What had began as a mainly humanitarian effort has turned into a full scale crisis. The deluge of migrants arriving into Europe from not only the war shattered countries of Iraq and Syria, but from all over the Middle East has created an untenable situation for a number of countries. Time is rapidly running out for advocates of policies that favor refugees, as the economic and political costs continue to mount.
The epicenter of the fiasco is Germany. The country has become the top destination in Europe for those fleeing war, repression and lack of economic opportunity. By the end of 2015, hundreds of thousand were arriving on a monthly basis. Over a million arrived last year and many more are either on their way or would like to come.
In comparison, all of Europe received only 280,000 refugees in 2014.
Three variables made Germany a magnet for both economic and political migrants. The initial one was the original welcoming position of the government. This has since become almost muted in 2016, with ever increasing obstacles placed in the way of additional migrants.
The second is the higher capability of the country to absorb the newcomers. The country is the largest economy in Europe, with a balanced federal budget and a declining debt to GDP (Gross Domestic Product) ratio. Sovereign debt at over 80% to GDP in 2010, is due to decrease to below 70% this year. Germany typically runs large trade surpluses, so therefore it maintains huge foreign exchange reserves.
The third magnet has been the generational low unemployment rate. Joblessness in Germany dropped to 4.4% at the end of 2015, a record for the country since reunification with the East in 1990. Bolstered by strong domestic demand, it dipped further to 4.3% in January compared to 4.8% a year ago. It now stands at a 35 year low. As a result, it has made the country a top destination for job seekers not only within Europe, but now North Africa and the rest of the Middle East.
An additional difficulty for Germany as well as much of the rest of the European Union, has been the generous social welfare funding for newcomers. It worked well enough when the numbers of migrants were relatively low. More recently these benefits are seen not only as part of the problem, but actually threaten a number of countries with financial ruin.
A major problem for Europe at large, is the unwillingness of many of the newcomers to adopt the culture and language of their host country. They prefer to cling to to what they are familiar with. Compound that with a lack of advanced education and a general deficiency of necessary job skills and integration becomes far more challenging.
What might of created new demand and growth within the European Economic Community (EEC), has instead become a nightmare for many political leaders of the continent. Worse yet, it has led to domestic disturbances that are undermining the confidence of citizenry in the capability of their respective governments in managing what has now clearly become a major crisis.
The Euro-zone is already reeling from issues ranging from high levels of unemployment and sovereign debt of many of their member states. Investors increasingly are abandoning individual countries that are unlikely to see any real growth for the next few years. This is a result of ruinous investment and tax policies accompanied with a myriad of business killing regulations.
Now many of these same countries are being forced to deal with refugees arriving in far greater numbers that can easily be assimilated. As was predicted, terrorists are likely embedded among their number, thus heightening security concerns across Europe.
It comes on the heels of a militarily resurgent Russia and an increasingly reluctant United States. So European leaders are being forced to contend with growing security threats from both within and without the EEC.
In the first two months of 2016, despite increasing obstacles being put in their way, 135,000 migrants arrived from the Middle East and North Africa. Although over 80% of those that arrived last year were either from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, increasing numbers are coming from Eritrea, Iran, Morocco, Pakistan and Somalia.
The latter group are often deemed more as economic refugees and are therefore not deemed eligible for asylum. However, as human right abuses are rising throughout the Muslim world, it is getting increasingly difficult to make such a determination. This is especially true, if the new arrivals claim to be religious followers of Christianity.
More European countries are now tightening border controls to stem the flow of humanity. Although this may slow down the influx to individual countries, it is leaving tens of thousand stranded in Greece and the Balkans. This is creating a whole new humanitarian crisis, as these nations are ill equipped to confront the massive needs of some many migrants.
Fearing the immediate and long term consequences of so many mostly Muslim refugees, Hungary was merely the first to attempt to block the deluge of people. The resulting international condemnation did not stop Bulgaria and Slovenia from initiating similar actions.
Other countries are now making efforts to stem the tide as well. Austria has now capped the number allowed into the country. Other nations have decided to only permit refugees from Iraq and Syria alone.
A schism is developing within the EEC, where a number of Eastern European countries are refusing all refugees, that are originating outside the continent. It is true that a couple of countries in the group have entertained the idea of possibly allowing Christians to come, it is increasing the friction among political leaders everywhere.
This is true because the nations that are taking the largest group of migrants so far, want to be able to share the economic and social burden of this effort with neighboring countries. The Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia immediately opposed a plan of dispersal of migrants. Even at the relatively low number of just 120,000.
This is of course, increasing the burden on nations like Greece, Germany, Italy, and Sweden. It is increasingly problematic, to get the political leadership of all 28 countries in the EEC to agree to a program of resettlement. This is partly due to the fact, that there is no real answer to how many millions more will soon be arriving?
Chancellor Merkel in Germany and a number of other national leaders, are therefore placing more emphasis on reaching a new accommodation with Turkey.
The deal that was reached this month between the European Union (EU) and Turkey remains controversial and some nations like Spain, claim it is largely illegal. It also fails to stop individual nations from securing their own national borders. As the EU leadership insisted that the Schengen area (passport free zone) within the community be restored, barbed wire fences were still going up between Croatia and Slovenia.
Turkey has Europe over a barrel as a result of this ongoing crisis, yet to be fair the Turks themselves are dealing with millions of displaced individuals as well. The country is hosting 2.7 million people from Syria alone.
The new understanding calls for all irregular migrants, that is those without documentation coming to Greece through Turkey, will now be turned back. If the migrant being returned is Syrian a more qualified Syrian, will be exchanged and taken in by the EU instead.
It is largely understood that Germany will be responsible for absorbing the largest share of not only the Syrian migrants, but any others groups as well.
