The European Union is confronted with an unprecedented refugee crisis which is threatening its very existence. Is it time for a structural overhaul? Not if you ask Vice President of the EU Commission, Valdis Dombrovskis.
20 years after a border-free Europe was introduced, the European Union's (EU) very existence is threatened. After having to deal with an economic crisis that is still not over, Europe is now facing an unprecedented refugee crisis.
According to the International Organization for Migration, more than one million refugees made their way to Europe through irregular means in 2015. It's the biggest wave of mass migration since the end of the Second World War. And the number is rising.
But thus far, the EU has failed to address this influx with a joint European response, leading to six member states recently opting out of the border-free Schengen agreement.
What's more, the EU's second biggest economy may leave the Union completely.
On DW's Conflict Zone with Tim Sebastian, Vice President of the European Commission, Valdis Dombrovskis, emphasized the need for "a coordinated European solution and the implementation of agreed solutions." However, he failed to be more concrete on how exactly this could be achieved.
When DW's Tim Sebastian asked whether welcoming refugees with tear gas on European borders made him feel "personally ashamed," Dombrovskis simply said the EU had to "deal with this problem."
But in response to the violent clashes at the Greek-Macedonian border, the United Nations (UN) refugee agency spokesman Adrian Edwards said Europe is on the "cusp of a self-induced humanitarian catastrophe."
Last summer, European leaders adopted a relocation and resettlement scheme that foresaw quotas to distribute refugees within the EU. But so far the scheme hasn't been successfully implemented.
Several member states, including Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic, have refused to implement the mandatory quotas. As a result, fewer than 700 of the 160,000 refugees who should have been relocated from most affected states, have been moved in the last nine months.
After Austria and other Balkan states unilaterally cut off the flow of migrants and restricted their borders, despite the Geneva Convention, thousands of people have been stranded in Greece.
A policy no one wants
Dombrovskis says the problem lies with individual member states who fail to stick to laws and rules that were agreed upon, including the so-called Dublin Regulation and the Geneva Convention.
"Those are not rules by the European Commission; they are rules that were adopted by the EU Council and the European Parliament, the core legislatures of the EU," Dombrovskis said.
Even though the EU member states are bound to the international agreements and conventions they signed, they are currently not implementing them.
Faced with Tim Sebastian's criticism that the European Commission is putting out policies that the member states aren't interested in, to then recite these rules over and over rather than coming up with new solutions, Dombrovskis said rules are there to be observed.
"If we now say that member states are not interested in the rules that were agreed upon, then we are in a very difficult situation," Dombrovskis said
Is Schengen dead?
Looking at the current state of the Schengen agreement on free movement, it seems like this very difficult situation has already arrived.
The Schengen agreement has been suspended by six EU member states for half a year already and is likely to be suspended for another two years, leading the former president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, to pronounce Schengen dead. But Dombrovskis doesn't want to give up just yet.
"We are working to save Schengen," he said, adding that member states have the right to temporarily introduce border controls within Schengen if there is an unusual or extraordinary circumstance. "And that is exactly what is happening right now," he said.
Is Greece being let down by the EU?
Responding to Tim Sebastian's charge that the EU has continually squeezed Greece rather than helping the country handle the 2,000 refugees arriving on Greece's shores every day, Dombrovskis said the EU is already doing its bit by helping Greece with money and emergency relief.
Valdis Dombrovskis: "Greece is actually one of the prime recipients of EU funding to deal with the refugee crisis. And the European Commission just now adopted a decision on emergency relief, on emergency aid to deal with the current situation in Greece."
Tim Sebastian: "Very small sums of money."
Valdis Dombrovskis: "Not so very small sums of money. The sums of money are going into the tens of millions."
Tim Sebastian: "It's costing them ten million Euros a month to cope with the refugees. You're not funding them to the tune of ten million Euros a month."
Valdis Dombrovskis: "Well, we are funding them to the tune of what's there in the EU budget for those purposes. And that has actually already increased pretty much. To this point we have mobilized something on the scale of 10 billion euros to deal with the refugee crisis."
Contingency plan for a possible Brexit?
Asked whether the EU has a contingency plan in case Great Britain, the second largest economy within the EU, decides to leave the European Union in the upcoming British referendum in June, Dombrovskis said the main effort right now is to make sure Britain doesn't leave.
"Our plan on which we are working is a plan A for UK to stay within the EU. (…) It makes much more sense economically, both for the UK and the EU."
The full Conflict Zone interview will air on March 9 at 17:30 UTC.