1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Europe, safe for now

Bernd Riegert
Bernd Riegert
October 26, 2015

Facing the complete failure of the handling of the refugee crisis, key European Union (EU) states have agreed upon emergency measures. These need to work now, otherwise the EU is in danger, says DW's Bernd Riegert.

Refugees at the border between Austria and Slovenia
Image: Reuters/L. Foeger

It was only under great pressure, following threats and mutual abuse, that the heads of government of European countries through which the refugees are traveling managed to agree on a list of short-term measures. But at least they managed to agree in the end.

It was European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker who proposed the plan to bring order to the shameful chaos seen across the Balkans. So he is the hero of the hour.

Hours of debates

Initially the representatives of the Balkan countries spent hours throwing blame at each other, until the seriousness of the situation forced them to grudging concessions. It was not only the catastrophic situation of tens of thousands of refugees who are lacking the most basic support, like food and shelter, that needed to be addressed swiftly. It was also that the concept of European unity as such was on the line.

And should the governments now fail to swiftly implement the agreed measures, then they and the European Commission would risk losing all credibility.

On several occasions over the past few weeks, special European summits have ended in agreements that weren't followed through. The latest emergency plan is the last chance to get a grip on the outrageous situation along the route through the Balkans.

If authorities really manage to quickly set up accommodation and registration facilities for 100,000 refugees, that would indeed be a breakthrough. Then it would no longer be possible to just pass the refugees on for the next country to deal with.

Greece plays a key role

Greece is in a pivotal position. It is the point of entry for thousands of refugees, but has so far done little to comply with its commitments. Now the maudlin excuse - saying we have an economic crisis and Turkey is to blame - is no longer valid. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has to deliver. As a precaution, the EU has made it clear to Tsipras that, ultimately, he is completely dependent on the financial commitments of the Europeans.

Riegert Bernd
Deutsche Welle's Bernd Riegert

Hungary is not playing along whatsoever. Prime Minsister Victor Orban has, however, taken a beating for his cynical position. The Hungarian leader said he is now only an observer of this disagreeable situation, as his country no longer lies on the migrants' route to Europe. The EU made it clear to him, however, that his country was one of the main recipients of EU money.

Somewhere there is a moral limit. Partioning off, hiding away, walling in - those are not European remedies. The special meeting in Brussels reiterated this once again. But how long will this solidarity, revived out of necessity, hold?

Problem of external borders

The refugee crisis is not resolved thanks to the Balkan route summit, nor will it stem the tide, but the crisis will hopefully be managed more humanely. The transit of refugees from Greece to Germany will also hopefully become more orderly. And there lies the biggest problem for Chancellor Angela Merkel. Thousands of people will continue to arrive in Germany every day.

Until the EU's external borders are protected again, until refugees and asylum seekers can be registered and cared for in Greece or Italy, or even sent back, then weeks, if not months of the same situation lie ahead. It could also take months until Turkey begins to pull its weight too. Can Germany, can Merkel hold on so long?

The whole Balkan refugee chain will only continue to work as long as Germany and some other countries take in refugees at the end. If Germany or Austria close off their borders, there would be utter chaos in the Balkans. Some countries have therefore openly threatened the chancellor, saying they too would seal off their borders - making Merkel personally responsible for the swelling influx of refugees. The end of the EU as we know it would then be inevitable.

If all goes well, last night's decisions will provide some short-term relief. But further hard work is necessary to find a long-term solution - not only for the refugees' sake, but also for the sake of Europe.

We welcome your comments. You can share them below for 24 hours after publication.

Bernd Riegert
Bernd Riegert Senior European correspondent in Brussels with a focus on people and politics in the European Union