Reassessing the role of religion and secularism in US and European foreign policies – Free e-print

Dear Colleagues,

Today my review on the role of religion and secularism in US and European foreign polices came out on Global Affairs. It reviews three books:

Beyond Religious Freedom. The New Global Politics of Religion. Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2015 ISBN: 9780691166094

Securing the Sacred. Religion, National Security and the Western State. Robert M. Bosco, University of Michigan 2014, ISBN: 978-0-472-11922-6

Secular Wars. Myths of Religion, Politics and Violence, Stacy Gutkowski, IB Tauris, 2013. ISBN: 9781780765358

Abstract: ‘Religion plays a role in politics – not always for good, not always for bad. Religion can be part of the process. What makes the difference is whether the process is democratic or not’, declared the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (HR) Federica Mogherini (Mogherini, 2015). Referring to the role of Islam during the Arab uprisings, this statement proves the rising awareness of European foreign policy-makers for religion in international relations. Although this has been common practice for US foreign-policy makers, where religious groups are more influential, since 9/11 secular European foreign affair ministries are getting to grips with religion. The Foreign Commonwealth Office has developed a toolkit on the Freedom of Religion of Belief (FoRB) and French laïc foreign-policymakers are developing strategic expertise on religious issues. The European External Action Service is also training its diplomats on religious issues (Wolff, 2015) and promoting ‘religious literacy’ (EEAS, 2016). From a research perspective, these developments are rarely being analysed. Europe remains indeed the most secularized continent in the world, and its academics were late in acknowledging that modernization does not necessarily leads to more secularization. Globalization, migration and democratization provide religious actors with a rehabilitated voice on the international stage (Cochran Bech and Snyder, 2011). However empirical in-depth studies substantiating these claims are seldom. The three books under study fill in this gap and analyse how religion, faith and their corollary secularism impact international relations but also states’ and international organizations’ behaviour. They all consider that religion and secularism are factors of international relations that merit to be further researched.

You can freely download an e-print with this link



Help SOS Méditerranée!!!!

Dear followers, colleagues and friends,

This time I use this blog to encourage you to make donations to SOS Méditerranée, a European organization that saves migrants in the Mediterranean. It is a citizen initiative and needs your solidarity to continue their work. Their vessel the Aquarius is saving lives and as citizens it’s very easy to help them. Already more than 1000 migrants have died in the Mediterranean since January. This number is going to increase sharply in the Summer.  You can make a difference and donate here

Aujourd’hui j’utilise ce blog pour faire appel à votre solidarité et vous encourager à faire une donation à SOS Méditerranée, une organisation européenne, citoyenne qui sauve des migrants en mer. Déjà plus de 1000 migrants sont morts en Méditerranée depuis Janvier. Le nombre ne fera que s’accroitre pendant l’été. Il s’agit de faire preuve de solidarité et il est très facile de les aider en faisant une donation ici. 

Et merci au billet de Charline Vanhoonacker de France Inter, qui a inspiré ce post ce matin 9 juin
Check out videos on their work here and here

You can make a difference!



Immigration, a consensual issue in the French presidential campaign?

Since the end of the 1970s, when labour migration was halted, immigration has been the hot potato of French politics. Ever since its electoral breakthrough in 1982, the Front National has capitalized on the anxieties of the French society towards globalization, the economic and financial crisis as well as the disappointment with the current European project, seen by many as a big liberal market where social safety nets are being dismantled. The French political elite as a whole has been complicit of Front National’s strategy. Identity, citizenship, French suburbs and laïcité are seen by right-wing politicians as republican symbols under threat by immigrants, and this view is increasingly shared by left-wing politicians like ex-Prime Minister Manuel Valls. Immigration is therefore mostly considered as a security issue by French politicians. In the current campaign, the right-wing is copying Marine Le Pen’s programme on immigration, in the hope to attract its electorate. The far-left presents the most humanistic ideas, although outside of EU treaties, while Emmanuel Macron stresses that asylum is a right and migrants are a strength for the economy.

