What Europe’s Refugee Influx Means for EU Foreign Policy  

Written by | Saturday, October 17th, 2015

Judy Dempsey (Carnegie Europe)

For the past year, Europe has been struggling with the influx of thousands of refugees, who preferred to risk their lives on their way here, rather than to face the war in Syria and Iraq, unrest in Afghanistan or repressions in Eritrea. This situation is being further complicated by the unwillingness of Eastern European states to open their borders to those who seek safety and freedom. On top of all this, reactions to this migration crisis show all symptoms of the weakening of European foreign and security policy. The deteriorating refugee crisis has also highlighted the weaknesses of the crisis management, which constitutes one of the significant elements of EU’s foreign policy. Its sole focus on using the so-called soft power has major drawbacks and significantly limits the EU’s capacity to solve ongoing crises in neighboring countries.

If we consider, for example, the case of Syria, aside imposing its sanctions against Damascus, the EU has so far not set any rules for dealing with the civil war in this country. It was only a matter of time before premonitions become reality and before a number of radical Islamist movements exploit this shocking war for their own agenda. The longer European governments tried hard to avoid their involvement in the conflict, the more it escalated. With the benefit of hindsight, we can today assess the EU’s steps, which clearly show that it should have back then acted against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in a more effective way by using hard power.

As of today, Europe is burdened by the continually worsening refugee crisis, which it tries to mitigate by various measures ranging from promoting non-discriminatory sharing of refugees to increasing the number of health, social, education and accommodation facilities in Jordan and Turkey, both of whom have already accepted millions of refugees. Nevertheless, these are still only temporary solutions that lack a broader scope. At the end of the day, the best solution seems to be a change in the aims of the crisis management, which responds to the emerging conflict situations too slowly, from soft to hard power, which would also necessarily include direct intervention.

(The study can be downloaded here: http://carnegieeurope.eu/strategiceurope/?fa=61080)

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