Of all the dreadful things president Donald Trump has unleashed upon us, the smugness of Europeans’ response to him might well be the most irritating.
The barrage of brutality and idiocy coming out of the White House makes us feel sophisticated and highly enlightened by comparison and, boy, do we revel in it.
The excuse for the current shutdown is a case in point.
“Every day,” America’s alpha-male stated live on national television, “customs and border patrol agents encounter thousands of illegal immigrants trying to enter our country. We are out of space to hold them and we have no way to promptly return them back home to their country.”
Only a wall can stop them, only he can get it built, and no one should lose a penny over it. The loss of life, on the other hand, they are quite willing to discount.
Though we would never admit it, both the sentiment and the logic are echoed on this side of the Atlantic.
Here too, the cataclysmic migration crisis is all we ever talk about. We too are willing to do whatever is necessary to stem the supposed tidal wave, except invest in real solutions.
The only difference is we don’t need a wall, because we’re ‘fortunate’ enough to have the Mediterranean.
The parallel is clear: ‘Fortress Europe will pay for itself’.
European governments might mostly be less boastful about it, but the sum total of our migration and asylum policies is just as wilfully obstructive as Trump’s: while mayors and local governments, churches, companies, NGOs and EU institutions are doing what they can to make migration work, national governments are blocking any chance of progress – and it is devastating to everything the EU stands for.
Unfounded and unspeakable
First, because it is based on false premises.
Any and all reliable figures show precisely how rare the 2015 peak was.
In the course of that year, with the war in Syria at its worst, over 1.8 million irregular border crossings were detected across the EU.
Last year, that figure had dropped to 150,000 thousand, 92 percent below the peak in 2015.
We also saw a tremendous spike in asylum seekers in 2015, with 1,323 thousand asylum applications.
Last year, the number was around 600,000 – again, reverting to earlier trends. For a continent of over half a billion people, these flows should be eminently manageable.
And yet, we hold on to a narrative that is alarmist to the point of getting pathetic.
Last week, the Dutch government accepted six (6!) asylum seekers off the boat that has been circling the Mediterranean for almost a month.
A “rotten” decision, Dutch secretary of state Mark Harbers called it, and the last time he’s willing to have his arm twisted this way – “next time they’ll probably be afloat much longer still.”
In Italy, the reception of ten asylum seekers led to a coalition crisis.
More worrying still, the majority of EU member states did not offer to accept any of the asylum seekers at all.
Meanwhile, the images of asylum seekers living in miserable conditions on the Greek islands – EU territory – really give us no reason to feel superior to the US.
And for all the tough talk, genuine progress on policies to tackle migration is going nowhere.
Any step towards dignified reception and responsibility sharing in Europe is quickly denounced as creating a “pull factor”.
But perhaps the greatest paradox of all is that, against the tremendous cost in terms of lives lost and damage to our reputation we have nothing to show for it.
We have delegated power to third countries and have given funding to outside parties, making ourselves completely dependent on them.
But we have made no progress whatsoever in terms of our power to truly shape how migration and asylum actually works in Europe.
There are legal proposals on the table on the various elements of migration and asylum management, and the European Parliament has reached a consensus on them.
From left to right and after months of negotiations, MEPs have agreed EU laws to deal with equal reception, redistribution of asylum seekers across EU countries, efficient asylum procedures as well as inclusion of newcomers to Europe, so that they find their way to language lessons, education and job opportunities.
The German experience teaches us that a pro-active way to deal with asylum makes as much economic sense as it does politically and morally.
On the other side of the Atlantic, Canada is leading by example.
We are the richest continent in the world, and we have the most developed and competent state structures in history. Now let’s show Trump what a decent and effective asylum and migration policy can look like.