Summit Discord

Europe Needs a Change in Rhetoric

Belgium Europe Migrants
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, with British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande talk shop at the E.U. summit in Brussels on Friday.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Though last week’s E.U. summit ended in a deal with Turkey to stem the flow of refugees to Europe, it further exposed growing rifts between the 28 member states.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • The controversial deal with Turkey will see all migrants reaching the Greek islands deported back to Turkey once processed.
    • For every Syrian returned, the European Union will resettle one from a Turkish refugee camp, with up to 72,00 refugees to be divided up among the E.U. member states.
    • The aim is to block a main route used by migrants to enter Europe and discourage people smugglers.
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Once again, Europe held a summit that did little solve its conflicts.

The European Union presents a pitiful picture, as every crisis seems to trigger jealousy, obstinacy, egoism, national chauvinism and discord that results in political paralysis.

And while this might please euroskeptics and right-wing extremists, the fact is that Europeans still have much in common despite the financial, Greek and refugee crises. What’s needed, however, is a change in rhetoric.

The banking crisis proves that challenges can be followed by new steps toward greater integration. And that will also ultimately be a consequence of the refugee crisis.

On second glance, the apparent dismal state of E.U. politics isn’t actually that bad. Even with all the discord, the 28-nation bloc is still tackling the mess. Still, a bit more enthusiastic fortitude would do its image some good.

The “past has consistently shown that the E.U. can grow to meet challenges,” as a U.S. diplomat to the bloc recently said with typical American optimism.

One example is the financial crisis, to which the European Union responded by starting a banking union. This proves that challenges can be followed by new steps toward greater integration. And that will also ultimately be a consequence of the refugee crisis.

Provided the bloc doesn’t develop a desire for its own downfall, the member states will eventually come to a strong agreement on coastline and border management that will guarantee more security, though this may come at the loss of a certain degree of sovereignty for individual member states.

The coordination of foreign policy is a similar matter. Including Turkey in a solution to the refugee crisis appears to be a hypocritical stopgap solution that is necessary only because the European Union can’t solve its problems on its own.

But it does make clear that the bloc won’t be able to avoid readjusting relations with the Mideast and North Africa to reach more sustainable policies. It is imperative that the European Union establishes a neighborhood policy less orientated toward individual national interests. It also has an overriding vested interest in rushing to fill the vacuum left by the United States as it becomes less of an international player. 

A more common approach must be applied to all policy areas. That might occasionally mean lengthy negotiations to establish a common voice, as is now the case with the refugee crisis. But this is essential, because only a unified stance will advance the interests of the European Union’s members on the world stage. 

So what exactly do Poland, Hungary and Slovakia think they’ll accomplish with their nationalism?  Or the isolated British and the Le Pen-French, stewing in their national juices? Do these political dwarves imagine themselves to possess superpowers that can wrestle down rising economies?

Even if the messy situation in coping with the refugee crisis is hard on the Europeans, they can’t be allowed to despair. The bloc doesn’t have a monopoly on shortcomings and inner conflict. 

This kind of despair among apocalyptic thinkers who fear they aren’t getting their fair share is what has recently propelled a certain conservative into the limelight in the United States. That man, Donald Trump, has little more to offer than blaming the country’s loss of power on ominous foreigners.

Meanwhile, China appears to be running out of economic breath, creating massive social tension there as well. And despite all of Vladimir Putin’s posturing, Russia is more like a photocopy of a real major power than the real thing. With these factors in mind, it becomes clear that Europe’s strengths and weaknesses all depend on one’s point of view.

The European Union is not an end in itself. The individual countries need the bloc because they are more vulnerable than ever in a globalized world.

At some point, this realization will prevail as throngs of refugees continue coming to Europe to escape war and poverty.

Even if Europe’s deal with Turkey doesn’t meet the highest standards, it doesn’t mean that Europe is doomed or has abandoned its principles. So we should stop lamenting our own failure. Friends of Europe are only doing it a disservice with their complaints. 

 

To reach the author: ludwig@handelsblatt.com

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