Source Ouest France, 2017

With 74,468 asylum applicants in 2015, France is far from the 722,000 applications received by Germany in 2016. The dismantlement of the Calais camp in October 2016 and the increasing presence of homeless refugees in the streets of Paris have nonetheless led to a renewed debate regarding the oft-cited phrase of belated Socialist Prime Minister Michel Rocard that “France cannot welcome all the misery of the world.” The 2015 Charlie Hebdo and Bataclan attacks have stressed the fracture between French society and the children of foreign-born immigrants, often in rupture with their families.

Although employment remains the first preoccupation of French people, the 2017 presidential elections polls show restrictive trends towards immigration. Accordingly, 61% of the French people are in favour of suspending immigration from Muslim countries, that is above the average of 55% of Europeans. In 2016, 57% of the French thought there were too many immigrants in France and 63% were of the opinion that the majority of refugees will not be able to integrate. While Front National and the right-wing parties follow these public opinion trends, Emmanuel Macron, the leader of En Marche!, offers a more liberal approach, in line with European commitments. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the far-left candidate, offers the most human policy, but outside of the European Treaties. Overall, in the French presidential campaign immigration is no longer debated as a societal project but rather as a security and identity issue.

The legacy of the Hollande Presidency

Traditionally known for its humanist approach to immigration, the left-wing government of President Hollande has in fact continued the security approach initiated by his predecessor Sarkozy. Hollande’s mandate started with the Leonarda affair, regarding an irregular immigrant Roma schoolgirl arrested during her school trip and returned back to Kosovo where her family had been expulsed to earlier. Later, he dropped his promise to grant foreigners the right to vote in local elections. In spite of a multi-annual residence permit, the 2014 immigration law facilitates the expulsion of irregular migrants and has been denounced by several NGOs. The 2015 asylum law reduces the delays in the treatment of asylum applications, thus aligning it with EU law. According to the OFPRA, the agency that processes asylum-seeker applications, this delay amounted to 205 days in 2014. Furthermore, asylum seekers whose request for asylum has been refused but cannot be returned to their home countries have not being given any status (see here).

Restrictive (extreme)right-wing programmes

François Fillon, ex-Prime Minister of France under President Sarkozy, and now running for president while under formal investigation for misuse of public funds and fake employment of his wife as a parliamentary assistant, offers a restrictive immigration programme, close to the propositions of Front National. With Fillon as president, the French Constitution would be modified to adopt a quota principle, to be defined by law, on how many residency permits could be delivered. Family reunification would be made harder and, borrowing from the extreme-right lexicon, France’s ‘migratory sovereignty’ would be restored through the renegotiation of European directives. Laws granting French citizenship to French ascendants of more than 65 years old would be repealed.

In Fillon’s vision, immigration should no longer be a burden to French society and he plans to provide family and accommodation allowances only to those residing in France for 2 years or more. State medical help for foreigners will be reviewed, and foreigners will be exempted from paying healthcare costs only in the cases of minors, emergencies and infectious disease, and only in some selected hospitals and clinics. Like Macron, Fillon wants to limit the delays in processing asylum requests to 4 months. Administrative detention of irregular migration will be extended from 45 days to 6 months, the maximum authorized by the EU return directive. The Schengen Treaty will be renegotiated to authorize increased controls at internal borders. Citizenship rules will be tightened up with additional conditions such as a minimum 8 years of residency in France and a minimum 5 years of marriage.

Stopping ‘uncontrolled’ immigration is the selling slogan of the extreme-right candidate Marine Le Pen. Like Fillon Le Pen is under investigation; in Le Pen’s case regarding misuse of European Parliament funds to pay her parliamentary assistants. In her programme, the Front National leader will give ‘national preference’ to French people over what she sees as two evils: globalization and Islam. First, legal migration will be reduced from 200,000 to 10,000 entries per year. In the short term, because she wants to renegotiate the EU treaties, this should not apply to European citizens. Family reunification will also stop. Third, she will suppress the jus soli, the right of place of birth. This right grants French citizenship to anyone born on French territory with at least one French parent. Children born from foreign parents on French territory can also choose for French citizenship when they are 18 years old. State medical help would be suppressed. Fourth, internal borders will be re-established, as France will withdraw from ‘Schengen’. The regularization or naturalization of irregular migrants will no longer be possible.

