The Insuperable Immigration Crisis

Arthur Goldhammer
13 June 2018

The euro crisis did not destroy Europe, but the immigration crisis might. The plight of the Aquarius has put the issue back on the front pages, even as the size of the migrant flow has been decreasing. The rate of arrivals may have diminished, but the issue is becoming more explosive by the day.

Two items from today’s news show just how bad things have gotten. First, the new Italian finance minister, Giovanni Tria, who has been speaking in very conciliatory tones about Italy’s relations to the Eurozone, abruptly canceled a scheduled visit to Paris to meet with his counterpart Bruno Le Maire. Tria was no doubt compelled to cancel by Matteo Salvini, who has emerged as the strongman of the new coalition and who surely did not relish being called “cynical and irresponsible” by Emmanuel Macron. Meanwhile, at home, Macron is being called cynical and irresponsible by members of his own party, who note that France did nothing to help the passengers of the Aquarius. Although justice minister Nicole Belloubet defends the government by saying that it has promised to help Spain deal with the refugees it has taken in from the Aquarius, this response has been deemed unacceptable by some members of LRM, already critical of interior minister Gérard Collomb’s tougher stance toward migrants.

But France’s internal dissension pales in comparison with Germany’s, where interior minister Horst Seehofer has essential declared open war on Chancellor Angel Merkel over her immigration policy. Seehofer met with Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz in Berlin, where he announced that German, Austria, and Italy would be forming an “Axis of the Willing” to forge a common policy on refugees.

The migrant crisis has now not only split East from West in Europe and far-right xenophobic parties from mainstream parties; it has also sown division within governing parties in France and Germany. Europe urgently needs agreement on a common policy as additional ships laden with migrants head northward from Africa, while one of the front-line states, Italy, has closed its ports. Something needs to be done to relieve the pressure on the frontiers, but agreement on any common policy seems further out of reach than ever in view of the rapidly spreading fissures listed above.

The euro crisis was intractable and remains unresolved, but at bottom it is a matter for technocrats, and no one really wants to see the euro fail. With immigration the situation is quite different. The demographic pressures remain strong, while resistance to accepting more immigrants is growing everywhere. Branko Milanovic sees the crisis as “the curse of wealth.” The moderate approach, advocated by Merkel and Macron among others, is to strengthen border security while also taking steps to entice would-be emigrants to remain in their home countries. Those steps include vague talk of “investment” to provide more jobs in Africa, but this is scarcely credible given the ability of Europeans to agree on investment spending to provide jobs at home. What is more likely to be forthcoming from Europe is economic incentives on African governments to crack down on smuggling. Any such crackdown is likely to be brutal, and the cynical calculation is that it is better to hide the brutality in Africa than to permit it to take place on European soil, where it will fill the front pages and TV screens.

Meanwhile, the formation of an “Axis of Xenophobes” suggests that the European left will soon have something more urgent to complain about than the alleged “neoliberalism” of the European Commission.

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2 Comments

  • brent says:

    From a near distance the migrant crisis appears civilizational rather than technical, and it seems clear that all the political momentum is with the “axis of the xenophobes,” at least for now. Coupled with the collapse of the G-7, and Trump’s apparently successful battering of our European ‘allies’ over trade and Iran, the Fall of the West looks to be just around the bend.

    Is it possible, though, that these events will galvanize some major response, particularly in the framework of the upcoming elections? I know ‘more Europe’ was the forlorn hope in 2010, but that crisis, though serious, was as you say a technocratic one. The question of Europe’s security, integrity, identity, and humane values is available to everyone in some form or other. Might we see an authentic, continent-wide debate on the nature of cultures, identities, and European civilization? And is there a chance that moral midgets like Le Pen, Wilders, Orban, and now Salvini, will look mean-spirited and thin compared to … who? Which of the ‘responsible’ leaders will stand up and risk everything to defend a bigger, closer Union?

  • Brent: Wasn’t Macron supposed to be that “responsible leader”? That’s certainly the main reason I voted for him…

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