Europe's values are admired around the world. They can be drivers for peace but we also need to defend them - especially in the refugee crisis. By Martin Griffiths
As many have observed, this has not been a proud week for Europe. Our tentative, inadequate and partial responses to the refugee crisis at least gave us one shining light: the pledge of Chancellor Merkel to accept a substantive number of refugees. We might be tired of the bluster and innuendo of some other politicians, but here at least was true and principled leadership from someone who knew oppression and need. Now we are disappointed to see this high ground yielded in favour of a shabby deal which is both expensive and almost certainly illegal.
It is easy to sit on the sidelines and carp in this fashion. None of us can deny the force of the threat of unmanaged movement of large numbers of people. We all know that there is work to be done to update the Refugee Convention to cope with mass movements and not the individual flight for which it was created. We know why Europe has done this deal, but it does not mean that we applaud it. I know, from my daily life as Director of the European Institute of Peace that a high value is placed by people suffering the costs of war all over the world, in Europe's consistent attachment to rights and to the rule of law; in a word, to our values. We spend that capital quickly with deals such as the one with Turkey; and it will not be easy to recover from the cost.
European values outside Europe
Examples of the value of European values are legion in my world. Only yesterday I spent the afternoon learning about the divisions that continue to plague Iraqi Sunnis, thirteen years since the United States (and Britain) overthrew Saddam Hussein. They see the Iraqi Government as still biased despite efforts to balance sectarian interests; they stand back from the fight against ISIS and suspect the motives of the Shi'ite militias which stand forward; their differences over history and ideology prevent them from coming together to participate fully in Government. So far, so sad. But many of them see Europe as place of neutrality and responsibility, those qualities they do not easily find in their own region. Our perceived weakness is our strength: Europe does not carry the baggage (or the power) that is held by the United States. And this is precisely the reason why Europe is a trusted partner. We are disinterested and driven by the values of fairness and stability.
This same belief in Europe’s place as a peace-maker can also be found in the hearts and minds of Syrians. Europe has had no lead role on Syria - as a result Syrians generally perceive us as fair and honest brokers.These ties and hopes must surely fray when we make deals which are understandable but somehow beneath our dignity. As one Syrian put it to me: "I thought, at least you would be there when we need you; but now I'm not so sure".