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On Tuesday afternoon, EU Interior ministers forced through a plan, by majority vote, to relocate 120,000 refugees now in Greece, Italy, and Hungary among the rest of the EU nations. Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and the Czech Republic voted against mandatory quotas, and Finland abstained. I say “forced,” because this deal was surrounded by an unusual amount of EU-infighting and controversy.
Earlier this month, Germany unexpectedly reintroduced temporary controls on its border with Austria, and suspended all train travel between the countries for a full day, citing the consistently high inflow of refugees into the country. The member states saw this as a clear signal from Germany that it would not stand alone in bearing the burden of the crisis. The decision followed widespread criticism of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s handling of the crisis from within her own ranks, with former ministers calling the Chancellor “starry eyed,” and warning that opening the borders to uncontrolled and unregistered immigrants would have devastating long-term consequences. According to the German Press Agency, the German vice-chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, wrote to SPD party members announcing that Germany may now expect up to one million refugees instead of the 800,000 formerly forecasted by the Interior Ministry.
The EU’s interior ministers have been meeting for the past weeks in an attempt to break the deadlock, with Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia against the proposed mandatory burden-sharing. European Council President Donald Tusk said that if a consensus couldn’t be reached, countries that support the Commission’s proposals ought to force those who oppose to comply through qualified majority voting and by withholding funds and benefits.
Under the terms of Tuesday’s deal, 66,000 people will be added to 40,000 approved in July for relocation. The remaining 54,000 will not be moved until next year, bringing the relocation total to 160,000. Of the 66,000, Germany and France will take almost 30,000, while Spain and Poland will take just over 8,000 and 5,000, respectively. However, the figures will be revised downward slightly to account for the participation of Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland.
This agreement changes the game — not only as far as the refugee crisis goes, but for postwar Europe and the centralized power of the EU. A deal may have been achieved, but not without considerable rumbling and discontent from just about everyone but Germany and France, the two major refugee-hubs in need of acute dispersion. The UK initiated the dissent by arguing for a more decentralized EU, with areas such as asylum policy subject to domestic, democratic control. The UK has also, along with Denmark, started cutting subsidies for asylum-seekers, and doing so quite publicly so to discourage potential migrants. Seeing the error of their ways, it is probable that more countries will follow suit, realizing the values of borders and boundaries long after theirs have already run out the clock.
If one were prone to smugness, this would be a time to relish. The European Union has spent considerable time, money, and effort criticizing Israel for what it perceives as Israel’s hawkishness and racism in its interactions with its surrounding states and hostile outside entities, all while touting Europe’s own post-liberal utopia. As the European Union now faces its first real influx of non-European immigrants, one imagines that a major case of hindsight is about to set in.
After World War II, Europe rejected borders, nation states, and national identities. It decided on a brave new world, based on an idea. What the un-united states of Europe failed to understand, though, is that no matter how much they wished the rejected values had died in the war, they still mattered; and those things are still true. Europe consists of radically different countries that share neither a common language nor a common culture nor even a common religion.
Europe is not the US, and it is not united, no matter what bureaucratic force has been applied.
The immigration crisis highlights the inherent problems with the EU, and may very well cause its dissolution, bringing with it a dramatic change in demography and geopolitical might. The European peace project ended up exacerbating the refugee crisis while abandoning the Syrian people on the ground, the Kurds in the hills, and the children dying to reaching a European dream — a dream that never really existed beyond the pages of a post-war manifesto.