The EU has to prove it can remain one piece

Between the 1st and 4th of March, Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, visited 7 countries of the Western Balkans route and Turkey to continue building a European consensus on how to handle the migration crisis. These visits will help prepare today’s summit with Turkey. Tusk (on the left) is pictured here with Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish Prime Minister. (EU Audiovisual services. Shoot date: 04/03/2016, Location: Brussels, Belgium. © European Union).

Between the 1st and 4th of March, Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, visited 7 countries of the Western Balkans route and Turkey to continue building a European consensus on how to handle the migration crisis. These visits will help prepare today’s summit with Turkey. Tusk (on the left) is pictured here with Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish Prime Minister. (EU Audiovisual services. Shoot date: 04/03/2016, © European Union).

Today the European Union has to prove that it can solve its stalemate, which the immigrant and refugee flows from Asia and Africa have created. Some years ago nobody could imagine that an unseen before movement of people, could lead to the unraveling of the EU project. To deal with this problem, the 28 EU leaders are gathering this morning in Brussels to discuss it with the Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

The target is to implement an EU-Turkey action plan, in order to stem migration flows from his country to the Aegean islands and Europe. Then, at 3 p.m. this afternoon there will also be a formal meeting of the European Council to decide the details. Currently, many EU countries have closed their borders to such flows, blocking tens of thousands of immigrants and refugees in Greece.

If the flows don’t stop or are not otherwise managed, Greece will be soon suffocated from tens or even hundreds of thousands of refugees and immigrants. During the past fifteen months, under the ‘wave through’ practice, a round number of more than twelve hundred thousands of Asians and Africans have entered Europe from Turkey, accessing the Greek islands and then through the ‘Balkan corridor’ gaining entrée to central European countries, mainly Germany. Now with the EU internal borders closed, immigrants and refugees are stuck in Greece.

Restore or amputate Schengen

Closing EU’s internal borders, however, would lead to an irreparable damage of the Union’s coherence. If Greece is cut out from the rest of EU, the Schengen Agreement will collapse. The first Vice-President of the EU Commission Frans Timmermans said yesterday that “Schengen is one of the most cherished achievements of European integration, and the costs of losing it would be huge”.

If it was just the €18 billion annually, as the Commission estimates the cost of the re-erection of internal border controls within the Schengen area, Brussels could have found ways and means to finance it. Unfortunately, this time is about the deepest feelings that the many European nations have for each other, and the stalemate cannot be resolved by ordinary bargaining.

The hard unity test

Unfortunately, it’s the egotistic and xenophobic archetypical national stereotypes that have surfaced again and have to be compromised, but this prospect proves to be very difficult if not impossible. It seems that the Czechs, the Slovaks, the Poles, the Hungarians and others feel very far away and strange from Greeks. This estrangement, if not rage of the central European nations towards the Southerners has led to a total rejection of the plan to accept some refugees, after the unfortunate people have accessed Europe by reaching Greece. Not to say anything about sharing Greece’s other problems. Some of the central Europeans appear even vindictive towards Greece. As a result, the migration problem is open to all kinds of misuse and manipulation and many politicians have jumped at the opportunity.

What happened last week in Bratislava is very characteristic of this situation. Ahead of last Saturday’s general election in Slovakia, prime minister Robert Fico, a stocky guy, in an interview to the Hospordaske Noviny newspaper said, “there is only a huge hotspot and it is called Greece”. He obviously didn’t hesitate to play with the most phobic and aggressive chords of the Slovak voters. Usually, it’s the extreme right political parties and groups which exploit the anti-immigrant feelings of people, but Fico is a socialist, God forbid.

Rampant nationalism

So it seems that the anti-refugee rhetoric horizontally crosses the political spectrum and offers an easy to exploit platform, open to every irresponsible politician or activist to abuse. We saw that happening in the last legislative election in Poland, where Jarosław Kaczyński became again the key political player in the country. No need to comment on Kaczyński’s views about tolerance, democracy and the EU ideal. Mind you, that it’s exactly the Polish workers who have immigrated en masse to other EU countries, including Greece.

To restore order, the Commission last Friday prepared a roadmap, aimed at making again the Schengen system fully functioning. The proposal is expected to be endorsed by the 28 EU leaders today. According to this, the concrete steps needed to return order in the management of EU’s external and internal borders are the following:
*Role out a new system by identifying the necessary human and technical resources (creation of the EU Coastal and Border Guard)
* Five clearly defined steps to secure the external borders of Greece
* Apply the rules and stop the wave-through approach
* A coherent approach for internal border controls abandoning the unilateral measures.

Turkey has to cooperate

In any case, if the EU is to succeed in countering the immigration and refugee nightmare, it must secure the effective cooperation of Turkey, which is not yet the case. That’s why the 28 EU leaders are meeting the Turkish Prime Minister Davutoglu today in Brussels. Ankara has to accept the role of NATO in its territorial waters and agree to take back all immigrants rescued by the European war ships in the straights between Turkey and Greece.
If all that is not in place by mid spring then the migrant and refugee flows will inflate again helped by the good weather, and this time the blow will be much harder for the EU to stomach.

 

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