The current migration crisis poses perhaps the greatest threat to European unity since the end of the Cold War. It will continue to divide Europe — and imperil economic growth — unless and until leaders rededicate themselves to adhering to the immigration laws that govern the European Union (EU) and the Schengen Area. At the heart of these laws is a collective commitment to protect Europe’s external borders, keep its common internal borders open and free, and carefully register and regulate the influx of migrants.
Too many European leaders, chief among them Germany’s Angela Merkel, not only reneged on their legal promises as the exodus escalated, they publicly misrepresented their obligations under the law. EU officials and others, moreover, failed to recognize the malevolence of the crisis as it festered in Syria, Libya and other countries wracked by civil strife and anarchy. Most migrants have been victimized twice, by brutal dictators at home and now by a rudderless EU. Having sacrificed so much to get to Europe, they deserve better.
But now the pendulum has begun to swing back to where it belongs: toward strict legal enforcement and border control, and the search for a long-term solution that attacks the problem’s cause, not its symptom. Central and Eastern European leaders have been at the forefront of calling for policies that protect migrants as well as citizens while safeguarding Europe’s economy. Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been the most outspoken leader — perhaps, at times, too outspoken — about the need to abide by EU and Schengen laws that protect Europe’s eastern borders. Mr. Orban’s rhetoric has run hot at times, but that shouldn’t obscure the fact that other European countries are now emulating his border enforcement policies.
Television coverage in the early days of the crisis neglected to acknowledge border barriers in France, Spain and other countries. If CNN ever mentioned that the United States maintains border fences and at least on occasion enforces its immigration laws, it wasn’t while I was watching.
This crisis cannot continue unabated. As the Economist put it in an early fall headline, “Point Taken, Mr. Orban: Europe’s Migration Hardliners Have Some Reasonable Concerns.”
Those concerns are much more than “reasonable.” They cut right to the essence of European security and economic advancement.
Think of the enormity of what Eastern and Central Europe have been confronting: hundreds of thousands of people begging to get past their borders, not necessarily to settle but to use the region as a jumping-off point to migrate west, to more industrialized nations like Austria and Germany. It’s the equivalent of 10 million people showing up at America’s southern border all at once, demanding a passageway north to Canada. It would overwhelm our legal and social systems.
Most, if not all, of my former colleagues in Congress recognize that every country has the fundamental right to regulate the flow of migrants. Just as the United States balks at outside nations insinuating themselves into our affairs, these countries also value their sovereignty and the right to adopt policies that match their economic and social needs.
The only way to solve the migration crisis is to eradicate its root causes. The EU and the West have to take greater responsibility in ending the anarchy that reigns in too many of the world’s trouble spots. The Obama administration, which has been so negligent in pursuing our national interests in Syria, bears the biggest part of that burden.
It’s time for Europe and the West to swing the pendulum even farther and embrace common-sense migration practices. Hungary and its neighbors have been put in an untenable position by sloppy immigration policies and slipshod law enforcement. Rather than rebuke them for protecting their borders, the United States, the EU and other Western powers should applaud it.
• Former Rep. Connie Mack served on the House Foreign Affairs Committee from 2005 to 2012. He currently represents the prime minister of Hungary.