Media Call: Europe's Migration Crisis

Media Call: Europe's Migration Crisis

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Europe and Eurasia

Immigration and Migration

Refugees and Displaced Persons

Council on Foreign Relations experts Sebastian Mallaby and Stewart M. Patrick discuss the political, economic, humanitarian, and legal ramifications of Europe's migration crisis, as well as its impact on migrants and the countries in which they are seeking refuge.


Sebastian Mallaby

Paul A. Volcker Senior Fellow for International Economics, Council on Foreign Relations

Stewart M. Patrick

Senior Fellow and Director of the International Institutions and Global Governance Program, Council on Foreign Relations


MCMAHON: Good afternoon, all, and welcome to this Council on Foreign Relations on-the-record media call, which is dealing with what you all know about, which is the ongoing migration crisis in Europe. I am Robert McMahon, editor of, and I will be presiding on the call. There are obviously a number of fresh developments to discuss.

We are fortunate to have two CFR experts on hand to take stock of everything from the local to the global implications of what’s continuing to play out in Europe, especially on the southern rim. Sebastian Mallaby is CFR’s Senior Fellow for International Economics. And Senior Fellow Stewart Patrick directs the International Institutions and Global Governance Program at CFR. I’m going to speak with both of them for about 15 minutes or so before opening up the call to those of you on the line. And this call will last up to one hour.

So I wanted to give both of you, Sebastian and Stewart, a chance to kind of play off of some of the latest news. There is an ongoing meeting in Brussels that at last report was indicating a potential agreement on a plan to set up refugee camps—this is according to a report I just saw from the Guardian—to set up new refugee camps in Italy and Greece, as well as funding for camps outside of EU states to handle migrants before they would get to the EU. There was talk about settling a plan—agreeing on a plan to settle 40,000 migrants, but not the 160,000 migrants that have been proposed to be accepted into—across EU states. And in fact, there were reports that that plan might be watered down with the decision left up to sovereign states.

So I wanted to start with you, Sebastian. Given some of these indications so far, where do you see this leading at this point?

MALLABY: Well, thanks, Robert. I think you’ve summarized the developments coming out of Brussels at the ministers meeting, insofar as they’ve been leaked, you know, very well. I think the fact that we haven’t got signs of agreement on the more ambitious plan to resettle 160,000 migrants or refugees, you know, shows you to that the EU is always hard-pressed to make these decisions. It was hard-pressed to get consensus at every stage of the euro currency crisis and, not surprisingly, it’s hard-pressed to get consensus on this one.

The difference between the two crises is that at least in the currency crisis there was ultimately the single sort of central entity of the European Central Bank, which could act very powerfully without having a ministers meeting, was this time it’s the ministers and they just don’t tend to agree very quickly about anything. Even if they had agreed to 160,000 resettlements of refugees, obviously that’s a fraction of the numbers coming in.

And here I’ll just segue to other new developments from the last 24 hours. We’ve seen that the Germans, who had previously estimated 800,000 new arrivals this year, are now—have just raised—or at least one minister in the government, who is the chief opposition politician, Sigmar Gabriel, has raised that number to 1 million. I suspect that these numbers are guesses, but the point is that the magnitude of the inflow has been incredible in the past few days and so the estimates are going up.

And that just shows you, if supposing the million figure for Germany alone were correct, resettling 160,000, which was the stretch target of the ministers, is really a fraction of the whole problem. So they can’t even get agreement on a fraction of the problem. They reduced to a subfraction, which is the 40,000, which just shows the gap to what needs to be done and what is being done.

MCMAHON: Well, and just to take one figure, I think there was something like 20,000 over this past weekend alone arrived in Germany. That number might be actually a low-ball estimate, but that’s the number that Britain has agreed it would accept by the year 2020 to kind of show the difference in what countries might be willing to take in terms of accepting refugees and responding in this way.

But, also, I wanted to give Stewart Patrick a chance to respond as well. I should also add that Germany has—at the same time is raising its estimate—or at least one official raising the estimate of the number of refugees it would take—has reintroduced border controls. So have Austria, so have Slovakia, which is raising questions about how long before a broader number of states are suspending what are known as the Schengen rules, which were—which the goal was borderless travel within the EU? Stewart, can you pick up on that a little bit?

PATRICK: Yes, absolutely.

You know, the Schengen Agreement has been in place for quite some time, since the 1980s, I believe, and it’s basically an effort to allow free movement of people within the European Union. And there is quite—there are exceptions that—in which countries can shut them down. And occasionally, for instance, when President Obama has gone to Germany, for instance, they’ve shut down free movement—the German government has—from Italy and Austria, say, just for security reasons. It really depends how long the shutdown lasts and whether or not it becomes an enduring feature.

Now, with respect to the German government having had this—Angela Merkel’s agreement or offer to have up to 800,000 asylum seekers resettled in Germany, I just want to emphasize the extraordinary size that we’re talking about, though. That’s basically 1 percent of the German population. And simply the 170,000 refugees that have come through Hungary since the beginning of the year, that would be the equivalent in numerical terms, given that Hungary’s population is about 10 million, of, in effect, 6 million people coming across the United States border. And one could imagine that there would be all sorts of logistical difficulties even just with one government trying to deal with that.

