The irresponsibility of EU countries, considering something a problem only if it happens within their borders, is unfortunately witnessed once again by the global community in relation to the Syrian refugee crisis
When the European Union was founded in 1952 it was made up of countries having had to deal with migration and refugees on a very large scale. The European Coal and Steel Community had a very limited and very different mission, which was to establish a peaceful and deep-running cooperation between France and Germany. It is largely forgotten now, but the appeal made by Robert Schuman and prepared by Jean Monnet was heroic at the time it was made. Only six years after Hitler's suicide, a French minister of foreign affairs proposing a common pool for Germany, France and the Benelux Union of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg regarding coal and steel production was extremely courageous, not to say more.
In fact, the European Coal and Steel Community did not deliver much, seen from a sectorial integration viewpoint. Monnet resigned from the presidency of the High Authority of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1955. Nonetheless, politically speaking, it has opened the way to larger perspectives of integration and cooperation, which should be seen, and indeed is being seen, as a great achievement in and of itself.
But there has always been a birth defect concerning the EU integration system, which was the absence of a master plan, envisaging a final level of the societal project. It has helped the EU to have a rather unpredictable evolution. There were long periods of stagnation leading to deep reforms afterward that were prepared and implemented rapidly.
Over time, the supranational functioning of the EU, mostly independent of member states, started to get on the nerves of national governments. Most of the sovereign rights, traditionally devoted to national governments, were shared among the European Commission and the Council of Ministers. So long as the European continent was divided in two, so long as the Soviet system was in place, such a structural problem did not do much to hamper the functioning of the EU.
Once the Socialist system imploded and Europe was reunited, the EU system became the single valid societal project on the continent. What the EU had in hand as an ideology at the time the Berlin Wall was being torn down, was the Single Market Act of 1993. The objective was definitely revolutionary, putting the stress on the supra-nationalization of the EU system, expanding the whole system to new areas, not least cooperation in domestic issues. This new area of cooperation, mostly rendered imperative by the removal of internal frontiers, has brought together member state governments on an unchartered field. With the Maastricht Treaty, gradually EU states implemented a more or less harmonized system of visas, asylum and immigration. The system, which had cornerstones at the time of the Schengen Agreement, Rapid Border Intervention Teams (RABIT), the European Migration Network (EMN), the European Pact on Immigration and Asylum, the European Blue Card and the Common European Asylum System has been gradually put in place.
However, the whole approach was to limit as much as possible the influx of migrants and refugees into the EU, favoring highly qualified immigrants from developed countries. It did not give enough tangible results, so each time the system was revised to better control the external borders of the EU and to reject as much as possible demands for asylum motivated by economic needs.
Since the Arab uprising and the drought in sub-Saharan Africa, the EU stance to contain immigration has become totally obsolete. People are desperate to save their lives and honor so they take every risk to reach the EU. These are not the most helpless people, because becoming a refugee requires a certain amount of wealth and illegal networks of migration require lots of money. The really helpless people remain in their home regions or countries and either get killed or try to survive in terrible conditions. The remaining populations that by chance live next to democratic countries like Turkey or Lebanon survive in refugee camps. The immense majority of these people stay in the first country of destination. A sizeable minority try to travel onward to EU countries through Libya to the Italian island of Lampedusa, or through Turkey to the Greek islands.
Once in the EU, these people do not want to ask for political asylum in the first EU country they reach because if their demand is refused once, they will not have the possibility to file another demand in another EU country. So there is another voyage to be completed through illegal routes in the EU, mostly toward Germany or the U.K.
At that level, EU governments do not have enough legal structure to act as one. France has established refugee camps by Pas-de-Calais, the furthest point of entry of illegal migrants in France. Why? To let them "flee" to the U.K. through the tunnel under the English Channel. Greece obviously looks elsewhere when hordes of illegal migrants try to cross the border to Macedonia. Serbia has seen Hungary establishing fences along its border, supposedly to stop the flow of illegal migrants. Everyone, in Europe, Turkey included, is establishing physical obstacles, fences or walls alongside their borders to better control the refugee influx.
Will this help? Occasionally few numbers of refugees could be sent back to Turkey, which has signed the readmission agreement. For Libya, there is neither a unified government nor an administration, which proves to be much more difficult. In Lebanon there is one refugee for every four Lebanese citizens - how could people be sent back there?
But more importantly, the absence of an ideology in the EU has pushed some countries and governments to state openly that they would accept a, be it very limited, number of refugees provided they are Christian. This is a very dangerous stance in a world already divided in terms of religious appurtenance. Germany, the largest Christian country in the EU, has opted to take 800,000 refugees a year, without taking into consideration their religion. This is a very blunt and important step, taken by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the head of the Christian Democratic Union. It is courageous and determined. It also shows that Germany has overtly taken the lead in a change of political stance much before France, as in not usual in EU history.
The establishment of refugee camps and asylum desks in Turkey jointly with Germany can to some extent alleviate the number of migrants in EU countries, but it will not be a solution to the refugee problem. It took the images of very young drowned children in the European mass media to incite some governments to take bold steps. The dead children were not African; they looked and dressed very much like Europeans. Maybe that was the one thing too many. Maybe it is still not enough for the European public to discover the atrocity of the whole influx. But there are steps to implement a global system to tackle the issue, and Turkey is part of it. This is the only positive advancement.