European values and dignity face the challenge of migration

European values and dignity face the challenge of migration

European politics are entering a new era of young leaders. In France President Emmanuel Macron and in Austria Prime Minister Sebastian Kurz are the representatives of a new generation of politicians. Both were born many years after the end of the Second World War. They have even missed the famous “generation of 68,” which also brought a new and more dynamic vision to world politics. The only important historic event they have been a part of was the last years of the Cold War. Therefore, both Macron and Kurz represent a generation free of Europe’s most traumatic historic past.

They were brought up, however, in an era of new tensions, challenges and threats. They have seen, for example, the First Gulf War, a consequence of Saddam Hussain’s aggression against Kuwait. They have witnessed the terrible terrorist attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York in 2001. They have experienced the consequences of growing international terrorism and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. They have also seen the popular uprisings of Middle Eastern and North African peoples against authoritarianism, totalitarianism and dictatorship. Finally, they have been practically experiencing the acute consequences of the Syrian civil war during the ascent of their political career. Their political vision, therefore, is not affected by what they have learned from history books, but by what they have lived through as they grow.

Today, Europe’s new challenge is migration. Ironically, migration and displacement of peoples in the aftermath of the Second World War has made Europe what it is today. European nations now strive to find the balance between humanitarian principles and ideals on the one side and security and stability on the other in their welfare societies. This is not going to be easy.

The discussion within the EU has already created a polarization between two differing views. In 2015, a majority of European leaders had agreed on a “quota scheme” to share the burden of refugees by locating 160,000 refugees within the EU. Three years after this scheme was put into implementation, at the end of 2017, the EU has been able to accept only 32,000 refugees. This figure is almost one percent of the number of Syrian refugees that Turkey currently accommodates.

During an EU summit in mid-December, EU Council President Donald Tusk admitted that the “quota scheme” has been ineffective and has become highly divisive. Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, who had not participated in the scheme at the outset, applauded Tusk’s remarks. After the formation of the new government in Austria, the new chancellor, Kurz, has joined them, too.

The “quota scheme” was introduced to help the frontline states such as Greece and Italy. They disagree, therefore, with Tusk and those who support his alternative policy of increasing funds for what he calls a “decent border control.” EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos has also criticized Tusk’s offer as “unacceptable” and “anti-European.” Germany also disagrees with the EU president’s vision.

The migration policy to be pursued by the EU is becoming a major issue of division between the Western members of the EU and its Eastern members. What is affecting this division is the shift of European politics to the far right. Anti-immigration policies are mostly due to rising populist policies in Central and Eastern Europe. The new Austrian government is also under the effect of its smaller coalition partner from the extreme right, hence the “anti-European” behavior of the new Austrian chancellor Kurz.

The 21st century will witness many similar challenges testing Europe’s integrity. Currently, European norms continue to be safeguarded by young leaders who defend the basic and fundamental values that define Europe. Those who fall into the trap of populism, unfortunately, will not only put European values at risk but also Europe’s dignity and integrity.

Ünal Çeviköz, hdn, Opinion