The late-August headlines have been heartrending, from the continued violence of the Islamic State against both people and cultural patrimony, to stirrings of public discontent and rage over government incompetence in several Arab states. The latest of the summer’s tragedies came last week, when the lifeless bodies of 71 migrants, including four children, were found inside a truck in Austria. The horrific discovery moved the ever-expanding tragedy of illegal migration from war zones into Southern and Eastern Europe back into the spotlight.
Although many commentators have pointed the finger at Europe’s institutional failings to manage the migration crisis, much of the analysis has been compelling but incomplete. It is true that, various financial and budgetary pressures notwithstanding, most European states are still much richer and more stable than the broken and often war-torn places from which desperate people are fleeing. Yet the European Union and its member states have been paralyzed by their inability to decide between their collective interest and the preferences of each individual state. Past efforts to address the issue before it had become the daunting crisis it is now, such as the Dublin Regulation of 2013, have proved ineffective.* Meanwhile, only Germany has demonstrated any true courage and capacity to try to absorb a sizable group of migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers on its own, and not as part of a coordinated EU policy.
But if we dig a bit deeper, there are larger messages to take away. Two in particular bear noting.