Europe’s unresolved crises and loose ends
Serial crises have dominated the news and preoccupied politicians in Europe to the exclusion of almost everything else, writes Prince Michael of Liechtenstein.
First we had the banking crisis, followed by an economic crisis, and then the sovereign debt crisis, in which Greece only symbolised a more general malaise in the European Union. The Ukraine conflict showed that the EU has no foreign or defence policy worthy of the name, and no coherent strategy for dealing with a more assertive Russia in tandem with the United States. Now we have the immigration crisis.
These crises have common features. They were all foreseeable, yet politicians on the European and national levels were unprepared. They damage the EU’s internal cohesion in ways that cannot be fixed by the ‘magic potion’ of more centralisation preferred by Brussels. Faulty and populist policies were at the root of each crisis, although in the case of the banking system many of those policies originated in the US. None were addressed in a fundamental or visionary way, because that might entail unpopular measures.
We are now recognising the real scope and tragedy of the immigrant influx from Africa and the Middle East. This problem was clearly foreseeable. GIS has been warning for years about Europe’s need to be prepared for such an exodus. (‘Geopolitics: Will the Arab revolutions create a new role for Europe?’; ‘West’s master plan for Syria is missing’)
What distinguishes the immigration crisis from the others is that it was truly unavoidable. This mass migration has been triggered by a combination of war, overpopulation and weak growth in the countries beyond the EU’s southern rim. Given the intractability of these problems, Europe’s prosperity must exert an irresistible pull on its southern neighbours. That means the stream of immigrants cannot be stopped and will probably grow further.
Ironically, Europe’s own population is shrinking and the continent needs long-term immigrants to offset its birth deficit. This is not contradicted by the high unemployment among young people in EU countries, which is caused by failed structural policies and far too stringent labour laws.
Politicians are starting to wake up to the humanitarian problem. What they are not addressing is the more fundamental issue of how to integrate these badly needed immigrants and put them to work. In typical EU fashion, the discussion has focused instead on immigrant quotas per country.
Europe has more than 500 million inhabitants. It is not unreasonable to expect it to absorb 1.5 million immigrants per year, excluding internal migrants. This would amount to less than 0.3 per cent of the bloc’s population.
But that can only happen by quickly integrating the new arrivals into Europe’s job market, not by placing them in refugee camps. That means some sacred cows in the EU regulatory framework will have to be slaughtered. Overprotective labour laws will have to be relaxed and minimum wages lowered in many EU countries. As much as I agree that labour should be respected, regulations that make it harder to hire and thus destroy jobs are self-defeating.
Europe’s political system, based on the constant adaptation of policy to win votes, has led to pure populism. Leadership, vision and courage are lacking. This has been the cause of most of the EU’s interlocking crises, with the exception of immigration, and is also the reason none of them has been resolved.
What is needed is genuine reform. The European Central Bank can buy time with cheap money, but that accomplishes little besides allowing governments to dither some more. Dealing with Russia will require tough negotiations and real effort to build a common defence.
The present immigration crisis could awaken Europe to the need for fundamental decisions. We should see the opportunity and seize it.