EU and Immigration (I): Why is it So Hard to Decide?

The immigration crisis seen in recent months, which has blown up over the past several weeks, is causing Europe to look at itself in the mirror. How should it be managed? How can hundreds of thousands of people from other cultures be integrated? It is worth reflecting on why the European Union (EU) must urgently resolve its internal disagreements and provide a swift humanitarian response to this crisis.

The origin: The worst is yet to come in the Middle East

The Middle East is ablaze and has become an inextinguishable inferno, but unfortunately the worst is yet to come. The causes of the disaster are deep rooted, with some dating back to past decades:

  • The colonial arrangements of artificial political division of its peoples.
  • The creation of the State of Israel
  • The political manipulation of Islam
  • The recent military attacks by the United States
  • The corruption of the ruling elites
  • The population explosion
  • The impoverishment

As a result of the fire in the Middle East, we are experiencing the arrival of a tidal wave of immigrants seeking asylum in neighboring countries and in Europe, mainly due to the civil war in Syria, which has already caused an exodus of more than four million people.

Refugees on the Hungarian M1 highway on their march towards the Austrian border. Photo by Joachim Seidler
Refugees on the Hungarian M1 highway on their march towards the Austrian border. Photo by Joachim Seidler

We urgently need a common policy and more funds for the crisis

Jean-Claude Juncker, current President of the European Commission, made this declaration on July 15, following the tragedies in the Mediterranean: “Europe needs to manage migration better, in all aspects. This is first of all a humanitarian imperative (…) we must work closely together in a spirit of solidarity.

In fact, one of the ten priorities of the current European Commission (2014-2019) is precisely to advance toward a true common policy on migration. Here is the status of the progress made (as of September 2015) toward this common policy:

  • In July 2015, assistance was given to Italy and Greece to handle the waves of immigrants
  • A permanent relocation solution is being worked on
  • The assistance fund has doubled from €25 to €50 million per year
  • A plan of action has been proposed for the prosecution of criminal mafias engaging in the trafficking of immigrants as well as a Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) to gather information and intercept and destroy pirate ships
  • Joint actions are being developed with the immigrants’ countries of origin and €8 million will be offered for assistance and external cooperation for the period between 2014-2020

However, such measures are evidently insufficient given the mass influx of hundreds of thousands of immigrants coming to European countries from the Middle East.

Distant positions: The role of Germany

There is an overtly anti-immigrant stance on the part of Eastern European countries such as Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Romania. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán insists that the refugee problem “is not European, it’s German.” Unlike Germany, these countries have not been able to accept their anti-Jewish collaborationist past. Until that happens, they will be unable to recognize the duty of rescuing those who flee from evil.

In this respect, the generosity of Germany is a new gesture that explains why the Germans are the moral leaders of the EU , as recently highlighted by an analyst: “An age-old debate has been surpassed. Despite the Greek crisis, no one cares whether we have a European Germany or a German Europe. Europe is Germany. Or in other words: the miserly and defective Europe we have is due to the German leadership and specifically Angela Merkel. Without Germany, there would be no Europe—miserly, defective or otherwise. This is what happened with the Ukrainian crisis, the Greek crisis and now with the arrival of thousands of refugees, mostly Syrians fleeing the war and massacres of civilians.”

Although as Europeans we are largely oblivious, the three crises present an existential issue for the EU, because they are testing the ability of member countries to continue working together on the common European project of having an ever-closer union and preserving the values and principles that have inspired it. The German Chancellor stated this in a now-famous phrase about the single currency: “If the euro falls, Europe falls.” And she echoed the sentiment in reference to the asylum policy: “If Europe fails on this question of refugees, its close association with the universal rights of citizens will be destroyed and we wont have the kind of Europe that we like to imagine.”

Pope Francis, horrified by the capsizing of boats filled with refugees and immigrants in the Mediterranean, denounced the globalization of indifference at the start of his pontificate. Also in the current crisis, worst of all is the Europeanization of indifference, this Europe that shrugs it shoulders, ignores and allows the weight of the problems to fall directly on the affected countries. Germany, on the other hand, is not only advocating policies that are suitable for the largest wave of political refugees since World War II, it is also leading by example and is the country that has taken in the most refugees and has been the most active.

About Víctor Pou

Víctor Pou is professor in the Department of Economics. He holds a Ph.D. in law, a B.A. in economics from the Universitat de Barcelona, an MBA from IESE and a post-graduate diploma on European integration from the University of Amsterdam. The extensive work he has carried out for the European Union is reflected in Prof. Pou's numerous publications on European integration and international relations.

3 thoughts on “EU and Immigration (I): Why is it So Hard to Decide?

  1. personally the crisis in europe over immigrants has just highlighted that everyone matters and somehow someway the affairs of even small countries affect all of us. its an opportunity for the world to rally around solving the deep seated problems in the middle east

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