Michael McGowan: Division over migration is a threat to the European project
2018-07-01 09:45:45 -
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By Michael McGowan

The survival of the European Union is today under serious threat as a result of the failure of EU member states to accept a shared responsibility for the many migrants seeking a brighter future in Europe.

This lack of European solidarity by countries that claim a commitment to human rights and humanitarian values has directly resulted in many thousands of migrant deaths, and the creation of the mass graveyard on the seabed of the Mediterranean.

The efforts and pleas of the European Parliament and the EU Commission have been ignored, and Europe has failed to adopt a common humanitarian approach to the migration of both refugees and asylum-seekers from Africa and the Middle East.

Some argue that a ‘Fortress Europe’ approach, closing off our borders to migrants, is the only practical response to the populists who are exploiting the migrant issue, but this ignores the real challenge of seeking co-operation on humanitarian solutions.

The one European leader who has been head and shoulders above the rest in demonstrating a positive and far-sighted approach to migration is German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who opposes unilateral action. She has claimed that migration is “a European challenge that needs a European answer”. It is regrettable that she has received so little support from other political leaders, and also increasingly within her own country.

Shocking and unacceptable

The recent initiative of Spain’s new socialist prime minister Pedro Sánchez — providing docking facilities for migrants at Valencia — is highly commendable, but it does not appear there is much enthusiasm for more co-ordinated action from the rest of the continent.

The migrant ship Aquarius carried seven pregnant women and more than a hundred unaccompanied children rescued at sea as they tried to make the dangerous crossing from Libya to Italy. After Italy and Malta both refused the ship entry to their ports, Spain offered to let it dock in Valencia, almost a week’s sailing away in harsh weather conditions. 

The fate of the Aquarius is a potent reminder of the failure of European migration policy. What’s more, those in charge of closer, safer ports who refused the Aquarius are betraying the fundamental values of the European Union - there is no other way to describe it.

Elsewhere, the treatment of refugees by Hungary’s new authoritarian regime has been described as shocking and unacceptable by the United Nations, and there are growing calls for the country to be expelled from the EU.

And across the Atlantic, US president Donald Trump’s behaviour in separating asylum-seeking parents from their children, and his comments that the US will not be a “migrant camp like Europe”, have shocked and disgusted the world.

A crisis of prejudice

There are about 60 million refugees in the world, with more than 85 per cent hosted in developing countries, which makes the number of migrants arriving in Europe appear pretty small. The crisis facing Europe is certainly not a crisis of numbers. It is a crisis of solidarity. It is a crisis of prejudice, discrimination and racism.

Tackling the refugee crisis is not a task for Europe alone. Migration is a world issue, and the EU needs to place migration firmly on the global agenda. A global solution is the answer, but Europe can give the lead.

Migration has become a bigger crisis for the EU than the reform of the Eurozone or even Brexit, and unless European leaders come together and agree on a common policy, the European project may well be at the brink of collapse.

Michael McGowan is a former MEP and president of the Development Committee of the European Parliament.
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