Can Europe Make It?

The European walled-garden: what's the root cause? what's the solution?

What should Europe do, and are we so inescapably in the grip of  jealous nations that the EU cannot do the right thing? Participants in the 2015 Havel European Dialogues in an email exchange about the refugee crisis

Tony Curzon Price
Pavel Seifter Andrew Wilson Tony Curzon Price
14 September 2015
The original question

The EU expanded eastwards during the 90s and 00s and did just the kind of thing we wanted: it was a force for openness that was making concrete policy to weaken the grip of the exclusive nation-state. And that "we" I imagine includes everyone at the Havel European Dialogues.

But as Hans Rosling points out, at the same time as the EU was fighting the exclusive nation-state, it was also, deep in the implementation of its directives, embedding mechanisms that have made the whole of the EU extremely exclusive. Rosling points to EU Directive 2001/51/EC which, in its implementation, has airlines bear the costs of any unsuccessful asylum-seeker arriving by air.

This has led to airlines becoming immigration and asylum policemen; it has led to many migrants seeking asylum by boat; it has also led to the practice so tragically described by Kenyan/Somali poetess Warsan Shire in her poem "Home" (Hat Tip >Mark Salter):

... tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn't be going back.

So, to try to have a concrete discussion, here are my four question:

  1. Is the way that Directive 2001/51/EC has been implemented consistent with European Values?
  2. Why was it implemented that way?
  3. Do we know what the change to the directive ought to be to make it consistent with European values?
  4. What needs to change - in the EU and in its member states, for the implementation to change?

Moving the conversation on

Before going to the answers that this set of questions elicited, let me pose the next question:

The EU, led by Germany this time, is likely to impose quotas for refugees. This will be unpopular in the East with both those in power and with many citizens. It will be unpopular in the West with many supporters of the more populist right. And those who think more should be done for refugees will not applaud either. The Baltic states will feel that the issue is less important than their won existential threat. The South will feel that it is on the un-acknowledged front line of the crisis and should be assisted further. Many in Britain will feel smugly out of Schengen. It will be hard for Brussels to come out well from this crisis: it will be blamed on all sides.

The EU's self-proclaimed values are a complicated jumble. They seem to include at least the following: liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and basic civil liberties, rule by law, dignity of the human being, equality, solidarity, peace, security.

Is there an interpretation of European policy on refugees that is consistent with these values? Is there an interpretation of these values that actually binds most of Europe's nations and citizens together? And if the answer to these questions is (as I suspect), "no", is it inevitable that the refugee crisis is another crisis that weakens Europe rather than strengthens it?

Some Answers to the original question (full answers in jump-link)

Tony Curzon Price (brief, was included with the original question)

Pavel Seifter - Europe's policy should be developed by looking at its own self-proclaimed values

Jacques Rupnik (translated from Le Monde, with thanks to Eurozine)

Andrew Wilson (an observation from Kyiv). The Ukraine war has displaced about 2.1 million people. "this great movement of people is bringing out the best in many and the worst in some"

Marta SimeckovaThe politicians of Eastern Europe are teaching citizens a lesson in cynicism ... though there are some rays of hope, for example in the figure of the Solvak President, Andrej Kiska

Julian Groza The Moldovan and other Partnership Program

Camino Mortera "We should, loud and clear, point fingers at those national leaders who have been hindering the work of the European Commission since well before this crisis began: the UK, my own country- Spain-, the CEE. It is them who should be ashamed, not the EU. I believe the EU is actually doing its best to defend European values of solidarity and democracy."

Pavel Seifter (second contribution)"The central issue remains: how do you move from national improvisations to European solutions? [...]Why not be positive and make everybody feel good and - European? The answer is - even Germany can't avoid the national trap."


Tony Curzon Price

_Very_ briefly, my own answers to these questions go along these lines.

Is Directive 2001/51/EC consistent with European values?

No - it violates equality, dignity and solidarity (... and, to me, "openness", though that is not considered by the EU to be in itself a value)

Why was the directive implemented as it was?

