The European Dream and a new Ellis Island

The European Union seems to be sharing many core elements with the United States of America. Both regions have a lot in common concerning their foundations and more specifically their common democratic values and human rights. Both the EU and the US are based on the cultural diversity of their population. On the one hand, the United States have experienced a vast economic growth and have become the world’s first financial empire, earning the throne of king of the political relations around the globe and making Europeans migrate to the US in search of a brighter future. On the other hand, something similar has happened in Europe. The European Union was created with the purpose of ending the frequent and bloody wars between neighbours, which culminated in the Second World War. As of 1950, the European Coal and Steel Community began to unite the European countries economically and politically in order to secure lasting peace. In 1957, the Treaty of Rome created the European Economic Community (EEC), or “Common Market”. Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom joined the European Union on 1 January 1973, raising the number of member states to nine and in July of 2013 the number of member states rose to 28. 

In both situations people from different countries and cultures have decided to unite their powers in order to build an utterly new future aiming to prosperity and peace.

As the years have gone by, the United States have recognized equal rights for black people and women and have made major steps in integrating this mosaic of cultures into the American culture. All of them, independently from where they come from, their religion, their skin colour and their sex, have equal opportunities. And this is the “American Dream” that has motivated and still attracts millions of people to emigrate there, mostly from Europe at the beginning and other regions in the latest decades. Today we can talk about the “European Dream”, which pushes many people to travel to Europe or search for a job in the EU, because the fame of Europe after 2000 has grown rapidly. The unification of several European countries into a single Union with a common market and control-free borders, the development of technology and the means of transportation have helped Europe to emerge as a potential first-class leader and a potential successor of the US political and financial system. The EU has been identified as the most prosperous and peaceful place on earth with a great heritage of democratic and humanistic values.

However, the financial crisis of 2008, which has been affecting Europe since 2009, combined with a great instability of the neighbouring regions, has made the EU more introvert than expected. For the first time in its history, Europe is today facing a refugee problem of big dimension. People have always tried to reach Europe legally or illegally, but during the last two years the numbers have risen like big tsunamis in front of the European leadership and the national authorities. Right wing parties across the EU are getting more and more powerful, slowly sliding towards an appalling situation that has resulted in the past in the devastation of the whole continent.

After a lot of talks and summits on the issue of migration, the EU has still no plans on how to tackle the situation. The Dublin II Regulation seems to have been de facto overcome, as it has become clear that refugees cannot be all received in the same few southern countries at once. This week the German chancellor Angela Merkel and the French President François Hollande have made a common claim for more reception centers in Italy and Greece. But is this going to solve the problem? Let’s take a look at the past. From 1892 to 1924, Ellis Island was America's largest and most active immigration station, where over 12 million immigrants were hosted and identified. On average, the inspection process took approximately 3-7 hours. For the vast majority of immigrants, Ellis Island truly was an "Island of Hope" - the first stop on their way to new opportunities and experiences in America. For the rest, it became the "Island of Tears" - a place where families were separated and individuals were denied entry into the United States.

So, is there actually a point in creating similar infrastructure in today’s Europe or should we go straight ahead to integrate the migrants in our societies? Most refugees and economic migrants from the Middle East and Africa hope to settle eventually in Germany, Scandinavia, or the U.K., where benefits are perceived to be better than in nearly bankrupt southern European countries. Some 800,000 are expected to arrive in Germany this year. There isn’t even a draft of a plan on how these people will be housed.

It could be the time to finally shape a common European Framework on migration. One option could entail a first phase of identification of the migrants, followed by the decision of the migrants themselves on where to go. As a result, people will have a better impact on the economy, for the new labour force will stimulate specific niches of the market, and at the same time they will have the opportunity to live with dignity and have a chance to pursue the “European Dream”. If we were to adopt a positive stance, we could also imagine those people help revitalizing the economies of countries like Spain and Greece, which have been heavily hit by the crisis. But in order to do so, Europe should stand firmly together and provide fundings to the national European authorities that are mostly involved in receiving and integrating the migrants.

There is no point in creating huge “warehouses” of people, especially in countries that cannot afford it, while we can motivate these people to live and work in our countries, giving them the opportunity to gradually intergrate in our communities. If we keep on receiving such amounts of migrants and refugees without a plan, we will leave space for far-right and other extremist groups to rise and in the long term we will have lost once and forever our target of “Unity through diversity” and the European Dream will turn into a European Nightmare for those people and the citizens of the EU who take democracy and human rights for granted.