It’s time for European leaders to show their mettle. Coming hot on the heels of the debt crisis, the ongoing immigration and refugee wave is bound to test the European project.
What is it that makes Europe powerful? The answer must lie with the common currency, the free movement of citizens, and the policy of open borders. Should any one of these pillars give way, the European Union is at risk of going down with it.
The EU is basically paying a price for its mistakes, as well as its global charm. Mistakes were made in handling the Syria and Libya crises. And now it’s extremely hard to put the genie back in the battle. You can’t just unmake a nation and then put it back together. Nor does Europe have the so-called hard power in terms of military clout or intelligence in order to keep instability at bay and contain the masses of would-be migrants.
For Europe, the best option would be to participate in efforts to find a political solution in these countries and help to rebuild them. It would be a great investment that would yield strategic benefits for Europe. This, of course, cannot happen without Moscow’s involvement and it would, perhaps, also leave some space for Greece to play some role.
For the time being, Europe is having to do something in which it has never been able to excel. Unlike Washington or Moscow, European leaders are not used to dealing with major crises in real time.
The European dogma of endless deliberations and horse-trading that always seems to end in some kind of last-gasp compromise is fine as long as no major issues are at stake. But when it comes to urgent matters, Europe looks uncomfortably like a think tank.
It’s easy to see how this two-pronged crisis will push a section of Europe, mainly the north, in the direction of isolationism, euroskepticism and – perhaps – political extremes.
It will take solid leadership, vision and vigor from Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, and other leaders for the continent to avoid going down that path.
There will be a great deal of pressure but so far there is no sign of leadership of this kind. But then again, leaders (both good as well as bad) are born out of crises.