Annual Societal Security Report 3

Reinhard Kreissl

This report investigates European and national policy initiatives and public reactions to the influx of refugees into the European Union in the second half of 2015. Looking at the reactions to this situation demonstrates how a genuinely humanitarian problem is reframed as a problem of security and a threat to National welfare systems and cultural traditions. Investigating these reactions, it can be demonstrated how the idea of societal security is spelt out in a defensive way, i.e. public and publicized opinion and a significant number of national policy actors perceived of refugees from war torn crisis areas in the Middle East as a threat to the status quo, that had to be defended against outside intruders. As opposed to a reading of societal security, highlighting the resilience of democratic societies, honouring human rights, embracing multi-cultural and multi-ethnic diversity and providing support for those who urgently need it, hostile reactions and a politics of fear prevailed in national policy discourses. The events of 2015 and the often very badly coordinated reactions that followed provided the pretext for Euro-sceptic movements and political parties across the European Union to exploit public fears and xenophobic anxiety, fuelled by media. Policy initiatives at the European level addressed the situation of the refugees in a comprehensive and timely manner and developed suggestions and solutions for joint policies. However, the implementation of these measures was not sufficient and a lack of cooperation at the level of Member States proved as counter-productive. The influx of a significant number of refugees into the European Union triggered important debates about the status and the fundamental principles of Europe as a political actor. It at the same time clearly demonstrated the shortcomings of the present repertoire available to handle major crisis situations in a genuine European manner. There are a number of lessons to be learnt from the events in the second half of 2015 with regard to a strengthening of Europe’s executive capabilities, having to develop a stronger and more robust set of tools and capacities to control its borders and to bring individual Member States to adhere to joint political strategies and initiatives.

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