Stop-Gap Policy: Europe & the Refugees

According to the Financial Times this morning, the European Commission may tomorrow (Wednesday) propose a draconian penalty of 250,000 Euros per refugee where a member country refuses to share the overall burden.

We all know that dramatic proposals can be floated in the media for political effect in order to drive through lesser proposals that might otherwise be baulked at but the very fact of the story gives us an indication of just how important the refugee crisis is becoming to the survival of the European Union.

When Nigel Farage complains that the official Leave campaign is shying clear of the migration debate, he may have a point. Official Leavers want to Leave but not at the expense of opening up a cultural can of worms that might undermine their own position as the political establishment. Polling shows that migration loses votes for Remain. There are even angry mutterings from the street Left about the effects of the free movement of labour. There may be a conflict of interest here between Vote Leave as members of the liberal political establishment and Vote Leave as ... Leavers.

The bottom line is that, although migrant flows have fallen, the means by which they have fallen looks like a stop-gap. Turkey struck a deal that solved a short term problem but only at the expense of a long term one. The prospect of the inclusion in the EU of the largest Muslim country close to the European border has triggered an aggressive reaction amongst European Islamophobes. Tighter control in the West Balkans may merely displace flows that could now come through Italy. Organised criminal elements are not going to abandon this lucrative trade lightly.

The headline story hides the really contentious discussion this week (since the Commission will negotiate on the price of non-compliance) which is the wider European pressure on countries like France and the UK to abandon the current shared principle that EU countries can deport asylum seekers to their port of first entry. This severely disadvantages little Greece but may disadvantage big Italy. Germany has hurtled down the path of being refugee-friendly without having considered the political effects that this might involve. Greece has no influence, Italy does.

The threat to close the Brenner Pass by the right-leaning Austrian Government is directed at this fear - that a movements of peoples may surge up through Italy to get to the new Germanic promised land. That Germany remains the promised land is entirely unaffected by the German decision to ban EU migrants from its benefits system for five years. This was designed to limit local support for the Alternative for Germany Party and is backed by the Official Left for that reason but it says nothing about Germany's open door policy to non-EU refugees. It also is a stop-gap.

The UK may not necessarily be bound by any changes if it fights to opt-out of Dublin but this could not come at a worse time for the Remain campaign in the United Kingdom. One can understand Farage's frustration. The European Union is in chaos on this issue. The waves of migrants could redouble through Libya (be grateful that Algeria was not destabilised by the liberal internationalists!), through a change in policy in Turkey or through boat people by-passing Turkey altogether and heading straight for Greece on rickety boats. Vote Leave's relative silence may come to look very odd.


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