Europe’s refugee and migrant crisis

Political responses to asymmetrical pressures
By Ireneusz Pawel Karolewski, Roland Benedikter

The refugee and migrant crisis has been both one of the most important and most divisive political issues in recent European history. While often inappropriately identified as a pure refugee crisis, since its start in the aftermath of the Arab Spring in 2011 and in particular since its historically unique intensification in 2015, it is in reality a – much more multifaceted and encompassing – “mixed” refugee-migrant crisis. This article argues that the asymmetrical nature of the crisis paired with the uneven structure of the EU can largely explain how the EU has responded to the crisis. Three main aspects of asymmetry are identified in the refugee crisis. First, it is the asymmetrical character of the crisis itself affecting some EU member states to a much higher degree than others. Second, the uneven nature of the EU with its horizontal differentiation, opting-out clauses and asymmetrical burden sharing produces tends to produce asymmetrical responses by the EU. Third, the position of Germany as the key player in the bloc adds to the uneven nature of the EU and has in fact impacted heavily on how the crisis was handled in 2015-2016. All three asymmetrical features have largely determined why finding a common solution to the refugee crisis in the EU has proven to be difficult.

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