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Sunday, September 06, 2015

Could Cameron's failure on refugees undermine his European agenda?

Despite his supposedly damoscene conversion to taking more refugees into the UK, David Cameron still stands charged with moral failure and political cowardice over the refugee crisis facing Europe.

It is a human crisis on a scale that is difficult to comprehend. About 366,000 people have come to Europe this year, with Italy, Greece and Hungary, bearing the brunt of responsibility for these arrivals. In August 50,000 refugees reached Hungary. Germany is anticipating receiving between 800,000 and a million arriving. About 2,800 people have died or gone missing en route in the Mediterranean so far this year.

Altogether, four million people have fled Syria of which 1.8 million have gone to Turkey, 1 million to Lebanon and 600,000 to Jordan. About eight million more are internally displaced. In this context, the few thousand additional refugees that the Prime Minister has said he will take amount to a totally inadequate response.

What is also important is the strain this is putting on the European Community. Already there is talk of the Schengen open-travel agreement being under threat. Whilst, the burden of so many refugees can only add to the wider financial crisis facing the Euro-zone, even if it has knocked it off the top of the headlines for the time being.

And the UK cannot isolate itself from that. We may not be in the Eurozone but our economy is intimately tied into it and our economic recovery could be threatened by further crises.

As if that were not worrying enough for our Prime Minister (assuming that he understands the consequences of these events and the damage they could do to his own policies), there are signs that his European agenda may also be threatened, not by the the crisis itself, but by his own moral failure to respond adequately to it.

Yesterday's Guardian picks this up. They say that Romano Prodi, a former Italian prime minister and EC president, has condemned Britain’s stance on the crisis and warned of dire consequences for Cameron ahead of the UK’s in/out EU referendum:

In an interview with the Observer, Prodi said the UK should have recognised the moral imperative – and economic benefit – of taking up its quota, which would have amounted to some 18,000 people.

He said: “I do think there is a moral obligation, but I don’t expect anything will be done [by the UK].

“Some 18,000 people for the UK is nothing, not at a time when the economy is going well.

“This is a general problem, the contradiction of the British negotiation. I think it will not be easy for Cameron to have a positive deal in order to come back to London and say ‘Look, I got a lot from Brussels’.”

He added: “Mrs Merkel’s position was not just a message of EU cohesion, but was also an intelligent proposal for the German economy because Syrian immigrants are appropriate to the German needs – the shrinking of population and the need for skills – 40% of the Syrians are graduates.”

If Cameron wants a fair hearing in Europe for his renegotiation then he is going to have to do some heavy lifting.
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