In this case, one of the reasons—and Sebastian alluded to the disagreements amongst the 28 member states of the EU. What we’ve really seen here is the fissure in particular between what Donald Rumsfeld would have referred to as “old Europe” versus “new Europe.” It’s not entirely accurate, because in Britain there is great resistance on sovereignty grounds to being asked to take in binding quotas.

But what you’ve really seen is countries in Eastern European—Eastern Europe, the Visegràd states in particular—the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland—basically being very reluctant to sign up—sign up for binding targets, and particularly ones—a quota system that might be in place for future refugee emergencies, including this one as it continues to go on. They don’t want to be on the hook for that. And even in a place like Latvia where very, very small numbers of refugees were going to be—perhaps a couple of hundred were going to be integrated, that in and of itself was enough to set off protests. So lots of fissures.

And I think I’d say the German government’s decision to cut off—or to close the border with Austria is, in effect, bad cop after having played perhaps overly good cop in the sense of creating the major incentives to have Germany overrun by a lot of refugees. And Angela Merkel is obviously facing tremendous amounts of resistance within parts of her coalition, particularly the Christian Social Union that’s based in Bavaria.

MCMAHON: Well, both of you have pointed out—both you and Sebastian have pointed out that what we’re seeing again play out in Europe is the response of 98—excuse me, 28 nationalities as opposed to a cohesive EU responding to a crisis.

As Sebastian has pointed out, you know, with the currency—oh, excuse me, with the Greek eurozone crisis, we saw some of that playing out with different countries having very strong views about how they regarded Greece and the Greek debt problem, but now we’re talking about countries that are, you know, talking about setting up strong border controls before they even—before people even get to Austria or Germany. He was talking about Austria signaling it’s going to be setting up—or reinforcing and patrolling its border, which is itself causing flight of people who are trying to get out of Greece so they can get through Hungary and get to Germany in time, sort of this race to the promised land.

It seems to be just very chaotic, and the hope was the meeting today in Brussels was going to try to bring some sort of coherent policy out of this. What needs to happen to get on that path? Sebastian, could you talk a little bit about this?

MALLABY: You mean the path toward the greater cooperation on—

MCMAHON: Towards something that would signal that it’s acting as one block as opposed to so many different countries with different progress. Obviously it’s not going to happen overnight.

MALLABY: Well, I think it’s a test of German leadership, because what’s happened over the last five years or so with the currency crisis is that Germany—having always been the sort of diffident actor, you know, punching below its economic weight when it came to international leadership—did emerge sort of in the driver’s seat in the economic crisis. Before, Germany had always acted in concert with France, in partnership, and was very reluctant to be seen out in front by itself, partly because of the legacy of the Second World War.

And so there was always this kind of, you know, three-legged race, with the leaders being the French-German couple with one leg tied together. And that basically unraveled in the economic crisis because France was itself quite weak, itself had escalating debt problems and took a very different position to Germany, and Germany emerged as the sort of undisputed leader of Europe. So now we have this fresh crisis involving not, you know, cross-border movement of money but cross-border movement of people, and the question is whether that new-found German leadership is something that can actually drive Europe to a common policy.

And there was a moment, let’s say a week ago, when, you know, Angela Merkel seemed to grab the moment, the German chancellor, by proclaiming an extremely generous policy towards refugees, talking in sort of grand historical terms about, you know, the moral duty of Europe, and if we don’t open up to these refugees who are in such horrific danger back at home in Syria and elsewhere, you know, what kind of Europe are we? We will not be the Europe we want to be.

So she really lifted the level of the rhetoric and then used this upcoming meeting, which is today, as a hook to sort of try and put pressure on all the other member states to jump on board with that and come to a joint position. She’d got France, which fell in line. She’s got Italy, which fell in line. I don’t think she got very many other countries.

There was a moment when I hoped that Poland, for example, you know, wanting to be a good European, wanting to be kind of in with Germany and the big countries, might gravitate towards Merkel’s position, but hadn’t. It turns out that the sort of ethnic composition and the kind of cultural homogeneity of Catholic Poland is a very powerful force and they do not want particularly non-Christian Muslim immigrants to come in, in any numbers. And that has driven the Polish position more than any sense of European solidarity.

So, you know, I guess to summarize my answer to your question, the hope was that, you know, Angela Merkel and Germany were weighty enough within the European Union to drive the other members to get in line, but it doesn’t seem to be playing out that way.

MCMAHON: OK. So, Stewart, obviously the source for a great deal of this flow of people at this time is the turbulent Middle East. And this has been going on for a while. It’s reached an inflection point obviously at the end of this summer. Syria in particular seems to be the epicenter for the latest flows coming up through the Balkans, as well as people in the Balkans. Do you see what’s known as the international community—in this case the EU—operating potentially in concert with the U.N. Security Council, others galvanizing to maybe bring greater focus to the effort to try to broker some sort of a peace deal in a place like Syria?

