Global Independent Analytics
Aleksandar Mitić
Aleksandar Mitić

Location: Serbia

Specialization: Balkans, NATO and EU policies, Strategic communications

As anti-migrant walls rise up, EU foundations crumble

The sound of alarm rings louder among European Union leaders overwhelmed by the endless flow of migrants taking the Balkan route into central Europe

Despite the agreement between EU leaders on Monday (October 26th) in Brussels on measures to slow down the influx of migrants, European unity still shows a high risk of cracking if the action plan fails to provide results, just as one of the EU’s core values – freedom of movement – is crumbling.

As Central European autumn nights get colder and humanitarian efforts become dramatically more complicated, some EU leaders are going as far as to warn about an imminent threat to the future of the EU.

Surprisingly, however, these warnings are coming not from the “usual suspects” in the Eurosceptic and sovereigntist camp, but from among the entire range of left-centre and right-centre politicians, and at all levels of EU institutions.

At the European Commission, First Vice-President Frans Timmermans warned on October 21st that the migrant crisis has brought to light an “existential challenge to the European project” and that “what was unimaginable before now becomes imaginable, namely the disintegration of the European project." 

In the European Parliament, both its president, Socialist Martin Schulz and the head of the Liberals, Guy Verhofstadt, have warned about a possible breakup of the Union and its values.

At the level of heads of state, Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann similarly warned on October 24th about a possible “quiet collapse” which would lead to chaos. The day after, Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar warned about an “end of the EU as such” and “Europe starting to fall apart” if no agreement is reached among EU leaders as to a  concrete plan of action. 

The European refugee crisis is not only about humanitarian and moral values, geopolitical, security and economic issues, but also about the political threat of the basic foundations of the modern European Union crumbling.

In a short span of time, within a decade, the EU has suffered heavy blows to its most recognizable and attractive symbols – the economy and freedom of movement. These two symbols have been the magnets of the EU. While earlier one could criticize the EU for many of its incompetencies, bureaucratic procedures, or double standards in foreign policy, the EU still glowed with the signs of the attraction of a strong economic and limitless freedom of movement within its borders.

Today, things look quite different. The Greek debt crisis has triggered yet another round of speculations about the future of the Eurozone while most European economies are still struggling to recover from the global economic crisis. Divisions within the EU over how to respond to the migrant crisis have sprung up at all levels, with a particularly harsh stance on the part of the Visegrad Group countries (Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary). The Hungarian wall facing Serbia, Croatia and Romania is the most visible, but not the last barrier to be erected.

More and more borders and frontiers are being built within Europe. Nonetheless, this was predictable. Only seven years ago, the EU largely supported the secession of Kosovo Albanians from Serbia, reminding the world that “borderless Europe” exists only when it suits and triggering a secessionist domino effect both outside and inside of the Union – from Abkhazia to Catalonia. In the light of the Ukrainian crisis, new, artificial frontiers are being made between European Russia and the European Union.

All of this culminates in new physical controls, barriers, wires, and walls, as well as new mental frontiers in the heads of citizens who become aware that Europe is not anymore, nor will be, what they are used to.

Of course, the history of human civilization is a history of migration. Historians of migration say that man has been a “homo migrants” ever since he became “homo sapiens.” The entire history of Europe is one of migration within it and from and into it for reasons of economic well-being, war relief, or religious, ethnic or ideological discrimination. Even recent history reminds us of the refugees from the Yugoslav wars in the 1990s or the Vietnamese boat people in the mid-1970s.

The new wave of migrants is not something unseen in Europe but is merely the consequence of faulty policy and a prelude to the many problems to come in the future. The dramatic situation with the migrant crisis is the direct consequence of interventions by EU and NATO countries – led by the US – in the Middle East and the Mediterranean, the culmination of failed policies from Afghanistan and Iraq through to the Arab Spring to the intervention in Libya, and the direct sponsoring of extremist groups in Syria, accompanied by attempts to expel Russia from the region.

Within the last decade, Europe has been hit by three disastrous crises: the crisis of the Eurozone, which first started with the financial crisis in the US; the political and economic clash with Moscow which began when Washington sponsored the regime-change in Kiev; and the migrant crisis which is the result of trailing US-led interventions.

In all of these crises, the US is the key player. But where is the EU? How is it possible that an organization with such economic success could have such short-sight in political and security matters, and be naïve enough not to judge that such a policy could backfire?

The consequences are enormous frustration and dissatisfaction, particularly among the youth with the rise of Syriza and Podemos on one side, and of xenophobia and intolerance on the other. European milk producers are spilling milk at Schumann square and clashing with Brussels police over losses due to sanctions against Russia; refugees are clashing with police at borders and train stations over the right to continue their paths. All the while, wire walls and police border checkpoints are spreading and European leaders are passing the blame on to their neighbors.

Leaving aside the Eurozone and Ukrainian crisis, there are two lessons for the EU. First and foremost, Europe must admit its geopolitical failure in the Mediterranean. It is a paradox that only a few years ago the EU and NATO thought they controlled the Mediterranean and could do anything they wanted. French President Nicolas Sarkozy thus launched the attack against Libya and, together with his allies, created a ruin which is now the prey of local tribes and ISIS. Тоday, he wants to “defend” Europe by supporting Hungarian walls against its Balkan neighbors. One can only wonder if his colleagues and partners on the other side of the Atlantic didn’t have better foresight. Former Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird was caught personally spraying “Free Libya - Democracy” graffiti on Canadian missiles set to bomb Tripoli, while little Aylan Kurdi drowned on the shores of Turkey following Canada’s refusal to allow his family an entry visa.

Secondly, instead of “bribing” Turkey with money and promises of faster European integration in order to slow down the flow of migrants, EU leaders should focus on ending the war in Syria. It is clear that ISIS could be defeated within weeks if the US and Turkey joined Russian efforts and gave up their maximalist political goal of “Assad down, Russia out, full US control in the region.”

There will be no stability in the Middle East, and no end to refugee flows until the EU and the US arrive at a genuine agreement with Russia and end the double standard policy towards “hostile” Iran and “friendly” Saudi Arabia. Of course, there will similarly be no such stability until they find a solution to deal with Turkey’s policies of striking Kurds all around - both within and outside their borders - with unforeseeable consequences.

The migrant crisis must be resolved in Aleppo, Raqqa, and Palmyra, not with new border controls and walls inside Europe. It takes courage to save not only European values but the EU itself.

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