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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Has the Syrian Refugee Crisis Closed the Door on a United Europe?

It is possible that one of the consequences of the recent ISIS-supported terror acts (including downing the Russian airliner, the bombings in Beirut, and the killings in Paris) will be to push Europe back to a continent of nation-states, each protecting its own borders. This is the assessment of George Friedman, of Stratfor, in an essay that he shared today with John Mauldin of Mauldin Economics. Friedman's basic thesis is that ISIS (or just IS, as he calls the group) has not been happy about the fact that hundreds of thousands of Sunni Muslims have been fleeing areas occupied by ISIS, since the group is supposed to be setting up a Sunni Muslim caliphate. They were also not happy about the fact that both France and Russia had recently joined the fight against them. So, revenge against those countries, coupled especially in France with a strategically placed Syrian passport, turned into alarms in Europe about the refugees. This is what Friedman speculates ISIS may have wanted--to show the refugees that they should stay put and live in the ISIS caliphate. However, the consequences for Europe may be deep.
Had Europe been functioning as an integrated entity, a European security force would have been dispatched to Greece at the beginning of the migration, to impose whatever policy on which the EU had decided. Instead, there was no European policy, nor was there any force to support the Greeks, who clearly lacked the resources to handle the situation themselves. Instead, the major countries first condemned the Greeks for their failure, then the Macedonians as the crisis went north, then the Hungarians for building a fence, but not the Austrians who announced they would build a fence after the migrants left Hungary. Between the financial crisis and the refugee crisis, Europe had become increasingly fragmented. Decisions were being made by nation-sates themselves, with no one being in a position to speak for Europe, let alone decide for it.
I have long made the claim that the transnational nature of Europe cannot be sustained. The divergent economic interests of EU countries, some with unemployment over 20 percent, some with it under 5 percent, meant that it was impossible for all of them to live not only under the same monetary regime, but under the same trade regime, which we cannot call free trade with agriculture, among other things, being protected. This would lead to a focus on national interest and on a resurrected nation-state.
This was the fundamental problem of Europe and the migration crisis simply irritated the situation further, with some nation-states insisting that it was up to them to make decisions on refugees in their own interest. The response of Europe to the Paris attacks brought together all of these matters, and Europe only responded when some nations decided to use their national borders as walls to protect them from terrorists.
So, the border checkpoints in Europe are now back in place, as nations take back the control of their borders, reasserting themselves as nation-states, rather than as a united Europe.  We may never know for sure whether Friedman's ideas about the motives of ISIS are correct, but they do make sense.  If they make sense to the governments of individual European nations, we may have witnessed the permanent end of open borders in Europe.

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