By Nawab Khan
BRUSSELS, March 6 (KUNA) — Leaders of the 28-member European Union are to make another attempt on Monday to tackle Europe’s worst refugee problem since World War II (WW2) amid warnings that the continuing impasse could lead to a collapse of the EU itself.
EU leaders will hold the summit with Turkey the front-line state which is host to some 2.5 million refugees. They want Ankara to stop the flow of refugees to Europe. In November 2015, the EU and Turkey signed a three billion euro Joint Action Plan to better manage the situation, but the ambitious plan has yet to bear fruit.
About one million refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan left their countries to escape war and persecution and seek shelter in European countries in 2015.
Analysts opine that EU member states have miserably failed to agree on a relocation scheme of a mere 160,000 refugees, and politicians and analysts are warning that Europe’s disunity in responding to the refugee crisis has created an existential threat to the European integration project. “In the next 10 days we need tangible and clear results on the ground otherwise there is the risk the whole system will completely break down,” warned last week the EU’s Commissioner for Migration and Home Affairs Dimitris Avramopoulos.
March 2016 may well make it into the history books as a make or break month for the EU,” commented Rosa Balfour, an analyst at the Brussels office of the German Marshall Fund think tank. She said that the EU-Turkey Summit of March 7 and the EU leaders’ summit March 17-18 “will have to produce short and long term measures addressing the current mayhem caused by the European governments’ disorderly responses to the surge of refugees fleeing from conflict in the Middle East and elsewhere.” Balfour opined that “it is hard to see how solutions will take shape, but it is safe to assume that continuing this paralysis will lead to further disintegration, starting with Britain leaving the EU.” Moreover, the failure to deal with the refugee crisis has increased political tensions between the EU member states themselves. Greece has recently recalled its ambassador from Austria after Vienna accused Athens of not doing enough to protect its borders from the influx of refugees.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve complained, last month, that Paris had not been informed of Belgium’s decision to reinstate border controls at its borders with France. Moreover, analysts are alarmed that the refugee crisis has increased the outburst of racist and Islamophobic attacks against the refugees not only by far-right extremist groups but also by European leaders and politicians.
Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban was among the first European leaders to advocate exclusion of Muslim migrants from entering Hungary and he even erected fences to stop the refugee flow to Hungary from Turkey through the Western Balkans and Greece.
Vincent Cochetel, Director of the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, Bureau for Europe and UNHCR’s Regional Refugee Coordinator for the refugee crisis in Europe, told reporters in Brussels last Friday that “we had a number of statements from some Central European leaders that in my view are clearly Islamophobia.” He noted that those statements compared the “arrival of Syrians to the Turkish Ottoman invasion.” Shada Islam, director of policy in the Brussels-based think tank Friends of Europe, commented that Europe’s global reputation and hopes of playing a stronger international role depend on its internal conduct and policies.
“The tone and content of the refugee and migration debate have repercussions on Europe’s internal cohesion, economic dynamism and societal harmony, but also impact strongly on EU foreign policy and international standing,” she wrote in an opinion piece.
“When Muslims are targets of racist attacks and discrimination, the EU’s role and influence in helping to stabilise a very volatile Arab and Muslim world is diminished,” she opined.
However, the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, is hopeful that Monday’s meeting would result in some sort of European consensus to deal with the refugee situation. “For the first time since the beginning of the migration crisis, I can see a European consensus emerging,” he wrote in his invitation letter to EU leaders for the summit. “It is a consensus around a comprehensive strategy that, if loyally implemented, can help stem the flows and tackle the crisis,” he said.