The promised payments of the equivalent of $3.3 billion USD (United States Dollar) agreed upon last October, will be expedited. Turkey is already asking for double that original amount.
The more controversial parts of the agreement involve Turkey itself. The government there is demanding that all Turkish citizens should be permitted visa free travel to Europe by June of this year. This would potentially allow a country of 75 million people, full access to most of the European continent.
Finally, Turkey is also insisting for new talks to move EU membership forward. The original dialogue had stretched for years and had mostly been abandoned.
It is the parts of the agreement that later the EU relationship with Turkey that many Europeans object to. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban galvanized the opposition, when he vocalized what virtually open borders with Turkey might well bring.
The Hungarian leader asserts an existential threat to European culture at large. He worried aloud that further migration of Muslims to the EU, would threaten the very fabric of life throughout the continent. He stressed that traditional Christian culture of individual European countries, would be swamped by the arrival of so many Muslims from the Middle East and North Africa. He is therefore opposed to the full agreement with Turkey that is now being put in place.
There are economic issues to consider as well. Turkish citizens wishing to reside in Europe, are willing to work for far lower wages and benefits. This wields a further blow to the comfortable social welfare system that has been created in so many European countries.
This is the reasoning why even the socialist government of France, fully opposes the eventual admission of Turkey into the EU.
The new question confronting European leadership is to determine how to define their economic and political union? Should it be determined by culture, geography or philosophy?
One roadblock that may derail the Turkish quest to become more European, is the issue over Cyprus. The island is still partitioned as a result of the invasion by Turkey in 1974. The part of the island that comprises a member state of the EU, will insist that the Turks honor their original agreement to recognize the island state as a single country. Erdogan the Turkish President, will be loathe to do that.
The migrant crisis is putting a strain on the finances of many nations in Europe along with increasing political costs. Tensions are rising not just between former enemies but even among traditional friends. Some nations feeling overwhelmed have taken action despite the outcry coming from other countries in the EU.
Macedonia is attempting to be admitted into the Union itself, but felt compelled to construct a border fence with Greece. This has resulted in a bottleneck at the major border crossing of Gevgelija-Idomeni stranding more than 10,000 migrants in squalid conditions. An attempt by the refugees to break through the barrier was met with tear gas earlier this month.
The Macedonians are letting through small numbers of Iraqis and Syrians, but are denying admittance to Afghans and other nationalities. The leadership there feels it is the responsibility of the Greeks, to follow the still controversial Dublin Regulation. This is the rule that a migrant is supposed to be processed in the first EU country they enter.
The European Court of Justice is already dealing with a suit filed by both Hungary and Slovakia. These two nations refuse to participate in the present quota plan, which is attempting to spread the burden of a first wave of 160,000 refugees throughout the EU.
The European Commission has already ruled that limits imposed by Austria are illegal. In addition to the disruption to the road and rail traffic through the country the border controls violate agreed upon rules. No matter, the Austrian government insists that they will only process 80 asylum applications daily and only permit 3,200 migrants to move through Austria on their way north each day.
Nations like Greece and Turkey on the forefront of the onslaught are growing increasingly angry at the unwillingness of other nations in the Euro-zone in sharing the burden of so many migrants. Italy especially is finding it next to impossible, to monitor their extensive coastline for illegal passages from North Africa.
France a recent target of Islamic terrorist attacks, felt compelled to re-impose border controls already last November. The latest incident in Belgium is likely to keep these new rules by the French government in place for an extended period. The anti-immigration vote in France is rising rapidly as the country is dealing with an already large restive Muslim population.
The United Kingdom (UK) has checkpoints for migration at the two French ports of Calais and Dunkirk. If the UK votes to leave the EU in June, it is questionable whether this cooperation between the two countries will continue.
Denmark has even authorized their police forces to confiscate migrant property worth more than 10,000 kroner, the equivalent of $1,429.85 USD to help cover the costs to house and feed refugees. The Danish government is becoming increasingly intolerant of further migration to their country.
Sweden one of the most welcoming countries for refugees is becoming increasingly overwhelmed. Taking in 160,000 last year it is a greater per capita number than any other European country. Along with imposing border controls, Sweden at last is bowing to the reality that all these migrants cannot stay. As crime and the difficulties of assimilating so many newcomers become more evident, as well as the exorbitant cost, the government is now stating that up to 80,000 will be forced to leave.
Even Germany by far the most welcoming is making plans to send back many economic migrants beginning with those that came from Albania, Kosovo and Serbia. The German government has now classified those countries as being reasonably safe. Therefore individuals that have moved from those countries can be legally sent back.
Unhappily for Mrs Merkel who is taking increasingly more criticism on her open door policy, it has now been determined by the EU leadership, that the acceptance of all migrants should be voluntary. To be fair they had little choice. To insist on a shared burden would of led to the immediate breakup of the EU.
Although Greece, France and Italy backed Germany on mandatory quotas, too many nations within the Union simply refused to participate. This puts more pressure on the German government, especially after the Cologne attacks on German citizens by armed gangs from North Africa.
As the political protests rise in Germany, along with the rapidly increasing costs of supporting so many new arrivals it is likely that the Germans will need to follow the Swedes and begin their own repatriation effort.
The Europeans have now seen clearly demonstrated, that foreign policy failures on their periphery will soon come at a high cost. A new era has already arrived, were the individual sovereignty of the member nations of the European Union are taking precedence over the decisions being made by the common leadership in Brussels.
No doubt a number of national governments will fall victim to the lack of preparations and foresight in dealing with the ongoing migration crisis. Several national leaders seemed totally out of sync with the electorate they are supposedly representing. The failure to take early action is already giving new impetus for those in the UK for example, who are championing an exit from the European Union. There will soon be many more unintended consequences both economic and political, from this colossus failure in policy.