Krzysztof BledowskiCouncil director and senior economist at the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation

This will be difficult.

Member states are conflicted on refugees in ways that cross the divides of north-south, old-new, or richer-poorer. The current Dublin regulation, which de facto burdens a refugee’s country of entry with processing a claim, has worked poorly in practice. Short of a miraculous unanimity on the issue, the EU must soon find stopgap practical solutions to preserve its humanitarian goodwill.

Shifting the discussion to better policing of borders, turning away migrant vessels, etc., will not solve the underlying problem. Refugees will continue to turn up in the EU because it is the only haven within reach for dozens of conflict areas. Fortunately, there are some smart ideas on the table.

One is forming an ad hoc “coalition of the willing” among states. Angela Merkel has already sketched out some details. Participating countries would staff a “migration council” to take up responsibility away from the first country of entry for receiving and processing the claims and subsequent relocations. This body could tap the existing funds for asylum and integration. Non-participating countries would see their allocation of these funds go down commensurately. While not a perfect outcome, this setup might just work where the existing framework has failed.

Piotr BurasHead of the Warsaw office at the European Council on Foreign Relations

The migration issue cannot be cracked, but it can be much better managed to the benefit of EU citizens and those who seek protection in Europe. The key question for EU leaders today is whether they have the political will to address the issue while still respecting two fundamental principles: open borders within the Schengen area and the right of asylum. The Söder-Salvini-Orbán approach contradicts both. Pushbacks in the Mediterranean, disembarkation centers in North Africa, and permanent controls at the EU’s internal borders would be the end of Europe as we know it—a community based on human rights as well as the free movement of people and goods.

It is not true that there is no alternative. Instead of focusing on fantasies (like sealing borders or building reception centers in Libya), the EU should immediately do two things. First, it needs to improve and speed up asylum procedures in Greece and Italy to make sure that the legal status of migrants is quickly clarified.  Second, it needs to make a serious offer—involving legal channels of migration, financial aid, and security cooperation—to countries of origin, particularly those in Sub-Saharan Africa, in exchange for their readiness to take back citizens who were denied asylum in Europe.

Caroline de GruyterEurope correspondent and columnist at NRC Handelsblad

Yes, Europe can crack the immigration issue. It is even well on the way of doing it.

There is lots of political turmoil around immigration at the moment. It looks as if the epic fight between Merkel’s “good” Willkommenskultur and the “bad” nationalists who want to keep migrants and refugees out is finally coming to a head. But this is just a moral frame for power battles in many EU countries.

Look closer and you see that almost everybody in Europe now agrees on the need for stronger external border protection and offshore asylum “processing” centers. There is growing consensus, too, about the need to fly illegals home and to help/coerce countries of origin into taking them back. Several EU member states are also experimenting with legal migration: when you offer some legal ways for temporary migration, fewer migrants will come illegally.

Thus, a European policy of many sticks and some carrots is slowly emerging. The result is there: ever fewer attempts to cross the Mediterranean.

EU countries still disagree on one issue: the Dublin rules. It is no coincidence that politicians play this up to wage political battles. But as Europe gets more of a grip on immigration, the relevance of the Dublin system will logically diminish over time.

Koert DebeufDirector of The Tahrir Institute of Middle East Policy, Europe

The main question on the migration issue is: How can Angela Merkel be saved? Most European leaders are very aware of the fact that a German government crisis—and a possible election—is bad news for the functioning of the European Union. The EU cannot make serious decisions without a stable and centrist German government, certainly not on immigration.

However, Europe is not ready for a common, comprehensive agreement. Some want more European solidarity with border countries, while others refuse to share the burden. Some want to put asylum centers outside the EU, while others want these centers on EU territory. Then there are those who want to copy the Turkey deal with every neighboring country. And all of this is without knowing the perspectives of the neighboring countries themselves.

So, what can come out of this week’s summit to save Merkel? Not much. All we can expect are more declarations to secure the EU’s external borders, intentions to modify the Dublin procedure, and an agreement to talk with North African countries. It’s hard to say if this will save Merkel’s skin, but what it certainly will not do is provide Europe with a necessary vision on immigration. 