I suspect that there was a general acknowledgement amongst the EU's sovereign officials that it would be politically unacceptable to have asylum processing in domestic airports. Putting the responsibility onto airlines would ensure that they used "whatever means necessary" and not be constrained by due process in doing so. I would suspect quite knowing and cynical reasons for this method of implementation. But this is pure speculation on my part.

What change to the directive would make it consistent with European values?

Ideally, processing of claims should happen at the arrival airport. The fact that this would put a lot of pressure on our systems I take to be a _good_ thing. The fact that it would make people seeking refuge more visible in the domestic conversation would also be a good thing.

How should we - as empowered Europeans - bring about change to this directive?

The greatest - and hardest - change needed is a transformation in our attitudes towards others and especially outsiders. I think this goes through a democratic transformation within each of our nations. It is, in my view, a long and complicated haul.

Pavel Seifter

Let me start my answer by linking your letter to Jacque’s piece in Le Monde (here translated thanks to Eurozine). You begin from EU’s enlargement eastwards, to Central Europe, reminding us of the kind of EU you wanted: a force for openness that was making concrete policy to weaken the grip of the exclusive nation-state. It didn’t quite work like that. In fact we see the Visegrad countries more closed to immigrants than Serbia, even hostile. While the convergence of economies with the old members is generally a success story, the social attitudes including to “others” are stuck in the old mentalities.

Since our dialogue has started from talking about values let me point out that today Europeans do not necesserally agree on values and principles. Orban’s values are Hungarian and antiliberal, socialist Fico claims Christian values, Sobotka is evasive, Poland might turn eurosceptic after the next elections.

Two important conclusions follow from that.

One, the EU is by far not a united community of nations and citizens - just because a whole bunch of East and Central post communist Europeans became members of the Union eleven years ago. The old East-West divide persists and a new North-South divide has appeared. An additional crack, between the continent and the UK, has also widened. Crises that are now visiting Europe one after the other, not only make the differences visible, they actually deepen them.

On the other hand the vision and the institutions of the Union are here to remind us that our thinking, our “mentality” has to include – I would say it has to start from – a truly panEuropean approach to crises and their solutions. Take the frontiers of Europe. We are actually living in a European space that hasn’t yet defined its boundaries. We liked it like that, we saw that as “openness” and you would like to see it as a principle a value. But that has already lead to all kinds of tensions, see Hungary, the Balkans, Greece, Italy. Not to mention the return of geopolitics in the Eastern neighbourhood. We have to talk about frontiers in our discussion: whether openness can be a leading principle but also about the confusion of uncertainty. We know where Greece borders Turkey, Albania and Macedonia, Hungarians know about their own borders, so do the Estonians or the Greeks. We can’t tell so easily which are the borders of Europe as an entity and unity. How should they look like? What form should they take? How will they differ from national borders?

A related question is about the inside and outside. Here I might differ from Jacques and also from you. While we surely agree about universal human rights for instance, I don’t think that the guarantee given inside the EU (the “walled garden”, as you’ve named it) should be extended to all the people of the universe. Think of social and basic civil rights, think of the free movement of people. Such rights are civil rights, rights of the citizens, not just anybody’s rights. The inside outside question in this case has to be about responsibilities, not rights. We Europeans have the responsibility to help humans beyond our borders suffering from war and violence, from oppression and persecution, from disease, hunger and thirst. As for imigrants though, only when they take upon themselves the responsibilities of citizens of a country and nation and Europe, can they also expect to have rights like all the other citizens. I believe it is time to talk more about responsibilities and less about entitlements. How to get the balance right is not only about individuals, it is about the stability of the whole European edifice.

There are many misunderstandings in the European way of federalism. The walled garden and fortress of Europe tends to be an overly centralised and technocratic garden and fortress. That leads to missteps – like immigration quotas dictated from the centre (Commission and Germany), or to your example of the directive on immigrants imposed on airlines. I believe that Europe has to be built also from bottom up. People and nations have to be encouraged to come up with their own initiatives.

