The European Union – at the crossroads between nationalism and solidarity
Asylum seekers travelling through Greece are stopped from going into other Balkan countries.

The refugee crisis shatters the European Union and again shows the lack of solidarity among the member states. This time though, national egoism might leave Greece on its own and set a precedent for a new division of the continent.

2016 started with a new wave of solo operations by EU member states concerning their migrant and asylum seeker policy. Last year, building a barbed wire fence to avoid the entrance of refugees, appeared to be an isolation strategy unique to Hungary. But fencing off is becoming a reality now in other states as well. Just recently Austria and the Balkan states agreed on a reduction of refugees by allowing entrance only to a limited number. Although even non-EU members like Macedonia were negotiated with, Greece – despite receiving most new refugees in 2016 – was left out. The country, while struggling with economic decline and a cut of public expenses, has to provide first aid and accommodation for an incredibly high number of people, who mostly fled from war or political prosecution in their home countries.

It is not rocket science to foresee what will happen when all neighbouring countries continue to hinder refugees entering from Greece on a large scale. The UN already predicted a humanitarian crisis for refugees in Greece. Accordingly, these single state policies of Austria and several Balkan countries, mostly built on “fears” of a misinformed population and “opinions” by the tabloids, cause chaos in one EU member state. The icings on the cake are further nationalistic demands like in the case of the British Prime Minister David Cameron, who is calling for a special deal for the UK and not getting tired of pushing the anti-solidarity trigger. The European Union and its political establishment were already in better shape.

“Solidarity” – a core European principle (in theory!) is needed right now to solve this political and diplomatic crisis. That is not just a plea from Donald Tusk, President of the European Council or other leading politicians, but also from every rational observer, who is against taking a step back, returning to the past of national and provoking policies. Still it is important to stress that exactly this concept of solidarity was ignored by member states that speak up for it now: The steep rise of refugees/migrants in 2011, especially in Italy, and the calls for a European solution back then were basically ignored. Countries like Germany blocked at that time every solution of a fair distribution over Europe and held on to the Dublin-procedure, which basically means that every single state has to cope with the problem on its own.

Furthermore, a kind of doubtful “solidarity” was shown by the Euro-Group, consisting of the core members of the EU, in the financial crisis to Greece: While transferring billions of Euros to the Greek national budget to enable the country to pay its debts, the majority of the Greek population had to suffer from severe cutbacks without much prospect of economic growth in the near future. In the course of the Euro-crisis, which was at one point also questionably called “debt crisis”, the organs of the European Union established the neoliberal policy even further by limiting the possibility of new debts for every Euro country, which coincides with hindering real “solidarity” policies on a regional and state level. Despite these “anti-solidarity” policies, the EU still managed to present itself as unified most of the time. For example, in the end of the negotiations for the third Greek “aid” package, not only conservative states backed the course of German financial minister Schäuble, but also socialist ruled France and the Social-democrat coalition partner in Berlin itself.

Coming back to the current refugee crisis, this harmony has vanished. Many European member states now ironically blocked the attempts of Germany and others to establish a fair contribution of refugees, resulting in just a voluntary and mainly not yet fulfilled paper of distributing 120 000 refugees. Meanwhile, a Eurostat statistic shows that from January until July 2015, around 200 000 refuges applied for asylum in Germany and Sweden, while there were less than 60 000 applications in France, the Netherlands and UK all together. Whereas economically strong countries like Germany can provide the needed resources, Greece finds itself again in a much more critical situation, being on its own with newly arriving refugees every day. The national governments supporting closed border policies should really ask themselves whether abandoning a partner and ally like Greece is the meaning of European community and integration.

This time, it is not the economic but the political pressure from far right and protest parties, which makes the current situation so explosive. Against this background, EU members that are acting single-handedly undermine every chance of a European solution. Also Angela Merkel, praised for her human migration policy but also responsible for an “anti-solidarity” policy the years before, is constantly under pressure because of her plan for a European answer. Whichever plan to solve the current refugee situation finally is agreed on, let’s hope that it is a European one and not a conglomerate of authoritarian, far right-influenced national approaches. Even as a very sharp critic of the neoliberal and sometimes antidemocratic policy of the European Union, I am doubting the possibility of a peaceful and cooperative future for our continent, if the EU member states are not able to solve this problem together.