Every week, a selection of leading experts answer
a new question from Judy Dempsey on the foreign and security policy
challenges shaping Europe’s role in the world.
Associate in Carnegie’s Europe Program
The refugee crisis is only one of three major
crises that have engulfed Europe over the past few years—the other
two being the Greek debt drama and Russian aggression toward
Ukraine. Now, the three areas of political integration that the EU
added to its single market core more than twenty years ago are in
doubt: economic and monetary union (the eurozone); the Common
Foreign and Security Policy; and the Schengen system of
However, the influx of refugees and the resulting
chaos in accommodating them isn’t merely the latest crisis but also
one that directly touches the lives of EU citizens in nearly all
member states in a way the other two have never done. Still, what
all three crises have in common is that they go to the heart of
state sovereignty. Taxes, armies, and residence—are EU member states
willing to accept the principle of solidarity and, ultimately,
supranational decisionmaking in these three key areas?
Therefore, taking the question literally, the
refugee crisis might indeed destroy the EU as created by the 1992
Maastricht Treaty and end the project of political union, with only
the single market—the old European Community—remaining. However,
there is hope, as ironically, it is European citizens—those ever
EU-critical citizens—who have taken the initiative to help the
refugees and thus reminded their own governments of the value of
cooperation and compassion.
Senior fellow at the Center for Transatlantic
Relations at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International
Immigration has long been a touchy issue in the
EU. In fact, Europe needs immigrants to counterbalance its negative
population growth rates. The problem is therefore not immigration as
such, but rather that the crisis is showing the EU’s weaknesses and
The West’s mighty foreign (and defense) policies
have proved unable to replace war with democracy and human rights.
Solidarity—for a long time a basic EU principle—is no more: the same
countries that just two decades ago were the source of emigrants are
now fighting immigrants with barbed wire, gas, and the army.
Most importantly, the EU is betraying its own
founding values. The treatment that migrants received in recent days
at the Hungarian border with Serbia is unacceptable and in sharp
contrast with both the spirit and the letter of the EU’s founding
treaty, adding to the long list of the Hungarian government’s
deviations from democracy.
If the EU wants to survive, it needs to do three
things. First, it must address the immediate problem of how and
where to host the immigrants. Second, it must step up its foreign
policy and seriously engage along the northern shore of the
Mediterranean Sea. And third, it should use the procedure foreseen
in Article 7 of the EU treaty to punish Hungary for breaching the
EU’s values. The EU can only continue to exist as a community based
on unassailable rights and unbreakable norms.
President of the American Institute for
Contemporary German Studies at Johns Hopkins University
Today, Europe has a new crisis in its inbox to
deal with—and some fear that this one is far more dangerous than the
Greek debt saga, the financial meltdown, or the Russian invasion of
eastern Ukraine. Now, Europe faces an unending wave of refugees.
Perhaps seeing a barbed wire fence go up along
Hungary’s border with Serbia reminds Europeans of unpleasant
memories more than twenty-five years ago before the Cold War ended.
But these memories might also remind those same Europeans about what
came after that period: an expanded, certainly changed, and clearly
challenged European Union.
The current crisis can and will change and
challenge Europeans again. It might also remind Europeans that they
have the capacity, the resources, and the shared strategic interests
to help shape solutions rather than revert to protecting themselves.
Despite the polemics of those Europeans who want
to place blame on each other’s doorstep, it is war, persecution, and
the brutality of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and
of the self-proclaimed Islamic State that have caused this crisis.
It is the uncertainty caused by chaos that has forced millions of
people to seek refuge.
Europe today, seventy years after its worst war in
history, is itself evidence of the possibility of overcoming that
fate. But to restore itself after the war, Europe had help from the
United States. Today’s challenges will need the resources and the
capabilities of both Europe and the United States.
Chancellor Angela Merkel has told her fellow
Germans, “We can do it.” But they cannot do it alone any more than
their forebearers could rebuild after World War II without aid.
Europe as a whole must want to act—but it will take leadership. And
Germany has to learn how to play that role.