The wave of enthusiastic civic initiatives, from individuals, groups and cities is unexpected and truly amazing after having been hammered for years by the media and politicians into believing that everybody wants to keep the immigrants out and that those who are already with us offer only trouble or danger.

To your negative example of how things went wrong with a misconceived EU directive to the airlines I would offer a positive illustration (taken from the Guardian) of how people take the issue of immigration into their own hands. People need a sense that they can do something practically. Mrs. Bjorkvinsdottir urged her fellow Icelanders (who of course are not EU members but Europeans nevertheless) to tell their government they were ready to open their doors to refugees, so long as the government opened the borders. Via Facebook she found 11,000 people willing to house Syrians fleeing for their lives. Give them the right papers, she urged, and we are willing to do the rest. In Britain, with less publicity, something similar has been under way – and it started long before the current crisis. Mobilised by the grassroots Citizens UK movement, several local councils – Kingston in south London, Edinburgh, Newcastle – have been telling the government they’re ready to take in, say, 50 refugees each. More authorities are coming on board every day. They’re not too worried about costs, because there are existing programmes – the Gateway project and, specifically for those fleeing Syria, the vulnerable persons relocation scheme – administered by the UN and largely funded by the European Union. For a year, those schemes will pay for the costs of housing and absorption – English lessons, doctor’s appointments and the like. After that, the are expected to stand on their own two feet. All that’s needed is local councils willing to say yes.The funding is there for refugees to live in private housing, paid for from that EU-led fund. It’s just a matter of finding available property.

Now the governments are quickly changing course. We don’t need artificial quotas dictated to us. We need politicians who have their ears open to genuine offers: how much people want to do for the refugees, how many they want to take up, individually, by the city, by the country. Voluntarily. Also, and this is important, why impose refugees on a country where they would not be happy and would generate hostility and all sorts problems. Is the misery surrounding the Roma gypsies in East and Central Europe not enough of a warning? The existing gap between East and West cannot be ignored.

That doesn’t mean that these nations should be absolved of their responsibility and of the imperative (call it value if you want) of solidarity between members of the Union. The balance is surely to be found in the distribution of costs. There already are European funds that can be used for refugees. There has to be much more. There has to be a European budget for immigration. Those who feel they can’t or don’t want to take a meaningful number of refugees and imigrants will have to pay adequately more, or conversely receive less subsidies from Brussels. On top of that there have to be national programs for immigration and national budgets. It all needs negotiation and coordination. Brussels needs a commissioner specially for a focused agenda on immigration.

A question in conclusion: how do we relate our question of European values to immigration in practical terms? Apart from the general discussion we can also apply European values to very practical issues: tackling migration at source; legal migration paths; repatriation when and where desirable and possible; sending migrants back; agreeing on asylum rules. And so on. Take the set of European values and principles and compare with the task. I bet that’s not how it is done in Brussels, neither by the Commission and even less by the Council. That would not be professional, they might think. But look at the mess the “professionals” have brought upon us.

Andrew Wilson

I am in Kyiv, where over two million people have been displaced by the war in east Ukraine. About 1.3 million IDPs are spread out across Ukraine. For reasons of Kremlin secrecy, the numbers going to Russia are less well-recorded - but best estimates are about 800,000.

Just as with the broader refugee crisis within the EU, this great movement of people is bringing out the best in many and the worst in some. There is a huge volunteer movement in Ukraine to look after IDPs, staffed by the great explosion in civil society before and after the protests on the Maidan. This both substitutes for, but advertises the weaknesses of, the Ukrainian state. For most, acting as host is changing attitudes towards Russian-speakers from East Ukraine. A new and more pluralist national identity is in the making. Much of the work in looking after IDPs is done by Ukraine's 'non-traditional' Protestant Churches - again, advertising the multi-confessional as well as multi-lingual nature of the new Ukraine.

