The leaders of the European Union have failed once again to create a cohesive strategy or solution to a crisis, showing how fractured that union really is at its cultural and ideological core.
The unprecedented humanitarian crisis brought on by Syria’s civil war and the arrival of hundreds of thousands of refuges fleeing the conflict has strained relations amongst the EU’s leaders and created a policy free-for-all, leaving individual countries to implement their own policies on how to handle the influx of refugees.
With strong opposition from eastern states, EU ministers failed to reach an agreement on a plan to share out 120,000 refugees and ease the burden on front-line states like Greece and Italy from the tide of people crossing the frontier sea borders in the east and south.
“We did not have the agreement we wanted,” Dimitris Avramopoulos, EU migration commissioner, said after Monday’s emergency meeting in Brussels, where hopes collapsed for a unanimous deal when Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania objected to sharing the refugee burden.
Across Europe, the Syrian refugee crisis has become a lightning rod for political debate, posing risks even for popular leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who shifted policy within a week when she ordered her interior minister to close the country’s borders over the weekend, after welcoming tens of thousands with no controls earlier in the month.
“At this moment, Germany is temporarily resuming border controls at the Schengen internal borders,” German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière said in a statement on Sunday, alluding to the regions within Europe that have abolished passports as a requirement for entry. “This action is intended to contain the current influx into Germany and resume orderly procedures for entering the country.”
The closing of borders in Germany and the Hungarian government’s proposed use of military might to prevent refugees from crossing, as well as the building of a wall has already prompted other European nations from taking matters into their own hands.
On Monday, Hungary closed the main crossing with Serbia. Austria and Slovakia also said on Monday that they would follow Germany’s lead in reinstating border controls to deal with the flow of people. Poland said it was considering similar steps; while the Netherlands said it would have “more patrols” on its frontiers.
“Europe had its head in the sand on this. They saw people drowning in the Mediterranean and said, ‘yes, that’s terrible,'” said Judy Dempsey, senior associate and editor in chief of Carnegie Europe, a branch of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “The reality is Europe has spent 20 years talking about it, but today there is no coherent European Union policy covering migration, even basics like how we define an asylum seeker or a refugee.”
With central European nations like Hungary closing their borders— effectively stopping the flow of movement to the more prosperous northern nations, and a lack of a cohesive plan to protect the eastern Greek borders and the southern Italian borders, what will effectively happen is that refugees will continue to flee the war zones and camps in Turkey and find themselves stuck in Greece and Italy, not able to move north.