MADRID – A human tragedy is unfolding in the Mediterranean, with hundreds of thousands of refugees risking – and, in many cases, losing – their lives for the chance to find refuge in Europe. How the European Union responds to this crisis matters not just for humanitarian reasons; it will also be a bellwether of the future of the Union itself. The EU must get it right.
Europe faces no shortage of challenges. Over the last five years, it has confronted a seemingly endless series of tests, including a eurozone-wide financial crisis, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, renewed fears of a Greek default, and the prospect of a British exit. But none has raised such fundamental questions about the meaning of the EU as the current debate about migration.
Unfortunately, efforts so far have been inconsistent. The EU acted quickly in the aftermath of the drowning of more than 1,000 migrants in a particularly horrific episode in April, tripling the budget of its much-maligned naval surveillance operations and expanding their operational area to match Italy’s discontinued Mare Nostrum operation. This move has already borne fruit, with record numbers of rescues late last month.
Another initiative – the European Commission’s proposed “Agenda on Migration” – is less straightforward. The agenda presents a hodgepodge of measures in varying degrees of detail.