Middle East

Arab Revolutions Threaten to Set Back European Unity

As NATO endeavors to synchronize the actions of European states with regard to the ongoing intervention in Libya, other events related to the revolutions of the Arab Spring are threatening to undo European unity, at least in some respects.

Passport-free travel can be seen as the greatest and most unifying achievement of the European Union to date, save for the establishment of the Euro as a common currency. Now dealing with an influx of refugees from the Arab states experiencing instability, however, France and Italy are calling for a suspension of this law, out of fear that the upheavals in North Africa, “could swiftly become an out-and-out crisis capable of undermining the trust our fellow citizens place in the free circulation within the Schengen area.”

So far, these calls have fallen on deaf ears. Countries such as Germany and Sweden, who normally have much higher levels of asylum seekers, have not supported a revision of the Schengen regime, which established the passport-free travel system.

Italy was the first EU member nation to experience a surge in immigration, as the uprising in Tunisia prompted nearly 30,000 people to seek safety across the Mediterranean Sea. It then granted visas to the refugees, which in theory would allow them to disperse throughout the European Union. Several weeks ago, however, France closed part of its borders to trains carrying migrants who were seeking to do just that.  Greece has also withstood a wave of immigration from the Middle East, which has placed an increased strain on its cash-strapped government.

This issue brings to light divisions in the supposedly unified voice of the European Union, and sounds an alert for possible threats to the development of the long sought solidarity of its members.

Photo Credit: rockcohen @ flickr