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Coffee House

Would the migrant crisis have happened without the EU?

3 February 2016

2:21 PM

3 February 2016

2:21 PM

For those people already bored with the interminable European question, Radio 4 might get unbearable over the next few months. Yesterday morning the subject was being discussed, in the context of David Cameron’s ‘deal’, and someone from Brussels was explaining that ‘more Europe’ was needed to solve the migrant/refugee crisis.

She never got to explain further what was meant by this, but isn’t it actually the case that the migrant crisis is related to the EU? For example, would Greece face a wave of 62,000 illegal migrants a month were it just an independent country that had its own borders and a government with responsibility towards its citizens?

The inherent weakness of the European financial system is that it has monetary union but not fiscal union; this is the worst of both worlds. It allows individual states to be as reckless and incompetent as they like without bearing the cost alone, which is instead shared: i.e. Daddy in Berlin will settle the bill. This is what happened with Greece in particular, which should not have been allowed into the Eurozone but was, for political and historical reasons. The Eurozone probably needs full fiscal union, but to make such a large step would have been politically unpopular, and too much of a leap for an institution that used the Monnet method.

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Likewise EU migrant policy is a disaster because it is only as strong as its weakest states; free movement within the union would work fine only so long as the external border was strong, and only so long as the Union had one common authority that chose who got to live here. It’s like a group of flats that knock down their internal partitions to create a house share, only for one member to hold the world’s largest Facebook party.

You cannot have a club in which any members can simply invite anyone else they like to join and everyone else has to foot the bill. Likewise if the large number of migrants arriving every day in Italy were going to stay in Italy, not head north, Italy would do something about it.

Italy is the eighth largest economy on earth, and the migrants coming to Europe are not an invading force or part of the inevitable march in history; they come because the incentives to cross vastly outweigh the relatively small risk of death and very small chance of refusal. In states where the odds of being refused entry are large, such as in Australia, the migrant exodus dries up very quickly, as people respond to incentives. A Europe in which the European Union did not exist, and in which each state managed its own migration policy, would not have the crisis we now face.

I’m not suggesting that this would be ideal; in fact the European Union probably needs to move ahead and centralise its system of migration, asylum and border control, or it will fall apart. I wish them good luck with that, but to do this it needs to move ahead with only the members who are ready for such a leap. That’s the problem with any ‘deal’ David Cameron might get – it would only slow the EU down, when it needs to move ahead.

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