The EU must reassert humane control over chaos around the Mediterranean
Originally published in The Observer
The European refugee debate reached a new nadir with a proposal to expel Greecefrom the Schengen zone and effectively transform it into an open-air holding pen for countless thousands of asylum seekers. The idea is not only inhumane and a gross violation of basic European principles; it also would prove vastly more costly than the alternative – a truly common EU policy that quells the chaos of the past year.
Six countries have already reimposed border controls, and the European commission is preparing to allow them, and presumably others, to do the same for two years. The financial price of this alone is enormous – in the order of at least €40bn (including costs to fortify borders and those incurred by travellers and shippers). It would be much less expensive, financially and politically, to establish a common EU border and coastguard, and a functioning EU asylum agency.
This has proved to be, effectively, a zero-sum game. The rush by member states last year to seal their own perimeters left them unable to help shore up the EU’s external borders. They failed to send Greece the personnel and ships it had been promised. As such, the need for national border controls has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
A selfish, unilateral approach to borders constitutes a repeat of the tragedy of 2015, when EU member states individually spent about €40bn to address the crisis after it had reached European shores. In early 2015, the UN asked for a small fraction of that to feed, house and school the four million refugees in Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon, but the international community and Europe failed to deliver (and many EU members still haven’t paid their share). Unable to feed and educate their children, thousands of refugees ceded their savings to smugglers for a chance to reach Europe – precisely what you and I would have done had we been in their place.
Europe cannot afford another such failure. The EU, working with the international community, must reassert humane control over the chaos around the Mediterranean. This entails immediate action on three fronts: first, raising the necessary tens of billions to allow refugees in frontline countries to live, work, and go to school there; states and the private sector must also help to create jobs both for refugees and natives through investments in the region and free-trade regimes.
Second, EU members must agree to accept several hundred thousand refugees directly from the region via safe, secure pathways and to match them to communities in Europe able to host them; failing to do this will alienate the frontline countries that bear most of the burden. Third, EU states must focus on creating a common-border regime, coastguard and asylum agency rather than return to the era of the Berlin Wall.
The EU is hurtling towards disintegration, not due to some insurmountable challenge or outside force. It is instead succumbing to a self-induced panic that has paralysed its common sense. It is time to end the nightmare.