The latest shameful episode of Europe’s migration crisis is a timely reminder of where Europe could be heading in the coming months.
It took the EU – or to be more precise, a handful of EU countries – almost three weeks to resolve the fate of 49 people stranded at sea. Leaving 49 human beings at sea for almost three weeks while trying to reach an agreement says a lot about our humanity, or lack of it.
But it also confirmed the EU’s inability to reach agreement on how to manage migration. Nothing new in this, as the EU has been dealing with migration on ad hoc basis. Instead of finding a lasting agreement which outlines a long term plan on how to deal with migration, EU leaders create a crisis every time a boat carrying asylum seekers is on Europe’s doorstep.
But what could be new is the outcome of the 2019 European elections, which are now five months away. The lack of a cohesive position on migration has opened up the EU to the possibility of a eurosceptic, anti-immigrant take over of its institutions.
On Thursday, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said he hoped the next European Parliament will be dominated by anti-immigration forces. Backing an Italian-Polish initiative to form a right wing alliance for European Parliament elections due in May, Orbán set his sights on reshaping the EU.
Orbán – who for the time being is a member of the centre right European People’s Party – said his goal is to first gain an anti-immigrant majority in the European election, then in the executive European Commission, and later, the European Council.
Now this might sound implausible, but we have been here before. Without wanting to sound alarmist, this gives me a sense of déjà vu. And there is no need to go back to the 20s and 30s when fascist forces took over Europe.
Just three years ago, many thought Donald Trump would never become President of the United States. It sounded impossible. A joke. But three years later, the US is facing an unprecedented crisis as President Trump is threatening to declare a national emergency in the hope of building a wall along the Mexican border, which he believes will stem the flow of migrants, drugs and God knows what he’ll come up with next.
This is no guarantee that the same will happen in Europe. But the fact that Orbán – who also built a razor wire fence along Hungary’s southern border to stop migrants from entering the country – is talking up the possibility of a eurosceptic, anti-immigration majority, should be worrying enough.
However implausible it sounds, European leaders – and citizens – who do not share the politics and values of Orbán, Salvini and Le Pen must work towards finding a solution to the current impasse. And this should not be found in quick-fix solutions such as setting up so-called disembarkation centres outside the EU or throwing money at countries such as Libya.
This does not translate into an uncontrolled open borders policy, but Europe must seek a common asylum policy which would among others give asylum-seekers legal means to reach Europe, give them a real chance to integrate and access the labour market.
Although migration cannot be stopped, Europe must also seek long lasting solutions to end years of violence, war, poverty and persecution in Syria, Libya and other parts of the world and seek further cooperation with countries bordering war zones and troubled areas.
Achieving a long lasting common asylum and migration policy will come at huge costs. Parties and Prime Ministers might lose power and votes, anti-immigration parties will not disappear overnight and many citizens will be unhappy.
But Europe’s greatest mistake would be that of underestimating the rise of the far right, especially in national elections. The current crisis is political but if nothing is done, politics might become irrelevant. What may be Orbán’s far fetched dream could become a very real nightmare for all of us.