The Brief: The divisive solidarity of Europe

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter.

More than 7.000 refugees in the Greek island of Lesbos know that something is not working with the EU’s response to migration. While they weather winter temperatures in summer tents, with capacity for only 2,300 people, European leaders will hold tomorrow the eleventh discussion over a fancy dinner to try to fix one of their biggest dares, and yet unresolved.

For the chair of the feast, the diagnosis is clear. European Council President Donald Tusk believes that the mandatory quotas proposed by the Commission in 2015 have been “ineffective” to redistribute the thousands of refugees that came to the European shores. More importantly, given how “highly divisive” the mandatory redistribution system has proven to be, it has become an obstacle to reach a broad solution to address future migration crisis.

For that reason, Tusk would be willing to sacrifice the Commission’s burden-sharing initiative to unite the member states around his own ‘migration deal’.

Tusk’s criticism, echoing those made by his Polish compatriots, Czechs, Hungarians or Slovaks, triggered a wild response by the European Commission that led to a small correction of his statement.

It is an “anti-European” paper, commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos lamented, because it “undermines one of the main pillars of the EU project”, namely solidarity.

At stake is not only the solution to future migration crises, but fine-tuning the right approach to solve the big challenges Europe faces.

The dilemma is between upholding a united front or pursuing more solidarity, by mutualizing the risks and sharing more resources.

The latter option is the facto the bold solution, and therefore the more divisive one, no matter if the issue at stake is stemming the influx of migrants or completing the monetary union.

If the eurozone crisis split Europe between Northern and Southern economies, the refugee crisis draws a line between Eastern and Western member states.

Tusk proposed to the leaders an agenda to focus on the controversial issues and find a way forward.

However, he is not only putting the finger on the problems but also signaling where the balanced solutions lie. Let’s focus on where there is convergence, he says.

On those grounds, he sidelined any bold proposal from the leaders’ Friday menu to bolster the monetary union, including a eurozone budget that would bring closer the missing piece: a fiscal union.

But convergence should just mark the departure station and not determine the destination from the start. Or is it Europe tired of trying even before trying?

When he was re-elected last March, Tusk claimed: “Solidarity has always been important in my personal and political life”. But the difficult times ahead demand holding the line even if that implies lowering our ambitions.

Europe’s founding fathers tried to solve the dichotomy between unity and solidarity by including in the landmark Treaty of Rome the ‘ever-closer union’ principle. Europe would progress united, but those who became members of the club knew where they were heading.

This year, on the sixtieth anniversary of the Treaty, the still visible consequences of the biggest economic and humanitarian crisis in the Union’s history should have been a powerful reminder of the reasons to bring the family closer.

But as anti-European and populist forces still represent a major threat, unity remains as the most precious asset.

Even the europhile Emmanuel Macron is willing to postpone sine die his bolder proposals such as a eurozone budget, if the member states can progress on issues like Defense or the digital agenda.

As Europe is nearing the end of another annus horribilis, the bloc can celebrate how unity triumphed over some of its worst nightmares, but lament how its trembling solidarity may fall short of its dreams- as the Union once was.

The Roundup

Tensions arise between Commission and Council as Migration Commissioner Avramoupoulos describes Tusk’s proposal as “unacceptable” and “anti-European”.

The EU’s investment bank decided not to decide on the future of Trans-Adriatic Pipeline, a controversial project that would see the EU’s largest loan in history: €1.5 billion. Meanwhile, corporations urge the EU to back 35% renewable energy targets in next week energy Council.

Ireland emerges as the big winner of fisheries Council, and the industry was caught gate-crashing, again.

“This huge file”: the top priority of Bulgaria’s upcoming presidency will be the telecoms bill and lower roaming fees between the EU and Western Balkans. But shadows loom on Borissov’s EU Council presidency, as opposition denounces media crackdown.

Emmanuel Macron and Bill Gates pledged €500 million for research in agriculture. Meanwhile, the Commission is running late on climate reporting.

Here is the agenda for this week’s EU Council summit. Stay tuned for our live coverage of the event. To butter up Germany, Macron shifts focus away from controversial eurozone reform.

“Venezuelan people are also imprisoned,” said the wife of Sakharov prize winner awarded by the European Parliament. Read our report.

Look out for…

The two day final 2017 EU Council Summit begins tomorrow. Schuman station closure reminder for everyone working in the area.

Views are the author’s

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