke (University of Victoria), Kelley Humber (Queen’s University), Christian Leuprecht (RMCC), Brandon Behlendorf (SUNY Albany), Superintendent Jamie Soleme (RCMP), Leslie Lawson (Department of Homeland Security), Axel Kreienbrink (German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees)

Draft program International Conference Borders in Globalization

The events are free - please register for the Wednesday event here, and for the Thursday panel by sending a note to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


EUROPE's NOW Special feature "Governing the Migration Crisis"

Oct 1st, 2017 - CEDoM's new activity: The new special feature of EUROPE NOW with the focus on Governing the Migration Crisis - 

Introduction by Oliver Schmidtke, Jennifer Elrick and Nicole Shea 

"Over the past several years, we have reached a new quality in the global migration crisis: The years 2015 and 2016 were the most turbulent in recent history of refugee movements in Europe and North America. From 2011 to 2015, the number of forcibly displaced people rose from 42.5 to 65.3 million globally. Especially in Europe, the images of people fleeing across the Mediterranean in overloaded and unseaworthy boats have become almost routine. After the massive influx of arrivals in 2015/16 Europe has come to an agreement with Turkey and, more recently, a collaborative approach with Libya, designed to keep what are perceived as “irregular” migrants away from the European continent. Borders have become more and more militarized and the EU’s border protection agency FRONTEX has taken increasingly aggressive steps towards deterring refugees from embarking on their treacherous trip to Europe.

Excerpt from EUROPE NOW Issue October 2017 - Read more  

Elisabeth Vallet on how the refugee crisis in Europe is discussed in Canada

Dr. Elisabeth Vallet, University of Quebec, comments on the evolution of the refugee crisis debate in Canada, the role experts have during the debates about migrants and the impact of the border walls in a globalized world.

Watch the video comments here

"How is the refugee crisis in Europe discussed in Canada?"

"What is the role of experts in the debate around migrants and refugees?"

"The impact of the border walls in a globalized world"


Militarizing the Mediterranean Sea – Putting Refugees at Risk

August 15, 2017 - by Oliver Schmidtke, Centre for Global Studies at the University of Victoria

This spring and summer, tens of thousands of refugees have again embarked primarily from Libya and taken the dangerous so-called Mediterranean route to Europe. According to the current estimates of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), over 111,000 migrants have reached Europe by sea so far this year, the vast majority of them arrived in Italy in overloaded and unseaworthy boats. According to the IOM’s figures, more than 2,300 have died on their journey in 2017 so far.

As a reaction to these figures and growing frustration in Italy over the lack of sharing the burden of these refugees more fairly in Europe, Italy and Libya have undertaken some significant steps to curb the endless stream of desperate refugees. For weeks, Italian authorities have raged up the rhetoric against those organizations that operate vessels committed to rescuing refugees in the Mediterranean Sea. Italy has accused these NGO to facilitate the work of the smugglers, if not openly collaborating with them and even benefitting financially from this collaboration (a claim staunchly denied by the groups assisting the refugees at sea). Italy demanded these NGOs to sign a new ‘code of conduct’ that would severely restrict their options at sea. The charities involved in the rescue missions argue that such action would put thousand of lives at risk. In early August, Italian police impounded a boat operated by the German aid organisation Jugend Rettet (Youth Rescues) based on the suspicion that, through its rescue mission, this organization has facilitated illegal migration.

At the end of last week, Libya has made the next, radical step in this push towards curbing the flow of refugees towards the shores of southern Europe. It issued a navy ban declaring that all foreign vessels assisting refugees are not allowed to enter a so-called “search and rescue zone” off the Libyan coast (the exact size of this zone is still unclear). Only some days earlier, an NGO vessel reported being shot at by a Libyan coast guard boat. As a result, Doctors Without Borders announced a temporary halt to its mission in the Mediterranean Sea on Saturday. Other NGOs have already followed suit. The Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano has wholeheartedly welcomed the move by the Libyan government and declared in an interview in La Stampa on Sunday: “This sends a signal that the balance is being restored in the Mediterranean.”

