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Europe at the crossroads

 

Whenever Europe tries to speak with one voice, one gets the impression that it is at pains to define its self-understanding: refugees in or out, through which ways, how many, border controls yes or no, right of asylum to whom, which countries can be assumed to be secure, who is in charge of what, etc.? Admittedly, it is quite difficult to find an unanimous stance within 28 different countries, each with a national tradition, a judicial system and political interests of its own. What is at stake, however, is precisely the unity of Europe - a continent that tries to withstand aggressive rhetoric from over the ocean. The US under a president who gives the impression that his only strategy consists in twitter tweets is putting European politicians under pressure with threats of and active steps towards protectionist measures.

The US under Donald Trump has also announced to redefine its role as military defense agent and asks other countries to increase their military budget in the interest of their own security. Two percent of the gross domestic product does not sound like much, but its symbolic meaning is clear: whoever wants security has to agree to spend more money and can no longer rely on the US.

While China and Russia, too, are using all possible methods to push their economic performance, Europe seems to stand in the middle of nowhere. Germany has just had its homemade scandal with a ministry that gave out inadequate asylum certificates and will now be boosted with 1.650 new job positions. As if money would solve all the problems, most politicians speak of rights, freedom and self-determination while they actually have only financial costs and gains in mind. Latest figures show, for instance, that Germany´s credits to Greece have returned a gain of 2.9 billion euros through interest rates. This fact could help to silence all those who incessantly winge about Germany´s wasteful economic engagement for other countries and believe that it is the cash cow of the European Union. To the contrary, all economic figures show that Germany is one of the greatest winners of the Union and the Euro and that its economic performance in exports is increasing. Also, the access of refugees to the labour market is slowly gaining in efficiency.

All the while one of the most pressing questions is what will happen after Britain´s Brexit that is still under way. Theresa May has to find solutions that will appease eurosceptics within her party´s ranks and beyond while she herself does not seem to be convinced that the Brexit is for the good of the country. Yet, it looks like the point of no return has been reached and that there is no way back at present. A new referendum, however, would probably bring different results, since mostly the younger generation has a clear stance against the Brexit. Yet, there are no signs that the government is willing to repeat this democratic exercise.

The refugee crisis overall is being used by most protagonists in order to enforce their own national agenda: especially Germany, for instance, has to find a way how to differentiate between economic refugees and those seeking political asylum with a historical past that dictates liberal freedoms and rights for persons who are fleeing from persecution. The resistance from the far right gains in momentum, although the number of those who cross the borders has continuously diminished within the last two years. The Bavarian CSU under Horst Seehofer, the present Minister of the Interior, is doing everything in order to win back the votes that it has lost to the right-wing AfD during the peak of the refugee movement. To this aim, Seehofer proposes that refugees be already repudiated at the border, although this would mean a breach of all legal arrangements. I.e. while he is speaking of the breach of law by the present practice, he is suggesting himself something that would be illegal according to many jurists as EU law stands above national laws. First voices are being raised which speak of a German Brexit which, however, seems highly unlikely.

With Austria - a country that is not reknown for its refugee friendly policy - taking on the EU presidency on 1st July under chancellor Sebastian Kurz, a player comes in who will pursue a conservative agenda and which has the backing of Bavaria. Just recently the Bavarian prime minister Markus Söder visited Vienna in order to display a stance against Angela Merkel´s search for a pan-European solution. By bringing in an element of division, European actors are acting against a unity that they, in fact, need in order to stay capable of policy-making. It looks like only a minority is aware and alarmed of this at present. How big the crisis is will become clearer after the scheduled next EU summit and once the Bavarian elections in October are over when governments get back to their daily business. The question of power and credibility is at the centre once more.