Europe’s woes are much larger than the Donald
PARIS — The American mainstream media template, dutifully reflected and jaded by most of the European press, paints a tempestuous picture of the relationship between our European partners and what is presented as a capricious and domineering Trump Administration.
Rifts over NATO defense spending, the Iran nuclear deal, and trade and tariffs are magnified out of all context and proportion.
Yet it’s Europe’s own domestic contentious debate over illegal migration, the dangerous aftermath of the Turkish election, and the ramifications of Britain’s BREXIT decision, which buffets most discussions. Fortunately, the month long World Cup of football/soccer has temporarily tempered concerns on these looming political challenges.
First and foremost the European Union is facing the aftershocks of the 2015 massive migration movement from the Middle East, mostly from Syria and Iraq. Germany, the epicenter of the crisis, evolved from its goodwill afterglow of accepting over a million migrants and now has the social, economic and political bill to pay. The legacy of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s heartfelt compassion since morphed into moralizing politics but has nonetheless failed to create coherent policies to handle the challenge. The ensuing political rancor has created a deep political crisis within her own coalition government.
Merkel faces a rebellion from her conservative coalition partner, the Christian Social Union (CSU) the Bavarian sister party to the CDU on which her leadership is balanced.
The storm has been brewing since the summer of 2015 when a million migrants surged through Europe’s southern tier via Greece and through Hungary and Austria.
The issues are twofold; how to “evenly and fairly” distribute this large number of migrants throughout the EU member states, a plan opposed by most sovereign governments. Secondly, concede the humanitarian crisis has triggered a rising tide of populism and nationalism which firmly oppose the ongoing influx of illegal migration. Italy and Austria have joined Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia in pushing back the Euroclass quotas.
Though migrant numbers are down steeply in the last two years, the fact remains that Italy’s Mediterranean borders are awash with economic migrants pouring in from lawless Libya.
Once legally settled in France or Germany the social benefits for migrants are amazing.
A cartoon in the French daily Le Monde shows Angela Merkel on a migrant lifeboat being pulled back on to the European Union’s Ship of state with the caption,”We’ll start by saving Angela.” Germany’s once popular four-time Chancellor, who has to her credit presided over a booming economy, seems to have weathered a serious political tempest.
Following yet another breathless Brussels Summit to find an “European Answer” to the continuing challenge, the plan was to set up reception centers and screening camps in North Africa and Southern Europe to process the unchallenged flow. Nobody stepped forward to support such options. Let’s be blunt; countries like Greece have suffered disproportionately as waves of migrants landed on its territory.
Only small numbers of migrants pouring into Europe actually qualify for refugee status.
Moreover many of those migrants being trafficked to Europe by land or sea are being sent through a network of transnational people smugglers who could care less about the perilous sea journeys or the outcomes for these unfortunates.
Belgian Foreign Minister Charles Michel to his credit stated, “This is a victory against the business model of human smugglers.” He added the EU is “Trying to find responsible European solutions for the challenge of migration.”
The Turkish election caused another jolt for Europe who was betting with its usual optimism that bad events can be wished away. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erodgan won reelection and reasserts his domination through expanding authoritarianism. Though “Sultan” Erdogan has publicly insulted many European states, his expanding Islamic/nationalist rule poses a threat to secular Turkey itself. Interestingly, the majority of Turks resident in the EU voted to support Erdogan.
Turkey, a NATO member, has become the largest refugee reception country in the world, hosting over three million Mid-East migrants. A few years back the European Union made deals offering considerable financial incentives for Turkey to keep many of these migrants on Turkish soil and not let them flow into Europe. The recent Brussels Summit commends Turkey for holding to this agreement. Imagine for a moment if Erdogan chose to let even a million people surge towards Greece?
A French cartoon shows the embattled Chancellor Merkel with her former allies scowling behind her. She says “They want to throw me out.” Her friend French President Macron in the next caption suggests, “Don’t worry, you can ask for asylum!”
John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]