For others though, the IDPs have only exacerbated tensions. Particularly because the war, and Russia's undeclared trade war, has led to a collapse in GDP of 17.6% in the first quarter of 2015 and 14.7% in the second. Public services are at breaking point, and in many opinion polls are rated more important than the war in the east. Some IDPs, with their rough Soviet Russian, have not adopted well to life in West Ukraine.

For Russia, the refugee crisis is a test of honesty. The Kremlin instrumentalised the conflict in the Donbas for its own ends. Now it has a flood of people it has been claiming to protect, from a war it claims isn't happening. At least this is making the Kremlin have second thoughts about the war

Marta Simeckova

I am paralyzed by reading all the debates and watching pictures and videos again and again.I never felt our part of the world being so far away from europe and I never felt this distance could be so painful and shaming. The gap keeps growing literally every dray. Jacques calls the attitude of Central Europe a "paradox". It is a noble word for the scandal we are witnessing at the moment in Slovakia, the Czech republic, and Hungary.

Unlike pavel, I don't understand the overall, generally shared outrage of Central-Europe concerning "artificial quotas" at all. Most of the reasons for this outrage - that we constantly hear from our politicians, are deeply cynical. For example, just to quote some of the sentences of our prime minister Robert Fico: "most of the refugees are young men - why don't they fight to protect their families? or: if they can afford 5 000 euros for the trip, do they really need our help?, or "we want to solve the problem outside the shengen border" - while the mantra he and his fellow politicians keep repeating - the refugees do not want to stay here anyway - might be true. Because, most of them prefer to go to Germany.

However, refugees we spoke with last week in Budapest told us, they would stay anywhere, in any country that would accept them. They want to go to germany, because they have all heard Germany is accepting them. Since our countries traditionally show clear hostility towards refugees, it is only logical they prefer to go to Germany. It is a closed circle - we don't want them here, so they don't want to stay here either. What we hear from the politicians again and again: we cannot "force them to stay here". Can't you hear the hypocrisy?

Sure, the Icelandic way that Pavel points to - the spontaneous initiative of people - is a better option than quotas imposed by the European Commission. One could argue imposed solidarity doesnt work. But are the Eurofond contributions, gladly accepted by our countries, not imposed solidarity, too? So, what to do, if there are countries who just want to get rid of this pan-european responsibility? Their leaders - fighting bravely against the quotas - are teaching their citizens this logic: that cynicism is acceptable, that it might even be a virtue. As a result, we will never learn anything else and never be able to act as they have in Iceland.

There are still some notable exceptions in our political class, for example the Slovak president Andrej Kiska, who opposes the government and dares to put his popularity at risk. Let us not forget that - being elected last year directly by a big majority of the voters, he is Slovakia, too.

Julian Groza

I would like to build on Pavel's reply and elaborate briefly on the shared responsibilities clause, as well as on the medium to long term preventive solutions, such as Mobility Partnerships.

Though I agree with your answers to those four questions, I believe that the EU has to come up with a more comprehensive strategy for dealing with the neighbourhood. It should go beyond reactive measures on migration and asylum that EU member states should comply with in order to manage similar situations we witness today. It has to tackle the causes not only the effects. The EU should learn the lessons and come up with a proactive and comprehensive approach, in relation to security threats, but it also needs to assist economic development, helping the neighbourhood countries through transition. This is specially true for rogue states, for post-war societies and/or those currently at risk of war. The European Commission has initiated the process of revision of the European Neighbourhood Policy. This should be used as an opportunity to address these challenges.

Now before touching upon the responsibilities, let me introduce one of the good practices promoted by the EU that is an example of the proactive approach on migration and asylum policy of the EU: the Global Approach to Migration and Mobility (GAM) launched in 2005. It should be looked at and expand to other South Mediterranean countries as part of the comprehensive approach. Its main tool so far has been the Mobility Partnerships. Currently we have seen such pilot Mobility Partnership programs implemented in the Easter Partnership countries namely Moldova, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia based on the piloted good practices implemented initially by the Republic of Moldova. In 2013 and 2014 similar partnerships where launched with Morocco and Tunisia.

