By Zhao Minghao Published: 2015-9-8
The worsening refugee crisis indicates that chaos in the EU`s neighborhood is jeopardizing the long-term interests of the EU, and the situation is very likely to grow worse.
In Syria and Iraq, about 11 million people have been forced to flee. Many asylum seekers are pouring into countries such as Jordan and Lebanon, which is likely to trigger greater turbulence. The UN World Food Programme, lacking sufficient funds, has no choice but to reduce its aid, including food, for the refugees. Hunger will not only bring despair, but also trigger hatred. If the refugees and their children are forced to join the extremist organizations, the European countries may further suffer.
The crisis has exposed the drawbacks of the EU integration. The member states lack the political will to share the challenges and risks. This situation has been aggravated following the financial difficulties in recent years. Countries such as Germany, Sweden and the UK are the ideal destinations for the asylum seekers. However, to reach the affluent northern countries the refugees have to first go across the Mediterranean Sea to Italy, Greece or Spain from northern Africa and western Asia, or they have to hide themselves in the carriages to Hungary and Austria.
Berlin and Stockholm expect those borderland countries to take up responsibility to receive or repatriate the refugees, but the latter regard themselves as only transit points. So far, a unified asylum policy has not been formed yet, and the allocation quota is hard to implement. Besides, Frontex, which is responsible for border management, is facing a shortage of money.
More than 340,000 people have attempted to reach Europe since the beginning of this year. The number is three times larger than that of the previous year. The number of asylum requests for Germany was about 200,000 in 2014, and it is expected to reach 450,000 to 800,000 this year. Macedonia, a small and poor state which finds it hard to bear the influx of refugees, has already announced a state of emergency.
Admittedly, unrest and poverty in some countries, such as Afghanistan, Mali and Eritrea, cannot be attributed entirely to Europe. However, it is undeniable that Europe has not fully realized how much its neighborhood and the "neighbors of its neighbors" can affect it.
Five areas are of great importance for the EU - the eastern neighborhood, the Mediterranean, the Sahel, the Horn of Africa, and the Middle East/Gulf. The "Union of the Mediterranean," promoted by former French president Nicolas Sarkozy in 2008, has already been de-motivated by the outbreak of the debt crisis and the recession in Europe.
Europe has followed the US in promoting "democratization" in western Asia and northern Africa. However, Europe is paying a heavier cost than the US. Brussels and Washington have substantially underestimated the complexity of the ethnic and religious conflicts in the region, the hardship of the political and social transformation, and the influence of "democratization" on geopolitics.
While Europe and the US are used to interpreting the issue through the prisms of democracy and human rights, the Syrians and Iraqis are more concerned about the conflicts between Shiite and Sunni Muslims. Brussels and Washington should acknowledge their lack of knowledge of the Islamic world, which is largely caused by their ideological arrogance.
There is no doubt that the "Arab Spring" will soon become the "Arab Winter" and the Middle East is very likely to encounter greater turbulence in the near future. The downfall of Muammar Gaddafi has presented opportunities for the northern African Al Qaeda branch to collaborate with the eastern African Boko Haram. When the West was striving to overturn the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, the Islamic State (IS) has got stronger in the turbulent region. The IS has managed to recruit a large number of followers through Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. It turns out that the extremists and terrorists are adept at taking advantage of the social media.
The picture of the Syrian toddler who was washed up to a Turkish beach is heartbreaking. Syrians need food and shelter more urgently than a free and fair election.
Brussels should be alert that a strategic judgment, independent of Washington, is needed to cope with the problems facing its neighborhood.
The author is a visiting fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China.