PATRICK: You know, it would be desirable for that to occur. I think that it’s more likely that you will get cooperation between the EU and the specialized agencies of the United Nations, as well as the International Organization of Migration, which actually predates the United Nations, to come up with better processes for receiving and processing the refugees that are coming through.

I don’t see—a Security Council resolution that would deal with this crisis would obviously have to have the support of the Russians and the Chinese. And the Russians are busy helping the Assad government right now, redoubling their efforts to try to help refurbish some of his military facilities. So I don’t see that in the cards anytime soon.

One issue that, through the Security Council, the Europeans have been pushing, which may arise although the Russians and Chinese have some concerns about it, would be authorization for European navies and others, presumably including the United States, to try to interdict migrant smugglers within territorial waters of some countries including Libya, where a number obviously have been trying to move across.

I think that what—in terms of a solution or a better approach by Europe and the international community to this issue, I think it helps to think in three categories whenever you’re with—you have a humanitarian crisis of this magnitude. And one of them is the source country, one of them a transit—set of transit countries, and then the destination countries.

As you point out, one of the—most of these folks are actually genuine refugees or they’re asylum seekers. And asylum should be granted because, according to the U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees, at least 80 percent, probably 85 percent of the migrants that are actually showing up at Europe’s doorstep have—fall into the category in the 1951 convention that allows—that they have a genuine fear of persecution. They’re fleeing from war.

Now, admittedly, that’s a very difficult thing to sometimes get your head around to distinguish between an economic migrant and an actual refugee because those categories do tend to blur. But the international community can help—as well as European states, particularly those on the front line, as well as other members of the EU—set up transit—in those transit countries set up reception center and processing systems so that those folks get a fair shake but it’s done with reasonable dispatch.

One of the things that’s been alarming has been the proposal by Hungary under the government of Viktor Orbàn to basically reduce the time that it actually takes to process these asylum claims to about eight days. That raises major concerns about due process for those people. This is a process that can take months in the U.S. context. So that really needs to happen. With respect to destination countries, obviously you want to get European countries on the same page. They’re legally obligated to pursue similar asylum procedures, but you’ve seen them very much go their own separate ways.

The final point I’ll make here is that it would be very useful for the EU countries to come up with a list of what they consider safe countries; that is, places where folks can be sent back to without any fear of persecution. And I think that includes a lot of the Balkan states, and the folks coming from the Balkan states are very frequently economic migrants rather than refugees. And that’s one thing that the Europeans need to do.

MCMAHON: And meanwhile, to your point about working with the agencies and the EU working with the agencies, it seems to me some of that is basically properly setting them up to deal with the refugees who have gone just across the border into places like Turkey and Jordan and Lebanon, where there are reports that, you know, like the U.N. Food Agency is setting its donations up. Just—

PATRICK: Yes, let me pick up on that. Let me pick up on that just very quickly. You know, as many people have said, this crisis, because it is originating in Syria, where half of the country—they have a little bit more than 20 million people—half the country is either internally displaced, or in the case of more than 4 million, has fled to neighboring countries.

The problem is that it’s great to offer humanitarian assistance to those people, but they are not being accorded the opportunity to have—establish livelihoods to get on with their lives, to actually find jobs, and are often—and that’s one reason why they are striking out for Europe, because they don’t see any prospect of getting back into Syria anytime soon. And, frankly, they are not being integrated or assimilated. And one of the reasons is that they don’t have enough development assistance in those countries to help them make that transition.

MCMAHON: Thanks. Thank you, Sebastian and Stewart, for helping to frame the issue.

I’m now going to open it up to people on the call. I want to just confirm this is an on-the-record media call for CFR, with senior fellows Sebastian Mallaby and Stewart Patrick. Operator, is there any—are there any questions on the line right now?

OPERATOR: Thank you. At this time we will open the floor for questions.

(Gives queuing instructions.)

Our first question will come from Sangwon Yoon with Bloomberg News.

Q: Hi. Thanks for doing this. Can you guys hear me?

MCMAHON: Yes. Yes.

Q: OK, great. I was just wondering, are there any estimates on what the impact this crisis will have on these European economies? And could it possibly be that it could be a positive opportunity to possibly see some growth with such an influx of, you know, people coming in?

And I was just wondering if there are any kind of historical precedents to compare it to. I’m just kind of thinking off the top of my head—the Vietnamese, you know, influx into New Orleans, for example, after the war, things like that. Are there any historical cases that we can look to in figuring out a way forward? Thanks.

MCMAHON: Sebastian, do you want to kick off with that?

MALLABY: Sure. So, broadly speaking, the economic literature on inward migration concludes that it’s a good thing for economic growth. Particularly in a case like Europe, where you have a rather old population that needs young workers to generate the tax revenues to fund the retirements of this growing cohort of retirees, it’s an excellent thing to have inward migration.

There is some dispute in the economic literature about whether there can be negative effects for some subsection of the host country’s people. So, for example, if you had a lot of unskilled laborers coming into your country, maybe that would mean that the wages of unskilled workers would go down because the supply of that labor would go up. And therefore you’d expect that blue collar workers and unskilled workers amongst the native-born population would suffer deteriorating wages, exacerbating the inequality that we’re already concerned about in the West.