To my mind, the EU should seriously explore ways of implementing and enforcing not only common standards in the area of migration and asylum, but also ensuring adherence to shared principles of responsibility and solidarity. The identification process in EU airports and in the member states on the external borders of the EU is a must. However, this should be done with the support of the European Commission and other EU member states. This debate is in particular relevant to the process of enlargement of the Schengen Area and to the process of cooperation in the area of justice and home affairs with EU candidate countries in particular (Western Balkans and Turkey).

My last point is about the international obligations that signatory countries of the UN Convention on Refugees and its Protocols have. All relevant European countries are part of this international legal framework and the respective standards and rules should be transposed and enforced. So one should not 're-invent the bicycle', but follow the provisions of the international Law.

Camino Mortera

Your email mainly refers to Directive 2001/51, which I was aware of, but I'm not an expert on. Indeed, the Directive was enacted to avoid having to process asylum claims in airports, and I also suspect it was one of this 'private/public' partnerships things the EU is so keen on when it comes to security measures. Think of any counter-terrorism legislation related to aviation security/terrorist financing, and you will see how the EU- and not the EU alone, Member States as well- outsource police and law enforcement tasks to private companies.

To be honest, I think this is not a bad approach: processing asylum claims at airport points would surely be quite inefficient and compromise security at the EU level. And I don't think abolishing (or changing) the way this works would make any significant impact on the crisis. To me, the answer lies in processing claims outside the EU, so that people don't risk the trip; and reforming the EU's common asylum system by changing the Dublin rule of country of first entry and harmonising asylum standards across the EU (including, if necessary, a new, decentralised EU agency). There are many other things to be done for this crisis. My Center for European Reform piece with Ian Bond and Simon Tilford covers these additional proposals.

I believe that the asylum crisis, if not handled well, may result on a Schengen crisis- of the dimension of the Greek one. But, unlike the EZ crisis, I don't think we should be blaming the EU right now. We should, loud and clear, point fingers at those national leaders who have been hindering the work of the European Commission since well before this crisis began: the UK, my own country- Spain-, the CEE. It is them who should be ashamed, not the EU. I believe the EU is actually doing its best to defend European values of solidarity and democracy. I regret this does not get underlined more often, notably in countries like the UK, very much in need of some positive views of the EU these days.

Pavel Seifter - second contribution

I've read Camino's piece yesterday already and so have others. Excellent. The thing is - what do we citizens do. There is a fantastic outpouring of citizens' sympathy and charity and also a lot of spontaneous individual as well as NGO activity going on. Governments had to follow and switch from brutal rejection of immigrants to accepting the need to do something charitable about the Syrian war refugees. But this won't last long. It will exhaust itself and evaporate. On the other hand, without citizens' pressure and a parallel European citizens' process the governments will soon be back to business as usual. The central issue remains: how do you move from national improvisations to European solutions?

Cameron will explicitly stay out of any European solution (several hundred thousand refugees already in Europe are not Britain's concern) and pick his 20.000 refugees over five years straight out of the Middle Eastern camps. Osborne will not give a penny for that, the money will cleverly be taken from the international aid budget. Merkel's gesture to take hundreds of thousands of refugees can only be applauded. But not her "European" solution which is imposing quotas on EU members in a way that makes Europe look like an extended Bundesrepublik. That's how it is done inside Germany. Outside it looks more like talking to the Greeks. Threats of punishments instead of looking creatively for ways of participating and sharing. If the UK can be allowed to chose its own contribution, including bombing Syria, why can't others - like the Central Europeans for instance (who's attitude of course is embarrassingly shameful, see Jacque's article)) - be asked whether they have an alternative equally good contribution of their own to offer, financial or otherwise? Why can't Europe have an urgent assembly on the donors' conference model to put all contributions and commitments into a basket? Why not be positive and make everybody feel good and - European? The answer is - even Germany can't avoid the national trap.

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