September 9, 2015

EUROPE’S IMMIGRATION PROBLEM is structural.

This time the crisis is over one of Europe’s most cherished icons: the Schengen visa-free/passport-free zone, which has given the European project arguably its strongest evidence yet that a larger and ultimately “pan-European” community would emerge from the nation-states bound by the treaty and the ideals behind it.

The current wave is fast invalidating all earlier numerical projections: Germany is looking at about 800,000 asylum applications this year; in July alone more than 100,000 people entered Europe, mainly through Greece and Italy. Reportedly, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker will now call for the member countries to resettle the 160,000 people who have reached Greece, Italy, and Hungary—a fourfold increase relative to two months ago. This is the “Schengen wave” of immigration; now reaching the point of entry places one within striking distance of Europe’s interior.

The size and distribution of the resettlement quota within the EU has become an intra-family squabble, with Britain resisting and Germany and Italy asking for higher quota commitments from other countries, especially from the reluctant “new members.” Here Hungary has led the way in its opposition to the plan, building a barbed wire fence along the Serbian border and pushing enabling legislation through the parliament that would reassert national control. Prime Minister Viktor Orban has called the immigration wave a “German problem.”

So it now will come to this: Germany’s Angela Merkel will insist that increasing resettlement quotas for all is inevitable, making it a litmus test of intra-EU solidarity. If she gets her way—and she likely will next week—Greece, Italy, and Hungary will be allowed to dispatch the migrants from their territory to other countries, establishing an ad hoc quota policy of sorts. Problem solved? Not so fast, as another deal on the resettlement quota will not alter the overall migration dynamic or momentum, with push and pull factors (war in MENA and Europe’s generous social support and prospect of a better life) now mutually reinforcing and locked in. And in a world framed by instant communications and social media, the message of Europe’s promise will continue to go out to the desperate and the entrepreneurial thousands, reinforcing their determination to come.

You can’t have open borders and generous welfare benefits. At least, not for long. And something that can’t go on forever, won’t.

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