The Refugee Crisis: Pushing EU Integration to its Limit

JNCThis blog post is the second in a series of posts that come from students of our 2nd year undergraduate “Politics of the EU” course. As part of the course, students were asked to write about an issue pertaining to EU politics. The best blog posts have been selected to provide an opportunity to exceptional young scholars at UCD to contribute to the debate on the future of the EU, and to promote the insightful scholarship being undertaken at UCD to a wider public audience.

By the end of 2015, an estimated 1.2 million refugees applied for asylum in Europe [1]. The refugee crisis has put European Integration policies to the test, in particular the Schengen Agreement, which for many states continues to be questioned. In January 2016, Dutch migration minister Klaas Dijkhoff stated that EU member states would ask for permission to enforce strict border controls from May onwards, in order to control the staggering flow of immigrants from the Middle East and Africa [2]. The crisis itself, having stemmed from issues outside the EU has undoubtedly shed light on the conflicting interests of the various EU member states and their willingness to cooperate in times of crisis, thus posing one crucial question: can increased integration really work in the long run?

In 2013, the beginnings of the refugee crisis became evident as thousands of Libyan refugees flooded into Europe seeking asylum. The then EU Commission president, José Manuel Barroso stated the need for EU member states to support one another and to show ‘solidarity’ towards those states most exposed to the influx of refugees. As illustrated by Guillem (2015), almost immediately the Spanish authorities intensified boarder control by reinforcing the fence separating Melilla from Morocco with razor wire, injuring many refugees as a result [3]. This episode prompts one to question whether intense EU integration could possibly cause increased hostility among member states as they come to terms with ‘de-nationalising’ a significant amount of their sovereignty.

Hongjian (2015) argues that it is the efforts to increase integration in the EU that is to blame for the difficulty in solving the ‘refugee problem’. He highlights the difficulties Brussels now faces as they attempt to distribute the refugees to its member states; some are refusing to facilitate these efforts and others are doing the bare minimum. Hongjian (2015) goes on to outline that the more the EU attempts to face the crisis ‘as an integrated whole, the more likely this would trigger counter effects [4].’ But is the refugee crisis merely a temporary upset in an otherwise extremely effective long-term plan for the EU? Closer relations between member states undoubtedly seems like a prudent strategy in terms of preventing further global conflict (such as World War II) and to facilitate trade and political matters. Misra (1965) has stated that “The sovereign remedy for the tragedy in Europe is to create the European family, or as much of it as we can dwell in peace, in safety and in freedom [5].” That being said, it is difficult to ignore the recent counteractions that have coincided with the staggering number of asylum-seekers in Europe. Far right parties (such as Golden Dawn in Greece and the Front National in France) have seen an overwhelming surge in support since the beginning of the refugee crisis [6]. Ever more worrying, is the advent and growing support for PEGIDA, a xenophobic lobby-group, which exclusively targets Islam and has reaches Europe-wide. Fear and paranoia have caused a widespread belief that immigrants will merely hinder economies across Europe and create setbacks in nations that have worked hard to repair past damages and lay foundations for prosperous futures. However, studies have shown that these claims are largely unfounded.

Although immigration on a scale as large as has been created by the refugee crisis is somewhat new to Europe, nations both outside and within the union and further afield (such as Australia, Canada and Sweden), have seen their fair share of large-scale immigration in recent decades. A study on ‘social assistance’ dependency in Canada illustrates that migrants’ dependency on social assistance decreases significantly over time. 80 per cent of immigrants received social assistance upon initial arrival in Canada, and after four years this figure dropped to between 25 and 40 per cent [7]. A study carried out by the Statistics Sweden demonstrates similar figures (seen below), where migrants begin to find employment and become integrated members of society (1997-1999):

Fig_1Figure 1: Frequency of gainful employment for foreign born women and men by time spent in Sweden. Moving average for a 3-year time span. Source: Statistics Sweden, 2014. Available here. [Accessed 27 February 2016].

Integration has undoubtedly seen an immense amount of strain since the very beginnings of the refugee crisis. While those member states who accept asylum seekers may initially experience economic setbacks, as past studies have shown, this is clearly a temporary effect. However, the rise of far-right parties and lobby-groups demonstrate widespread hostility, increased xenophobic mentalities and a general unwillingness to accept the temporary setbacks caused by large-scale immigration. While it could be argued that there are too many clashing national interests for integration to operate European-Union-wide, it could on the other hand be argued that the refugee crisis is a ‘freak incident’, the effects of which have been sudden and largely unprecedented. Nevertheless, the future of European integration rests heavily on the manner in which each individual member state deals with the crisis in the coming months and years, the results of which will undoubtedly speak volumes for the future of the European Union as an integrated whole.

Jordan Ní Cheallaigh is a twenty-one-year-old second year student in UCD, Dublin. She is currently undertaking a Bachelor of Arts joint honours degree in Politics and International Relations and History.

Bibliography

  • Bird, M. (2015) ‘Welcome to the ‘Rechtsrutsch’: The Far Right is Quietly Making Massive Gains in Europe’, Business Insider UK, 19 October.
  • Guillem, S. M. (2015) ‘Exclusive Inclusion: EU Integration Discourse as Regulating Practice’, Critical Discourse Studies, 12 (4), pp. 426-444.
  • Hongjian, C. (2015) ‘EU Integration Tested With Refugee Crisis’, Global Times, 27 August.
  • Misra, B. (1965) ‘Prospects of European Integration’, The Indian Journal of Political Science, 26 (4), pp. 214-222.
  • Mortimer, C. (2016) ‘Refugee Crisis: Amsterdam Talks Put Schengen Agreement on Brink as EU States Reimpose Boarder Controls’, Independent, 25 January.
  • OECD (2015) ‘How Will the Refugee Surge Affect the European Economy?’, Migration Policy Debates, 8, pp. 1-4.
  • Swedish Public Employment Office OECD, 2015.
  • (2016) ‘Migrant Crisis: Migration to Europe Explained in Seven Charts’, BBC, 18 February.

Footnotes

[1] (2016) ‘Migrant Crisis: Migration to Europe Explained in Seven Charts’, BBC, 18 February. Available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-34131911 [Accessed 21 February 2016].

[2] Mortimer, C. (2016) ‘Refugee Crisis: Amsterdam Talks Put Schengen Agreement on Brink as EU States Reimpose Boarder Controls’, Independent, 25 January. Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/refugee-crisis-schengen-scheme-on-the-brink-collapse-after-amsterdam-talks-as-eu-states-reimpose-a6833976.html [Accessed 21 February 2016].

[3] Guillem, S. M. (2015) ‘Exclusive Inclusion: EU Integration Discourse as Regulating Practice’, Critical Discourse Studies, 12 (4), pp. 426-444.

[4] Hongjian, C. (2015) ‘EU Integration Tested With Refugee Crisis’, Global Times, 27 August. Available at: http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/939420.shtml. [Accessed 23 February 2016].

[5] Misra, B. (1965) ‘Prospects of European Integration’, The Indian Journal of Political Science, 26 (4), pp. 214-222.

[6] Bird, M. (2015) ‘Welcome to the ‘Rechtsrutsch’: The Far Right is Quietly Making Massive Gains in Europe’, Business Insider UK, 19 October. Available at: http://uk.businessinsider.com/the-far-right-is-quietly-making-massive-gains-in-europe-2015-10. [Accessed 25 February 2016].

[7] OECD (2015) ‘How Will the Refugee Surge Affect the European Economy?’, Migration Policy Debates, 8, pp. 1-4.

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