Now, the literature on that is actually mixed, so when people empirically try to measure that effect on low-income wages, some studies find that there is an effect from lots of immigrants. Other studies find that there isn’t an effect. So it’s kind of a—it’s kind of an unclear outcome. On the other hand, if you look at skilled immigrants, it has a clearly beneficial effect on the economy. So, I mean, the net of it all, with some, you know, uncertainty and some kind of qualification around the low-income—the impact on low-income native-born people, basically inward migration is a great thing. And that holds up.

There are some studies specifically about what happened after refugee influxes because there’s a sort of—I mean, there’s a—the reason to study refugees separately from other migrants is that when you have inward migration, you know, the motives for the people to come are economic so therefore they presumably really want to work. And the motives for the accepting country, if it’s legal migration, are that, you know, there is actually a sense that you’ve got absorptive capacity in your labor market and you can give them jobs.

So perhaps refugees would have less good effects on the economy because that’s driven not by economic opportunity but by political necessity, by insecurity. But actually, in studies of, for example, Cuban arrivals in south Florida after one of the boatlifts, you find quite positive effects on the domestic labor market. And if you’re interested I could send you a couple of sites. You can email me afterwards. But the bold answer to the question is, you know, migration is a great thing for economies.

MCMAHON: Thank you. Stewart, do you want to add anything?

PATRICK: Just to say, one thing that’s fascinating about many of these migrants is that—or these, I guess in most cases refugees, is that one part of them actually have smartphones or access to smartphones, which is just one indication of the fact that—you know, not to speak to necessarily their job skills, but certainly have access to technology or often have relatives in the country that they’re fleeing to as well. And just a suggestion that, in terms of that, they might not be wards of the state for quite as long as some of the—some of the opponents are imagining and that they would become contributors to the economy, as Sebastian was describing.

Certainly there would be a short-term hit in terms of the cost to these countries, but I wouldn’t want to speculate as to what the implications for their country’s GDP would be in, say, over the next year.

MALLABY: I mean, actually the biggest worry about economic effect of migration—the biggest negative effect in the literature is normally on the country that loses the people, because often the skilled people leave. And that, you know, can hollow out the economy of the provider of the workers.

The recipient of the workers is generally, you know, getting a motivated person who has moved to a—undergone a lot of risk in the process of moving. Obviously, you know, 3,000 people have drowned in the Mediterranean this year, so people who are doing that trip are brave and motivated. And so, you know, I think the ward-of-the-state worry is much exaggerated.

MCMAHON: Thank you. Thanks for that question.

Operator, do we have another question on the line, please?

OPERATOR: Yes, sir. Our next question comes from Charley Miller with ARD German Television.

Q: Hi. Good afternoon. I was interested in hearing your thoughts on whether the U.S. has a broad strategy beyond the 10,000 refugee pledge and the financial aid that’s been promised? And do you anticipate European countries pressuring the U.S. to do more in the future?

MCMAHON: I was going to start off with Stewart answering this one. Stewart, do you want to take this?

PATRICK: Yeah, sure.

You know, the Obama administration has raised its estimates for arrivals from Syria—Syrian refugees to about 10,000 from a low of around 2,000. That’s obviously an extremely small number. The United States right now is on track—a congressionally mandated level of about 70,000 refugee admissions during the course of the year. And many of those are actually coming from Iraq but not necessarily Syria. There was a proposal, which a number of Democratic legislators, including Dick Durbin, signed up to in late May, I believe, in which they suggested that the United States should take up to 65,000 Syrian refugees.

That quickly became a political football. Representative Dick—excuse me, Michael McCaul, who’s from the state of Texas and is the chair of the Homeland Security Committee, quickly suggested that that could become a jihadist pipeline, suggesting that we don’t know where these—anything about these alleged asylum seekers coming from Iraq. That claim is very much disputed by the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration at the State Department, which has reminded people that the refugee asylum application process is an extraordinarily thorough one, including biometric screening and screening for all sorts of things, and background checks, et cetera.

But I believe that that argument still has some leverage up on Capitol Hill, and so I don’t anticipate that the U.S. will go much higher than 10,000. But, of course, given just the size of the U.S. economy—and arguably some of the moral responsibility—obviously there are many—a lot of blame to go around for the situation in Syria, but—for, in a sense, allowing it to be protracted for so long or playing a role in its protraction. One could easily see an argument for the United States taking more, as well as providing a greater financial assistance. But right now I don’t know of any communications from European governments to the United States on that score.

MCMAHON: Sebastian, anything you want to add?

MALLABY: Well, just to say that if you’re worried about the jihadist threats, which is of course a legitimate issue, but, you know, one way of increasing jihad is presumably to have, you know, large—hundreds of thousands, millions of people stuck in appalling refugee camps around the edges of Syria unable to look forward to a decent life. I mean, that’s bound to breed jihad.

