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Opinion

Opinion: The refugee crisis is endangering the EU

Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn is warning that the strain of the refugee crisis could cause the EU to collapse. He's right, but for the wrong reasons, DWs Christoph Hasselbach writes.

Jean Asselborn is ringing alarm bells. National egoism is usurping a sense of community, walls are being put up where borders were once open, and nationalism is taking precedence over human values. Within a few months, the Schengen area and its absence of border checks could collapse, and with it one of the EU's greatest achievements. A war could even result from this false nationalism. And, while "the glue that holds us together is still the culture of human values," Asselborn is worried that the glue cannot hold. He praised Germany's liberal refugee policy, but said some politicians are using the issue to intentionally stir fear. This, he said, must be counteracted.

The danger that Asselborn perceives really does exist, but not in the way he thinks. And that's why he is drawing the wrong conclusions.

Loss of control

For one thing, he's wrong about what's causing the fear. People in Europe are worried about the uncontrolled influx of refugees, but not primarily because the population has suddenly become much more right wing.

Hasselbach Christoph Kommentarbild App

DW's Christoph Hasselbach

Rather, European citizens are having to sit by and watch how shockingly powerless their countries are in the face of this crisis.

In Germany alone, thousands of people are freely entering the country each day, even after the government agreed on a range of measures to clamp down on such movement. The authorities often don't know who the migrants are, where they've come from, and where they're currently staying. And it's been this way for months. A country that has no control over who is crossing its borders? Of course, that is unsettling and makes people anxious and concerned.

The chancellor remains committed to her lenient refugee policy with no upper limit - and is trying to convince her European partners to do the same. She's long given the impression that the loss of control doesn't particularly bother her. It's no wonder that other governments aren't listening. Even in Germany, she's becoming increasingly isolated.

Tusk: 'Breeding ground of fear'

Asselborn is also wrong in his proposed solution. You can't stop the collapse of Europe by declaring these fears to be baseless and appealing to people's better values.

Rather, the mass influx into Europe needs to be slowed - and radically. But Asselborn doesn't want to hear about it. Even when it comes to the EU's outer borders, he is expressly against closing them off. The EU should only know "who is coming to us and why."

It's precisely this kind of morally embellished permissiveness that is endangering Europe. That's why right-wing radical parties are making gains in every election at the moment. Many governments feel they have no other choice but to help themselves by reintroducing border inspections or building fences along EU internal borders.

EU Council President Donald Tusk takes a more broad-sighted view of things. Commenting on the current situation in the EU, the usually restrained Pole said: "A European Union without external borders will become a breeding ground for fear." And that is exactly the problem!

Failed distribution

That's the reason why the distribution of refugees inside the EU has failed so spectacularly. As long as the influx of asylum seekers continues unabated, a fixed allocation scheme would be like a free pass to do nothing at the external borders. The people of Europe expect the EU to cooperate on slowing the influx, not just distribute it differently.

The consequences are not pleasant, but they are necessary. If we want to save the EU, then we have to ensure that the EU regains control over immigration. This doesn't mean that the EU would no longer accept asylum-seekers, but it would do so with clear limitations.

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