EU’s migrant plan is about more than migrants

The plan aims to relocate migrants in ways that both help them and relieve pressure from Europe’s anti-migrant parties. It will also assist the EU in rediscovering its reasons for unity.

Migrants arrive at a naval base after being rescued by Libyan coast guards in Tripoli, Libya June 29.

A good sign of a community’s bonds of affection is its ability to come together to deal with a massive influx of migrants – and a challenge to its identity. Three years after its migrant crisis began, the European Union reached an agreement Friday that shows, at the least, that it won’t allow migrant issues to split it apart.

“We have succeeded in obtaining a European solution,” said Emmanuel Macron, France’s president, adding that cooperation “has won the day.”

At a two-day summit in Brussels, EU leaders were under the gun to reach a deal. Germany’s fragile government coalition faced a threat from its interior minister that he would close German borders after July 1 if the EU did not agree to curb the flow of asylum-seekers. And Italy refused to talk about any EU business until other members stepped up to help it with a wave of migrants reaching its shores.

“Migration could end up determining Europe’s destiny,” warned German Chancellor Angela Merkel before the meeting, in an echo of similar political divisions in the United States over migration across its southern border.

In the end, EU leaders found solidarity around a range of temporary solutions, especially in relieving pressure on member states along the Mediterranean Sea that bear the brunt of migrants sailing from Africa and the Middle East – an estimated 54,000 so far this year.

“Italy is no longer alone,” said Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte after the summit. Or as Spanish Premier Pedro Sánchez put it, the deal continues “a European perspective to face this European challenge.”

The agreement calls for sending migrants rescued at sea to asylum processing centers (“disembarkation platforms”) that are outside the EU, preferably in North African nations, and that would be monitored to meet international standards of care. Migrants already in the EU, which include 160,000 in Greece and Italy, will be sent to secure “hotspot” processing centers in other EU countries, but “only on a voluntary basis.” In addition, the EU will invest more money in African nations that are the main sources of migration.

This summit plan is broad in ideas and still short on details. “We still have a lot of work to do to bridge the different views,” Ms. Merkel said.

With a rise of anti-immigrant parties in Europe, the EU has been forced to search even harder for a consensus on the core principles of the bloc. Or as English philosopher Roger Scruton states in a new book about conserving traditions, it is impossible to respond to a challenge from outsiders without first reestablishing a community’s values and identity.

“This means [regaining] confidence not in our political institutions only, but in the spiritual inheritance on which they ultimately rest,” writes Mr. Scruton. He calls this a “rediscovery of ourselves” and a way to learn what it takes to trust one’s neighbors.

The EU plan is only a small step in that direction, but one that may save the bloc’s unity and its larger purpose as a peaceful, integrated Continent.

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