The Covid-19 pandemic may have given to the radical right of Europe a perverse version of what they have long called for. Governments have closed international borders and suspended the EU’s free movement regime. The pandemic has reduced migration beyond the wildest dreams of the nativists, ethnonationalists and populists that make up Europe’s radical right. Yet, these trends are, ironically, likely to rob Europe’s radical right parties of their anti-immigration political niche.
In theoretical terms at least, a devastating global pandemic could trigger some of the psychological predispositions that have been associated with anti-immigration attitudes, such as valuing security or having a moral foundation based on authority and in-group loyalty.
But the pandemic has also demonstrated in stark terms the vital role played by immigrants in European economies and societies. Citizens in locked-down countries have seen daily news coverage showing migrants playing a disproportionate and vital role in over-stretched health care provision as well as everything from agricultural work to restaurant delivery.
To unravel and make sense of these potentially contradictory forces, we must first consider how attitudes to immigration in Europe have been changing and why, and how this has affected support for the radical right.