The EU and the Refugees: The Way Forward


This paper was prepared for the Prague European Summit. "The refugee crisis can become – in spite of the underlying tragedy – a moment of glory for the European Union. Suffering from crises of both identity and confidence, the EU can find itself again by drawing inspiration from its history and values and renew its purpose at home and abroad. If the EU manages to reform its outdated migration and asylum policies, offering the war refugees a friendly welcome, it will prove that the fears of its weakness are exaggerated and the rumours about its erosion are unfounded. If decisive action is taken by European leaders, the result will be of benefit for both the refugees and the societies as well as economies of the recipient countries. War refugees – and even economic migrants – are not a threat; they are an opportunity for the EU to prove that it still stands firm on the principles of peace, solidarity and openness, on which it had been originally built."

The EU has always existed in the dual world of strongly professed universal values and its ability to accommodate the mundane interests of its member states. However, this – at times fruitful – tension has recently come under so much strain that it threatens to bring down not only the EU´s always fragile foreign policy consensus, but even the most fundamental freedoms on which the EU has been built, such as the free movement of people, and which it has come to stand for in the eyes of its populations. The first blow came with the Eurozone crisis, and the second with the still growing migration malaise. But while the crumbling solidarity during the economic crisis and the negotiations with Greece could still be explained away as a result of rational economic calculus, the current crisis does not offer any such comforts. The two fundamental tenets of the integration ethos – universal values and particular state interests – seem to be at odds as never before. The ultimate question which is so often posed today is whether the EU should comply with the still powerful state-centric push and simply build up the barriers again or whether the time has come for the EU to fulfil its higher calling and take action based on its broader humanitarian obligations.