Over the 60 years since the creation of what is now the European Union, the aspirations of its founders have mostly been achieved. No disasters akin to the catastrophic violence and political collapses of the first half of the twentieth century have occurred within the EU, which has instead enjoyed decades of stability and prosperity.
Since around the turn of the century, however, the union’s problems have been growing: sluggish overall economic growth accompanied by deep recessions and high unemployment in some member states; instabilities in the euro; and growing criticism of the alleged democratic deficits of EU institutions. These and other challenges have given rise to anti-EU forces across the continent, exposing the conflict between many Europeans’ hopes for deeper integration and many others’ aspirations toward national identity, sovereignty, and independence.
In early 2015, as the European migrant crisis emerged, most EU leaders failed to understand how their responses to it would add to the bloc’s existing problems. Few anticipated that razor-wire fences would reappear along Europe’s internal borders; that the Islamic State (ISIS) would take advantage of chaotic refugee flows to send some of its militants into Europe; that polarizing cultural clashes would follow from such episodes as the mass sexual assaults in German cities committed in December 2015; or that a leading cause of the 2016 British vote to exit the EU would prove to be the union’s immigration entitlements for non-British nationals. Migration and the policies used to address it have widened the fissures afflicting the European project.
Fewer refugees and migrants are arriving in Europe today than in 2015, but the potential for another surge remains high. It will grow higher still if Syria’s civil war intensifies, if the deal struck last year by the EU and Turkey to limit migration collapses, or if the chaos troubling states such as Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq worsens. In this context, it is disquieting that the moral and political challenges posed by the migrant crisis have not