Migration has set EU’s political clock ticking; the stagnating economy cannot help it and Turkey doesn’t cooperate

Refugees: the Balkan route starts from the Greek island of Lesbos. A series of EC Audiovisual Services’ stockshots show refugees arriving in Greece and their route through the Balkan countries into EU member states further north. Shoot date: 11/09/2015. Location: Lesbos, Greece. (EC Audiovisual Services. Snapshot from a video footage).

Refugees: the Balkan route starts from the Greek island of Lesbos. A series of EC Audiovisual Services’ stockshots show refugees arriving in Greece and their route through the Balkan countries into EU member states further north. Shoot date: 11/09/2015. Location: Lesbos, Greece. (EC Audiovisual Services. Snapshot from a video footage).

The more action clauses a document of a Western Balkans-EU agreement contains, meant to “improve cooperation and step up consultation between the countries along the migration route”, the less cooperation there will be. That was the case last Sunday 25 October when 11 leaders of Balkan and EU countries met in Brussels. They knew very well that they couldn’t stop or restrain the human river with the 17 articles of their communiqué. All they can do is to pass the migration burden to their neighbors.

In this respect the 10 convinced the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to keep 50,000 immigrants on Greek soil. Of course this is not enough. As long as Turkey facilitates the movement of migrants and refuges to reach the EU, the human procession will continue its course. In any case, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the two Presidents, Jean-Claude Junker of the Commission and Donald Tusk of the EU Council, managed to ease the burden and increase the financial support to Croatia and Slovenia, the two spoiled EU children of the Balkans. Inopportunely, the main supplier of refugees and migrants, Turkey, was not there to tell the real story.

Turkey can’t even help herself

The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was not invited in that Brussels meeting, despite the fact that his country is the key player in any plan to manage, curb or turn back the migration flow. Understandably, the general elections this Sunday 1 November in Turkey make everything much more difficult and complex there. Erdoğan’s future and in many respects the future of his country depends on the outcome of this election.

If the results prolong the current political limbo the EU cannot expect anything good from Ankara. The country is deeply divided between the followers of Erdoğan and his adversaries. If this division is pushed to its limits after the elections, the results may be unpredictable. Even worse, natives of this country may join the lines of immigrants who aspire to reach Germany. Today there is a very large Turkish community living and working in Germany totaling three million persons. Naturally, they are ready to offer help to their compatriots if the need appears. Imagine then the political environment in Germany in the case that more Turks start flowing in together with the other migrants from Asia and Africa.

Germany can’t cope

All these people are the desperate refugees who flee the war-torn and destitute Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the unbearable poverty in Bangladesh and meet en route with refugees and migrants from Africa (mainly Eritrea). They go to Turkey and from there on they aspire to land on EU soil in the Greek islands of the Aegean Sea and then from mainland Greece through the Balkan corridor to reach western and northern Europe. A round number of 500,000 have reached Greece this year and the human river still continues flowing unhindered. Almost all of them continue their arduous trip through the western Balkans aspiring to reach central Europe and Germany. Last Sunday in Brussels the European leaders did nothing to change that.

The heads of state or government of Albania, Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia met in Brussels at the Commission’s Berlaymont Headquarters and turned out a 17 clauses agreement to “improve cooperation and step up consultation between the countries along the route”. The document also says that they “decided on pragmatic operational measures that can be implemented as of tomorrow to tackle the refugee crisis in the region”.

What measures?

In reality no measure that has a real effect on the migration flows was decided. Only Greece accepted to shelter 50,000 migrants on its soil. Given however that the Greeks are both unreliable and unorganized, their word cannot be trusted. In any case only the harsh European winter may reduce the numbers of the stream of people. The chilly weather of October didn’t have any effect on numbers. Migrants still disembark every day by the thousands on the Greek islands and they are transported to mainland Greece by ships chartered by the government. Actually, the EU supported Greece with €5.9 million to face to this cost because Athens is currently penniless. As a result, the pressure will continue to be on Greece’s northern neighbors and ultimately on Germany.

Bitter politics

In any case, the migration issue has already bitten deeply into the internal political life of many EU member states, with Angela Merkel already paying a dear price. Her popularity has sunk to record lows. As for the Polish voters, last Sunday they elected a sturdily Eurosceptic government under the unpredictable Jaroslaw Kaczynski and his nationalistic, xenophobic and inward looking Law and Justice Party. The Polish also elected a new extremely right-wing party into the Parliament led by rock star Pawel Kukiz with 8.8% of the vote. Poland under Kaczynski will never opt to join the euro area and will certainly create problems in the normal functioning of the EU properly.

The EU drifts to nationalism

In the aftermath of the 2008-2010 financial crisis in poor urban and rural areas in many EU countries the political support went to extreme right-wing, nationalistic, xenophobic and Eurosceptic parties. This trend is now heightened with the migration problem. The revulsion for the foreigners was awaken in the impoverished masses of northern and central Europe some years ago. The poor people felt bitter with the hundreds of billions ostensibly handed out to ‘lazy’ Greeks. Now the arrival of the migrants has turned those Europeans into nationalist, Eurosceptic and xenophobic hardliners. In reality, they are right to feel threatened by the immigrants, because their livelihood depends on poorly paid low skilled jobs that the new arrivals may accept to perform for even less.

The jackals are out

Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France, the True Finns in Finland, the AfD party and the Pegida movement in Germany, the Austrian Freedom Party, Kaczynski’s Law and Justice Party in Poland and the fascist Golden Down in Greece, all have flourished by playing the xenophobic chords of the underprivileged masses in the urban and rural areas of Europe. All those extreme political groups are mainly feeding on the one-quarter of Europeans who are at risk of poverty and social exclusion. Add to that the fact that the insecurity sentiment of the middle European classes is growing by the widespread austerity and the economic stagnation and the political future of the EU doesn’t look rosy at all.

In short, the migration problem is currently feeding in a political process which dawned with the financial catastrophe of 2008-2010. Large parts of the population in many EU countries saw their livelihood worsening to the point of social exclusion and poverty. The flow of immigrants presents a new economic threat for them. Consequently, those social problems have drastically changed the political scenery in the EU and unfortunately there is not a sign in the economic horizon strong enough to change this dangerous course.

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