The EU’s crisis within a crisis

All eyes on Germany. It runs the continent and dictates how the game is played.

 

With Europe currently absorbed by the refugee crisis and, after the Paris attacks, its security implications, the Eurozone crisis, once considered an ‘existential threat’ to the EU, suddenly feels remote.

The EU’s capacity to respond effectively to the migration emergency in the coming months, however, is heavily conditioned by the legacy of the Eurozone crisis.

There are three parallels between the Eurozone and the migration crises: the hybrid nature of European governance structures that are little prepared to face up to major external challenges; the preeminence of Germany as a key player; and the important role of a peripheral country – Greece – as a conduit for an external challenge that is becoming an internal crisis.

These issues will determine whether and how the EU will overcome the refugee crisis. They are also, all the same, the areas in which the EU’s capacities have been most stretched by the Eurozone crisis.

External challenges

The global financial crisis started in the USA and the current refugee crisis has its origins in the Middle East and Africa; but in both cases, the mechanisms the EU had devised for managing those policy areas were neither centralised nor flexible enough to respond swiftly.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that these imperfectly designed structures did not cover related policy areas – there is no real common asylum policy to complement joint management of external borders, just as there was no banking union alongside monetary union.

Germany’s role

Second, the Eurozone crisis has left a complex legacy with regard to Germany’s role.

Because of the Eurozone crisis the EU acquired a go-to leader in times of emergency: Germany, and particularly its chancellor Angela Merkel.

Merkel’s decision to accept Syrian refugees can be seen as an example of Germany carrying over the leadership role it acquired during the Eurozone crisis.

Absent Germany’s initiative, the consequences could have been devastating – with thousands of refugees stranded in the Balkans, and a mounting humanitarian crisis potentially destabilising south-eastern Europe and tarnishing the EU’s global image as a normative power.

The initial reaction of a majority of Germans was to welcome refugees, but Merkel’s decision was not taken in a vacuum.

The Greek epicenter

While the EU was focusing on the Greek economy, however, the groundwork for the refugee crisis was being laid.

The new radical leftist Syriza government allowed free passage for refugees and migrants through Greek soil, as they moved from Turkey to Europe in the first half of 2015.

Much as in financial matters, Greece was the crack in the edifice that allowed an external crisis to flood the EU.

Schengen zone

This, however, is doubtful after the Paris attacks. At the same time, with the EU’s refugee relocation scheme ineffectual and the states of the Western Balkans erecting fences along their borders, the capacity of the EU to offer relief is rapidly lagging behind the still huge daily inflows of refugees to Greek islands.

As with the Eurozone, a combination of skillful diplomacy, purposeful leadership (particularly by Germany) and a sense of urgency may yet allow collaborative solutions to emerge.

The long shadow of five years of painstaking Eurozone crisis management will make this a tougher challenge than any the EU has ever faced.

Full article: The EU’s crisis within a crisis (euobserver)

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