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The current refugee crisis highlights greater problems in the EU’s fabric, argues FRSA Samuel Korfmacher. He sets out the challenge and urges European leaders to act now to better safeguard our future.

With refugees arriving at European borders by the thousands, the failings of the European Asylum policies of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) have become obvious. The CEAS and the Dublin System states that the country in which the asylum seekers arrive is responsible for their processing and needs to bear the financial costs associated with this. Its failure highlights other structural problems with the current EU set-up and policies. Much of which will become even more apparent in the future, and which might make it very difficult for the EU to solve even more pressing, future problems.

As a group of 28 countries, the EU has common borders that are mainly protected by national authorities, be it with the help of FRONTEX, which is the EU’s attempt at a common mission for its external borders. Nevertheless the brunt of the financial and operational pressure is still borne by the relevant national states of the EU periphery. These same peripheral EU states are the ones that are the least wealthy, and are therefore the least capable of bearing the financial expenses and operational strains that are associated with their role as common EU border. The financial crisis is on everyone’s mind, and due to the fact that people in other EU countries feel that they have to pay for someone else’s mess, the discussion surrounding the financial aid to Greece ensures that suddenly everyone has an outspoken opinion on this issue.

However, both the financial crisis and the refugee crisis are just signs of failures in the EU’s policies and highlight the flaws in the EU’s underlying fabric. The founding fathers of the EU envisioned a Europe in which countries were loyal to each other, unified by common interests that bring lasting stability and peace, for the benefit of all Europeans. When you have a union of states, some form of cooperation between all member states is necessary. This entails that individual states need to support each other (both financially and operationally) as well as the need to adopt and implement some common policies and regulations. The latter might mean giving up some of the state’s sovereignty for the greater good.

However, at a grass roots level, European integration seems to have come to a standstill. In the last 10-15 years complaints about ‘Brussels’ have become the talk of the day, with politicians often stating that they are powerless because ‘the decision has been taken by Brussels’. Most people have no idea how decisions there are being and are unaware that in the vast majority of cases their national representatives actually have to agree to a policy in order for it to take effect. So, the excuse that politicians are using is in fact complete nonsense.

With the financial crisis taking its toll on jobs and people fearing the worst, this scepticism and unwillingness to further share EU wide responsibilities seem to go from bad to worse. The refugee crisis and the flare-up of nationalistic tendencies in virtually all EU states only seem to add fuel to the fire.

One issue becomes apparent: people want the benefits of EU membership, but are not prepared to bear the costs associated with this. The idea of the EU seems to have become a romantic ideal, with member countries not willing to implement common policies that might entail giving up some form of sovereignty and offer some form of mutual support. The idea that one country has to contribute financially to solve problems in another member state still is an issue of hot debate. Of course, the lack of political courage by the EU’s leaders and their willingness to give up some established national policies does not help. This applies to both the giving and the receiving party. Politicians seem to be only concerned with their re-election and not with the establishment of durable policies that make the EU stronger and ensure a stable future European society for the benefit of all its citizens.

Keeping these issues in mind, the ability of the EU to deal with future problems seems questionable. Take climate change as an example. With recent studies reporting that global warming and its consequences such as desertification and rising sea-levels are to be expected at a much faster pace than previously thought, most people do not realize the immense impact this will have on the EU and its citizens.

Climate change will not only mean an increased flow of so-called ‘climate refugees’ towards the EU’s borders, but also an increase in migration within the EU. With the southern-most states of the EU facing environmental hardship such as increased droughts and desertification, EU citizens from affected countries will seek their fortune in other member states that are seemingly less affected.

This will have two-fold negative consequences: a brain-drain for the state in which the intra-EU migrants originate, and an increased burden on the infrastructure and society of the receiving state. Furthermore, rising sea-levels will mean that most states will need to invest heavily in flood-water defenses, with countries such as the Netherlands as an obvious example. However, the investments needed are likely to be so costly and the projects so large and complex, that no individual state can handle these by itself. So huge investments will be needed, and these costs will most likely need to be borne jointly by the EU member states. This will mean complex discussions and financing proposals, not to mention the impact these investments will have on current EU policies with regards to national deficits and current account balances or the impact this might have on the common currency.

All of this will put further strain on the EU, its institutions, and the core idea of European integration. The EU and its leaders need to address these issues now, politicians need to put their individual agendas to the side, communicate openly with the public and make clear plans for the future. The future we are facing will be one that is likely to be more insecure and uncertain in many ways, and if Europe wants to survive we all need to take action now. 

Samuel holds a BA in International Relations from Sussex University and an MA in European Studies from KU Leuven. He is has ample international business experience and currently lives and works in the Netherlands. He is passionate about innovation, sustainability and social issues. 

 

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