Refugees and Reform in Europe

LAGUNA BEACH – There is a simple truth beneath the growing human tragedy of Europe’s refugee crisis, and the European Union cannot address the massive influx of exhausted, desperate people in a manner compatible with its values unless governments and citizens acknowledge it. Simply put, the historic challenge confronting Europe also offers historic opportunities. The question is whether Europe’s politicians – who have failed to deliver on far less complicated issues over which they had a lot more control – can seize the moment.

The scale of the challenge is immense, with the flow of refugees extremely difficult to monitor and channel, let alone limit. Fleeing war and oppression, tens of thousands of people are risking life and limb to find refuge in Europe – a phenomenon that will continue as long as chaos persists in countries of origin, such as Syria, and countries facilitating transit, such as Iraq and Libya.

In the meantime, Europe’s transport networks are under stress, as are shelters, border crossings, and registration centers. Common asylum policies – including, for example, the basic rule that asylum-seekers should be registered at their point of entry into the EU – are not functioning or are being bypassed. And the cherished concept of effortless travel within the border-free Schengen Area is under threat.

These problems are aggravated by coordination failures. Attitudes toward refugees vary widely across countries, with Germany taking a particularly enlightened approach that contrasts sharply with Hungary’s notably heartless one. Some countries, such as the Czech Republic, have blocked deals to share the burden fairly among European Union members, including through mandatory quotas.