For a whole range of reasons Libya and Italy – in concert with the EU’s Frontex (the European Border and Coast Guard Agency) have clearly embarked on a strategy of deterrence in their attempt to curb the massive influx of refugees (in the Italian case, the looming general elections are a significant factor). Yet, clamping down on rescue operations and militarizing the governance of the border in the Mediterranean Sea is likely to have some devastating effect on those refugees whose desperation drive them to risk their lives to embark on the journey to Europe. By banning refugees from the public eye and impeding humanitarian assistance, Italy and the rest of Europe threatens to undermine their own constitutive values. The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights commits all member states to the Right to Asylum (Article 18) and the EU portrays itself as vitally devoted to the protection of human rights. However, in their practical implications, the current strategy of banning humanitarian aid at sea and of addressing the suffering of the refugees with military force and deterrence will result in the outright violation of these fundamental values. For Italy, like for other liberal democracies in today’s world, the global refugee crisis poses a fundamental moral challenge, - one that will not be solved with the closing of borders.



Elisabeth Vallet: Expert on Border Fences in a Globalised World

Dr. Elisabeth Vallet, Adjunct Professor in the Department of Geography and scientific director of Geopolitics at the Raoul Dandurand Chair at the University of Quebec at Montreal, presents her research on border fences in a globalised world. She speaks about her research on the triggers for the increase of more borders/fences around the world and the impact this has for the redefinition of border lands and citizenship. See the video here.

French Presidential Election: Macron's clear mandate to govern and long term political effects for France and Europe

May 10, 2017 - Centre for Global Studies, University of Victoria

Watch Helga Hallgrimsdottir (Public Administration), Marc Lortie former Canadian Ambassador to France) and Oliver Schmidtke (Centre for Global Studies)  discussing the second run of the French presidential election. 

Video 1: Reflections on the electoral results: a commanding victory for Marcon

Video 2: The ongoing electoral contest: towards the Parliamentary elections in June

Video 3: An opportunity to reinvigorating the EU under a Macron Presidency


French presidential election: The crisis of the political establishment and the desire for political change


CTV interview with Oliver Schmidtke, Centre for Global Studies, University of Victoria

April 23, 2017 - by Oliver Schmidtke, Centre for Global Studies, University of Victoria

A sigh of relief is palpable in Europe after the first round of the French presidential election: While the Front National leader Marine Le Pen advances, as expected, to the runoff election on May 7th, she will face Emmanuel Macron, the independent centrist candidate who is widely seen as the contender most likely to beat Le Pen in the second round.

Yet, the strong performance of Macron and the likely defeat of the Front National leader in the runoff election is anything but business as usual. For the first time in the history of the Fifth Republic since 1958, none of the candidates of the mainstream parties has entered the final round of the presidential race. Their contestants struggled respectively with serious corruption allegations (Republican François Villon) and with the legacy of the highly unpopular Socialist president François Hollande (Socialist Benoît Hamon). The first round of the presidential election was an anti-establishment vote driven by a deep desire for the fundamental renewal of politics. The fourth placed candidate, the leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon, owes his strong showing to similar sentiments. If Emmanuel Macron were elected president in two weeks, he would preside in the Élysée Palace without the backing of any party. His organization En Marche! is not a party and does not have any seats in the French Parliament. In this respect, a Macron presidency would pose entirely new challenges to how the country is governed. The presidential election and the legislative elections in June will change French politics and most likely the French political system in far-reaching and largely unpredictable ways. 

On May 7th, the French electorate will face a blunt choice with two fundamentally opposing visions for the future of the country. Le Pen’s nationalistic, Islamophobic program evokes the vision of France outside of the Euro zone and possibly the European Union as well as a country in which migrants are no longer welcome and diversity is perceived as a genuine threat to French national identity. In contrast, Macron advocates for a pro-European, cosmopolitan vision with a strong commitment to international trade and transatlantic cooperation (including CETA). In his own words, Macron promises to be a president of “patriots” against the “nationalist threat”. The runoff election in early May will show whether Macron's rhetorically powerful, albeit elusive promise of hope and change will prove appealing enough to steal the political thunder from nationalist populism.