Every week, a selection of leading experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the foreign and security policy challenges shaping Europe’s role in the world.


Nenad DimitrijevicProfessor in the Political Science Department at the Central European University in Budapest

Europeans are duty bound to help #refugees.
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Europeans should not depart from questions about the numbers of refugees and Europe’s capacity to absorb them. Human suffering of such proportions requires Europe to abandon the adage that “ought implies can.” “Ought” comes first. Call it the imperative of human solidarity: Europeans are duty bound to help refugees, simply because refugees are as human as Europeans are. The main distinction is that refugees are deprived of any legal, political, or social protection; refugees are reduced to bare lives.

So, the question is: How will Europe integrate those who reach its shores? This is where the political dimension of solidarity comes into play. The European Union, its member states, and all other European states should agree to distribute and accept migrants equitably. A common framework for integration should be introduced. Such a program would bind all the state parties, and it would be flexible enough to allow each state to adjust it to its specific social conditions. A common fund should be established to help poorer countries meet the tasks of integration.

Finding a morally right political response is of particular importance for the EU. The union is at a crossroads. The only alternative to solidarity is brutal cynicism of power, which some member states have already demonstrated. Succumbing to a selfish nationalist response to the crisis would render the whole EU integration project meaningless.


Jarosław Kuisz and Karolina WiguraEditor in chief of the Polish online weekly newspaper Kultura Liberalna, and head of the political section of Kultura Liberalna

Euroskeptic and anti-immigrant sentiments have been strengthening in Europe for many years now. Local versions of France’s National Front are as successful as rigid statements about the complete defeat of multiculturalism.

But as many refugees are still willing to sacrifice their lives to get into fortress Europe, the question of whether Europe can integrate millions of refugees must be modified. Europeans need to stop asking “whether” and start asking “how.” This means, above all, finding a conscious and long-term policy that confronts two real problems.

Politicians in Eastern Europe have shown a pragmatic lack of solidarity.
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First, there is reluctance among EU states to integrate immigrants. The desire to put up fences can be heard from Budapest and Riga to Madrid and London. In recent days, politicians in Eastern Europe have shown a pragmatic lack of solidarity, which has usually been typical of Nigel Farage of the Euroskeptic UK Independence Party (UKIP), Geert Wilders of the Dutch right-wing Party for Freedom, or Marine Le Pen of France’s National Front. This is how the European crystal palace turns into a Titanic.

Second, the EU has in the past few decades become a prosperity-distributing mechanism, while it unquestionably needs to be reintegrated around certain values. George Orwell once wrote bitterly that intellectuals do not want to change the world, but to accuse it. In the case of integrating refugees, Europeans should perhaps be less intellectual. There is a need for a cool head, specific aid, and educational programs—not only for refugees from countries like Syria, but also for European citizens, who need to understand the new situation.

Without such solid foundations for Europe’s refugee policy, the future of the EU may be decided by individual images. If that happens, it is not only the passport-free Schengen zone that will soon become a memory of the EU’s romantic epoch.


Milan NičManaging director of the Central European Policy Institute

Yes, Europe can! But it has to strengthen its management of migration and reform the EU’s arcane asylum system. Given the high numbers of asylum seekers in Germany coming from Western Balkan countries, with a recognition rate of 1 percent, there needs to be a fast-track procedure with quick returns and a reentry ban on those who are denied asylum. This homework is long overdue and would free up some overstretched capacities for refugees.

Some mechanism for the permanent relocation of refugees inside the EU has to be put in place. That will entail complex issues that have yet to be tackled, including ways to motivate (or compel) asylum seekers to stay in certain EU countries against their own preference.

Integrating #refugees will be an uneven process among the 28 EU members.
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Integrating refugees will be an uneven process among the 28 EU members. The devil is not in the numbers, but rather in the different degrees of openness and populist politics. The four Central European Visegrád countries can no longer ignore the scale of this challenge. Otherwise, they risk further marginalization in EU politics.

Rather than having their positions lambasted, Central Europeans need more encouragement to adapt. Although their societies are confronted with this issue for the first time as EU members, the picture is no longer one-sided.

