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the migrant crisis
The Failure of the EU’s Technocrats

As migrants continue to drown in the Mediterranean and 3,000 others remain stranded outside of Budapest’s train station, the brokenness of Europe’s immigration system is on full display. The Schengen Zone—Europe’s common border system—now seems to many Europeans to be not a blessing but a trap, while European leaders fight acrimoniously over various reform proposals that never seem to get anywhere. And each time one of these migrant-sharing proposals founders, the original problem intensifies, and countries of initial arrival are pushed more and more to their breaking point.

The Financial Times yesterday touched on one of the most important underlying problems: in migration policy as in other areas, like the euro crisis, the EU lacks the tools and the institutions to enforce its will (such as, in this case, an interior ministry). The paper quotes Guy Verhofstadt, who was once the prime minister of Belgium and now leads the European Parliament’s liberals: “Europe is a master of putting in place a policy and then not putting in rules and institutions absolutely necessary for these policies. Be it the euro or Schengen.” Both the euro and the Schengen system, that is, gave major traditional national competencies to Brussels, but they did so without creating the legal powers that make those institutions work on the national level.

European-wide governance was set up with the ultimate goal of “ever-closer Union”—i.e. full federalism—in mind, but the system’s architects knew that the nations involved were not yet ready to dissolve their countries into the larger whole. The elites’ solution was to paper over the fact that many of the needed legal and political foundations had not been laid down. They declared large goals accomplished, and assumed that, insofar as problems occurred, they would in and of themselves create political momentum to centralize more power in Brussels in order to fix whatever situations arose. During the 90s in particular—when the euro was proposed and Schengen was being implemented—there was a tendency to assume that “history” was heading inexorably in the post-national direction and would sweep away all petty impediments in its path.

The problem, as Europe is now seeing, is that the opposite can happen: Many of the crises have turned out to reinforce nationalist, rather than internationalist, tendencies. At its worst, this can take the form of Hungary’s drive to build a border fence or the growth of parties like the Swedish Democrats and France’s Front National. But it can also often take a different form: sensible centrist parties, such as the British Conservatives or the Polish Civic Platform party (PO), pointing out that the EU is making a hash of things and sounding skeptical about further integration. In practice, even the most ardently pro-integration states have started resorting to using national power to accomplish what Brussels can’t. The Greek euro crisis was eventually resolved (for now) when Angela Merkel intervened to take the reins from the Eurocrats who, supposedly, should have been benefitting from the crisis in the form of increased power and importance.

Much of the EU system’s popular appeal rested on the supposedly superior ability of disinterested technocrats to solve European problems. Now, even those who haven’t become more nationalist because of the current EU policy disputes or the immigration crisis have good reason to doubt Brussels’ ability to deal problems when they matter most. Europe badly needs to address not only its immediate migrant crisis, but to rethink its whole approach to making policy. It cannot continue announcing grand solutions first and building consensus and necessary institutions second.

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  • johngbarker

    “History” may be heading somewhere but it seems to have a poor sense of direction.

  • Anthony

    Tangentially related: “A handful of European nations had dominated the world. By the end of the war they had lost the will. the energy and the wealth to maintain their power…This changed the shape of the world…but the change was less the result of the world’s resistance to Europe than a result of Europe’s exhaustion…Europe has lost its recklessness, which is on the whole good. Yet it has gained an excessive caution that makes it difficult for Europe to make up its mind over matters small and large.” See:

    • wigwag

      This is exactly right, but it’s actually worse than that. European elites are victimized by their own self-hatred. They hate European culture, European tradition and European history. They are convinced that their history is too racist, too bigoted, too violent and too imperialistic to have any special role to play in world affairs. Better, so they think, to wallow in cultural relativism, multicultural hogwash and the urge to genuflect to third world societies who’s many pathologies they are convinced were caused by European imperialism in the first place.

      Europe is in the process of committing suicide on a continental scale; not only are Europeans facing a demographic collapse of epic proportions, they are in the process of turning their societies into more prosperous versions of the societies that their new immigrants originally came from.

      Europe is toast.

      Good riddance.

      • Anthony

        I think, besides your “good riddance sentiment, George Friedman was intimating your view, just less explicitly.

  • Andrew Allison

    Sloppy thinking. The Schengen Treaty applies to a subset of the members of the EU, not Europe, and only applies to legal residents of those countries. In other words, refugees and migrants do NOT have the right of free travel unless/until they become legal residents. Furthermore, none of the countries between Greece and Hungary are signatories.
    Furthermore, a very large number of the migrants are exactly that, namely economic migrants, not refugees, and the moral responsibility toward refugees doesn’t apply to them. The real problem for Europe, which is already happening, is that if it accepts economic migrants the torrent will turn into a flood. This is analogous to opening the Mexican border, except that there are millions and millions of potential economic migrants.

  • rheddles

    They are invaders, not immigrants. Europe couldn’t figure out what to do about Hitler’s invasion of the Rhineland in 1936, or his invasion Czechoslovakia in 1938, or his invasion Poland in 1939, or even, really, the invasion of France in 1940. It wasn’t until afterwards, when only the English were left that, the English alone realized what they alone had to do. Where would they fight them? This will not end dis-similarly.

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