Susi DennisonDirector of the European Power programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations

No, not as long as Europeans believe that immigration is something to be cracked. It is not; people will always migrate in search of what they believe will be a better life, and this is something that as Europeans we must learn to live with.

The migration crisis is a political one. Arrivals in Europe are absorbable and always have been, even at the height of the refugee crisis in 2015. What is not manageable is the local impact of migration in some parts of the EU on services, accommodation, and pay, and the sense that Europe is no longer in control of its own borders, which has spread throughout electorates.

There will be no meaningful deal at this week’s EU Summit because both the German and Italian leaders hope to deliver an outcome that will satisfy the political situation in their home countries. Those desired results are diametrically opposed. Italy proposes that the EU abolish the principle of the first country of arrival having responsibility for decisions on whether a person has the right to stay in Schengen; the CSU in Germany wants this very principle to apply, so that Germany can send back failed asylum seekers to their country of first arrival in Europe.

Perhaps there is a fudge, and EU states will agree to look for a way forward based on shared principles—but this will not make immigration go away.

István GyarmatiPresident of the International Centre for Democratic Transition, Hungary

The immigration issue is a huge challenge. Not so much to the physical capabilities of the EU, but to the union’s (political) will—or, more concretely, the EU’s ability to recognize, admit, and translate into practice the necessary recognition that the world has significantly changed and our principles must be applied in different ways.

We must strike a new balance between humanitarian and security considerations, recognizing that immigrants come from very different societies and economies and their integration takes a very long time—and that this is not possible when we must deal with hundreds of thousands of new arrivals and our societies become hostile to immigrants (which is not—only—the result of extremist propaganda).

There is no purely European or purely national way to solve to this challenge: a mix of these and integration can be the only effective solution. To achieve that, the blame game must be stopped; dialogue must replace it.

We also need to recognize and draw the necessary conclusions from the fact that security considerations frequently take precedence over humanitarian ones—although also basic humanitarian practices must be maintained.

One week earlier I would have been much more pessimistic. But the latest events—especially the ideas coming out of the June 24 EU mini summit and the nine-nation initiative to create a special force for European contingencies—gives rise to more optimism.

Shada IslamDirector of Europe and Geopolitics at Friends of Europe

Yes it can—and yes it must. Because make no mistake, the current intra-European battle over immigration is about the heart and soul of Europe and about Europe’s role and influence in the world.

Europe’s future as a union of values hinges on whether it can craft a sensible, pragmatic, and compassionate immigration policy. This means shifting gears from the current corrosive crisis-mode—which is fueled by fear and prejudice and driven by short-term, national, electoral priorities—to cool-headed thinking about how best to manage immigration.

To do this, Europe will have to recognize and respond to three realities: First, migration into Europe is not going to stop, but neither will populists’ opposition to it.  Second, ageing Europe will continue to need immigrants for a host of well-known demographic, fiscal, and skill-shortage reasons. Third, managing migration requires international coordination and cooperation. No country can do it on its own.

Most importantly, European leaders—the ones who still believe in EU values and in EU solidarity—have to stop being on the defensive on immigration and must resist pressure to embrace toxic populist rhetoric. Instead, they must contest the false assertions that immigration leads to increased unemployment, crime, and terrorism. By not doing so, they are amplifying the populist narrative.

Dominik P. JankowskiHead of the OSCE and Eastern Security Unit, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Poland

Yes, but Europe needs a long-term adaptation plan. Quick fixes have proven to be unsuccessful. Three elements are key. First, prepare your societies and increase the level of their resilience. In practical terms, it means that European countries have to build their political, economic, and societal resilience to an increased migratory flow. This is homework that we have not really done since 2015. Second, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, especially if it’s imposed. There are numerous good examples at the regional level of how local authorities have successfully dealt with immigration. Think global, act local. Third, help to develop the countries of origin of immigration. A long-standing United Nations target is that developed countries should devote 0.7 percent of their gross national income to official development assistance (ODA). In 2017 only four EU member states met this threshold.

