An Image of a Flailing Europe

The refugee crisis is tearing the political fabric of the European Union apart. No other subject to date has split the European Union's political decision machine as much as this crisis has. And no one knows where it will end.

The images coming out of Europe tell the ugly story. Train stations overwhelmed in Hungary and northern Italy; small children drowned on beaches; fights between riot police and desperate refugees in Macedonia; refugee camps at Calais in France; people dangerously trying to walk to England using the train tunnel that connects it to France; neo-Nazis marching against the refugee onslaught; refugees narrowly being saved from sinking boats; people smugglers firing on coast guard ships with machine guns to protect their lucrative business.

Each photo, each video is a pixel in the image of yet another failed attempt by Europe's leaders to solve a crisis. Since March of this year, leaders such as Germany's Angela Merkel and Italy's Matteo Renzi have tried to broker a pan-European deal to stave off a reality that is now abundantly clear: The European Union's existing policies on immigration and refugee control are dead. 

For months, the 28 countries that make up the European Union have been unwilling to come together on the issue. Senior-level civil servants of various nations have been working around the clock, prodding, asking questions, trying to get a sense in the capitals of what could possibly work. Whenever a theoretically sound solution seems in sight, only a small number of the 28 countries is needed to shoot it down. And shoot it down they invariably do.

As writer Lee Thayer wrote: "Most people prefer problems they can't solve to solutions they don't like." 

The Mediterranean EU nations most hit by the crisis -- Italy, Greece - by now appear ready to accept any solution that will lighten their burden. 

The German Chancellor may be a formidably powerful figure in Europe, but in some quarters fear of that power is trumped by an emotional opposition to foreigners.

Several East European EU member-states out of principle refuse any solution that might mean having to accept refugees within their borders. They have now snubbed Merkel on several occasions. Some of these nations have officially stated that they will only accept Christians or non-Muslims, full stop. As most refugees from the Middle East are of course Muslims, this handily cuts down the numbers. 

Sovereignty above solidarity

It is the democratic sovereignty of the EU nations that allow these opponents to block decisions. So some leading politicians throughout Europe have in the past months proposed infringing on that sovereignty and handing over refugee policy and decision-making capacity to Brussels. Naturally, those nations most opposed to accepting refugees reject this out of hand. They find themselves backed by those capitals that might actually want to accept refugees, but which will never accept a further loss of sovereignty. And so Europe is back to gridlock, et cetera, ad infinitum.
 
With this kind of vehemence in the debate, it may well turn out that the only remaining solution to prevent the crisis from tearing apart the Union is to accept that on this issue, countries must be allowed to go their own way. 

The countries that refused to do their part in these darkest hours of need will pay the bill somehow. They may not have to pay it now; they may not even realize that they eventually will. But in European politics, nothing is ever forgotten, especially not a lack of solidarity.

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