The risk that the refugee crisis might inflict wounds on the European Union so deep that they would take years to heal is very real. Already weakened by the economic crisis, European cohesion is being tested even more with this movement of populations toward the heart of the continent. The countries of the south – Greece, Italy and Spain – constitute the main gateways for hundreds of thousands of poor souls fleeing the ravages of war, while Central Europe and the north are doing all they can to ensure that these people don’t settle there.
The truth is that the problem is huge. The numbers are too big and have increased in such a short period of time that even the most organized states are having trouble responding, while there is no solution on the horizon and many communities are reacting in an extreme manner. Xenophobia and racism are on the rise from Sweden to Greece, boosting far-right and Euroskeptic parties and groups across Europe. This is becoming apparent even in countries with a history of tolerance and liberal social behavior, such as the Scandinavian nations.
What we are seeing, in fact, is that tolerance for and symbiosis with people who are foreign or different has limits, particularly when combined with fears that the sudden transplantation of people with other customs, habits and religions may affect our lifestyles. This is even more so when the new arrivals come in a state of need, necessitating expenditure that will be shouldered by taxpayers. It has been estimated that Germany will need 16 billion euros’ worth of funds for its refugee program and already there is talk of additional taxes to raise this money. The economic cost, which is truly gargantuan, should not be discounted when talking about ways of managing the inflows.
The creaks in the foundations of Europe are becoming louder and louder. Governments are under pressure from societies and Euroskeptics of every stripe and are basically turning toward policies and measures that go against the founding principles of the European project. Others, like German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who have tried to maintain a tolerant and supportive attitude, are now feeling the heat. And to make matters worse, Europe is not even among the forces being called upon to find a solution to Syria. The recent meeting of foreign ministers in Vienna, where no one from the European Union was present, is telling. Europe may not as a whole be responsible for the chaos caused in the Middle East and Libya by the great Western powers but it is Europe that faces the threat of collapse. It must, therefore, find the strength to demand that it be part of any decision-making process that may lead to a solution of the refugee crisis.