By MAYA WHITNEY, with BROOKS TIGNER
BRUSSELS – Europeans are holding their breath as 2018 unfolds, wondering if the migration crisis is finally wrapping up or whether Europe should brace for the next wave of migrants. But even before looking beyond the borders of the Schengen zone, what does Europe do with the thousands of migrants who are already here?
Liz Collett, founder of the Migration Policy Institute, predicts that Europe hasn’t seen the last of migration. In remarks with fellow migration experts during a 31 January webinar on the subject, she said “we are a little bit concerned about the number of nationals who are coming from Tunisia.” Perhaps more alarming, she noted that the number of immigrants of a different nationality may herald a significant shift, namely from Turkey.
“I’m not sure the EU is prepared for that eventuality,” she said during the webinar briefing. In Collett’s view, the EU’s member states could be making issues harder than they should be in their reluctance or slow reaction time in dealing with refugee relocation requests.
While the EU has been focused on the internal issue of migrants entering the Schengen zone, Pierre Vimont, senior fellow at Carnegie Europe and former secretary-general of the European External Action Service, the EU’s foreign policy wing, said Europe’s foreign policy challenges linked to migration are far from over.
“They have two different sets of challenges they must face,” he said. “The short-term one is how to bring [political] stability back to these countries from where the migration is coming. The longer term issue is economic development in these countries and this, of course, will take much longer to look at. We’re still far away from being able to come up with the right solution.”
Pointing to the EU’s less-than-impactful initiatives toward Libya and Syria as indicators, he said their stabilisation will take much more time than anyone would have predicted.
Vimont also pointed to another hurdle to progress: the member states’ fragmented diplomacy and foreign policies. The EU’s resulting inability to forge an effective joint foreign policy on the migrant issue has proved a boon to populist governments such as those of Hungary, led by Viktor Orbán, which ignore and vehemently opposing the migrant relocation quotas set forth by the EU.
While populism has seeped into the political landscape in nearly every country in Europe, the Czech Republic has shown that only one thing outguns the xenophobia: economics.
As the Czech economy and that of neighbouring countries expands, for example, they are suffering growing labour shortages, especially in the automobile sector. Some companies have offered to bring in refugees by the thousands, offering them housing in exchange for work in the vehicle factories of Volkswagen and Peugeot, said Milan Nick, senior fellow at Berlin-based Robert Bosch Centre for Central and Eastern Europe, Russia, and Central Asia.
Whether this openness will continue is questionable, in view of the Czech Republic’s re-election of Milos Zeman, who wants a Brexit-style referendum for his country. The populism trend is set to grow in fact, if populist parties gain ground in Italy in March and Hungary’s ultra-nationalist Viktor Orbán is re-elected in April.
The outcome of those elections may well determine the likely passage of the EU’s so-called Dublin IV Regulation on asylum rules, and how money will be allocated within the EU’s next seven-year budget in 2021 for migrant relocation and related policies. Indeed, coupled with the uncertainties surrounding Brexit, it is unclear how migration reforms would play out against other programs vying for the same funding.
Then there is the EU’s three billion-euro “allotment” – or pay-off as cynics would deem it – to Turkey each year to process, and keep, the migrants that amass on its territory. Diverting money in the EU’s next 2021-2017 budget away from Ankara would run the obvious risk of Turkey opening its spigot, sending huge waves of immigrants in Europe’s direction again, with all the chaos that created the last time for the EU in 2015. Perilous politics, policy decisions and budget-wrangling lie ahead for the European Union.