Opinion: The refugee crisis will define Europe’s future

One wonders how Europe and its leaders could have been caught so off guard? It’s easy to blame the mess on the American intervention in Iraq. Why not put the blame on those who didn’t have the foresight and courage to intervene against Assad? Or on those who opted for a weak common European foreign and security policy? Would Europeans be totally surprised if, one day, it emerged that Vladimir Putin gave a helping hand to instigate the sudden flow of refugees? Or if we found out that some of the organized criminal gangs, profiting from this human disaster, are related to governments who wish the weakening of liberal democracies? The level of naïveté and incompetence in Europe is striking.

The refugee crisis has revealed not just Europe’s lackluster, mixed and at times outright inhumane response to an unprecedented influx of people seeking refuge at its shores and borders. It has revealed the unwillingness to take its security seriously. It has revealed the deep underlying rifts within Europe, the lack of solidarity between member states and commitment to liberal values. A Europe that is growingly divided, that closes its borders, and that fails to live up to its responsibilities will not be able to face up to the huge security and social challenges of the next decades. The current crisis has brought to the fore the unfinished business of transition in the newest member states in the East, where democratic institutions are weak, where old reflexes dominate, where nationalism blinds, and where in the name of “Christianity,” the most un-Christian decisions are made.


The “European Project” has fundamentally always been about solidarity and the creation of a shared, common future. It is precisely this solidarity and unity that the refugee crisis threatens, by pulling European states apart from each other and from within. If the Union as a whole is unable to come up with a common solution, which is lead by pragmatism as well as the humane principles we stand for – and which takes note of diversities, capabilities, economics, demographics and indeed security – Europe will come out of the crisis severely weakened. It could easily split along the North-South and East-West dividing lines. But if done right, the crisis will paradoxically make Europe stronger and more cohesive.

The refugee crisis is thus a common European problem. Germany along with Sweden are two countries in Europe that stand up for the European ethos – while Hungary (and others hiding behind her) are miserably failing the same values. We cannot deny the enormous pressure on Hungary. But Prime Minister, Viktor Orban – the self proclaimed enfant terrible (unruly child) of Europe’s political right – is dead wrong in not accepting any refugees while simultaneously portraying himself as the victim of the crisis. Has he forgotten the hundreds of thousands of Hungarians who fled after the failed revolution of 1956, or who just in the last few years left the country for the richer part of Europe in the hope of a better life and were welcomed with open arms?


Orban and his advisors must have thought cynically that the flow of refugees is a blessing in disguise. A useful tool to distract attention from low growth, big-time corruption (which is killing morals in the country), growing internal tensions and power struggle within his party, and the dissatisfaction with his governance. He and other Eastern Europeans should stop this nonsense of seeing themselves as the self-proclaimed defenders of the West from “Eastern Hordes.”

Solutions to the current crisis must be born out of a deep belief that multiculturalism is Europe’s future. It is a defining moment in history whether Europe embraces it fully or only halfheartedly. It is also about demographics. Europe is graying and aging fast. By taking large numbers of refugees, Germany and Sweden are showing the way for other European countries, out of a good balance between moral considerations and shrewd foresight. There can be a huge benefit in taking in refugees (who will be grateful in the future for the help now) refreshing the work force, which in only a few years will be struggling to keep up with demand.


Of course, caution is warranted: a systematic and well-thought-out process and a clear policy of integration is needed. Overloading the social welfare, the public safety and education system is a danger. They should be vigilant and deal with potential terrorists. But in the end, if done right, the positives outweigh the negatives by far. Europe needs to come up with a common and complex solution, which has immediate and long-term humanitarian, security and economic elements alike. Ultimately, the choice is between a Swedish or a Hungarian Europe. The best choice should be a no brainer.

And in the meanwhile someone should tell Viktor Orban that the current crisis is not political soccer (football for Europeans) – his favorite source of political inspiration. It is a profound humanitarian challenge with vast economic, political and strategic ramifications.



András Simonyi is the Managing Director of Center for Transatlantic Relations (CTR), Johns Hopkins University. This post is co-authored by Erik Brattberg and originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

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