Pro-immigration programmes

Benoît Hamon, the Socialist candidate supported by Europe Environment Les Verts, the Green party, takes a more liberal stance on immigration. He wants foreigners to have a right to vote in local elections and will accelerate the integration of asylum seekers. They will have the right to work after three months on French territory and will gain more opportunities to learn French. At the EU level, Hamon wants to stop the Dublin system that he considers unfair to Italy and Greece, two countries under important budgetary restrictions. Instead, he proposes a fairer sharing of asylum seekers among EU member states based on their hosting capacities.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the far-left leader, proposes to regularize irregular migrants and to de-criminalize irregular migration. At EU level, Mélenchon wants to replace the European Border and Coast Guard Agency by an agency that will mainly rescue migrants at sea, revise databases on foreigners and biometrics used on the external EU borders. He wants to pursue Euro-Mediterranean cooperation and co-development with Southern and African neighbours. The OFPRA would be attached to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and no longer to the Interior Ministry, while asylum seekers would be able to work when awaiting their case to be examined. Access to French citizenship would be facilitated.

Emmanuel Macron, the election frontrunner with 26% of voting intentions according to a BVA poll of 25 March 2017, has praised German Chancellor Merkel for her open-door policy. Defending a liberal immigration policy, he considers the welcoming of refugees as a moral duty for France and Europe and has therefore criticized the EU-Turkey deal. His programme develops the following main propositions. First, foreigners’ integration will be improved through offering better facilities for learning the French language and the development of local integration programmes. Second, as Macron considers immigrants as formidable assets for the French and European economies, he wants to speed up the asylum-request process and reduce it to less than 6 months, appeal included.[1] He will introduce ‘talent visas’ to attract the best professionals to France and wants to simplify access to the labour market for all students who have obtained a master’s degree in France. However, Macron does propose an immediate return to the country of origin for those who will not be granted asylum status. At the European level, he proposes to strengthen the European Border Guards Corps, to improve border control in countries of origin and to combat human smuggling, in line with existing commitments.

Looking forward
This campaign has defied any standards about French presidential elections. Notwithstanding the investigations of Marine Le Pen and François Fillon, and the fact that this election takes place under a state of emergency, the two frontrunners include a candidate who claims to be neither left-wing nor right-wing and who until a year ago did not have a party, and an extreme-right candidate whose accession to power no longer shocks anyone. Even if Front National were not to win this election, its presence in the second round would be a strong signal that Marine Le Pen’s propositions are seducing at least one third of the French citizens, and that the threat of the extreme-right is still hanging over France. Given that France is a multicultural society, built on migration, it is disappointing that migration is not regarded as a societal project. Measures to integrate migrants are minimal and it is only very rarely that candidates recall that asylum is a human right. This national disillusionment is also reflected at the European level, where migration is rarely presented as a positive force for European economies in light of the inevitable ageing of populations. This is no good news for immigrants, nor for French and European citizens.

Sarah Wolff @drsarahwolff) is Lecturer at Queen Mary University of London and Senior Associate Research Fellow at the Netherlands Institute for International Relations and. She is an expert on EU immigration policy. Dr. Wolff can be followed on her blog

 This blog was originally posted on EU-forum Clingendael and appeared also on LSE EUROPP Blog

[1] For reference, today the deadline to examine an asylum appeal can run up to a maximum of five months in France according to the European Council on Refugees and Exile (ECRE). See their 2016 report here.


Radio Canada en Francais!


Sarah Wolff, Director of the Center for European Research at QMUL, spoke yesterday to Radio Canada, in L’heure du Monde about Brexit. She comments upon the White Paper presented by Theresa May. This White Paper, combined to the recent resignations of Boris Johnson and David Davies, is a small victory of pro-European British conservatives. This move allows May her to strategically position herself at a moment where she is quite fragile domestically and when many other political turbulences could occur (new elections, motion of censure). Dr. Wolff comments upon the negative impact for the British financial services and the fact that Brussels will not allow any cherry-picking in the freedom of movement. May cannot offer a freedom of movement of goods and excludes the freedom of movement for people and EU citizens.

