Failure Project Europe: Ogden on Frexit & the Cost of Visa Liberalization


Brussels will be shaking at the knees as the French presidential election approaches. While Emmanuel Macron's central 'En Marche!' campaign has gained slightly in the polls, an attempted terrorist attack this week at Orly airport in Paris could well see Marine le Pen snatch victory. With both Britain voting to leave the European Union and Donald Trump seeing off Hillary Clinton in defiance of predictions, 2016 certainly showed that the political underdog can win against the odds.

Perhaps in years prior, voters might have thought that casting their ballot for fringe contenders was a waste of their only chance to democratically make themselves heard, but two consecutive shocking wins for platforms perceived to be anti-immigration and nationalistic will likely have dispelled this notion. Should Marine le Pen, an anti-immigration, tough-on-terrorism Eurosceptic, prove victorious, she will likely initiate a Frexit, and the European Union's future will appear more uncertain than ever.

(This would, incidentally, be rather helpful for Britain, which is floundering in a sea of Euro-anger and threats of being taken to court if London fails to pay a £50 billion divorce bill.)

Beyond the infighting and inability to come to any agreement on the plethora of issues facing the continent, the European Union also does itself no favors with the countries that aspire to be a part of it. Its 'mañana, mañana' approach to Georgia gradually caused simmering resentment amongst parts of the local population, and while this has receded slightly in the face of the EU's agreement to grant Georgians visa-free access to the Schengen zone, remarks made by Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz could well cause a rise in Euroscepticism.

Kurz suggested that to alleviate the burden being placed on EU nations struggling to accommodate Angela Merkel's open-door refugee policy, EU partner states could take asylum seekers of their own. Vienna's subsequent attempts to deal with the Georgian uproar by claiming that his comments had been taken out of context failed entirely; his comments, after all, were not of the kind that could be wholly misinterpreted.

Many Georgians understood this as being the price the country must pay for its visa waiver to the EU. While this was hotly denied by Brussels (and the Georgian people being prone to believing conspiracy theories, especially ones of their own making), the timing could not have been poorer, and although it is likely that no formal demand was made that Tbilisi should accommodate migrants in return for a visa waiver, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that Brussels had hoped that Georgia would acquiesce in grovelling gratitude.

Most of the recent terrorist attacks in Europe have been carried out by migrants, and the alarming number of sexual assault cases across the continent is also due to Europe's new arrivals having rather different ideas about consent, equality, and the rights of women. Doubt has also been raised over the age of many migrants without identification, as many claiming to be teenagers appear far older. These would all be reason enough for Georgia to be alarmed at the thought of introducing thousands of refugees into the country, if not also due to the dire situation that Georgia faces itself.

Georgia lives in perpetual fear of Russian aggression, and South Ossetia's upcoming formal referendum on joining the Russian Federation will hardly improve matters. In addition, the economic conditions of the vast majority of the population remains dire, and so how Georgia was expected to help the refugee horde when it can hardly serve its own people was left unexplained.

Whether the Austrian FM's remarks were a result of inexcusable ignorance or simply an example of the callousness that eastern EU members feel their western counterparts treat them with, Kurz has helped put a sizeable dent in the surge of optimism felt after Georgia's visa liberalization. If Miss le Pen clinches victory and France follows Britain into European exile, then prospective as well as current EU members might decide that the 'European project' has proved a failure.

Tim Ogden

23 March 2017 20:50