EU on the brink of failure, warns president
The EU’s president yesterday called for the resettling of 160,000 refugees using compulsory quotas, a plan which has caused furious discord. Some are warning it could be the end of Europe.
‘Europe is the baker in Kos who gives away his bread to hungry and weary souls. Europe is the students in Munich and in Passau who bring clothes for the new arrivals at the train station. Europe is the policeman in Austria who welcomes exhausted refugees upon crossing the border. This is the Europe I want to live in.’
Thus spoke Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Union, during yesterday’s state of the union speech. But also he had a damning diagnosis: ‘There is not enough Europe in this Union. And there is not enough Union in this Union.’
What has gone so wrong? Almost half a million asylum seekers have arrived at the EU’s borders since January, and the pressure appears to have created such chaos and disorder, there are fears that the EU will not recover.
In Hungary, the continent’s confused migration policies have led to clashes with police and the erection of a razor-wire fence. Greece’s immigration ministry fears that the many thousands of refugees on the island of Lesbos have pushed it to the brink of ‘explosion’. Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel has been accused of being a ‘traitor’ by her own people for offering to accept the largest numbers of refugees, and she in turn has accused other countries of not doing enough to share the burden — including Britain.
Closer to home, Prime Minister David Cameron faces anger from European colleagues for opting out of European quotas. This is already making it harder for him to deliver concessions which could help him win the in/out EU referendum.
Meanwhile, the refugees at the heart of these fierce debates continue to arrive seeking help. One pregnant Pakistani woman, a week away from giving birth and stranded in Turkey, said that her savings had been stolen. ‘All we want is to go to Europe for a better future for our children,’ she said. ‘But we’re stuck here.’
If we have lost our welcoming spirit and we cannot find a sense of solidarity, we will have failed a vital test, said Juncker. We were all refugees once and we should be proud to be a global symbol of hope.
United in crisis
With so many tensions from all sides of Europe, some fear it could be on the brink of collapse. You cannot force 28 countries with such radically different backgrounds to work together in harmony. This crisis has shown how desperate Europe’s problems really are.
But the EU was born out of a crisis after World War Two, others argue, and it has lurched from crisis to crisis ever since. In the last two years alone, it has prophesised its own demise thanks to Ebola, Greece and now migration. There is nothing to fear — it can handle this and come out stronger.
- What does being ‘European’ mean to you?
- Is this the worst crisis Europe has faced since World War Two?
- Imagine you are a refugee travelling to Europe from Syria. Write a short paragraph describing your journey.
- Using the BBC report under Become an Expert, reproduce a map of Europe and include the most common migration routes. In groups, decide how you would relocate the 160,000 refugees which Juncker has asked Europe to help.
Some People Say...
“When the European Union stands united, we can change the world.”Jean-Claude Juncker
What do you think?
Q & A
- If Britain has opted out, why should we worry?
- Britain has chosen not to take part in the scheme to relocate migrants who have already travelled to Europe, fearing it will encourage more. But Cameron has promised to take in 20,000 people from refugee camps in countries closer to Syria. There is another reason too: as long as it is a member of the EU, the decisions Britain makes during this crisis could have an impact on its influence with other members. In turn, that could affect future decisions which are seemingly unrelated.
- Can I help the refugees in need?
- Regardless of your political opinion, the suffering faced by thousands of refugees is hard to ignore. There are several charities with direct appeals which you could donate to, and lots of local groups are organising aid packages.
- Jean-Claude Juncker
- The 12th president of the EU is well-known for his passion for the union. He has a fraught relationship with David Cameron, who attempted to rally support among other European nations and prevent his election to the position last year. When he was interrupted by Nigel Farage and other British MEPs during yesterday’s speech, he dismissed the comments as ‘worthless’.
- There are around 25,000 refugees on the island, which usually has a population of just 85,000. The Greek government and UN refugee agency have sent extra staff to help, and a processing centre has been set up in an abandoned football ground.
- Angela Merkel
- The German chancellor has abandoned the EU’s asylum policy, which says refugees must register in the country they first arrive in. She has said Germany will take in 800,000 refugees this year.
- The date for Britain’s EU referendum is yet to be confirmed, but it will take place by the end of 2017. Cameron has promised to try to reform the European treaty before the vote takes place, an ambition which looks increasingly unlikely.