Ecoutez mon interview ici:

La génération « Windrush » : un dommage collatéral de la politique britannique de dissuasion migratoire

Ma dernière tribune sur la politique d’immigration Outre-Manche

File 20180605 119885 1c1skyq.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Des gilets de sauvetage pour rappeler les naufragés en Méditerranée et protester contre la politique migratoire restrictive de Londres.
Howard Lake/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Sarah Wolff, Queen Mary University of London

60 000 personnes de la génération « Windrush », du nom de ce bateau qui a accosté à Tilbury en 1948 menacées d’expulsion… Venus participer à l’effort de reconstruction de l’après-guerre, ces citoyens britanniques en provenance des Caraïbes anglaises doivent aujourd’hui apporter la preuve de leur citoyenneté ou de résidence sous peine d’être expulsés.

Le Home Office, ministère de l’intérieur britannique, ne s’est pas encombré, à l’époque, de leur donner des papiers prouvant leur nationalité. En l’absence de ce type de documents aujourd’hui, leurs comptes en banque ont été bloqués, leur accès aux soins médicaux interdit et ils se sont vus menacés d’expulsion depuis 2014 et l’introduction de la nouvelle loi sur l’immigration (Immigration Act 2014). La carte d’identité n’existant pas au Royaume-Uni, ces personnes, souvent d’origine modeste, n’ont jamais fait de demande de passeport pour voyager à l’étranger.

Environnement hostile et délation

Mais au-delà de cette situation ubuesque pour des personnes ayant contribué à l’essor économique de la Grande-Bretagne, la Génération Windrush est en réalité un dommage collatéral d’une politique qu’on peut appeler de « dissuasion migratoire ». Alors même que Theresa May était ministre de l’Intérieur de 2010 à 2016, elle a mis en place une politique d’« environnement hostile » visant à casser l’image auprès des immigrés et réfugiés d’un Royaume-Uni perçu comme une terre d’immigration.

Tous les segments de la société anglaise ont été mobilisés pour dénoncer à l’État les immigrés irréguliers sur le territoire. Les hôpitaux, les écoles, les universités, les municipalités et employeurs sont fortement incités à faire de la délation. Par exemple, les universités doivent apporter le preuve que les personnes qu’elles rémunèrent ont le droit de travailler légalement au Royaume-Uni. Le gouvernement a également affiché l’objectif de diminuer par deux les visas délivrés aux étudiants étrangers.

Objectif 100 000

Forcée de démissionner après avoir affirmé, à tort, devant une commission parlementaire, que son ministère n’avait pas d’objectifs chiffrés d’expulsion, la ministre de l’Intérieur Amber Rudd n’est donc qu’un bouc-émissaire pour Theresa May.

Depuis le référendum du Brexit, son gouvernement a accéléré cette politique d’environnement hostile. L’objectif affiché par May a toujours été de réduire l’immigration annuelle nette à 100 000 individus par an : en septembre 2017, ce chiffre était de 244 000]. La politique d’asile britannique est également parmi les moins généreuses d’Europe avec seulement 14,767 demandes d’asile acceptées en 2018 par le Home Office, contre 32 011 en France.

La contribution économique des migrants

Les partisans d’une sortie de l’Union européenne ont surfé sur une vague eurosceptique associée à l’idée d’un trop plein d’immigrés. En quittant l’UE, ont-ils promis, le Royaume-Uni retrouverait enfin sa souveraineté sur les questions migratoires. Ceci est faux pour plusieurs raisons.

