Blame for the ‘migrant crisis’ lies with national politicians, not the EU

Migrants wait to disembark from the Aquarius on 18 December

“The EU money should be for employment, not for cows.” Even back in 2005 Tony Blair was asking for a new European Union: more investment, research, innovation, and training, rather than 40% of the budget being spent (as is still more or less the case today) on an agricultural sector that employs just 5% of its workforce. And it’s hard to argue with that; the EU seems increasingly remote from the problems its citizens face. But is it the EU itself that’s the problem, or the way national politicians and governments put policies into action?

Take the European council meeting on Thursday and Friday this week. We’re set for a clash on migration policy. Something big is at stake: the EU’s principles of solidarity and respect for human rights.

Putting up walls to keep out migrants is not only immoral, it threatens the bloc’s internal free movement of goods and people. It risks blowing up the passport-free Schengen agreement, one of the EU’s signature achievements. With populist forces gaining strength, the battle will be hard-fought. The very foundations of the EU are now in doubt. Is this what EU citizens really want?

To be sure, the EU failed to anticipate the scope of the 2015 migration crisis. But today’s dismal turn of events has more to do with how national politicians have behaved than with the European project itself. Politicians should explain the complexities of migration rather than pander to anxieties and alarm citizens. Throughout history, Europe’s very fabric was born of age-old movements of entire populations. With so many desperate people on the move today, seeking safety or simply a better life for themselves, migration cannot simply be stopped. Instead it must be managed.

But there’s an obvious discrepancy between what the EU commission is proposing and what national governments are ready to do. For instance, Brussels institutions have published a plan for Africa, calling for spending of €32bn (£28bn) over six years and focusing particularly on infrastructure. Will the leaders of EU states accept it, even though it’s a bare minimum? Or will they try to take the easier route of building walls and barriers in order to allay the very fears some of them have fanned?

Look at the facts: the number of migrants arriving in Europe by sea has dropped spectacularly – in Italy, by

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