BRUSSELS – The European Union’s economic crises of the last half-decade have fueled the emergence of a deep divide between the northern creditor countries and the southern debtors. Now Europe’s migrant crisis is creating an east-west divide between the countries that are welcoming toward the ongoing influx of refugees, and those who want to do little, or nothing, to help. Add to that growing political divisions within member countries, and one must ask: Is the EU coming unglued?
The creditor/debtor split was thrown into sharp relief this summer, during the negotiations over Greece’s third bailout agreement. Germany, the leading proponent of austerity and the most influential creditor, was accused of insufficient flexibility and solidarity; Greece, for its part, was lambasted for failing to implement the reforms that it promised the first two times it was bailed out. (It was France, neither entirely “north” nor entirely “south,” that ended up playing a vital role in facilitating the deal.)
Germany is now trying to lead the way in the migrant crisis as well, but this time by its generosity. Chancellor Angela Merkel has pledged to take in more than 800,000 refugees just this year. Welcoming crowds have lined streets and filled train stations in German cities, offering drinks, food, and clothing to the exhausted refugees, many of whom have walked hundreds of miles and risked their lives to get to safety.
Whereas Merkel declared forcefully that Islam was also a religion of Germany, some in Eastern Europe have declared that they will welcome only a small number of refugees – and only if they are Christian. Such bigotry plays directly into the hands of Islamist extremists worldwide.