Europe faces its Refugees!

Evian 1938 – Brussels 2015

 

When the Heads of State and Governments meet next Thursday in Brussels, they would be well advised to keep in mind the fiasco of the Conference of Evian in 1938, convened to deal with the mass of Jewish refugees’ expulsed from Germany and Austria.

 

Even if circumstances are very different, there are a number of common aspects to both cases: people being expulsed by - or escaping from - totalitarian regimes, a difficult economic situation in Europe in the aftermath of a crisis and an increasing hostility towards immigration fostered by the growing appeal of national-populists parties.

 

Today Europe must face its responsibilities; it behoves therefore the European Council to fully assume them. Let us be quite clear: the Council has strictly limited the Union’s financial resources; this prevents the Commission from making any meaningful proposals capable of meeting the challenge within the constraints of the financial perspectives 2014-2020. If the problem is to be managed at EU level – as is apparently the near unanimous wish – it behoves the Council to give the Commission the necessary guidance covering not only the expected “solidarity” in terms of accepting refugees but also in terms of deploying the logistics to face the urgent humanitarian needs as well as providing the new financial resources required.

 

This conundrum constitutes, at the very moment in time when the EU is facing a fundamental reappraisal of its purpose, both an additional challenge and an enormous opportunity. Indeed, if the terrorist attacks last January in France stimulated some 4 million citizens to express in the street solidarity with the victims, the fate of thousands of drowned refugees should mobilise public opinion even further. It is therefore an appropriate time to test the solidarity among the 28 EU Member States by sharing fairly the required efforts between them.

 

As far as providing the necessary financing, there is a unique opportunity to institute a first “European solidarity tax” by imposing, for instance a uniform 1% surcharge on VAT receipts; these would constitute a “dedicated” EU budget resource redistributed to Member States, pro rata the number of refugees admitted and as a function of the costs incurred by their participation in rescue operations, etc. Refugees would only have access to direct benefits in the country of asylum so as to avoid unwanted disequilibria resulting from the “free movement of people” throughout the EU/ Schengen area.

 

It is also important to explain that the refusal to participate in the collective effort, in the vain hope of countering xenophobic feelings, will have the diametrically opposite effect; it will impose measures (and counter measures) which will only accelerate the disintegration of the EU. Each country would then have to face on its own the flow of immigrants which it will be unable to stop; any attempt to do so would only exacerbate the hostility of neighbouring countries and lead to conflicts reminiscent of the first half of the XXth. century.

 

Though it is not described in the media or by commentators as the “Summit of the last chance”, the stakes of the forthcoming European Council are very high. It is up to the heads of State and Government to ensure that it will constitute a new departure for the security and prosperity of all EU citizens and not the start of an irreversible decline. The responsibility weighing on the shoulders of each individual leader is very heavy. One hopes that they will not leave Brussels having failed to reach an agreement, like their homologues in Evian in 1938, and that we shall be left to bear the consequences.

 

Brussels, 21st April 2015  

 

 

Paul N. Goldschmidt

Director, European Commission (ret.); Member of the Steering Committee of the Thomas More Institute.

 

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