Seizing opportunity from crisis will help redefine our common goals

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The refugee crisis should be seen as an opportunity, not an obstacle to be overcome. [Freedom House/Flickr]

The migration crisis has come to challenge European solidarity, the principle of free movement and the EU’s dedication to human rights. Now, more than ever, the EU needs to live up to its embodied promise to never repeat the divisions and ensuing horrors of World War II, writes Petros Fassoulas.

Petros Fassoulas is Secretary General of European Movement International.

Instead of becoming a weak inward-looking fortress delineated by distressed dinghies, makeshift jungles and barbed wire, Europe must seize the moment and channel the resilience, inventiveness and hope of its newest arrivals towards combatting its demographic decline and shortage of skilled labour.

For all of us at European Movement International, Europe is always stronger when it acts together. The essential and historic value of the EU lies in keeping us secure and safe in an ever-changing world.

To that end, we argue in our recent Policy Position on Migration that we need a pan-European approach for the management and protection of Europe’s external borders, the promotion of legal channels for migration and the reform of legislation such as the Dublin Regulation. If we do not put bold solutions forward, then freedom of movement, a fundamental European right, might disappear.

The right to live, study, work and retire anywhere in the EU is the most tangible success of European integration and key for the economic prosperity of our continent. According to a Eurobarometer survey, the free movement of people, goods and services within the EU is regarded by Europeans as the EU’s most positive achievement after peace creation. It is part of our European DNA and a core premise of the EU’s raison d’être.

But the end of Schengen would not just represent the loss of a fundamental freedom. It would cost the European Union between 470 billion and €1.4 trillion in lost growth in the next decade. It would also disrupt the lives of the 1.7 million people in the Schengen border-free area who daily cross what used to be a national border on their way to work.

So it is not an exaggeration to say that the reestablishment of national borders would thwart the European idea, take away citizens’ rights and negatively impact our economic recovery.

The Schengen area cannot only be as strong as its weakest link. Protecting the EU’s borders should be a common exercise. Investing in Europe’s external border control, including the establishment of a European Border and Coast Guard, will help safeguard Europe’s outer borders. To avoid creating a ‘Fortress Europe’, safe access to the EU should be ensured for those that seek asylum. In that light, options such as a humanitarian visa should be explored.

Working together will bring mutual benefit

The EU should foster and promote channels of legal migration, as outlined in our policy statement, by readjusting the Blue Card regulation’s strict requirements and ensuring a transparent and equal application across Europe, as well as its extension to non-academic fields such as entrepreneurs and lower-skilled migrants. This will enable member states’ economies to benefit from migration and help combat smugglers and human traffickers as it eliminates room for arbitration between the different national schemes. Furthermore, third country nationals should receive equal treatment to EU citizens with regard to their rights.

Additionally, the Dublin regulation needs to be reformed into a permanent and binding mechanism that ensures the fair sharing of responsibility to host asylum seekers and refugees, which can offer a structural solution at times of extreme strain. This mechanism should take into account the economic and social capacities of EU Member States and EEA states, as well as the preferences of asylum seekers and refugees, avoiding coercive transfers.

For Europe to succeed, solidarity is key. Efforts in the area of migration policy have to be made by all Member States – including those with opt-outs – in order to alleviate the pressure on the main countries of arrival. This also means that national leaders have to take responsibility and refrain from nationalistic and anti-migration rhetoric and action.

However, a concrete and determined European response must also look outwards and focus on resolving the roots of the crisis by strengthening the EU’s support for the countries of origin.

Last but certainly not least, the core of all policies put forward in the context of the European Agenda on Migration should be that refugees and asylum seekers are, first and foremost, human beings and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

While the EU is facing one of the biggest population movements in its recent history, we must be prepared to reach for bold solutions that can safeguard our rights and protect our borderless Union, allowing its people to travel, work, trade, exchange ideas, goods and services freely and in pursuit of their prosperity and that of our continent.

Subscribe to our newsletters