Can collectivity overcome the demands posed by state sovereignty in a crumbling Union? Seeking a collective solution to the migrant crisis could constitute the first of many steps to resolving the broader European identity crisis; if states are willing to come to a solution, that is. What will follow forms a personal reflection on the current state of affairs in Europe, based on some of the perspectives highlighted in the Dutch-German Forum 2017.
While the European Commission is vigorously working on collective solutions to the migration problem, member states are less than eager to come to a qualified majority agreement. The core issue here is the tension between, on the one hand, European solidarity, and on the other hand, responsibility to be taken by the individual member states.
„If we cannot do what we must do, we must do what we cannot do”
In the absence of collective solutions, member states have been forced to take individual responsibility in the matter. One instance of this can be observed in the reintroduction of border controls in France, Germany, Austria, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, in response to the failure of Schengen and Dublin. Although these measures are temporary and provided for in the Schengen Borders Code, the legal limits are unclear. There is no telling if and when member-states will be willing to give up this power.
Another instance is the increased competences judges from various member states have taken on in assessing the asylum condition in other states. Rather than merely applying the provisions of the Dublin agreement, national judiciaries have been increasingly engaged in interpreting and analyzing data provided by NGOs on reception conditions in European states; and, on the basis of that, making decisions about the legality of acceptance of Dublin transfers to specific states. This development might, on the one hand, be seen as the taking of responsibility, on the other hand, however, it could be interpreted as a demand for increased sovereign ability to act within the migration crisis, or more broadly within the European crisis.
Crises command compromise
Some would say that Europe grows stronger through its crises. But perhaps crises only become catalysts for collective decision making, because the dire situation demands politics to make the decisions they should have long taken.
The relationship between the European Union and its member states is fraught with tensions: solidarity versus responsibility, freedom versus security, and most importantly the need to ensure sovereignty of member states versus the desire to come to collective solutions. Crises thus have the potential to create the conditions where nation-states can be sufficiently cornered for a compromise to be made with regard to their sovereign powers. This may enable Europe to move on a collective basis, but where one crisis follows another, state sovereignty supporting this collective framework might be stretched thin. Particularly in the context of migration and integration, which can be seen as the core prerogative of states, the evermore decreasing sovereignty of nation-states is bound to cause problems for the unhindered development of a collective European approach.
If the developments discussed above are indicative of a common trend, more actions reclaiming sovereignty can be expected by the member-states; especially in light of Brexit. When collectively desirable solutions remain absent, sovereign solutions might be the only options to retain limited control over the current crisis. Europe must tread carefully, as not to break the overstretched thread of sovereignty, that is keeping the fragile balance of solidarity, responsibility, freedom, and security, in place.