Senior research fellow at the Centre for
It could, but it does not have to. EU leaders are
scrambling to respond to the crisis, but they must be clear-eyed
about the bigger picture.
The quota system to which EU interior ministers
agreed on September 22 for relocating 120,000 refugees across Europe
is a welcome first step. But the EU must also reform its asylum
policy, currently based on the principle that the member state
through which an asylum seeker first enters the EU is responsible
for processing that person’s claim. And the union must set up safe,
secure, and humanitarian processing centers in its neighborhood and
go after the networks of people smugglers.
The foreign policy dimension of this crisis has
been largely neglected. Europe’s leaders are overly focused on
dealing with the symptoms—the large groups of migrants and refugees
coming to Europe—rather than fighting the causes. A more durable
solution surely lies in helping create the conditions that stop
people from fleeing to Europe in the first place. If European
leaders fail to dedicate serious time and resources to help put an
end to the Syrian Civil War or to bring some stability to Libya,
people will continue to vote with their feet to seek security or
opportunity in Europe.
If EU leaders focus only on the symptoms, Europe
should prepare for the numbers of migrants and refugees to
swell—soon to be followed by a toxic anti-EU and anti-migrant
backlash in Europe’s politics.
Professor of National Security Affairs at the
U.S. Naval War College and an adjunct fellow at the Center for
Strategic and International Studies
It is too early to adjudicate whether the current
wave of migrants arriving in Europe will ultimately unravel the
European Union, but it will certainly strain the union’s
institutions like no other crisis to date. The deepening divisions
over resettlement quotas are but the latest manifestation of the
EU’s more fundamental structural problem: the lack of a mechanism to
centrally manage the processing of asylum claims and to coordinate
Likewise, the EU lacks a common mechanism for
securing the external borders of the Schengen passport-free zone, as
there is no EU-empowered agency functionally equivalent to the
interior ministries of member states. That shortcoming ensures that
the current wave of migration will be followed by others so long as
the borders are porous and Syria, Iraq, and other parts of the
Middle East and North Africa are on fire.
A key challenge for the EU is to reach forward
into its Southern neighborhood. Thus far, the EU has not been very
effective in stopping the boats from leaving, nor in going after the
smugglers. To avoid being overwhelmed while it strives to process
and resettle the migrants, the EU must stem the tide. In that
regard, it will be critical to strike a deal with countries that
currently hold the majority of the refugees, especially Turkey, to
improve conditions in the camps, process applications in place, and
bring some order.
So long as the EU’s response to the growing
migration wave remains reactive, the problem will only deepen and
further strain the EU’s institutions. And as the inflow of migrants
continues to test individual countries’ absorption capacity, it will
lead to deepening national divisions and a popular backlash.
Views expressed here are the author’s own.
Visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe
I do not think the refugee crisis will destroy the
EU as such, but its magnitude and speed present two distinct dangers
for European integration.
The first danger concerns the Schengen Agreement,
which created the EU’s passport-free travel area. The treaty may end
up being the easy scapegoat of the crisis, especially in a context
in which extreme right-wing parties are making gains across Europe.
As an illustration, the Greek Golden Dawn party made advances in the
September 20 parliamentary election, especially on the islands where
most migrants land from Turkey. Similarly, the latest poll for the
2017 French presidential election shows a strong lead for the
National Front, which is against Schengen.
The second danger is more pervasive. It is linked
to the policy of several Central European countries of opting out of
their shared responsibility in the refugee crisis. Hungary, which
itself saw 200,000 people flee the country after the Soviet invasion
in 1956, is behaving in a way that negates the notion of European
solidarity in difficult circumstances. It also projects a shameful
image on the rest of the EU, for example when Hungarian police at a
refugee camp threw bread to migrants over a fence, something that is
prohibited even in a zoo.
Senior fellow at the Transatlantic Academy
No. Instead, the refugee crisis is pushing the EU
to set up new rules. That means a lot of negotiation. Some of it may
look ugly. But that’s quite natural when so much is at stake. The
question of borders and immigration is deeply controversial in
almost all EU countries. It is a question of identity. Many people
and political parties take a very strong, often negative stance
driven by fear of the kind of change that may come with immigration.
