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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » July 13, 2016
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Europe’s Migration Headache
July 13, 2016   
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Tidal waves of immigrants have sent Europe into a serious crisis that the European Union and member state governments are desperately trying to solve. To this end, they could use expert advice from professionals who study human migration in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia.

A select group of such experts attended the GlobSec 2016 conference on global security in April in the Slovak capital Bratislava. Politicians, analysts and academics came from around the world to discuss the migration crisis with delegates from research centers in Europe and the United States as well as analysts from countries affected by uncontrolled immigration.

The general conclusion from the conference is that neither European governments nor the European Commission have so far come up with an adequate response to the migration problem, whose scale has long surpassed any expectations and forecasts. Many attendees said the public in EU countries had been taken aback by the magnitude of the migration crisis, and reactions varied considerably. Along with immigrant-friendly words and actions, Europe has seen increasingly defensive attitudes and a backlash against the newcomers, who are mainly seen through their non-European cultural and social background. According to conference participants, such aversion could encourage extreme nationalists and xenophobes and consequently undermine the very foundations of the European community. Interestingly, most GlobSec attendees gave a realistic assessment of the threat posed by uncontrolled immigration, but only a few came up with suggestions for any political, social and economic tools that could help remedy the situation.

The GlobSec 2016 conference gave me an opportunity to talk to some of these experts as they sought to identify the key factors that had driven thousands of people out of the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia and into the paradise they thought awaited them in Europe.

Edward Lucas, senior vice-president of the Center for European Policy Analysis—a policy institute dedicated to the study of Central and Eastern Europe with offices in Washington and Warsaw—told me that one of the main drivers of immigration was globalization, a process that showed to people in poor and backward countries how Europeans lived their lives. These people crave the same kind of life for themselves, Lucas says.

Another factor cited by Lucas is the war in the Middle East. Before it broke out, the local population lived in comparatively decent conditions. One example is Syria, which was a fairly stable country until the spreading war zone compelled people to leave everything behind and flee. In the light of this, Lucas says, Europe should seek to stabilize its neighbor countries in the short term.

As far as long-term goals are concerned, Lucas believes members of the European community should work together to even out the economic inequalities that triggered the migration wave in the first place. In other words, the migration rate could be curbed by efforts to raise the living standards in the immigrants’ home countries.

The conclusion from what Lucas says is that the EU has so far failed miserably at tackling the problem in a satisfactory way. Lucas believes Europe needs a much stronger foreign policy and a realistic idea on how to stabilize the situation in all the troubled regions. What it also needs, Lucas says, is something along the lines of a Foreign Legion, an armed force to firmly stand up against Jihadists and other enemies. More importantly, Europe has to rethink the rules that govern the global economy so that poor countries can feel they belong in the modern world as well.

Lucas is keen to remind us, Europeans, that while we harvest fish in the waters west of Africa, indigenous Western Africans are often hungry and out of job, which makes them desperate to get into Europe.

George Friedman, the founder of the Stratfor Center for Analysis, is just as critical of EU immigration policies as Lucas. According to Friedman, the EU has let everybody down with its decisions on how to deal with consecutive tidal waves of immigrants. What might seem sensible from the German point of view does not necessarily make sense, or is not even remotely acceptable, to other member states such as Poland or Greece, Friedman says. This is a clear allusion to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s statement last year in which she pledged to accommodate all needy immigrants in Germany. What she forgot to say was who the needy ones actually were. She never said if she meant refugees from war zones or migrants who were just seeking a better life. This opinion relates to what Lucas told me about Germany’s immigration policy: he described it as kind and generous, but also irresponsible.

Friedman says a similar thing and points out that Europeans have kept the borders open to illegal immigrants for a long time. The result is colossal problems for everyone, Friedman says, especially as the so-called old Europe basically dumped the huge immigration wave in the lap of the smaller and weaker EU member states in the south. The task to protect the EU’s external borders was assigned to, for example, Greece, a country that was and still is coping with a financial crisis and was completely unable to carry the weight of sheltering its borders against illegal immigrants. And that is where, according to Friedman, Germany’s open-border policy cannot be seen as a competent one, as it led to huge problems in Greece, Macedonia, Serbia and other countries. Berlin’s attitude could be seen as a highly liberal one, but at the same time irresponsible because other countries were made to carry the weight of the illegal immigration problem without even being asked if they could and even wanted to do that.

In a comment to the EU’s current measures to address the migration crisis, Friedman said the EU was well prepared for times of peace and prosperity, but completely unprepared for crisis situations. According to Friedman, the EU is at a loss when times are turbulent and peace and prosperity gone. Friedman added that the EU’s present negotiations with Turkey are not enough because for many years in the past Brussels refused to show Turkey the respect it deserved. Now that the EU needs Turkey’s help and cooperation to stop more immigrants from coming, Brussels is only starting to give Ankara the due credit.

Speaking of Turkey, I should also cite Ivan Krastev, a Bulgarian political scientist affiliated with the Institute for Human Sciences (IWM) in Vienna. The EU, according to Krastev, is becoming Turkey’s hostage. Unless it includes Turkey in its visa waiver program this coming June, Ankara could use the immigration situation against Europe. If it feels let down, Krastev says, Turkey could choose to turn immigrants into a weapon to protect its own best interests. That could mean major trouble to many countries, especially those located close to Turkey. The Bulgarian political scientist adds that many countries in the past used migrating masses as weapons, aiming to destabilize other countries or ethnic communities that they saw as adversaries or hostiles. Krastev is convinced that Europe can only expect the number of immigrants to increase further in the future. The human wave will not be necessarily fueled by military conflicts, Krastev says. Instead, people in poor countries will simply want to move to Europe now that they know a lot more about the living standards here. Many people in poverty-stricken areas find it easier to cross national borders than advance from poverty to affluence, or at least join the middle class in their home countries. As a result, Krastev says, Europe will continue to face immigrant masses flowing in from many corners of the world.

The future will tell if Krastev is right in his predictions, but today we should start asking ourselves about the implications of the massive migration, which bears a striking resemblance to the human migrations of centuries ago.

Krzysztof Renik
in Bratislava, Slovakia
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