In the court of global punditry, the EU has taken a severe beating lately in three different yet related areas: illegal immigration, the Greek drama and the Ukrainian crisis. Let the accused stand and defend itself.
As a starter, the question of guilt is far from proven in all three cases. To see where prime responsibility sits for the atrocious drownings of immigrants in the Mediterranean, it is best to look first at those standing by while their people flee, including such relative democratic paragons as Nigeria and Senegal.
The case of Senegal is particularly interesting. On occasion of the last illegal immigration crisis in the Mediterranean some ten years ago, a bilateral treaty with Spain, and its strict enforcement in West Africa, cut the number of boat migrants arriving off the Canary Islands from 32,000 in 2006 to a mere 340 in 2011.
Of course, in the present crisis involving Syrian refugees, there is no state for Europe to deal with. As for Libya, its ruthless warlords not only won't prevent illegal passage but are actually the main parties profiting from it. Still, in the case of Syria at least, the UN system of transient camps in the region, coupled with substantially more European cash, could basically allow for a more controllable immigration process. This would in turn give European politicians time to explain to their voters, constantly harangued by the likes of Le Pen, Farage and others 'to just close the borders', that Europe needs and should welcome a higher number of legal immigrants.
While in Australia illegal immigration can be controlled by virtue of geography (partly through questionable methods), the same is simply not the case for Europe, whether at its exterior borders or within. If you plug one hole, another will open. At best, Europe can develop temporary solutions to channel flows (it can also institute measures to stabilise failed states, but we all know how difficult that is).
It is in this context that Khalid Koser's otherwise excellent recent piece, 'What can Europe learn from Australia about stopping the boats', doesn't quite hold up. To compare Australia's quota of resettling refugees with the EU as a whole is polemical at best. In Europe's case, illegal immigrants (a multiple of those arriving legally) have to be factored in. Then the numbers look substantially different.
At this point, I cannot but add that the recent one-upmanship from Down Under tends to go down badly here in Europe, be it of the military kind — 'why don't you start controlling your borders?' — or of the professorial kind, as is the case with a Greek-Australian masquerading as a bona fide Minister of Finance in Athens.
Which brings us to Greece, where assigning guilt for the crisis gets easier: it's the Greeks, dummy! Or at least its political, financial and economic elite, both within the country and especially without. As a seriously rich school buddy of mine points out, and I quote: 'If my Greek friends in Geneva would pool some of their cash, instead of buying up property in Gstaad and Manhattan, Athens would be out of financial troubles tomorrow.' The country just wasn't serious over many decades about treating all its citizens equally (just look what happened to the famous Lagarde List once it landed in Athens) and it is paying for it now.
Also, Greek obstructionism within the EU decision-making process is far from recent. To cite only two blatant cases, Athens is the main reason why a solution to the division of Cyprus remains elusive, and that a bona fide independent country, Macedonia, still has to cope with the grotesque official designation of FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia).
Even less ink needs to be spilt on the Ukraine crisis. It's Putin who is to blame, full stop. True, since the country's independence in 1990, Ukraine's government has been inept, corrupt and undemocratic, at least until very recently. But the Russian aggression, first in the Crimea, then in the Donbas and likely soon in the south-east, is of an entirely different order. It has not only triggered the most serious east-west crisis since the Cold War but has also precipitated a Ukrainian plea for full EU membership much earlier than Brussels can cope with it.
The pundits say Europe is in crisis. Its institutions were wrongly constructed, they argue, and it cannot get its act together. Why then do so many — immigrants as well as large majority of Greeks and Ukrainians — want nothing more than to get in or stay in? And why would Putin wreck the Helsinki-based order, and his own country, to keep his neighbors out of it?