The EU summit that was recently held in Brussels, which mainly discussed immigration and asylum, is considered to be one of Europe’s most complex and difficult summits. It was not only difficult to organize as it’s equally difficult to implement its decisions, which observers described as extremely vague.
Views expressed at the summit widely differed from each other, with some calling to give financial support for countries receiving immigrants, like Italy and Greece. Other views focused on possible locations for establishing secure migrant centers. France insisted on establishing these centers in countries where migrants first arrive in the EU, which was of course rejected by Italy.
This is in addition to differences between Spain and Greece over dealing with granting asylum, Italy’s extreme and harsh approach and some Central European countries’ abstention from participating in European commitments and obligations.
The problem of migration and asylum amid poor economic circumstances has the components that play a role in the strategy of attacking Europe given the ability to incite less developed and less prosperous segments of the population against ‘strangers’Hazem Saghieh
Exploiting immigration issues
There is a more important and disconcerting fact behind this scenario. According to official European figures, the number of illegal refugees in the EU has dropped from over 1 million recorded in 2015 to 56,000 in 2017.
This means that the differences are worsening even as the problem itself is dissipating! This shows that the asylum and migration issue, which is very significant indeed, is being exploited as national and populist pretexts to weaken intra-European ties and perhaps to later dissociate the EU by basing this on the Schengen agreement over free travelling between its countries. The anti-EU governments that now run countries like Italy and Austria in the west and Poland and Hungary in the east strengthen such a possibility.
If we take a wider look, we would notice that the rise in populist and nationalist sentiment in Europe sweeps across nation states from Russia under Vladimir Putin to the US under Donald Trump. If the Washington Post’s story that the US President encouraged his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron to quit the EU, promising him with dual agreements between the two countries in return is true then expecting bad intentions is valid.
Trump has talked about European allies as selfish little parties that benefit from military protection provided by America and from trade with it. As for Moscow, it has also done its best to support anti-European powers, in every election event in the continent.
Targeting European unity
Targeting the project of European unity has several aims as, for the first time in history, it seeks to democratically violate the ideal of the nation-state. This clashes with the extreme nationalist tendencies in each country while liberalism and human rights would run contrary to populist sentiments sweeping through the world these days. Thus, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has become the favorite target of criticism from various quarters.
The problem of migration and asylum amid poor economic circumstances has the components that play a role in the strategy of attacking Europe given the ability to incite less developed and less prosperous segments of the population against ‘strangers.’ Some may take things further as this immigrant ‘stranger,’ who is exploiting Europe’s naiveté as nationalists and populists claim, can be blamed as the reason for European tragedies and hardships.
This could also provide a chance for opportunistic politicians to exploit and rake up arguments and bring them down to the meanest levels, by establishing secure migrant centers, according to what the Brussels summit called for and which human rights organizations viewed as inhumane prisons.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Hazem Saghieh is a Lebanese political analyst and the political editor of the London-based Arab newspaper al-Hayat.
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