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World

Migrant Crisis Puts Pressure On Project Of European Integration

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

There are barbed-wire fences along some European borders. European governments can't agree on how many migrants should be settled in which countries. The migrant crisis has raised yet again that evergreen question, will European integration survive this one, or has what's often called the European project found its limits in policy differences over immigration and asylum? Joining us from Berlin is Daniela Schwarzer, of the German Marshall Fund.

Welcome to the program.

DANIELA SCHWARZER: Hello Robert.

SIEGEL: The question of European disunion has been posed for decades, over everything from French farm subsidies and the financial crisis to, more recently, the Greek debt crisis. Is this migrant crisis showing greater strains than we've seen before?

SCHWARZER: This crisis is definitely unexpectedly deep, and a huge challenge for the European Union. We've run through seven years of economic, financial, sovereign debt and banking crises, and Europe still pulls together. The euro's still there. But this migrant crisis really is a particular challenge because it is a difficult task for member states, and the European Union actually reveals that it doesn't have joint policies and joint instruments in a number of crucial fields of justice and home affairs, including border control. So the European Union really has to prove it's able to react quickly and effectively to this crisis, and if it doesn't, that would be perceived as a huge failure.

SIEGEL: Is Hungary an outlier in this, or is there a broader divide between countries that are very weary of migrants or refugees and those that are more welcoming?

SCHWARZER: Hungary is definitely the country that has taken the most radical measures, in putting up a fence to Serbia, which is not yet a member of the European Union. But there are other Central and Eastern European member states which have clearly said that they are not ready to take in thousands of asylum seekers, and those are basically countries that don't have immigration tradition, who don't have Muslims living in their countries, or at least very few, and hence it is a big political and societal challenge for those countries.

SIEGEL: To watch over this past year the Greek debt crisis, and now the migrant crisis, play out has been to see an obviously central if not dominant role for Germany in a question about the European Union. Is that role for Germany healthy, either for the EU or for Germany?

SCHWARZER: Germany came into that leadership role basically by default. And now in the migration crisis, Germany moved early, saying, we will take in many more migrants than we were expecting and we encourage all others to do the same. That was a definite change of policy from Berlin, and it put a lot of pressure on the others to do the same thing. The challenge forced from Germany in Europe is and that has been - that was very visible over the last few weeks, really, on the migration issue. It's very important to coordinate with the others because if you take them by surprise, that can result, in fact, in a political backlash. And Germany currently is seen in a very divided way. Some admire its openness and the solidarity that Germans showed towards the immigrants, but others actually criticize the Germany just, you know, defines European policy out of Berlin and should be much more open to consultation with other member states of the European Union.

SIEGEL: When the emergency summit takes place next week - the emergency European summit dealing with the migrant issue - what's at stake for Europe?

SCHWARZER: The European Union shows that it's able in such a pressing crisis situation to actually reach far-reaching decisions and manage the crisis on the ground. There's a huge opportunity for it, A, to deepen its policies and institutions in fields where it hasn't been able to reach a compromise and actually integrating in the past and hence to really strengthen the European Union. But on the other hand, if it doesn't manage to cope with the influx of migrants - and really, thousands are crossing the border every day and night - this will make citizens believe that this is a dysfunctional system, and not only the European Union but also their own governments. And this can actually lead to further political polarization and a strengthening of the political fringes. And countries which have strong left or right-wing extremist or populist parties traditionally are not strong players on European questions, so this will eventually weaken the European Union.

SIEGEL: Daniela Schwarzer, of the German Marshall Fund in Berlin, thanks for talking with us.

SCHWARZER: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.