The refugee crisis is haunting Europe!

The refugee crisis is haunting Europe!

The refugee crisis is haunting Europe! We can see it in the faces of political leaders who parade in front of our TV screens, looking particularly anxious as a heap of problems which accumulated over recent years have now reached a point of implosion, challenging even their own so far undisputed leadership. 

I am referring to the now somber-looking German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who may be facing a particularly vital problem when the voters in the states of Saxony-Anhalt, Baden-Wuerttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate go to the polls on March 13 to elect local representatives. These are very important polls, because they will be a crucial test for the federal elections expected any time between August and October of next year. If the problems engendered by the Middle East conflicts are not settled by then, somehow bringing the refugee crisis to an end, the anger that many German citizens feel towards Mrs. Merkel’s “open door policies” may put an end to her political future.  

 So far, Mrs. Merkel has stuck to her position on allowing large numbers of refugees into Europe and asked for cooperation from the other member states in the EU on a quota-sharing arrangement. To her own apprehensive people, she prefers just to advise “patience.” Her opponents are blaming her for lacking any concrete plan on the migrant crisis and also causing a crisis inside Europe. An increasing uneasiness and frustration in Germany over Merkel’s confusing moves on the migrants has been reflected in the opinion polls conducted prior to March’s triple local elections that show a steep increase in favor of the Alternative for Germany (AfD), an anti-immigrant, right-wing party with 15 percent, although Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) of Germany party remains on top. 

The importance of the three German state elections before the EU-Turkey Summit on March 7 in Brussels is obvious. The German chancellor has demonstrated in many ways that she considers Turkey the key interlocutor in managing and accommodating the huge problem of refugees. The EU-Turkey action plan, although agreed in principle late last year, is still stalled due to prolonged negotiations between Ankara and the EU. This is not good for the chancellor’s popularity.

But beyond Merkel’s domestic worries, the March 7 meeting is equally important for the EU leadership, as they have been recently witnessing “rebellious” moves by Austria and the Balkan countries which decided to close their borders to refugees reaching their barbed-wire fences by the tens of thousands through the Aegean Sea and the Greek mainland. Macedonia border guards allowed just 300 people to cross over last Saturday. Almost 7,000 more who had been bused over or walked had to wait on the Greek side of the border. Their turn to cross the border may never come. European Council President Donald Tusk will soon tour the Balkans in preparation of the EU-Turkey meeting, trying to see what can be done. 

It is known that Greece’s worst fear is being locked out of the rest of Europe and trapped with a huge number of migrants if neighboring countries decide to close their borders. Last week, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, speaking in the Greek parliament, lashed out against individual decisions by certain EU members to reject sharing the burden of refugees by “raising barriers” and claimed that his country would not accept any agreements if there was no endorsement of an obligatory sharing of responsibility among EU members. “Greece is not going to be a warehouse of souls,” he said. Yet, his migration minister admitted Greece had submitted an “urgent plan” to the EU for dealing with migrant flows and estimated that up to 70,000 migrants may be trapped in Greece by next month. 

With the uncertainty of a sustained truce in Syria, a likely renewed migrant flow as weather conditions improve, more centrifugal tensions inside the EU, a protracted negotiation process with Turkey and the German local elections around the corner, perhaps we should give more attention to the latest information that Germany may be considering becoming less strict towards Greece. According to prominent German media, leading CDU members confided that the German government was considering putting pressure on its EU partners to show more solidarity towards Greece, a country in great difficulty dealing with both a serious refugee problem and a bailout reform program. It will be interesting to see if that change of attitude towards Greece is reflected at all during the important talks in Brussels with Turkey on March 7.