STRESS LINES IN THE EUROPEAN UNION

Last few years have been tough for Europe since the Syrian war broke out. Afghan refugee migration was just about stabilising when fall out of Syrian war cropped up. The end to the war in Syria is still elusive with deep entrenchment of major powers of the region. In search of better life, mass scale migration of population has been in motion, mainly to Europe. Since 2014 nearly 1.8 million migrants have moved into Europe and countries like Germany, Greece, Italy, Austria, Hungary are struggling to cope not only with migrants but also the political fallout which is playing out in various countries in the EU to the extent of straining the very concept of the union. It has seriously impacted the social and political discourse in all the constituent countries. Public anxiety in wealthier countries like Germany has risen high since a high profile assault occurred involving migrants, including killing of a 19 year old German student and the terrorist attack on a Christmas market resulting in loss of 12 lives.

In the European Union there is serious debate about who should take the responsibility for the newcomers, border states like Greece and Italy, which is the entry point of migrants, or Germany where the migrants subsequently attempt to enter and settle. The far right parties have stirred up nationalist feelings against migrants who seem to have unsettled the society. The far right Prime Minister of Hungary has made imprisonment a punishment for Hungarians who assist undocumented migrants. The Italian Interior Minister has ordered closure of ports to charity run rescue boats which bring the migrants taking sea routes to enter Europe. Germany’s interior minister has issued warnings that the migrants will be turned back from its southern borders.

Germany’s coalition partners have blamed Chancellor Angela Merkel for taking a soft approach to migration. Unfortunately, an atmosphere has been created that all illegal activities in the EU are migrant created. President Trump has fuelled the fire by stating that migration has led to crime epidemic in Germany. Some say that it is far from truth. Greece’s Prime Minister voiced his disagreement with these extreme right views. Mr Alexis Tsipras stated that the populist extreme right forces are on the rise which is a threat to European unity.

The position of Chancellor Angela Merkel is rather precarious. She is heading a coalition government. Within her government the migration issue has rocked the newly formed coalition. The Bavarian coalition partner has asked for border controls against asylum seekers. The Chancellor has refused to cede to the Christian Social Union’s demand to give German border police the power to turn away refugees who had already applied for asylum in other EU countries. Luxembourg and Spain have called for showing solidarity to German Chancellor’s stand which is suffering a political crisis within Germany. The EU council President Donald Tusk is hoping to rally support around the plans to relieve pressure by building processing centres in Northern Africa for migrants rescued at sea. This idea seems to attract broad support. Two far right heads of states, Hungary and Austria, have called for tougher border control. Fears are growing that the division could jeopardise the Europe’s passport free Schenegen area with the leaders championing opposing visions for a common asylum policy.

EU is also struggling with negotiations with the UK for a softer Brexit. The EU commission President Claude Junker has urged PMTheresa May to forge an already agreed redline. Mrs May is likely to push her cabinet to adopt a white paper committing the UK to staying close to the EU’s customs union and single market in goods and loose relationship in services to minimise economic risks of Brexit.

EU is also discussing the fallout of US administration’s call to the EU to share greater financial burden of NATO. Right now EU has collectively outsourced its external security to NATO where the US affords large share. The trade war, US walking out of JCPOA nuclear deal with Iran, Korean Peninsula denuclearisation issue, South China Sea, migration issue as a fall out of Syrian war etc the EU is under multiple stress the solutions of which possibly lie in calm dialogues and agreements based on collective wisdom. Taking any extreme view can seriously impact humanity. On 29 June, EU leaders after 10 hours marathon debate have agreed that some EU countries will accept migrants rescued from the Mediterranean Sea. However, the quota issue has been left at this point in time giving some space to Poland, Hungary and other Central European states

Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha, PVSM, AVSM, NM and Bar is the former Commander in Chief Western Naval Command & former Chief of Integrated Defence Staff.

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