The European migrant crisis has been publicly debated for over a year. Actually, it is very hard to remember at what point exactly the casualties in the Mediterranean Sea stopped being treated as domestic and “extra-ordinary” news and became a European policy issue. It is of the utmost importance to keep stressing that Europeans are facing a new and extraordinary challenge that could change a lot in terms of power struggle within the European Union.
I will first address the fact that migration is the topic on which today the battle for more or less integrated Europe is fought. Then, I will try to outline how the parties are handling this battle; namely, how the Commission is becoming an actual political actor in the EU. In conclusion, I will state what Europeans should do.
A matter of integration
It is well known that one could distinguish a pro-Europe person by the feeling he or she had on the single currency. In other words, that was the prima facie control on whether someone was a Eurosceptic or not. Indeed, the Euro has hit the headlines so often that it would be impossible to count them all; to extent that almost anyone has developed a personal impression on the single currency. Such an opinion may not be based on a particular expertise, and yet everyone is sure to have things clear in mind.
The debate over Euro reached its peak in the debate about the so-called Grexit, i.e. the possibility that Greece would be forced to leave the single currency, due to the lack of an agreement between Athens and its creditors.
It has been argued that there is no longer room for a challenge to the existence of the Eurozone. The countries that belong to such system have overcome a terrible financial crisis, probably the worst ever, and even the members that mostly threatened to leave, at the end of the day preferred to keep negotiating and enjoy the benefits of the Euro Area, despite its still unsolved downsides.
I would say that today the tension between the need for more or less Europe is conveyed through the debate over migrants.
On the one hand, one may find those who believe that Brussels should not determine migration policies, which are strongly linked to national sovereignty. On the other hand, there are those that firmly think that the Schengen Area is one of the most important achievement of the EU; thus, in a single space of free movement, it makes sense to have a single set of rules as to migration and, more specifically, asylum.
Once again newspapers report of countries that felt interference with their sovereignty, EU institutions that insist of the fact that some issues are to be settled in the interests of Europe as a whole, and again tough negotiations, drafts and never-reached deals.
Once again we are told that either an agreement can be found or Europe will split. It is a matter of integration, after all.
A brand new character: the European Commission
Europe is changing a lot and probably we will understand this clearly only some time from now. Among the most important improvements, there is the political role that the Commission is shaping for itself.
It all started in 2014, when the Europeans voted for the European Parliament. It was the first time that people were indirectly involved in appointing the Commission’s President, since political parties stated which politician would have been elected by the Parliament, had they won the election. The EPP won and, as promised, Juncker took office.
Now, this change is not just formal: it means that Juncker is no longer willing to accept that national politicians address him as a bureaucrat with no relation whatsoever with the European people, as they loved to do with former presidents.
When the migration debate exploded, many Prime Ministers blamed the EU and claimed that Brussels was responsible for the people who died in the sea. Even if such recollection of facts was unfounded, the migration crisis became a top priority for Juncker.
He answered to countries complaining for the lack of help from the EU that he was taking care of it: he proposed a mandatory quota system to allocate among all the members poor people fleeing from war and poverty and the financial burden of welcoming them. All of a sudden, national states started claiming that actually the problem was Schengen and the EU should not have dealt with this issue. Many countries stated their unwillingness to help other members in helping people and did veto the quota system.
This brief summary can maybe bring the reader’s attention on the fact that it is now crystal clear where the parties stand: we can distinguish the European power from the national one. The former thinks of what suits best the whole country, the latter tries to re-gain a centrality that it no longer has. Indeed, despite the walls and the restriction, it is undisputed that people will keep entering into Europe. It is just for us to decide how we want to set out our migration policies.
What should we do?
The migration crisis is the new ground for the debate on whether Europe should go forward, and in the author’s opinion the Commission is the political institution that has better understood the issue at stake. However, one might still wonder what each European should do.
In this regard, I would say that the struggle is not big just for Brussel politicians or for national politicians . It is of tremendous importance for all of us as well.
The public debate tends to be very polarized. Nationalism, populism and racism are arising again. Each European has the duty to fight for the liberties achieved through the years. The whole sense of Europe cannot be undermined by 28 people who cannot find an agreement; but for them to feel compelled to push towards an implementation of European values, it is necessary to make them feel where we stand.
We stand for everything that has been written down in the Charter of Nizza. We stand for the longest peaceful period of all time in the story of the EU’s members. We stand for Human Rights.
We do know that the stories migrants tell are the ones our grandparents used to tell. We do know that they are fleeing from what Europe was before the EU.
We should make the Commission feel that it has to be way more brave, because the Europeans have understood that new challenges require new political approaches.