EU: Two months to live

Top EU official predicts that March summit to fix broken asylum rules will be last chance to save Schengen.

Migrants are perceived as a threat, illutsrative stock photoMigrants are perceived as a threat, illutsrative stock photo (Source: AP/SITA)

European Council President Donald Tusk’s warning that the EU has only two months to save its borderless Schengen zone – as well as his bizarre aside that “civilizations die from suicide, not murder” – might seem to be just more hyperbole on the vexed topic of migrants. Except that it wasn’t; and Tusk was right.

Tusk’s ‘two months’ referred to an EU summit scheduled for March 17-18, at which national leaders will try to fix the continent’s broken asylum policy, known as the Dublin Regulation. Under Dublin, the first country of entry is responsible for dealing with each refugee’s claim. But the rule became widely ignored last year after Europe was overwhelmed by a million newcomers. First, border-states like Italy and Greece stopped fingerprinting migrants and instead hustled them north; Greece was even accused of allowing conditions at its migrant camps to deteriorate, hoping that humanitarian concerns would prevent wealthier countries from returning them. After a few months, Germany embraced the inevitable and announced it would not be sending Syrian migrants back to their point of entry. But Angela Merkel’s generosity dismayed Visegrad nations, which blamed her for triggering an existential crisis and refused to share the burden.

So now here we are, with another 1.5 million migrants expected to arrive in 2016, according to the European Commission, even while Europe is still choking on the million who arrived in 2015. The only plan advanced so far, the relocation of 160,000 people, has been a miserable flop, with fewer than 300 actually having been moved. An enforceable, EU-wide asylum policy would seem to be the only choice come March; and yet Bratislava, Budapest and Warsaw are unlikely to swallow such a bitter pill. Moreover, Great Britain will not be excited to have Dublin scrapped, as it remains the only barrier to far higher migrant numbers in the UK; under Dublin, London has returned over 12,000 migrants to other EU nations since 2003, “many more than we have received in return”, according to the Home Office.

The absurd, exasperating thing is that if we all worked together, Europe could easily accommodate the 3 million asylum seekers the EC expects to arrive by the end of 2017. By cooperating better with Turkey, by allowing asylum claims to be filed at the Greek border, and by properly patrolling the Mediterranean, Europe could also make asylum seeking a more humane, less tragic enterprise. But instead – like at other tragic moments in its history – Europe seems to be at the verge of falling on its sword.

Maybe Fico is right, and it’s better to be white and Christian than united, tolerant and generous. Unfortunately, it looks like we’re about to find out.

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