The desperate masses moving through southern Europe will soon face the gruelling process of refugee assessment now that the EU has reached a morally questionable deal with Turkey. Panicking European governments have handed Turkey a political victory and sentenced thousands of migrants to an uncertan future. The EU will ‘swap’ migrants with the Turkish government, guaranteeing Europe only accepts successful asylum applicants and not economic migrants so villified by the burgeoning right. Turkey’s authoritarian state has won financial aid, visa concessions and possibly accelerated EU membership talks. In their rush to salve Europe’s wounds, our political leaders have struck a Faustian bargain that will haunt them for decades.
If the European project has a soul it is probably found in the strains of Ode to Joy and the high-minded language of ever closer union. The European soul is in danger of vanishing in a whimper. An incompetent response to the refugee crisis, the arrogance of the EU bureaucracy and resurgent hard-right politics are transforming Europe into a hideous parody of grand design. Only tiny Cyprus raised concerns about the deal with Turkey. Turkish armed forces still occupy northern Cyprus, cutting it off from the Nicosia government. Still, the Cypriots overcame their misgivings and no other nation seemed to care that a deal with the increasingly oppressive Turkish regime undermined the EU’s claims to be aggressively pro-democracy.
All over the continent bubbles of right-wing bile are bursting to the surface. In Germany, the proto-fascist Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) surged forward with anti-immigrant rhetoric and thinly veiled old-style nationalism. Mother Merkel is no longer the patron saint of refugees. Her remarkably humanitarian position on Syrians has changed. Germany and the rest of Europe is now happy to treat migrants like carbon credits to be traded. There is relief in Europe’s capitals while condemnation from human rights groups is shrugged off. Perhaps the Turkish deal will make Europe more secure, if less moral and honorable.
While European leaders sign away their values, the Kremlin looks on approvingly. Russia is playing the long game and so far it seems to be winning. Indecision has paralysed the EU in the face of Russian aggression in Ukraine. Vladimir Putin wants nothing less than a major realignment of European politics in Russia’s favour. The Russians support several right-wing parties on the continent, even providing financial aid. Putin courts eurosceptic politicians in a determined effort to dismantle the EU. Europe has little hope of confronting Russia’s strategy while it is so dysfunctional, divided and unwilling to accept the real threat that Russia poses. Moreover, as the EU shrinks as a moral entity, Russia’s shadow grows longer.
Britain’s Leave campaign can make hay from the EU’s inadequacies without realising they play into the hands of tin pot tyrants, would be Napoleons and shameless hate mongers. The EU has lost its way and cleared a path to its disintegration. Cozying up to Turkey to enforce inhumane policies is only the most recent act of Europe’s moral degeneration. The world may long note and regret the gradual but persistent loss of Europe’s soul.