EU needs common policy to combat chaos on all fronts

From the refugee crisis to the Ukraine to Greece and Brexit, the EU’s is beset by problems

Migrants gaze out of a train window in Coratia. In deciding what to do, the EU must draw a distinction between refugees and immigrants. Countries have legal and moral obligations to refugees. They do not have such obligations to other immigrants. Photograph: Marko Djurica/Reuters

Migrants gaze out of a train window in Coratia. In deciding what to do, the EU must draw a distinction between refugees and immigrants. Countries have legal and moral obligations to refugees. They do not have such obligations to other immigrants. Photograph: Marko Djurica/Reuters

 

The last thing the EU wanted to deal with was a tide of refugees. The euro zone crisis, the struggle with Russia over Ukraine and the UK’s decision to hold its referendum on membership were challenges enough. Now comes a crisis that is as fraught as it is hard to manage. Yet the EU cannot choose what it must deal with. It must deal with what is before it.

The desperate human beings landing on European shores pose daunting moral, political and practical difficulties. But a way has to be found to manage them without sacrificing the values on which modern Europe was built.

In deciding what to do, the EU must draw a distinction between refugees and immigrants. Countries have legal and moral obligations to refugees. They do not have such obligations to other immigrants.

Compassion for the desperate has to be distinct from a cooler assessment of the advantages and disadvantages of immigration. It may be helpful to argue that refugees could provide economic benefits to the recipient country. In many cases, no doubt, resourceful people who so badly want to enter will do just that. But that is not the reason why they should be accepted.

Yet persuading people to accept this distinction will be hard because the numbers have become large. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Europe will receive up to one million asylum applications this year – an unprecedented number.

Of these, between 350,000 and 450,000 are likely to be granted refugee status. Compared with previous crises, people from countries neighbouring the EU are less represented (the war in the former Yugoslavia being the cause of the spike in asylum seekers in the early 1990s), while those from further away are more so. The origin of the flows is diverse: in the first half of 2015, Syrians, Afghanis, Iraqis and Eritreans accounted for 39 per cent of all asylum claims.

Tiny percentage

This is not to belittle the challenges. Given the instability in the Middle East and Africa, the numbers of bona fide refugees are likely to rise.

Moreover, the EU seems to have lost control over its borders. Thus, many more refugees, as well as many with a less justified claim to that status, are surely still to arrive.

So how should Europeans and their allies, particularly the US, respond?

In the short run, incomers need to be processed. Germany has stated that it expects to receive 800,000 asylum seekers, or 1 per cent of the population, this year – the largest number ever recorded in a member of the OECD. But its decision to do so is causing huge stresses inside the EU.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the commission president, has proposed that refugees be shared out among the member states. EU ministers did vote to relocate 120,00 people across the continent over the next two years. But members differ greatly in their true willingness to take refugees. In any case, once inside the border-free Schengen area, people cannot be tied down. They will move wherever they expect the best lives. The EU needs a common policy, at least for the Schengen area. The UK and US also need to take more refugees.

Solidarity in integration

Solidarity is also needed to help overstretched countries on the frontiers, notably Greece and Italy. It is hard to see how the border-free Europe of today will be maintained without a well-resourced border protection and immigration service.

But this requires common policies: a daunting political task.

Another need is to provide the vulnerable states on the front lines of the refugee crisis with far more assistance. This applies, in particular, to those bordering Syria.

US and UK onus

Now come two really hard tasks. The first is to bring a measure of stability to destabilised countries. For Europeans, the most important are Syria, Iraq and Libya.

And, similarly, Europeans need at least to try to halt the people-smuggling at source. This will require a combination of diplomacy and coercion. If Europeans are unable to muster much of this, they will remain at the mercy of events. The US must also play a more effective role as a producer of order, not disorder, than it has at least since 2001.

Europeans just want to be left alone. But the EU lives in a world of chaos. It needs to find a way to cope, other than by becoming a fortress that lets the desperate perish on its defences.

It needs a comprehensive and effective strategy. Yes, this time pigs do have to fly. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2015

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