So there’s risks on both sides. You could let people in who tend not to be bad guys, but you could also not let people in and create bad guys.

PATRICK: Yes, absolutely. I think that—yeah, I couldn’t agree more.

MCMAHON: Thanks for the question.

Q: Thank you very much.

MCMAHON: Operator, do we have another question, please?

OPERATOR: Yes, sir. Our next question will come from Josh Siegel with the Daily Signal.

Q: Hi. Thanks for taking my question. I am wondering—you all hinted at the fact that Germany is kind of taking on this leadership role and, you know, it doesn’t look like as many countries as they thought are kind of falling in line. I’m wondering, if that kind of stays the case and the EU doesn’t really unite around this issue kind of what the repercussions are for the EU kind of big picture, you know, especially after the Greece situation as well. Kind of what is—how can this crisis kind of define the future of the EU?

MCMAHON: Sebastian?

MALLABY: Well, there’s been a narrative in Europe, particularly now during the financial crisis, which says that, you know, Europe is forged in the face of these challenges; that each time there’s a challenge, people figure out that the only way you can deal with this challenge, whether it’s a current crisis or migration crisis, the way you deal with it is by strengthening the instruments of joint action. And that’s how Europe gets to be more integrated and stronger. But that’s a slightly optimistic, you know, view of how things work, and I think you can equally well tell the story that in the face of these challenges there isn’t actually that much collective action.

And, you know, I guess on the financial crisis you’ve had a mixed outcome on that score. So there’s been some fresh powers given to the center. For example, banking supervision has been, to some extent, centralized inside the European Central Bank. And I think the authority and leeway of the Central Bank to act on behalf of all eurozone countries, including with nonconventional monetary policy, has been enhanced.

So there’s been some centralizing of power as a result of the economic crisis, not so much in other ways. For example, there’s been no issuance of joint Eurobonds. In other words, fiscal centralization has not happened in the way that many people think it should. But on the migration issue, we’ll see. We’ll see whether this creates better central mechanisms for dealing with a joint challenge.

So far, as I said at the beginning of the call, I’m not seeing much of that. It’s possible that if this drags on—and it could well drag on because there’s no sign of the end of the Syrian civil war. As I understand the numbers, you’ve got roughly 4 million who have left Syria. You’ve got about 7 million internally displaced people. Most of those people are therefore still in the region. They haven’t come to Europe yet. And if the war doesn’t end and if the life in the refugee camps in Lebanon and Turkey and so on is not appealing, one could expect that this flood of humanity into Europe ain’t going away. It’s going to continue for the next three years or something.

So it’s early to call the outcome on how Europe responds to that. I mean, so far this week it doesn’t look so good. But, you know, in the course of the next one, two, three years, who knows? I mean, it may be that Europe does rise to the challenge because the alternative is total mayhem.

And just to wrap that up I’d say that, you know, right now there are two interpretations of what’s going on with the fact that Germany has raised these border controls with Austria. Now, one interpretation is simply that the Germans suddenly decided there were too many people coming in. They couldn’t cope and the backlash was coming, so they had to stop it temporarily. But in other areas it’s sort of a deliberate lesson being taught to the Hungarians and so on that: Look, if you don’t want to do a joint answer, we can shut our border and all those people will be stuck in Hungary and then you’ll have to deal with it. How do you like that?

And so there is, you know, scope for everybody looking over the abyss and discovering that, you know, life without a joint response to the inward flood of refugees is going to be a heck of a lot more chaotic and worse than if you do sign up for the joint response, and then maybe over time we’ll see countries coming around. What I’m saying is I don’t see it quite yet.

Q: Sebastian, on a related note, so Greece was mentioned and it has upcoming elections. It was the European trauma at the start of the summer. Is there a—in some odd way could it be that, you know, as this crisis unfolds and, say, Germany, as you say, could step forward in a leadership role but create solutions including for a country like Greece on the front lines here, that’s currently a staging ground for tens of thousands of would-be refugees—does that send a message to the Greeks, you know, among others, that there is a way the system can work and just give it a chance in terms of a country that was very much disaffected by Europe but seems to be clinging to its—the EU project?

MALLABY: Yeah. I mean, that’s a very intriguing notion that there could be a sort of—by linking these two issues you could get better relations between Germany and Greece, because the Greeks are extremely furious with the Germans for what they see as German-imposed austerity, and yet if the Germans were to help them out with their refugee problem, maybe the Greeks would feel better disposed towards Germany.

I suspect, though, that that kind of linkage is rather too subtle and rational to work in the minds of, you know, a country which has something like 25 percent unemployment. I don’t think people in Greece are in the mood to give Germany credit for taking pressure off them on the refugee side. I don’t think they’re going to turn around and say, oh, well, actually the Germans are good after all. I’m not sure it quite works that way. So it’s a nice thought but I suspect the relationship between Germany and Greece is going to be pretty difficult for a while to come.

MCMAHON: Fair enough.

Well, Operator, do we have another question on the line, please?

OPERATOR: Yes, sir.

(Gives queuing instructions.)

Our next question will come from Shazia Rafi with Women’s Media Center.

