Despite the obvious humanitarian crisis that has manifested in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, the EU’s moral compass can’t decide on which direction to point towards. The lack of unity in policy making and compassion shown among member states for fleeing refugees, not only highlights the self-preservationist attitudes of Western liberal democracies but also the superficial identity of the EU as a political union.
As stated on the official website:
“One of the EU’s main goals is to promote human rights both internally and around the world. Human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights: these are the core values of the EU. 1
While sounding profound on paper, the political union of the EU, when actually tested, is far from asserted or convincing. In the case of the ongoing refugee crisis, member states are still failing to reach an overall consensus. In the most recent crisis talks held in Brussels, Slovenian Prime Minister, Miro Cerar made a disturbing comment regarding the future of the union. “If we don’t find a solution today, if we don’t do everything we can today, then it is the end of the European Union as such,” Cerar said.
Well, maybe slightly dramatic, but does this suggest that internally, Brussels is also feeling the pressure of expectancy in terms of political cohesion?
The divide is most evident in the “open-door” policy currently held by Germany and Southern European states who view the issue more as a border control crisis 2. These two polarising views are ensuring the development of a conclusive plan to address the problem, remains locked in stalemate.
Whatever the eventual agreement reached by member states, two things have now become clear regarding the political union of the EU:
Firstly, the ineptness shown by leaders to reach a consensus has severely undermined the core values promoted by the Union regarding humanitarian issues (which each member state has voluntarily subscribed to).
Secondly, the refugee crisis has exposed how many member states still act according to their country’s self-interest before that of the Union’s as a whole.
Taking this into account, the question arises:
Does further integration to an ‘ever closer Europe’ now seem an almost redundant ideal?
The divisions are evident among member states and this is now, understandably, concerning other leaders. Recently, Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Lovfen commented:
“I can understand it if you say this crisis is a worry. But to say: ‘This isn’t my problem, we can’t accept Muslims’ — no, I don’t think this is part of our European values, and I can’t understand this kind of attitude.”3
He added: “The EU needs to address this crisis together. One, two or three countries can’t do it on their own.” 4
Take the recent example of the Polish elections, with the landslide victory of the Law and Justice party (PiS), suggesting that further political integration within the Union is not desired by portions of the European electorate. This has also served as a fresh concern regarding the refugee crisis, as the new ruling party looks to overhaul the previously proposed measures supporting European solidarity over the issue.5
From a British perspective, with David Cameron’s proposed EU referendum looking likely to come as early as May 2016, the EU is now under the watchful eye of the public as well as politicians. George Osborne is expected to renegotiate Britain’s involvement in the EU under the mantra of: “The British people do not want to be part of an ever closer union.”6
In the last few years, the EU has been busier than ever on the international stage: the Ukrainian crisis, the economic bailout of Greece and the current situation of refugees from war-torn nations have delivered more questions than answers in terms of the EU’s future and current role in ensuring political and economic stability throughout Europe.
So what are the positives?
Economically of course, there are still many. While the single currency has been strained in recent years as a result of the global crash, the EU remains a fruitful marketplace for foreign investment and enables better access to trade deals, both domestically and internationally. Free of tariffs and with added clout on the negotiating table, economically, there are certainly arguments in favour of being a member. In spite of this, some argue that countries like Britain, if they were to leave the EU, would in fact prosper.7 This is something that will surely be debated further as the referendum nears.
In an interview with LSE, Chomsky suggested :
“I think it’s widely agreed that there has to be more political union. You can’t have a system in which countries cannot control their own currencies and have austerity imposed on them, when they can’t carry out the measures that any other country would carry out if it were in economic crisis. That’s just an impossible situation and it has to be dealt with.”8
Time to unite
So, what seems clear is that currently the European Union is far from united. Future political integration, as it stands, also seems unachievable. With winter soon arriving, conditions for refugees will worsen significantly. A viable plan of action agreed by all states to address this humanitarian crisis is needed urgently. A common sense collaborative approach with compassion and pragmatism at the centre seems to be the obvious answer on the lips of logic.
In 1953, Charles De Gaulle stated:
“Pour pouvoir aboutir à des solutions valables, il faut tenir compte de la réalité. La politique n’est rien d’autre que l’art des réalités. Or, la réalité, c’est qu’actuellement l’Europe se compose de nations. C’est à partir de ces nations qu’il faut organiser l’Europe ….”
“In order to achieve viable solutions, one should take account of reality. Politics is nothing other than the art of realities. However, the reality is that currently Europe consists of nations. It is from these nations to organize Europe…”9
The reality is this: thousands of lives are being lost as a result of this sheer incompetence to organise and galvanise action. It’s make or break for EU leaders. The clock is ticking and the world is watching.
As Gandhi said:
“Unity to be real must stand the severest strain without breaking”.