As Europe slowly recovers from the longest economic recession in its history, the jarring crisis management of Greece has highlighted its weakened political foundation. The lack of solidarity between members of the European Union is evident in their inability to formulate a common solution to the large number of refugees arriving at Europe's borders. The terrorist attacks in Paris, too, have raised questions about the values of European society and of decisiveness in foreign policy.
Europe’s leaders are in crisis-fighting mode; they’re reactive and often uncoordinated, according to a new report by the Global Agenda Council on Europe. Under the title Europe: What to watch out for in 2016-2017, the authors point to some of the region’s moderate successes:
The Eurozone has not splintered; Russia is smarting under Western sanctions; some burden-sharing on refugees has been agreed. Busy with short-term problems, however, Europeans have taken their eyes off more profound, long-term challenges. How the European Union copes with its immediate problems in the next couple of years will determine how the continent will fare in decades to come. - Global Agenda Council on Europe
— Europe: What to watch out for in 2016-2017
Certain areas of concern dominate the debate: the inflow of refugees, the Greek economy, Brexit, instability in Ukraine, populism, terrorism and the rise of extremism. For more information, take a look at this explainer on Europe’s greatest challenges.
The rise of extremism
First on the agenda is the terrorist attacks in Paris. How should Europe respond to the menace of extremism? The best option is for European nations find a solution in common, says Manuel Valls, Prime Minister of France. “Terrorism must bring Europe closer together. It’s not just Paris that was struck.”
In fact, it's a worldwide war on terrorism, he continues, that requires all states to act together, exchanging intelligence and overseeing flights and airports. Syria doesn’t only concern Mediterranean countries, after all.
Schengen: a fairweather system?
The Schengen agreement is crucial; open borders have benefited Europe well, says Mark Rutte, prime minister of the Netherlands. There’s also the Dublin system, he adds, but we need to reform it first. Find out more about Schengen here
The refugee crisis
We need to solve the migrant crisis within the next six to eight weeks, says Rutte. In the first three weeks of this year, 35,000 people have crossed from Turkey into Greece. And this is winter: spring will bring many more.
It’s a big problem, agrees Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, and Greece should be part of the solution. “What is happening in Aegean is a crisis: people losing their lives in the sea because traffickers are working there unimpeded.” What is called for, he explains, is a mechanism that will help relocate refugees throughout the rest of Europe, in all EU states.
Can Germany cope with more refugees?
The inflow of refugees into Germany is immense. But how can we reduce the pressure on Europe’s frontiers without turning the region into a fortress? “We must invest billions in those regions from which the refugees come,” says Germany’s Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble. “All the problems in Africa and the Middle East are our problems too. Everything that goes wrong in these regions ends up in Europe.”
The word "solidarity" comes up several times in the session. As does the term "more Europe".
Schäuble says: "We have to help every EU country that can’t solve its own problems. Because of the speed of global change and the effects of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we have to help EU states become as competitive as possible.”
Want to know more about the Fourth Industrial Revolution? Read this
An important part of solidarity in Europe, the panellists agree, is keeping the union intact. Greece and the United Kingdom must not be allowed to leave, says Valls. "It would be a historic mortal error for Europe to let Greece leave the Eurozone. For the UK to leave Europe would be a tragedy. And I’m saying this as a Frenchman. We have to do all we can to make Britain stay."
Greece's Alexis Tsipras agrees. "In order for us to find a solution to the problems of Europe, we need more Europe," he says. "This is not the right time to talk about exits – be they Brexit or Grexit. No more differentiation; now is the time for solidarity."
Valls sums up the sentiment of the room: "History is at a moment of convergence. All the parameters mentioned at the beginning – Ukraine, terrorism, the refugee crisis, separatism – nothing could be worse than to see a member state leave, as it would be a signal to others and pave the way for more populism.
"Europe should be more audacious, should take more initiative. If we don’t then the whole undertaking of peace and friendship will founder."