Written by: Florian Gorqaj
Picture: 14 words
EU states respond differently in solidarity issues, such as taking in refugees. Some states seem to prioritize high politics over attempts of burden-sharing, and a change of priorities is not expected in the nearest future. The idealistic historical belief in solving problems in unity seems to fade away.
Coming to an agreement about sharing the burden of hosting refugees in Europe seems nearly impossible. One might ask, why do many EU countries prioritize high politics such as sovereignty and security when the discussion is about settling more refugees in the union? Burden sharing has become a large problem in the Western world, especially since the start of the Syrian war and the resulting influx of immigrants into European countries. Thus, intergovernmental organizations such as the EU have tried to establish regulations designed to solve problems of this nature. Unfortunately, they haven’t been very successful. In 1994 Germany proposed to divide refugees proportionally between the member states, according to territory and GDP. Even though this proposal was rejected at the very beginning, it was later on included in the EU legislations, stating that members of the union would need to share the burden of asylum seekers. In 2015 the EU established a quota scheme, which was again to regulate this particular issue. Many EU countries, especially some Eastern European members, vehemently opposed the scheme. In 2016, too, the European Commission agreed to resettle a large number of asylum seekers, however as of today only 3.000 of them have been resettled to other countries from Greece and Italy. The aim was to resettle 160.000 by September 2017. There are clear signs that there is little to no motivation among some of the European countries to receive any refugees, in spite of their GDP and general capacity of hosting them.
On the other hand, there are countries that carry a larger burden by hosting more refugees than their quota. Most of them are the Southern European countries in which the refugees arrive, whereas 13 other countries in the EU undershoot their quotas. Countries such as Slovakia and Hungary have not shown willingness to comply and given no signs that they will be bound by such a quota scheme and the legislation of 2015. Thus, the arguments vary; one will be able to hear everything from “we can’t allow such a large number of Muslim nationals entering into a Christian continent” which was stated by the former prime minister of Hungary, Viktor Orbán. Other countries such as Slovakia, Romania, Czech Republic and Poland refuse to take in their share of immigrants due to purported security concerns and because they claim to have low capacity and lack the resources. Countries like Germany and Sweden have taken more refugees than their quotas imply, and are strong advocates for solidarity and empathy. They also strongly encourage other EU states to take equal responsibility in these issues.
Easy eviction of solidarity
Political philosophers such as Thomas Pogge and John Rawls argued that as humans, we have a moral duty to help others. And the large differences between nations today persist because wealthier ones have taken advantage of resources early on. Therefore, so their argument goes, it is also the wealthy countries’ moral duty to counterbalance this and support the ones in need. But is this really a sufficient argument to make other nations turn towards solidarity? To help someone out, simply because they are in a better position? To accept deals that could possibly be risky for their security and economy, and undermine their sovereignty? Solidarity is not necessarily one of the highest priorities of each member state of the EU. The argument for deciding upon a burden sharing for refugees based on solidarity may not be a strong enough argument to make certain states feel bound by a regulation. Therefore, it all comes down to what single states prioritize.
Indeed, ethical duties are not necessarily on the top of their list, or they might have different ethical views. Even though Europe’s aim has been to have a common authority in such important decision-making processes, reality has shown that it is up to the single state how they want to handle certain issues.
Establishing a legislation that specifies how burden sharing should function has not shown to be effective either. In so many of these cases EU regulation interferes with the individual countries’ sovereignty. This is why the Geneva conventions and European legislations are formulated in such an unrestricted and open fashion: They leave a lot of space for taking an idealistic direction of empathy and solidarity. Which on one hand, makes burden sharing possible, but on the other hand open enough to not interfere with the sovereignty of countries in order to not make them feel bound to any of these legal instruments. Nevertheless, these issues are not clear-cut from a political viewpoint, and it is not necessarily a difference between Eastern and Western Europe, nor an issue of the country’s economic situation. UK and Germany are good examples on this. Germany has certainly more open and liberal policies when it comes to migration and accepting refugees than the UK, even at the time when the UK was committed to the EU.
Picture: The Spectator
The closest we have ever been to burden sharing
I believe there are very few people who don’t remember the 3-year-old boy that was washed ashore on a beach in Turkey in the autumn of 2015. This was the time when European leaders no longer saw the death of a human as a number, but rather as crime caused by careless policies. A similar impact was caused by the Icelandic girl who wrote an open letter to her government offering her house for Syrian refugees after her government came out with a declaration that they were not willing to accept any more refugees: This act caused a whole movement in Iceland. The story of the French farmer who drove many kilometers every day to move refugees from one spot to the other, and sheltered many of them in his own home, also influenced the minds of politicians and civilians. When 10.000 people die, it is only statistics, but when one person dies and it is displayed in media, it becomes a crime, to paraphrase a famous quote. This creates empathy but also at some point it changes international norms. Media and civil society tend to prioritize issues such as solidarity. Indeed, when forces within a country advocate audibly for more responsibility in handling situations like these, it has shown to have a larger impact than a regulation proposed by an institution such as the European Commission, as in 2015. Many state leaders came out with specific numbers of how many refugees they wanted to take in right after the image of the 3-year-old boy was displayed, and those that opposed taking any refugees at all stated that they would reconsider the issue.
This is the closest we have been to burden sharing. It wasn’t the aspiration for perfect regulation that motivated states to establish softer policies on refugees. There were totally different forces that changed their priorities, at least for a short period. Countries themselves decide if they want to share responsibilities, so if there is a lack of willingness and solidarity burden sharing hardly seems possible.
A continuous adaption of solidarity or ethical guidelines cannot be forced upon a country or regulated, instead it has to come from «within», such as the civil society. Intergovernmental organizations such as the EU have shown to be successful in establishing a common economic platform and, to some extent, political and judicial system. But finding a common ground for ethical questions so far hasn’t shown to be successful. A permanent solution is not in sight in the foreseeable future.
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