Ashley Fox is the leader of Britain’s Conservative MEPs and an MEP for South West England.
The European Parliament resumes its business next week after the summer recess – and events across Europe over the summer should provide plenty to talk about. We have been dismayed daily by news footage of migrants in their many thousands on the move – destination Europe. We have been shocked by tear gas, truncheons and decaying bodies found in abandoned trucks. Not to mention the chaos in Calais.
The sight of parents carrying their children half way across a continent is heart-breaking. On an individual basis you want to help that family. But you can’t help half of Syria. That is a response – but not a solution. What we require is an international solution, but I stress that is not the same as an EU solution.
If other viewers react as I do to these shocking scenes, they are struck by the momentum and the freedom with which this tide of humanity covers vast distances. They move as though borders do not exist – and of course in many parts of the EU they no longer do.
The sheer force of these massed ranks in motion has exposed the glaring failure of the EU’s policy of sweeping away border controls. The principle of free movement has been central to the European project since the 1950s, but the dream of a borderless Europe only became a reality in 1995 with the application of the Schengen agreement. (It was named after a Luxembourg village where the deal was struck ten years previously: nothing happens fast here.)
Even so, Europe Sans Frontieres was only a partial reality. Britain and Ireland declined to join the party, and a number of newer EU states are still not admitted. There are now 26 states in the zone, including four countries which, bizarrely, are in Schengen – but not the EU.
The most obvious challenge to Schengen is the influx of migrants from Syria and sub-Saharan Africa. Often they will be heading for countries such as Germany and Sweden where they consider they are mostly likely to be given residency. Last week, Germany said it expected to receive a staggering 800,000 asylum application this year. Now Angela Merkel has followed her home affairs minister in saying Schengen membership may be unsustainable unless other EU countries take a share of asylum seekers.
The other factor is terrorism, with fears heightened by the recent attack on the high-speed train to Paris. Charles Michel, Belgium’s Prime Minister, wants a review of the Schengen rules and more checks on passengers’ luggage and personal details, tantamount to a restoration of border controls. Similar calls were made in 2011, when France and Italy were alarmed at the prospect of a wave of North African refugees and demanded a review of Schengen. Previously, Greece was threatened by Holland with expulsion from Schengen if it allowed migrants free passage to the rest of Europe.
This fraying now threatens to become a wholesale unravelling. Trying times, then, for the federalists for whom a single border is part of their dream of a United States of Europe. It works fine for countries with similar levels of development and economic buoyancy; but all balance is lost when poorer and less well-ordered countries are admitted.
As the Home Secretary wrote in last weekend’s Sunday Times (£), when free movement was enshrined it meant freedom to move to a job, not freedom to cross borders to look work for work. Yet last year four out of 10 EU migrants came to the UK with no definite job whatsoever.
Next week we are in Strasbourg for a plenary session of the parliament ,and part of programme will see the rather preposterous so-called State of the Union address given by Jean Claude Juncker (in which the Commission’s president pretends to be like an American President and delivers a long, detailed and hugely self-serving account of the EU’s actions and challenges over the 12 months just gone and those ahead).
Expect Juncker to indulge in a marathon bout of hand-wringing over the migrant crisis before concluding – as usual – that more Europe is the only answer. Happily my colleague Syed Kamall, invigorated I hope by the momentum of his campaign to be Mayor of London, will be in the chamber to answer Juncker on behalf of our European Conservatives and Reformists Group, which he leads. I expect him to challenge head-on the lazy assumptions here which see every crisis as an opportunity to expand the EU empire.
There are people in Brussels who will want to drive an EU solution just so that the institutions here can grab more power, gain more profile, seem more relevant. The problems we see at Europe’s borders are the tip of an iceberg. For every thousand migrant families in Macedonia or Hungary, there are 10,000 in Lebanon and Turkey. The vast bulk of this problem rests there. We are not considering what can and should be done for them – the aid that needs to be sent there or the refugee camps that need to be built.
For the victims in greatest need are not those we see on our television screens but the ones left behind – the ones who did not have the money, health or opportunity to strike out in hope of a new future. If you look back, for example, to what happened with the Vietnamese boat people, the whole world was involved in addressing their plight and finding them refuge. This crisis equally deserves a global solution.
As part of that, the UK should contribute to an international effort to help Syrian refugees. However, this effort must be voluntary and worldwide – never dictated by EU quotas.