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Migrant Crisis Raises Unprecedented Existential Questions For European Union

Messages of support for migrants and refugees chalked on a wall in Budapest, Hungary - Sept. 3, 2015.
Messages of support for migrants and refugees chalked on a wall in Budapest, Hungary - Sept. 3, 2015.

On Monday the 22 member states of the European Union plan to hold a special meeting in Brussels to discuss what to do about the hundreds of thousands of migrants fleeing areas of Iraq and Syria torn apart by self-proclaimed Islamic State militants.

European Union Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker wants the nearly two dozen countries to endorse a plan forcing member states to grant asylum to nearly 160,000 refugees fleeing the Middle East.

During his state of the European Union address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday, Juncker said there's not sufficient Europe in the Union, nor sufficient union to deal with even 160,000 migrants, let alone one million more coming in by land and sea.

"My impression is that Juncker is talking about the problem as it stands today. The east-central European countries are looking backwards. And [German Chancellor] Angela Merkel is the only one who is looking forward," said Mitchell Smith, the chair of the University of Oklahoma's European Union Center. "And she is playing a leadership role and saying, we need to go beyond, even if we can agree on this 160,000, this problem is going to continue. It's going to grow. And we have to figure out what to do about it. And we have to do it in a way that shares the burden."

Smith called the migrant crisis an even bigger and more existential problem for the European Union than the Greek debt crisis and whether the eurozone will break apart.

"To me, this really gets to the fundamental identity of the European Union and the values that the European Union represents, and whether or not it's going to be true to those values," Smith said. "And where things stand right now, is a situation in which there is a great deal of uncertainty about whether or not the European Union will fulfill its obligations in a way that reflects solidarity among the member states."

Smith told KGOU's World Views it's a crucial moment for the EU if it's going to stand as a meaningful community united by common values.

"The response, frankly, from the Hungarian government, for example, has been disturbing," Smith said. "Some Hungarian citizens have provided support. But the Hungarian government has taken steps that have been hostile, that have deliberately provided a hostile reception to refugees who have really suffered to get where they are."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

KGOU and World Views rely on voluntary contributions from readers and listeners to further its mission of public service with internationally focused reporting for Oklahoma and beyond. To contribute to our efforts, make your donation online, or contact our Membership department.

Brian Hardzinski is from Flower Mound, Texas and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He began his career at KGOU as a student intern, joining KGOU full time in 2009 as Operations and Public Service Announcement Director. He began regularly hosting Morning Edition in 2014, and became the station's first Digital News Editor in 2015-16. Brian’s work at KGOU has been honored by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, the Oklahoma Associated Press Broadcasters, and local and regional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Brian enjoys competing in triathlons, distance running, playing tennis, and entertaining his rambunctious Boston Terrier, Bucky.
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