February 3, 2016, by Editor

Realities versus ideals in the European migration crisis

Written by Martin Brezovan.

For months we have heard prominent European politicians led by Angela Merkel, speak about the need for solidarity and open arms toward the migrants pouring into Europe from the Near and Middle East. Today, some 6 months into what definitely can be called an migration crisis, these representatives of goodwill are finally realizing that nice words cannot solve real world problems and they are joining the previously demonized Hungary in an effort to stop the crisis. An effort which may violate liberal sensibilities, but which is in line with common sense.

In June 2015, Hungary announced that it would build a fence along its border with Serbia to regulate the influx of migrants. Hungary argued, quite correctly, that it could not let the migrants cross the Serbian- Hungarian border wherever they wanted, as it was an illegal crossing. As a country bordering a non Schengen state, specifically Serbia, Hungary bears a special responsibility when it comes to who is allowed to enter because once there, people are able to travel freely within the Schengen area. Something that has always been a benefit for those who live in or enter the Schengen area legally.

EU leaders decided to disregard all that as they were quick to adopt a rhetoric of values and condemned the Hungarian fence. The French Foreign Minister described the fence as ‘not respecting Europe’s common values’. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz, and others expressed similar condemnations of Hungary’s actions with Merkel even suggesting parallels between the actions of Hungary and the division of Europe in the Cold War. Moreover, Germany proclaimed that it would accept all migrants from Syria. Indeed, the Upper Bavaria Prime Minister Christoph Hillenbrand’s words sum up well the German immigration policy up until recently: ‘Legal issues right now are not so important to me.’

Of the major European leaders, only British Prime Minister David Cameron seems to have maintained a reserved stance in the migrant question. This may have been a result of wisdom or simply a well calculated move (considering the growth in popularity of UKIP and other similar groupings). Either way, it was a rational decision.

Since October, the countries that proclaimed themselves as champions of tolerance, solidarity, and hospitality, have begun changing course. They have apparently come to realize the limits of the pursuit of a Utopian policy based on ideals of perfect justice and unlimited generosity.  The changing facts on the ground, combined with the growing dissatisfaction of an ‘open- door policy’ among people and government representatives prompted a change in policy. In the space of several weeks, EU countries have started doing exactly what Hungary had done and for which it was so harshly criticized namely, enforce the EU laws.

Both Austria and Germany have introduced border controls. A few weeks later Austria decided to build a fence, calling it Baumaßnahmen (translatable as ‘building arrangements’) in the gentle official language of ‘the tolerant’. Furthermore, Slovenia eventually started to build a fence on its border with Croatia, in November. While these measures may seem against the ‘spirit’ of a free and open Europe, they have turned out to be necessary to ensure that the Schengen borders don’t become a void concept that needs not to be respected.

The sobering of the European leaders and a transition to a pragmatic approach has also been reflected by the direction in which the EU is pushing its relations with Turkey. Not a long time ago, Erdogan was regularly described as a semi- dictator, and his rule in Turkey, including in questions of human rights, was being questioned. Suddenly, however, the EU has decided to strengthen its relationship with Turkey, even renewing accession talks. A package of 3 billion euros for Turkey to deal with the migration crisis has also been announced by the EU. The overall ‘deal’ with Turkey appears to be that Turkey gets money and EU membership talks in exchange for halting the migrants that would otherwise flow into Europe.

In sum, the EU is facing a difficult trade off between keeping its values and approaching the crisis pragmatically. While the former may look good on the outside, following the latter strategy within limits of EU laws may prevent greater troubles, including those emerging on the far- right end of the political spectrum. And it seems that more and more EU members are starting to realize this.

Martin Brevozan is a third year student studying a BA in History and Politics.His research interests include IR theory, political theory and language in politics. Image credit: CC by Freedom House/Flickr.

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