Q: Thank you. I just want to go back to the question on Germany’s taking the lead and also putting on the table that the U.N. Security Council and the international community should do more. The foreign minister recently wrote an op-ed about this.

I’m just wondering, do you think they will be able to persuade, you know, the EU members on the Council, which is U.K., France, and Spain, that it is time for the Council to have a discussion on this, even if it is something that maybe the Russians may not lead to a resolution, because Russia has also indicated that they are interested in talking now. So, I mean, ultimately some level of resolution of this crisis is important.

I also sort of wonder whether we are making it only an EU problem. I mean, given this many refugees and the fact that this conflict is not going to end—Assad doesn’t seem to want to give in—it is an international community problem. So perhaps even the number that has been taken by countries worldwide is something that the Council could debate if the EU, which is bearing the brunt right now, were to put it on the table.

MCMAHON: So the question being, what are the prospects for a concerted international effort to finally, once and for all, step in, in terms of the U.N. Security Council, for example, stepping in on resolving the Syrian situation?

Q: Right, even on this issue of, you know, taking the migrants beyond Europe’s borders. I mean, the little boy who was killed and washed up on a beach, his family had applied for asylum in Canada. So, you know, if Germany is taking the lead in being generous and putting a million as a number, will they be able to persuade the U.K., France, Spain, which are other EU members, to table it, at least, at the discussion at the Council?

MCMAHON: Well, Sebastian, you were talking about that before, that there was—Germany was sort of getting some countries to follow suit to some extent, but was—the momentum seemed to stop in recent days. Do you want to talk any further about that dynamic at all in terms of other countries following Germany’s lead?

MALLABY: Well, it sounded like the question was really about whether this then moves away from just Europe towards the U.N. Security Council in New York.


Q: Yes.

MALLABY: I don’t have a view on that, but basically—

MCMAHON: Sorry. So let me—excuse me. So let me then ask Stewart, actually, about the Security Council dynamic first.

PATRICK: Yes, I think that—you know, at a—generally speaking, at a broad humanitarian level I think that there would be an appetite for some sort of a resolution or presidential statement on the importance of countries shouldering an appropriate burden for this refugee crisis. But what I don’t see is any sort of—partly because defining it as a threat to international peace and security would be, arguably, somewhat tricky. So you could have—I could see a general sort of statement of consensus on the part of the Security Council but not one in which they, for instance, authorize or much less mandate certain quotas.

One of the tricky things about migration and mass human flows is that, you know, unlike other—if you think about it economically—factors of production that—you know, you have free movement, or largely liberalized movement, of goods and services and capital et cetera around the world, ideas, but one of the things that remains very, very firmly ensconced in the notion of sovereignty is this question of control of one’s borders in terms of who gets to enter and how long they get to stay.

Now, it is true that once refugees get to the border you are not allowed to turn them away or to send them back to the country of origin if they have genuine asylum aspirations, but mostly these issues are handled at the regional level as opposed to the global level. There is an International Organization for Migration but there are—but, by and large, the arrangements to handle large-scale human flows tend to be regional.

I do think that the U.N. has a role to play in the form of the secretary general, who has announced later this month after the opening of the U.N. General Assembly that there will be a special session on the humanitarian and migration crisis in Europe. And then there’s also going to be a global humanitarian summit next year which will address not just this crisis but the fact that there are more refugees and IDPs in the world today than at any other time. So I guess I would have to say that I don’t see a major role for the U.N. Security Council in this particular instance.

MCMAHON: Do you see, Stewart, maybe—you know, we have upcoming the annual U.N. General Assembly, the debate, and this year there are going to be figures like the pope coming to speak. And the pope is expected to address this crisis as well. But do you have—you know, with Ban Ki-moon calling a meeting for later this month, potentially the pope and others using the bully pulpit in the U.N. General Assembly to raise this issue, does that raise the temperature enough to get some action this fall ahead of the summit next spring on the broader problem?

PATRICK: You know, I think it probably does. I think that there—the one thing that Shazia mentioned was at the—you know, the media profile of this amongst average citizens is quite high. And there has been extraordinary generosity, for instance, amongst the American public on this question. And one could imagine if some of the, I think, misguided security fears about, you know, terrorists taking advantage of this—and, frankly, if you were a terrorist, one of the last things you would want to do would be going through biometric screening and personal background checks.

So I could see, in coming weeks, the United States upping its agreement to—from well above—well above 10,000, provided it was able to do so on a bipartisan basis. I could see, obviously, Canada and others, but my point is that these are going to have to be voluntary offers. And I think that one could see citizen and civil society mobilization around that campaign. And certainly the pope, who has called upon, you know, all Catholic—the parishes, for instance, to sponsor at least one refugee family, will be lending his voice to this as well as the U.N. secretary general.

MCMAHON: Thanks. Operator, do we have another question on the line, please?

OPERATOR: Yes, sir. Our next question will come from Dulcie Leimbach with PassBlue.

Q: Hi. Can you hear me?


Q: Yeah, I’m calling from PassBlue, and I wanted to get your reading on Antonio Guterres, the head of the U.N. refugee agency, stepping down amid this crisis. Thank you.

