quinta-feira, 28 de janeiro de 2016
Hard-headed humanity can save Angela Merkel
Angela Merkel wants to save Europe. She must first save herself. The German chancellor’s lodestar is unity within the EU. This is an admirable ambition, but one that has landed her in serious political trouble at home. The leaders of Poland, Hungary and Slovakia will never share her generosity towards refugees who also happen to be Muslims. Ms Merkel’s search for consensus is a recipe for paralysis.
Historians will scratch their heads as to how the arrival of 1m people in such a rich, large continent became an existential threat. The newcomers account for just 0.2 per cent of the EU’s population. A sudden influx was always going to be destabilising, but tear apart half a century of integration among some of the world’s most advanced democracies?
For some, panic has become a default. When Mark Rutte, Dutch prime minister, and his French counterpart, Manuel Valls, issue chilling warnings of permanent fracture in the union they invite the obvious question as to what they are doing to forestall it. Not much. Matteo Renzi, Italy’s prime minister, is busy settling old scores with Ms Merkel. Britain’s David Cameron has a referendum to win so wants no truck with what he crassly calls “a bunch of migrants”.
To say there is no easy answer to the refugee question does not mean there are no useful responses. Above all else, European leaders need to demonstrate that they have regained command of events. Voters worry about the numbers, certainly, but what hardens concern into anger and intolerance is the role of their leaders as hapless bystanders. Refugees and Islamist terrorism are becoming fused in the public mind.
Changing this dynamic requires action on three fronts: diplomacy, money and bureaucracy. Much of this is about doing more of the same, but with urgent resolve instead of hand-wringing and, in Ms Merkel’s case, a willingness to leave behind those swept up by Islamophobia.
Diplomacy should challenge the fatalism about the future of Syria. A comprehensive settlement is beyond the plausible but the chances of a ceasefire have improved. The conflict has been sustained by the manoeuvrings of outside powers. Now there may be a convergence on interest in favour of a truce.
With the nuclear deal with Iran secure, the US can focus its energies on Syria. Diminished it may be, but Washington still carries more clout than anyone else. Europe has every incentive to lend support. All can agree that the EU must strengthen its external borders, and fast. But those who have fled Syria also need some hope of returning home.
Russia, hurting badly from a collapsing oil price, has nothing to gain and much to lose from ever deeper military entanglement with Syria’s Bashar al-
Assad. A ceasefire could safeguard Moscow’s interests. With a measure of compromise, these outside powers should be able to corral the regional players — Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. The self-styled Islamic State has helped by adding Russia and Turkey to its target list.
As for money, whether it is a Marshall or a Merkel plan, aid on a scale so far unimagined is needed. The €3bn promised to Turkey can be no more than a small down payment. When the refugee camps in the region ran short of food last year, governments ignored the warnings. Incredibly, some EU states are still not paying their share.
For years, the EU has flirted with halfhearted plans to stabilise its Mediterranean neighbourhood. Hundreds of thousands of migrants from the Maghreb are now swelling the refugee influx from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Europe really does need a serious regional development strategy.
A failure of bureaucracy may seem a trivial thing. In this case, it is anything but. Politicians have failed dismally to cope with the arrivals: to separate legitimate refugees from economic migrants, to secure the external border in Greece, to ensure that their own local communities are handsomely rewarded for settling refugees, and to counter criminality such as that seen in the German city of Cologne on New Year’s Eve.
Winston Churchill once observed that the public mood in regard to the treatment of criminals is among the “unfailing tests of the civilisation of any country”. Today one could substitute migrants for criminals. Europe will always have its Islamophobes and anti-Semites, but by and large its democracies are rooted in humanity.
If Ms Merkel is to shake off the challenges to her leadership, generosity towards the migrants must be coupled with the assurance of security. The chaotic response so far has given oxygen to those proclaiming every Muslim a potential criminal or terrorist. Setting numerical targets solves nothing. But Berlin must instil confidence that it has a grip on the numbers and can process and separate out genuine refugees.
In the German chancellor’s ideal, the 28 EU nations would stick together. In reality, the choice facing the Schengen open borders system is between orderly suspension and disorderly collapse. Ms Merkel should opt for the former.
What is needed is a coalition of the willing — states ready to pool resources and share the burdens of the crisis. The future of the union is one of overlapping circles. This new grouping would be the basis for a reconfiguration of open frontiers. If much of eastern Europe stayed outside, it would be by those nations’ choice. Ms Merkel no longer has time to wait for them.