Le premier ministre britannique, Theresa May (en septembre 2017).
Annika Haas/Wikimedia, CC BY

Tout d’abord, le Royaume-Uni a bénéficié d’une position privilégiée au sein de l’UE qui lui a permis, de décider souverainement quelle législation européenne il souhaitait mettre en œuvre. Ce sont les fameux mécanismes d’opt-outs décidés lors du traité d’Amsterdam et de Lisbonne. Ainsi, bien qu’ayant pris part à certaines mesures européennes en matière d’immigration irrégulière et d’asile, le Royaume-Uni est bien resté maître de sa politique d’immigration légale et du contrôle de ses frontières.

Ensuite, lors de l’élargissement de 2004, le Royaume-Uni a décidé de son plein gré d’ouvrir les portes de son marché du travail aux nouveaux citoyens européens de l’Est. Contrairement à la France et l’Allemagne qui ont mis en place une période transitoire de sept ans avant que les Européens de l’Est ne puisse venir travailler chez eux, le Royaume-Uni, tout comme la Suède et l’Irlande, les a accueillis.

Ayant besoin de main d’œuvre, ces immigrés européens ont participé au boom de l’économie britannique. Selon une étude de l’université britannique UCL, les immigrants européens arrivés au Royaume-Uni entre 2000 et 2011 ont contribué à hauteur de 20 milliards de livres sterling (22,75 milliards d’euros) aux finances britanniques.

« Little Britain » a besoin d’immigrés

Dans le contexte du Brexit, où le gouvernement promet à ses citoyens que le Royaume-Uni redeviendra une puissance globale, l’immigration est plus que nécessaire et la politique d’environnement hostile est contre-productive.

L’économie britannique a besoin d’immigration, en particulier dans le secteur de la santé. Or la délivrance de 400 visas pour du personnel médical en provenance notamment de pays situés hors de l’Espace économique européen est actuellement bloquée par le Home Office, pénalisant d’autant le National Health Service dans ses missions de soin.

The ConversationPar ailleurs, de nombreux Européens boudent le Royaume-Uni du fait de l’incertitude qui règne à propos de leur futur statut après le Brexit. La politique de dissuasion migratoire mise en œuvre par Theresa May, mise en lumière par l’affaire Windrush, ne va guère les rassurer. Au lieu d’œuvrer en faveur du projet de « Global Britain », qui projetterait le Royaume-Uni au sein d’un monde globalisé, les conservateurs britanniques semblent davantage travailler à la mise en place d’une « Little Britain » par le biais d’une politique migratoire étriquée et, à bien des égards, surréaliste.

Sarah Wolff, Lecturer, School of Politics and International Relations, Queen Mary University of London

La version originale de cet article a été publiée sur The Conversation.

News on Europe and the Mediterranean

Dear colleagues and friends,

After I hope a well deserved summer, it’s time for me to update you on my recent projects and publications.

First of all, as the new director of the Centre for European Research at Queen Mary, University of London, I am encouraging you to follow our news and event on our new twitter account @CER_QMUL as well as our website 

Very soon events’ and a blog about European Research will be posted.

Second, the gist of my research project for the past two years is now available open access via an article Sarah Wolff (2017): EU religious engagement in the Southern Mediterranean: Much ado about nothing?, Mediterranean Politics, DOI: 10.1080/13629395.2017.1358905

Here is a short abstract: Since the Arab uprisings, religious engagement is central to EU relations with the Southern Mediterranean. Given that the EU is a liberal-secular power, this article investigates why and how the EU is practising religious engagement and whether it is a rupture with past EU modalities of engagement in the region. The main finding is that EU religious engagement constitutes both a physical and ontological security-seeking practice. This is illustrated in three steps. First, EU’s physical security is ensured by the promotion of state-sponsored forms of religion in Morocco and Jordan that aim at moderating Islam. Second, the framing of religion as an expertise issue in the EEAS and European diplomacies reinforces EU’s self-identity narrative as a secular power. This self-identity is, however, subject to politicization and framing contestation through the case of Freedom of Religion or Belief and the protection of Christian minorities in the Arab world. Overall, this article finds that EU religious engagement is conducive to selective engagement with some religious actors, which could potentially lead to more insecurities and polarization in the region.

Looking forward to your comments and feedback!

Take care



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