PATRICK: Well, I would say that the timing—

MALLABY: (Inaudible.)

PATRICK: Sorry. Yeah, that the timing is unfortunate, but there are—you know, within the Office of the Coordinator of Humanitarian Affairs there are very talented people, and certainly at UNHCR as well. And so I think that, while less than ideal, I think that—I’m not sure that the U.N. system is going to miss a beat, necessarily. He was a very eloquent spokesman for—has been a very eloquent spokesman for the plight of refugees around the world.

One of the things that he has really tried to call attention to and has been very frustrated by is the degree to which the international community has not really come forward in meeting the humanitarian needs that have just exploded in recent years. And I think one of the major sources of disappointment—and it has great relevance when it comes to this particular crisis—is the failure—with the possible exception of Kuwait—of the countries in the Gulf to actually come forward as major donors and particularly places where refugees could be resettled.

You know, there are a number of large donors—donor countries that have emerged recently, including in the humanitarian field, but at least the Gulf sheikdoms have been far more enthusiastic about funding their preferred rebels in Syria than funding the support and lifesaving assistance for those who have fled the country as a result.

MCMAHON: Thank you for that question. Operator, do we have any other questions on the line?

OPERATOR: No, sir, there are no further questions in the queue at this time.

MCMAHON: All right. Well, I wanted to ask one more question, I think, to maybe cut this up, and we’ll see if any others come in which I’m asking, which is I think touching on what both the speakers have addressed, which is, in coming back to our initial focus of this call, which is the European migrant crisis in terms of the cultural adaptation that’s facing Europe, the cultural maybe backlash that’s occurring as well in that you have a lot of people from the Middle East—you have, you know, Muslims, you have some countries who are saying they would only consider Christians that they would accept as refugees and so forth—to what extent is Europe able to shift gears and take—first of all, take on this large new numbers of refugees but also refugees that are going to change the cultural—the cultural character of some of these countries?

Sebastian, could you talk about that a little bit and what you’ve been hearing on the spate from Britain?

MALLABY: Well, I mean, European politics has thrown up a lot of surprises in the last few years and there’s been a lot of sort of fringe figures who have emerged kind of as being quite central, after all. There’s been a lot of flux. And part of that has to do with economic distress. So you see, you know, Syriza in Greece go from the kind of fringe left to being the government. You see in Spain Podemos, this left wing party, come from nowhere and be as a real force. You see in France the National Front, kind of far right populist, being—taken pretty seriously now and definitely having capitalized on the stringent economic times. In Britain you have the U.K. Independence Party, which is anti-migrant but also sort of—you know, kind of anti-elite.

And, in fact, in Britain—just as a small digression—you’ve just had the election of somebody who was way off on the fringe who is now the leader of the opposition party, the Labour Party, this Jeremy Corbyn. As a measure of his position on policy, let me just cite two things quickly. One is that he’s just chosen a sort of shadow finance minister who lists in his own words that his hobbies include, quote, “generally cementing the overthrow of capitalism.” Meanwhile, that poll showed that if you poll Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters and ask them what is the greatest threat to global peace, just over 50 percent said the United States. So you’ve got a pretty hard left leader of what used to be a centrist party, the Labour Party, in Britain.

And in amongst all this is the issue that you raised, Bob, which is how does Europe respond to and adapt to this influx of people from the Middle East who have a different cultural background? And the answer is that over the years—and going back to, you know, stories in Holland and elsewhere—you know, kind of the banlieue in France where you have a lot of Moroccan, North African immigrants—migration has posed a lot of—created a lot of conflict and been quite divisive, and it’s been difficult.

Sort of assimilation of people from non-European backgrounds has, I think, been less successful than the assimilation of people in the United States. You have different cultures which are perhaps harder to penetrate, less open. The United States, after all, is founded by immigrants on the basis of a creed which is deliberately open, whereas the identity of European nation states is, by their nature, more exclusive. It’s defined around kind of language and religion and historical traditions and so on.

So I think Europe is less open, less good at absorbing people, and that has given rise to these anti-immigrant extremist parties that have gotten a lot of votes in some countries. So that does complicate this whole debate about migration right now.

MCMAHON: Thank you, Sebastian. Stewart, did you want to add anything?

PATRICK: Sure. Yeah, it’s this sort of remarkable disjunction between what Sebastian pointed out earlier as Europe’s medium- to long-term economic interests, which of course are getting quite a bit of immigration there, and things that Angela Merkel has also mentioned.

You know, as a graying country, a graying continent, there’s a real need for new blood, but as Sebastian pointed out, historical experiences of Europe being quite different from the United States and a sense of political identity and political culture in those countries is founded upon perhaps a bit more blood and soil than necessarily a creed of principles to which everyone signed onto.

Now, even within that, though, there are obviously tremendous differences within European countries. Those countries with colonial backgrounds have had a tough time often assimilating or bringing foreign populations into their countries, but there certainly is quite an experience, as you mentioned, with Morocco, Algeria, and France, and other overseas territories, and then of course in Britain with respect to at least South Asia.

