Five minutes with Javier Solana: “Europe must react to the refugee crisis in the way it would have liked the world to react to its suffering”

How should the EU react to the multiple challenges it is currently facing, from the economic malaise to the refugee crisis to the conflict in Ukraine? In an interview with EUROPP editor Stuart Brown, Javier Solana discussed why Europe should draw inspiration from its experience during two world wars in its refugee aid efforts, how the EU can play a bigger role in pacifying Syria and why it would be a clear mistake for the UK to leave the EU.

The EU is currently facing three immediate challenges: the refugee crisis, the tensions in Ukraine and the ongoing consequences of the crisis in the euro area. Is the EU in its current form able to meet these challenges?

It is true that the EU is currently facing at least these three challenges. With regard to the economic challenges, I think the solution is clear: it lies in the solid implementation of the new architectural components of the EMU, and I believe that they will be implemented as planned and on time.

The situation in Ukraine is highly complex, as the issue lies not only in the state of Ukraine itself, but also in relations with Russia. With regard to the former, we have seen two positive developments lately: on the one hand, the recent agreement with the IMF and, on the other, the new government of Ukraine, which includes some strong young professionals who I believe are genuinely concerned with modernizing the administration and implementation of reforms. However, time is of the essence.

In terms of relations with Russia, the Minsk II Agreement is fundamental. The situation on the ground has not deteriorated since September and the ceasefire appears to be holding. In addition, at the Paris meeting in October, participants concluded that the Minsk process would take longer than originally envisaged. This was a sensible and necessary decision: it is vital that the steps outlined in Minsk, including the local elections and constitutional reform, are well implemented – and this extension should allow the necessary time to do so.

What particular challenges does the refugee crisis pose for the security of the EU and how should the EU look for a solution?

First of all, in summary, it is important to recognize that it is both a legal and a moral obligation for the EU and its Member States to help refugees arriving at Europe’s borders.

We must not forget that many Europeans were refugees during and after the world wars of the 20th century. After the catastrophe of World War I, an international regime emerged to coordinate responses to such crises and to alleviate the suffering of Europeans who had to flee their homes due to conflict and persecution. Europe must meet its international obligations, reflecting on its own history and responding to today’s refugee crisis in the way it would have liked the world to respond to its suffering.

In my opinion, this solution to the current crisis does not lie in reversing the Schengen area of ​​borderless travel: our job as EU members is not to establish internal borders. I am also concerned that some EU Member States have taken positions during this crisis that are very different from the EU’s position, which is rooted in its well-known values ​​and commitments. The gap within the Union in this regard is extremely worrying. Meanwhile, election cycles and their outcomes do nothing to solve the problem.

Should the EU play a more active role in building peace in Syria?

Yes sir. In addition, the recent successful agreement in the EU / E3 + 3 negotiations on the Iranian nuclear program provides clear evidence that the EU can be of great constructive and instrumental value to diplomacy in the region.

Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and other states on the Syrian border have been experiencing the consequences of the extensive and terrible Syrian civil war directly and within their territory for years. The immense suffering has driven millions of refugees across the borders: Lebanon, for example, with its just 4.5 million inhabitants, has taken in over 1 million refugees, and over 2 million Syrians now live in Turkey.

Now the refugees have reached our European borders and territories. We see the consequences of the Syrian tragedy up close: These people are fleeing conflict and persecution. When it comes to alleviating the refugee crisis, we have to go straight to the roots, and that begins above all with active support for the peace processes in Syria.

In fact, I would have expected the EU to be more involved in these processes than it is now. Given the current situation, the reasons for the peace process in Syria have multiplied. The EU should not miss this opportunity to step up its engagement

In a broader sense, the EU also faces a long-term challenge arising from the shift of economic power to Asia. Is further integration the way to address this problem?

The shift in economic focus to Asia and the Pacific is evident and undoubtedly affects the whole world, including the EU and its citizens. China’s spectacular growth, which led to its first place in the ranking of world economies (based on PPP-adjusted GDP numbers) last year, is a historic change of tremendous importance.

Against this background, the EU should strive for an open, intensive relationship with China – and I am convinced that Beijing is also striving for this. On the other hand, the EU and its Member States have to adapt to the new reality in a variety of ways. The main problem with this is that we have to adapt again and again – but in my opinion it is unclear and rather uncertain whether the policies currently being drawn up really take this change into account and want to rise to the challenge.

The UK will hold a referendum on EU membership before the end of 2017. Would leaving the EU harm the UK’s influence on foreign and security policy on a global scale?

Yes, definitely. In our modern world it goes without saying that great powers can no longer act alone. A single country, even if it is very important, automatically loses its prominence on the world stage when it separates from the EU.

The United Kingdom has benefited significantly from its membership in the European Union. If it wants to keep its international influence and role, it would be a clear mistake to leave the EU.

Dr. Javier Solana recently gave a lecture at the LSE entitled “The EU and the challenges ahead”. More information can be found here.

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Note: This article reflects the respondent’s views and not the position of EUROPP – European Politics and Policy or the London School of Economics. Photo credit:

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About the interview partner

Javier SolanaJavier Solana
Dr. Javier Solana is President of the ESADE Center for Global Economy and Geopolitics (Barcelona-Madrid) and Distinguished Fellow in Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution. He is also visiting professor at the London School of Economics. From 1999 to 2009, Dr. Solana Secretary General of the Council of the European Union (EU) and High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) of the EU; and from 1995 to 1999 Secretary General of NATO.

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