Refugees: Why Don't EU Leaders Just Share The Burden?
UK Prime Minister David Cameron has been locked in talks this week with other European Union (EU) leaders and officials, aiming to secure a deal on Britain’s membership of the EU ahead of his promised referendum on the issue – expected to be on June 23. EU leaders are playing hardball and insisting on a clause that any deal agreed now is final. Even if the British public vote to leave the EU in a few months, it will be impossible to get around the table once again for further talks.
At present, much of the debate around Brexit is largely driven by the question of migration. Angry Brits see that their employment prospects have changed in the past few years, partly because European migration has increased significantly since the EU expanded east in 2004. Migrants are accused both of stealing jobs and migrating primarily to live on the British benefit system.
A key area of negotiation for Cameron is the ability to prevent EU citizens migrating to the UK and claiming local benefits. The exact period he will manage to agree is still unclear, but it looks like he will get an agreement to block all benefit payments until EU citizens have lived in the UK for 4-7 years.
If Cameron secures this agreement then for a period of several years it will destroy the claim that ‘they just come here to claim our benefits’ – it would clearly be impossible. However, most research indicates that the vast majority of EU migrants come to the UK to work, therefore it is highly likely that migration will be as high, or higher than before, and the detractors will no longer be able to claim that migrants are scroungers looking for dole money.
The fear that nothing will be achieved on migration by accepting a EU deal is what will drive many to vote for a complete exit from the EU. The ‘out’ campaign remains highly disorganised, but the clear message that leaving the EU is the only way to fix migration doesn’t need a slick media campaign – people who believe this already know how they are going to vote.
The bigger European question is what to do about the refugee crisis, which has not subsided in winter and summer is on the way. Refugees from Syria are mixing with others from North Africa who just want a better life in the EU. Safety, security, education, and an opportunity to work. This is what we all want from the place we live – refugees are just people from another country, not aliens with different values.
What angers me is that the EU refugee problem should be simple to solve, yet it is presented as an issue where only Germany can lead. First consider the rules around refugees arriving in the EU – and we can assume that all 28 EU member states are safe places to find refuge.
The first nation state where a refugee arrives and is processed is where they stay, according to the present rules. However, this places a huge burden on Mediterranean states such as Italy and Malta. Should we seriously expect all refugees arriving from boats in the Mediterranean to stay in Italy?
It is no surprise that border agencies ignore many refugees if they continue moving – and sometimes even help them to move on – because once they pass into another EU member state then they are a problem for someone else. The UK media is paranoid that every Syrian refugee is on the way to London because they all want to speak English and claim those fantastic British benefits.
So here is a radical thought. Why don’t the EU member states actually work together for once? Why not share the cost of processing them wherever they arrive and then offer a safe new place to live in any one of the 28 member nations based on existing population size – so Germany would be allocated many more refugees than Sweden or Estonia, but it would be based entirely on an even distribution across the union.
Why aren’t the leaders working on plans like this? Germany knows that they need migrants because their population is rapidly ageing. Far-sighted leaders might agree with Chancellor Merkel when she claims that Germany can cope. It’s not just about coping – European nations need new people.
Isn’t it time for the EU leaders to start working together so legal migration and refugees can be managed in a fair way across the various member states? Or is the British answer going to be to just give up and leave the party?