When you turn to Eastern Europe, what’s remarkable is the homogeneity of many of those populations, at least certainly racially. I think there’s 98 percent white in Poland, 94 percent Catholic, et cetera. You have countries that have very little experience with immigration, at least from outside Europe or outside neighboring countries. So you have this combination of a real need for greater immigration and then this cultural backlash which merges with economic, often, anxieties about—particularly in Eastern Europe, you know, that we don’t feel as wealthy as those wealthy folks in the West and in Germany.

And then also this disaffection, which I think is continent-wide, with Brussels and—you know, the phrase “diktat,” or we’re not going to take any dictates from Brussels about who we can let into our country, that all plays into it quite a bit as well. So there are a number of cross currents that are a little bit inconsistent but that are helping foment this crisis.

MCMAHON: Thanks, Stewart. I’m going to go back to the operator and see if we have another question on the line.

OPERATOR: Yes, sir, our next question comes from Gordon Adams with American University.

Q: Thank you, Stewart, Sebastian, for doing this. I really appreciate it. And I was particularly struck by your comments about American policy because we have a tendency to say we have provided money but not taking in very many refugees and the Europeans are really the focus of this problem. And it’s true that they’re working their way to Europe, but there is a huge opportunity, it seems to me, here for United States to exercise soft power leadership in a humanitarian area. You’ve, I think, pretty well described it as hard.

The question I had is I know at least one or two of the candidates have suggested the possibility of an international conference outside the U.N. context, outside the Security Council. Do you see any prospect, A, of stronger American leadership here, or, B, of such an international conference ahead of next year’s planned meeting?

PATRICK: If I could—hi, Gordon. If I could answer that, I would say that it could be—it’s possible. The difficulty is that doing it outside of U.N. auspices one could see it at the G-7 level and one could as an item for the Group of 7, the leaders. And one could also imagine it on the G-20 agenda as well.

The difficulty in the U.S. political context right now, or one thing you’d have to worry about, is it getting enmeshed and becoming quite partisan in the sense that obviously uncontrolled migration to the United States has become such a football, and has been for quite some time, but particularly in some of the campaigns. And so, I mean, it would be interesting to see whether or not, for instance, in the Republican debate tomorrow night, whether—or Wednesday night, whether or not this issue comes up and it is actually turned to reflect on what the United States record is in controlling its borders.

But I don’t—I agree with you, broadly speaking, that in terms of exercising soft power leadership, if the United States was seen to be assisting in the shutting down of human smuggling networks was—seemed to be more active in dealing with refugee camps on Syria’s borders. Granted, we have spent $4.1 billion, I believe, over the past four years in helping those camps, but if we were to get—took a little bit less of a “je me lave les mains”—you know, I’ll wash my hands of the matter—approach, I think that that could pay some soft power benefits.

MCMAHON: Thank you. Operator, do we have another question, please?

OPERATOR: Yes, sir. Our next question comes from Amy McMinn with American Federation of Teachers.

Q: Hi. Can you all hear me?



Q: I’m wondering if you guys could speak to the role or importance of the Dublin Regulations in the EU in sort of perpetuating this burden-sharing problem, because it seems like with Hungary not really enforcing it, it’s kind of not considered as important. And I’ve heard similar stories with Italy and Greece. But I just haven’t heard you two mention the Dublin Regulations at all in this talk and was wondering if you guys could speak to that.

MCMAHON: And so this would be the regulation about countries on the front lines, their responsibility.

Q: Yes.

MCMAHON: Do you want to start out, Stewart?

PATRICK: Yeah, sure. Yes, I mean, the idea here is that—is that the refugee processing and asylum status determination should be dealt with, it’s my understanding, by the countries on the front lines, and that folks should be moving on unless that has occurred.

And in this case it was the German government that suspended the Dublin Regulations by, in effect, inviting those refugees to seek asylum within Germany itself. Now, that created a huge point of friction particularly with the Hungarian government because they believed that this was just simply an incentive—you know, quite courageous in some ways, but also perhaps had the unintended consequence of annoying those countries that were already suffering from this wave of migrants coming through the country.

So in the aftermath of the German action there will probably be some debate amongst European countries as to whether or not that principle is still operative, or what are the conditions under which it can be suspended.

MCMAHON: Thanks. Sebastian, do you want in?

MALLABY: No, I think that covers it.

MCMAHON: All right. Operator, why don’t you see if there’s anyone else on the line before we wrap. We’re just near the end here.

OPERATOR: OK, at this time I’m showing there are no further questions in the queue.

MCMAHON: Great. Well, I think we will end on that note. I want to thank our two speakers, senior fellows Sebastian Mallaby and Stewart Patrick, for helping guide us through a really wide-ranging discussion about the ramifications of what continues to play out in Europe in its migrant crisis.

This is an on-the-record CFR media call. We will be posting audio and, soon after, a transcript of this call. And I want to thank everyone for taking part in, and especially Sebastian Mallaby and Stewart Patrick. Thanks, everyone.


This is an uncorrected transcript.

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