Migration and Europe - Just How Existential Is All This?

One of the startling aspects of the current refugee crisis in Europe is the lack of preparation for something that should have been predictable, at least to a degree.

After all we have now had at least two decades of internet communications, capital accumulation by organised crime (taking advantage of globalisation), small but increasingly destructive wars and, in the emerging world, a large demographic increase in young people without employment prospects. Be in no doubt that some 'unaccompanied children' are really self-starting adolescents already hardened by experience.

The logic of the situation has long been that lots of people would start to move, as one, as soon as something triggered the movement, whether the push of desperation at life in transit camps or the pull of liberal determination to offer support and welfare. The movements are complex and multiply sourced with many different human motivations. Good sources on this crisis and its history are the Migration Policy Institute in the US and Migration Watch and Oxford University's Migration Observatory in the UK.

But what should most interest us is where we are now rather than what we got wrong in the past. At the EU Summit with Prime Minister Davutoglu of Turkey on March 7th the agenda has to be limited to just one component of the whole - the Syrian flow through Turkey - when the European Union needs to consider the effect on its own cohesion not only of the residues of neo-con adventuring and post-colonial African ambition for a better life but potential major collapses in the Ukraine and the Horn of Africa, let alone the failure to hold the line with a ceasefire in Syria.

The Financial Times listed what was at stake in the larger Summit on March 18th and 19th: "the centrepiece effort to stem irregular migration from Turkey; the capacity of Greece to cope with tens of thousands of migrants trapped on its territory; the willingness of Europe to unite behind a common policy; and the political patience remaining in Germany, the main destination for migrants reaching Europe." That is a pretty impressive list of political problems. We can add what the FT does not - the effect of failure in the short term on a Brexit vote less than four months away.

So here are some of the questions we must ask of this process. Will the EU will find itself giving up scarce resources in a time of austerity to pay the same sort of tribute that the Roman and Chinese Empires expended so long ago to keep tribal movements behind their walls? Will the transfers look sour to Greeks who are suffering under the dual burden of not only maximal austerity but being the front-line state in the current crisis? The recent fine words of Merkel about Greece may please Tsipras but he is now seen, to be blunt, as 'Vichy' by many of his own people.

There is more. Can the European Union unite on this issue when its components have fundamental domestic electoral considerations at stake? At what point do the North Europeans, notably the Germans, feel existentially threatened? These questions, to which there is no clear answer at the moment, suggest that March 7th may well have to be the same sort of muddled compromise that we have seen in Syria - the protection of liberal ideological nostrums at the expense of decisive long term solutions. It is as if Europe is not yet sure what it is protecting - its values or its viability. 


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