If there will be no fast action in dealing with the refugee crisis, “the EU will start to fall apart.” With this quote the Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar warned the heads of State of the countries along the “Balkan” refugee route, who attended last Sunday’s special summit, and other heads of State, about the seriousness of the situation the EU has to cope with. Even if he was quoted by several (European and world) media (the quote was listed also on the list of the 10 most apocalyptic warnings on EU’s future prepared by POLITICO) and it has to be taken seriously into account, it hasn’t brought any bigger action.
The fact that Europe is in a deep crisis, is known for a long time and the current refugee crisis is only the tip of the iceberg. Even if the crisis “officially” started in 2008 with the global financial crisis, I would say that the crisis in the EU started soon after the big enlargement(s) in 2004 and 2007, when the EU achieved one of its biggest goals. However, I have the impression that after that the EU lost its “raison d’être” and that it doesn’t know any more what it wants to achieve. Or, to be more precise, what the Member States want to do with the EU.
If this was somehow hidden during the first years by the euphoria that followed the enlargement, the financial crisis brought in the spotlight all the hard feelings and disagreements between the States and all the errors of the EU construction. Despite the fact that the crisis should be over (at least if we follow the official statistics), the hard feelings, disagreements and the “project” errors of the EU were not solved. On the contrary, it seems that the current refugee crisis has just deepened them.
The EU and its Member States are not coping with the refugees crisis in a proper way. The countries are not able (or willing) to act together against this sudden (but predictable) inflow of a large number of refugees, while the EU and its institutions (especially the Commission) were not able to (or not willing to) insist upon the countries to act together and help each other. It is true that the competence of the Union/Commission in this field is limited. However, due to the importance and sensitivity of the topic, the Commission should have put more pressure on the States to act. The organisation and hosting of summits, like the Sunday’s one, are certainly welcome. However, experience shows that their effects are limited. The Heads of State usually use them to show themselves in front of their voters, while the conclusions that are adopted remain unimplemented in their most important points.
During the past days at home, in Slovenia, a lot of people asked me the same question: “What will Brussels do to stop the refugee arrivals?” My answer was always the same: “It did what it could. Now it’s up to the countries.” I know that this answer seems more of an excuse for the EU and its institutions, that for sure share part of the fault for the current situation. However, the main responsibles for the situation are the Member States.
Article 78(3) on the Treaty about the Functioning of the EU states that “/i/n the event of one or more Member States being confronted by an emergency situation characterised by a sudden inflow of nationals of third countries, the Council, on a proposal from the Commission, may adopt provisional measures for the benefit of the Member State(s) concerned.” The Commission presented its proposals already several times (May and September proposals and the proposal for the EU-Balkan summit). The problem raises after, when the States don’t comply with the obligations adopted and agreed by themselves.
The current refugee crisis shows what happens when the EU has limited competences for action and when countries can do practically anything they want. There is more and more indicators that the current situation won’t end in the near future. If we (and specially those living close to the borders) want to live normally and if want to allow refugees a humane treatment, the countries has to put their pride and part of their sovereignty aside and transfer them (at least temporary) to the EU.
For this, countries could use the enhanced cooperation procedure (Article 20 of the Treaty on the EU), that allows countries to use the Union’s institutions to act and collaborate in the areas where the EU doesn’t have exclusive competence. In this case countries could ask the EU to perform external border controls, refugee registration procedures and their redistribution. However, this could be only a temporary measure, as Member States should seek to establish permanent common and supranational structures, that would perform this tasks.
Jean-Claude Juncker stated in its first speech after being elected Commission President that his Commission will be the “Last-chance Commission”. However, instead of a last-chance Commission we are confronted with the “Last chance for the European Union.” If we really want to save and maintain our habits, values, culture and customs the countries have to act together. otherwise, Juncker’s and Cerar’s predictions will become reality. What would follow, I don’t even dare to think.