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Accountability in the Face of Crisis

January 24, 2016

           Recent developments in Europe regarding the immigration crisis have been the cause of widespread debate and speculation as to how the European Union as an entity will respond. As more and more immigrants arrive on the shores of Europe and pass through, it is increasingly unprepared to deal with the influx.  With tensions rising, it is imperative that the European Union work collaboratively to ensure that a proper plan of action is designed and implemented while also recognizing the salience of the migrant issue with regard to foreign policy and the integrity of the European Union.

           German Chancellor Angela Merkel used 25th anniversary of German reunification and the fall of the Berlin Wall to address the migrant situation plaguing Europe.  Merkel urged the international community to work together to find a solution, much like East and West Germany had done 25 years ago, in 1990. The fates of the thousands of immigrants already in Europe have yet to be decided, but the European Union interior ministers have approved a plan to relocate over 120,000 migrants across the 28 member bloc over a two year period. Under this new plan, migrants will be moved from Italy, Greece and Hungary to other EU countries under a quota system.  However, the plan will only apply to 66,000 migrants, and the other 54,000 from Hungary will be held “in reserve” until further determination by EU member governments.  This plan has been met with opposition by Central and Eastern European states, but solutions are few and far between, especially as the number of migrants increases every day.  Some leaders are concerned with the implications of the plan on the Schengen agreement, with most believing that it must be reformed. In light of the current migrant influx, the Schengen agreement has come under heightened scrutiny.  Nations are taking measures that violates the agreement, suggesting that the agreement must either be amended or enforced.

           All problem-solving efforts aside, the UN refugee agency maintains that the EU approved plan will not suffice to create an adequate solution for the crisis, as the number of migrants arriving in Europe are just too high.  It is understandable that the EU member nations wish to come up with a plan to quickly put into action, but one has to wonder whether or not the interior ministers rushed into a decision without taking the time to examine all of the consequences.  Thus far, the international community has looked to Germany to pioneer a solution and accept refugees.  However, as Merkel said in her reunification day speech, “…we as Germany cannot solve the problem on our own, only together, in Europe – through a fair distribution of tasks – and also worldwide…Everyone must fulfil his task.”  Merkel advocated for a collaborative effort to solve the problem, which is what Europe desperately needs.  To put it simply, the migrant crisis is not just a group project in which one nation spearheads the effort while others benefit in the form of a good reputation.  European Union member nations must accept a degree of responsibility and accountability in order to maintain their reputations, but more importantly, save the lives of thousands of migrants. 

           In order to properly design and execute a solution, it is important that Europe establish a common asylum policy, which can in part be achieved by reforming the Dublin Regulation.  The Dublin Regulation essentially states that nations that are a point of entry bear unilateral responsibility for migrants; in 2013, the Regulation was revised to stipulate that asylum seekers must remain in their European entry-point country and that country is then responsible for asylum applications.  Should a migrant move to another European country, he or she will then be deported to the EU country of origin. This amendment brings about a host of concerns with regard to burden sharing, which is a problem that EU member nations are facing right now in light of the refugee influx. 

           However, when examined more closely, burden sharing appears to be a relatively surface-level issue.  At the crux of the crisis lies the point that immigration in Europe has become (or remains to be) a complex issue in Europe.  Dr. Charles Kupchan of Georgetown University remarked, “Europe has historically embraced more ethnic than civic approaches to nationhood, unlike the United States, and that is part of the reason immigration is proving so difficult.” If anything, the migrant crisis has become a catalyst for EU nations to reveal their attitudes towards immigration.  Countries such as Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic have gone so far as to express preferences for non-Muslim migrants, with Slovakia announcing that it would only accept Christian refugees.  Given the international pressure for EU nations to step up to the plate with regard to accepting migrants and designing a relocation plan, it is extremely telling that nations are choosing to be selective in their acceptances.  The sheer size of the crisis has essentially forced Europe to confront its subtle yet long-running sentiment of xenophobia.  Extremely conservative parties such as France’s Front National are using the opportunity to step up anti-immigration rhetoric and publicly reject the Franco-German proposal to impose a quota system for refugee acceptance.  Terrorism and unemployment across Europe (and in France in particular) have fueled anti-immigration sentiment, and the migrant crisis has done nothing to exacerbate the situation. 

            Overall, only time will tell how the situation in Europe will play out.  However, it is clear that in designing a plan of action, Europe and the European Union must address the domestic issues brewing within their nations.  If they fail to do so, the thousands of migrants who will be accepted into Europe will continue to be the subject of tension brewing within the nations, with unforeseeable consequences.

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