Thomas KlauChairman of the Board of Asylos

Migration, like commerce, is a constant in human history. It is one of its most powerful forces; it has shaped our genes, our language, and our culture. The first thing to do is to understand that much of our historiography has described migration, its causes, and its consequences in overwhelmingly negative terms; this acts as a political poison that weakens our ability to imagine a good future.

Second, we must see and say that African demography means that for this generation of Europeans and the next one, migration is not an issue to be cracked but an agent of major change both in Europe and in Africa. Our political decisions in the years to come will and must influence the nature of the transformation, but there is no political “solution” that can wave the future away.  

Third, we must accept that we face a civilizational choice between preserving our ethical values or our ethnic mix, meaning our overwhelming whiteness. Our hard-won values of democratic decency cannot survive without accepting and welcoming very substantial immigration; the price to pay for closing our borders is to change who we are and how we think of ourselves. I am optimistic that for a majority of Europeans, that price will be far too high.

Denis MacShaneFormer UK Minister for Europe

The real question is can Europe crack the weaponization of immigration by populist politicians?  The French Communist Party leader, Georges Marchais, called in 1980 for French frontiers to be closed to European workers, and some Labour MPs in England exult in the idea of using Brexit to start discriminating against EU citizens offered a job by British employers.
It is hardly Angela Merkel’s or Germany’s fault that first Britain with America in Iraq then France in Libya set about destroying functioning if authoritarian states, and the West has been trying to do the same in Syria since 2011.
Destroy a state, and its people flee for sanctuary. The pressure on Greece and Italy was intolerable. The first thing Merkel should be doing is working with Macron on a more flexible EU budget to help Athens and Rome do the rest of Europe’s heavy lifting on refugees.
But the figures are coming down sharply, just as EU arrivals into the UK are reduced to the point of causing serious labor shortages. A jigsaw of measures should be on offer. There is no masterplan, but Europe can muddle through.


Jana PuglierinHead of program, Alfred von Oppenheim Center for European Policy Studies at the German Council on Foreign Relations

There is a real danger that the immigration issue might crack Europe first. The rift about asylum policy among Germany’s CDU/CSU Parliamentary Group could bring down Chancellor Angela Merkel and lead to a breakup of the governing coalition in Berlin. This would leave the EU once again without a functioning Germany—possibly for months to come. The window of opportunity for effective EU reform is already closing. The EU’s inability to achieve real progress on issues like migration, eurozone reform, or European security would play into the hands of right-wing populist and euroskeptic forces in the wake of the upcoming European elections in May 2019.

If Merkel loses the argument for a “European solution” on the migration issue in Brussels and is toppled at home, it will boost the voices in the EU that are already questioning Europe’s open borders and arguing that the time of orderly multilateralism has come to an end. So if Europe can’t crack the immigration issue—or is unable to agree at least on some minimum common standard—then the immigration issue will likely crack Europe.

Zsuzsanna VéghResearcher at the European University Viadrina and associate researcher at the European Council on Foreign Relations

Should anyone still have harbored hopes following the hostile exchanges among European leaders, including the Visegrád countries’ “boycott” of an otherwise inconclusive migration mini summit they weren’t invited to? It is clear that the European Council meeting on June 28-29 won’t end the three-year impasse on European asylum and migration policy.

With the reform of the Dublin system beyond reach and the repeated intention of externalizing the issue—now reincarnated as “disembarkation platforms”—it’s almost a disquieting déjà vu. Meanwhile, the protection of the EU’s external borders, seen as the lowest common denominator, gains more traction as Austria prepares to take over the EU’s rotating presidency on July 1. All of this still does not provide a solution to the needs of EU border states—not to mention those of asylum seekers.

Make no mistake: what we face today is not a migration crisis but a political crisis. The continued lack of both internal and external solidarity, and the self-serving securitization of the issue across the EU, has led to the rise of populist forces. And when in power, they don’t content themselves with blocking common solutions just in this field. Their rule further undermines European unity and stands as a blatant reminder of the EU failing as a value-based community.