THE many thousands of refugees now reaching Europe have done more than anything, except the euro, to expose the myths behind the European Union. The tragedy is that it is those myths that will prevent an effective European response.
The most obvious myth is that the EU is exporting its pacific virtues to its neighbours. A decade ago, this myth seemed plausible: after all, Eastern Europe was free and democratic. But now, Europe is ringed by authoritarianism, war, and Islamism. The EU is not exporting stability; it is importing instability.
Remarkably, many of the EU’s cheerleaders aren’t discouraged. They argue that Syrian refugees are a blessing, because Europe’s welfare states need more workers to pay their bills. Even hard-hearted Ebenezer Scrooge might pause before seeing the Syrian catastrophe as an opportunity to bring on new employees, but that doesn’t stop the rah-rah artists.
Before all of Syria – and the rest of the Middle East and North Africa – rushes to Europe though, we might consider this fact: in 2014, the employment rate across the Eurozone was 63.9 per cent. That’s over four per cent worse than in the USA and eight per cent worse than in Britain.
In other words, Europe already employs a low share of its working-age population, in part because its labour markets are rigid and its benefits ample. Those benefits are an excellent reason for refugees to head to Europe, but as a whole, the system is a self-licking ice cream cone, founded on the myth that European generosity is a cost-free symbol of its niceness.
In reality, the European system is expensive, and so needs workers to pay for it. That system also drives down employment, so Europe supposedly needs to import more workers, in the form of the refugees. But those refugees will soon become part of the same system, and so the cycle will continue.
The answer isn’t importing foreigners: first of all, it’s freeing the market and employing Europeans. It’s almost as though the cheerleaders are just ideologically in favour of immigration, and eager to seize on any argument to support it.
But an open borders policy isn’t popular. So now the media is full of politicians worrying (or hoping) that the crisis will see the return of passports to Europe. That’s curious because, supposedly, the EU will expand Europe’s influence in the world, not involve Europe in more debates about itself.
In reality, though, the reverse is true: the EU is all about itself. When a crisis hits, European politicians huddle and push like rugby players in a scrum. They’re not interested in the fire that’s broken out in the stands: they want to figure out who’s going to take the hit on the field. The EU is about burden-sharing at home, not sharing the burden abroad.
A few brave politicians, like Dan Hannan MEP, have recognised they were wrong to support the West’s policy of not having a policy on Syria. The longer the war goes on, the more Syrians have an incentive to flee. But most Europeans don’t have the guts to admit they were mistaken: they’d rather ramble on aimlessly about their values.
In the long run, Syria’s problems look like being Europe’s. That’s partly because the international legal structure for dealing with refugees was born during the Cold War, and was intended to help European victims of Soviet persecution. It didn’t imagine Syria. A 2014 poll found European publics are far more concerned about immigration from outside the EU than they are from within it.
Europeans now believe that first generation immigrants don’t assimilate well. So the final European myth – now so battered it’s hard to believe anyone takes it seriously – is that the answer to this problem are official programmes like Germany’s “Integration Summits.”
As an American, I often get the sense that Europeans believe the USA has a federal office somewhere in charge of assimilation. In reality, while governments can made assimilation harder by promoting multi-culturalism, there’s less they can to do to make assimilation work.
The most important thing is having a civic religion – a patriotic culture that is both welcoming and demanding. Jobs are important too, as is an educational system that doesn’t demean the nation. But the EU is bad at job creation, it seeks to replace patriotism with fluffy Europeanism, and when Michael Gove tried to reform the teaching of history in Britain, he faced a revolt that got him sacked.
Being serious about the refugees means doing everything the EU is bad at. It means ending the EU’s navel-gazing, prioritising job growth, and – hardest of all – admitting that you can’t have Europeans if you don’t first have Britons. The EU’s inability to do any of that makes it uniquely ill-suited to deal with the refugees, with Syria – or with any other serious subject.
• Ted R. Bromund is a senior research fellow in Anglo-American Relations, based at The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at The Heritage Foundation in Washington.