Europe was in crisis on Friday night as mounting fury over sex attacks by Middle Eastern and North African migrants threatened to divide the continent east from west.
Political tensions caused by allowing more than one million migrants to enter Europe in 2015 boiled over on Friday, as leaders from central and eastern countries announced the death of liberal Europe and called for the continent to seal its borders.
“The idea of multicultural Europe has failed,” proclaimed Robert Fico, the prime minister of Slovakia, calling for an extraordinary summit of EU leaders next week to discuss fresh reports of migrant-led sex attacks emerging from Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Austria and Finland. Bohuslav Sobotka, his Czech counterpart, immediately echoed the call.
“The migrants cannot be integrated, it’s simply impossible,” Mr Fico added, citing a “clear link” between the sex attacks and the influx of refugees that has swept through Europe from the failed states of Syria and North Africa.
Photo: Warren Allott/The Telegraph
As Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, promised to step up deportation of immigrants who broke the law, Belgium’s immigration minister tried to calm popular fears over the sex attacks by ordering new migrants to face mandatory “respect for women” courses.
But Hungary’s hardline conservative leader, Viktor Orban, dismissed such measures, calling for a complete halt to migration into Europe and the establishment of a new “European defence line” on Greece’s northern borders with Macedonia and Bulgaria.
Europe’s founding freedoms were now under threat, he said.
“We are increasingly losing the possibility of free movement,” Mr Orban told state radio, warning that the Schengen system of visa-free travel that underpins Europe’s single market would collapse if borders were not controlled.
The warnings deepened the battle-lines between eastern countries which over the past year have refused to bow to demands from Germany and the European Commission to accept refugee quotas in a bid to share the burdens of the migrant crisis.
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Analysts warned that eastern countries were deliberately seizing on the sex attacks issue to avoid taking refugee burden-sharing and press home their own vision of a white, Christian Europe in a move that risked deeply poisoning Europe’s already-divided politics.
“This is not about money; Germany cannot come to the rescue as it did with Greece,” said Mujtaba Rahman, the head of Europe practice at the Eurasia Group, “this is about identity. It is existential, pervasive and it risks becoming a ‘race to the bottom’ for Europe.”
The sudden raising of the political temperature came as police in Finland reported that migrant gangs in Helsinki had “had similar plans” to commit sexual assault and other crimes like those reported by over 170 women after Cologne’s New Year’s Eve festivities.
“This phenomenon is new in Finnish sexual crime history,” Ilkka Koskimaki,” the deputy chief of police in Helsinki, told the Daily Telegraph. ”We have never before had this kind of sexual harassment happening at New Year’s Eve.”
Further allegations in Germany that police and the media had colluded in an institutional cover-up over the Cologne attacks, heaped further pressure on Mrs Merkel who is struggling to defend her policy of welcoming refugees in almost unlimited numbers.
Photo: Warren Allott/The Telegraph
Julia Kloeckner, the leader of the Mrs Merkel’s CDU party in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate who is seen as a possible successor to Merkel one day, said the attacks had been a wake-up call for Germany. “I think we really need to take off the blinkers,” she said.
As a European-wide populist backlash against the migrants threatened to grow, some refugee groups took to social media to voice their anguish over the attacks and demand those responsible face severe punishments to set an example to others.
“They didn’t just harm the victims and themselves – they harmed thousands [of migrants] who left their homes because of precisely such crimes,” wrote Riham al-Kousaa, a Palestinian-Syrian journalist, warning it would take a long to erase prejudices caused by events in Cologne.