It’s impressive to see how Hungarian civil society and spontaneous grassroots movements stepped up to assist refugees (without much help from the state). Slovak President Andrej Kiska notably made a courageous, compassionate speech on September 7 on refugees and EU solidarity, and Catholic bishops (in contrast to their Hungarian colleagues) this week also pledged to accommodate refugees.


Marc PieriniVisiting scholar at Carnegie Europe

It is extremely risky to estimate the number of asylum seekers trying to enter the EU, but their number is most probably not in the millions. Looking at the numbers of Syrians, Afghans, and Eritreans who have fled their country, an estimate could be about 1 million in total over 2015 and 2016, assuming unchanged political conditions in each of the three countries.

In an EU of almost 510 million people, this would mean adding one person to every 10,000 citizens each year for two consecutive years. Globally, this number is manageable, but EU countries are in very different economic, social, and political conditions.

Today, only Germany combines the high income level, steady growth rate, low unemployment, and budget surplus that allow a confident approach toward refugees. In addition, Germany has a massive birth rate deficit. So, from a merely economic standpoint, Germany is currently organizing itself to invest in refugees: to make them learn German, acquire additional skills, and fill gaps in the labor market. Also, the prevalent confidence in the country’s future makes this approach politically acceptable.

The number of refugees accepted in the EU will be decided by Germany.
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Virtually none of the other EU countries is in such a position. This means that the total number of refugees accepted in the EU will essentially be whatever number is decided unilaterally by Germany, while other EU countries will provide marginal additions.


Nathalie TocciDeputy director of the Italian Institute of International Affairs

We are often told that the current refugee flow into Europe is unsustainable. When tens of thousands reach the Greek island of Kos or the Italian islet of Lampedusa, when refugees are miraculously saved and escorted to the Sicilian coast and make their way north, or when they cross the Balkans toward Central and Northern Europe, it is reported that EU member states cannot sustain the inflow.

And yet the numbers tell a dramatically different story. With Turkey hosting close to 3 million refugees, Jordan close to 1 million, and Lebanon well over 1 million, and with the resilience of states such as Lebanon and Jordan being openly questioned, to doubt that Europe can integrate hundreds of thousands—or, indeed, millions—of refugees is ludicrous.

Europe can integrate millions of #refugees. And it should.
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Yes, Europe can integrate millions of refugees. And it should. The only European political leader with the courage to say so has been German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has shifted the terms of the debate. Far from the petty EU negotiations in June about redistributing a pitiful 40,000 refugees across an EU of over 500 million people, a single member state—indeed, the largest and richest—is now talking about receiving up to 800,000 asylum applications this year.

It is to be hoped that Germany’s leadership on this front will deliver the union, and that the EU will not only face up responsibly to the challenge but will also rediscover the values that underpinned its own creation.


Astrid ZiebarthMigration fellow in the Europe Program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States

The question is not whether Europe can integrate refugees, but rather how it will do so. Integration, migration, and refugee issues are often perceived as problems that need to be solved, rather than as realities that need to be managed. But migration and refugee movements are permanent features of today’s world and will not go away. The intensity of movements might shift over time, but by and large, people will continue to come to Europe.

Europe must put full political will behind integrating the newcomers.
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Recognized asylum seekers who are granted refugee status should be seen as an integral part of the communities that they reside in, as individuals who can enrich and make positive contributions to society. Europe must now put full political will as well as sufficient funding behind the integration of the newcomers. There is no excuse for repeating past failures to integrate guest workers.

Integration will be a key challenge for European societies for years to come. It will not be a walk in a park—but a walk it must be, with direction and resolve. First and foremost, language classes must be provided that enable refugees to actively participate in the societies of their destination countries. Opportunities must be made for immigrants to join the labor force as early as possible. And funding for schools must be increased to offer adequate learning situations for all schoolchildren, irrespective of their backgrounds.

There will be struggles ahead, and the EU will need sensitive political leadership to guide everyone—refugees and host societies—in the management of integration.