Work in progress: A “European solution” to the refugee crisis
by Dennis J. Snower
President of the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, President of the GES
This GES-Special about the European refugee crisis comes at a timely moment. After months of deadlock and broken promises, the member states of the European Union recently agreed what could become a truly European solution to its migrant problems. The agreement between the EU and Turkey is meant to deter refugees from making their own, illegal way into the EU. Even Syrian refugees caught crossing into Greece can now be sent back to Turkey, where the same number of “patient” Syrians who stayed in Turkey will be granted legal access to the EU.
The agreement is a milestone for Europe. But the region’s policy-makers are well aware that this is only a milestone on a long road ahead. For example, the deal with Turkey does not address the question of redistribution of refugees within Europe. Which countries will absorb the refugees already in Greece at the time of the deal? The same goes for the Syrian refugees granted legal entry from Turkey. Who will take them? And what if the EU pledge to let in no more than 72,000 a year proves unambiguously too low?
GES Solutions Demand Tough Decisions
These questions show that any “European solution” to the refugee crisis is still work in progress. The Kiel Institute for the World Economy’s Global Economic Symposium contributes to the policy discussions with four concrete expert proposals by Mathias Lücke (Kiel Institute for the World Economy), Christine Langenfeld (Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration), William Lacy Swing (International Organization for Migration) and Philippe Legrain (Writer, Commentator, Political Economist, and Political Entrepreneur). The papers, based on proposals made at the GES 2015 in October, are particularly relevant at this political juncture. All four experts show clearly that a “European solution” will still involve some extremely tough decisions—most fundamentally over the pooling of sovereignty and funding.
Matthias Lücke, senior researcher at the Kiel Institute, argues that funding and administration of refugee policy must pass completely from the member states to the EU. With costs borne by the bloc’s central budget, he argues, national governments would be more willing to live up to their moral responsibilities. It would also be easier to finance incentives to keep refugees in countries closer to home—akin to the €6bn promised to Turkey.
A logical next step could be the reform of the Common European Asylum System, which proved deficient in the past months. This is the central demand of Christine Langenfeld, chairwoman of the Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration. She acknowledges much-needed root-and-branch reform would demand changes to the EU Treaty. She claims that only common standards for refugee recognition and welfare payments to refugees can make the system work—and notes that one common policy should also lead to refugees being granted freedom of movement within the EU.
William Lacy Swing has no illusions about the magnitude of such changes. The Director General of the International Organization for Migration reminds us that EU migration and economic development have historically gone hand in hand. If the EU and its member states learned to better manage diversity, they could overcome many of their looming demographic problems. Mobility must be accepted in today’s world, and policy adjusted accordingly—for example, by allowing more legal migration.
Desperate and enterprising people are going to continue seeking access to the EU, says Phillippe Legrain. The writer and commentator rounds off this GES Special with a heartfelt plea for Europe to focus on the upsides of migration. Europe’s aging population means that the region’s working age population will fall by 8 million by 2020. Europe should open its doors to migrants able and willing to fill that gap—and perhaps to surprise. He reminds that many Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are immigrants. As Legrain and the other authors make clear, the EU still finds itself on a difficult path. But it must press on.