The opposite position is no less principled and
equally related to identity. Helping people who are fleeing a
horrible war is for many a moral duty. In this view, fighting
xenophobia and taking a cosmopolitan outlook that is open to
foreigners is what Europeans should have learned from history.
A majority of Germans have taken the second
position. Chancellor Angela Merkel has spontaneously connected with
the country’s new culture of welcoming. As Germany is currently the
decisive member state in the EU system, Berlin’s position has become
a challenge for those countries that are rather skeptical of
immigration. But at the end of the debate, there will be a
Executive director of the Transatlantic Academy
The refugee crisis is the most serious challenge
to the ideals of Europe—interdependence and openness—that has
confronted the continent since the end of the European division in
1990. The crisis hits home in every member state, as it is not a
faraway problem like the Greek debt saga or the war in eastern
Ukraine but one that is visible on the streets in many EU countries.
The crisis has struck at a time when
anti-immigrant feelings are already running high in many parts of
Europe—fears that are being instrumentalized by politicians like the
UK’s Nigel Farage, France’s Marine Le Pen, and Hungary’s Viktor
Orbán. It also risks splitting Europe both between North and South
and between East and West.
That being said, the refugee crisis will not
destroy the EU but is rather a sign of the attractiveness and, yes,
compassion of Europeans. Germany is now forcefully taking the lead
in pushing for a common European response, and Berlin’s threat of
the use of its power in coercive ways is actually a positive sign
that the country is taking the kind of leadership role that many
have been calling for. For once, Germans understand that leading
means you cannot always be loved.
But this tough-love approach remains within a
European context. Europe will respond with a broad policy that will
include helping frontline states, being tougher in processing asylum
seekers, offering aid to resettlement centers in the states that
border Syria, and, perhaps, introducing an arrangement to share
quotas of refugees among member states. The forthcoming winter
weather will also slow the flow of refugees and allow Europe to
regroup. To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the EU’s death are
Director of the Ankara Office of the German
Marshall Fund of the United States
The refugee crisis will not destroy the EU but
will certainly challenge the single market and the EU’s role in its
The free movement of people as well as goods,
services, and capital is one of the fundamental pillars of the
single market. Limitations on the free movement of people as a
result of the refugee influx will make the EU less united than it
used to be. The refugee crises is also a new test for burden sharing
within the EU.
Moreover, the way the union chooses to deal with
the refugee crisis will be a manifestation of its approach to its
neighborhood. The European Neighborhood Policy, developed with the
aim of building a ring of friends around Europe, has ended up with a
ring of fire. In the absence of a comprehensive and realistic
strategy to put out the fire, some member states are suggesting
building fire walls around Europe. These walls would be emblematic
of an EU that has chosen to turn inward rather than try to shape its
Executive vice president of the Center for
European Policy Analysis
The refugee crisis will not destroy the EU, but it
will probably change it. It is clear now that the EU’s open borders
cannot work without a common immigration policy and joint
responsibility for external frontiers. The current crisis is caused
first and foremost by the wars in Syria and Afghanistan, but it also
shows the weakness of the EU and the dominance of self-interest in
the policies of member states.
The EU’s most vulnerable borders are the sea
frontiers of Italy and Greece, and the overwhelming bulk of refugees
and migrants reach the EU by this route. There is very little EU
solidarity in securing these borders, so—unsurprisingly—both Italy
and Greece are simply pushing the problem farther away by failing to
register the refugees and often by actively helping them move north.
Then, when the unregistered refugees reach Hungary and Budapest
insists on registering them, this causes an uproar and allegations
of inhumane behavior. And then, Germany’s invitation to refugees
causes further escalation of migratory pressures.
Altogether, this is all big mess, and most likely,
it will lead to a change in the EU’s border and immigration
policies. The change could be positive—the crisis could encourage
member states to invest in external borders and create a genuinely
common policy. But it could be also negative—the crisis could
unravel the Schengen Agreement and re-create EU-internal border
controls. At this point, it’s not possible to predict which one of
these two routes the EU will take.