16 Nov 2018

When solidarity fails -- euros to the rescue

There are three solutions to Europe's migration influx. One is really great, but completely out of reach. Another can only work if we get along, which we can't. So a third, which buys Europe a clean conscience, is what we'll likely get stuck with.

Karolina Zbytniewska
Karolina Zbytniewska Euractiv, Europe
When solidarity fails -- euros to the rescue - NewsMavens
Euro boat, PixaBay

Over 1.5 million refugees and immigrants have arrived at Europe’s gates since 2015. This massive inflow put the EU asylum system based on the Dublin Regulation to test. It requires that the first European country an asylum seeker enters be held responsible for the application process. This test was a failure.

Brussels then sought to better coordinate the inflow of asylum seekers by introducing a mandatory quota system. Asking all member states take in refugees proportionally “according to their ability” and in the name of solidarity. The solidarity test failed as well.

These failings opened a Pandora’s box of EU-discontent driven by xenophobic sentiments and demonstrations of national sovereignty. And it is still gaping, despite the fact that the number of arrivals has fallen from over 1 million in 2015 to 106,000 this year. This is significantly less than in the pre-crisis year of 2014, when 216,000 immigrants arrived.

But while dissatisfaction continues to be directed at the European Union, the EU itself cannot really do much. At least not without the consent and cooperation of its member states -- which it does not have. And not without the consent and cooperation of passage countries like Libya, Tunisia or Morocco. And finally, not without the power and capacity to bring about full-fledged structural reforms in the immigrants’ countries of origin. This last is simultaneously the best and least possible solution. 

Why the least possible? Because EU governments work in limited electoral cycles and won’t risk supporting remote idealistic strategies that bring delayed results*. Especially if politicians like Marine Le Pen are breathing down your neck accusing you of spending money on "terrorist Muslim parasites", instead of on your own People. 

The most realistic solution on the table is the second one -- externalizing immigration challenges by cooperation with North African countries. This allows the EU to wash its hands of the problem. 

As the 2016 deal with Turkey has successfully reduced asylum seekers’ influx, why not treat it as a model for potential deals with North African countries. Its price? 6 billion euro and…a clear conscience. As a result of this deal, Mediterranean migration routes moved Westward, putting Italy and, increasingly, Spain under strain. Is it any surprise that the populist 5 Star Movement along with anti-immigrant Lega won the last Italian elections?

During the June European Council summit, the EU adopted a plan to create disembarkation centers outside Europe for migrants rescued at sea. So far “outside Europe” doesn’t share that enthusiasm -- or maybe not enough has been offered in exchange. Similar deals with North African countries will be secured eventually. They will most likely be effective. Their price will again be: billions of euros and a clear conscience. 

We can criticize Brussels for this ethical controversy of cooperating with failed states or authoritarian regimes (like Turkey) where human rights are not a top priority, to say the least. But, as stated above, considering the limited interest in strategic thinking and solidarity among EU countries, this -- sadly -- appears to be the only feasible solution on the table. 

Hopefully, however, one day Europe’s national leaders will dare to look beyond short-term gains. United Europe -- and Africa -- are in desperate need of statesmen. 


*And btw, this lack of strategic thinking seems one of the major weaknesses of today’s democratic systems.


Project #Femfacts co-financed by European Commission Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology as part of the Pilot Project – Media Literacy For All

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