Amid civil war in Syria and Iraq, millions of those nations’ citizens have sought refuge in countries around the region and throughout the world.
The arrival of these refugees in Europe has caused a crisis that must be addressed immediately, according to His Excellency Henne Schuwer, Ambassador of the Netherlands to the U.S., who delivered the keynote address during the 14th Annual EU Day on February 29th at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The Netherlands, which assumed the Presidency of the European Union in January, has highlighted the refugee issue as a top priority for its six-month term.
More than 1.5 million refugees came to the EU in 2015, escaping a war that has waged non-stop since 2011. In that time, Turkey and Germany have taken in millions of people; currently, two percent of Sweden’s population is comprised of refugees, according to Schuwer. Acknowledging that the EU and countries around the world must accept refugees per the 1951 Refugee Convention, he said that the EU must allocate refugee distribution based on available space and financial security. “The Netherlands, a densely populated country, would have difficulty accepting huge numbers [of refugees],” Schuwer said.
He said the EU must task nations on its “outer borders” to act as an efficient gateway for managing the flood of refugees. Turkey has already been given more than $3 billion to create refugee camps, he said. Since the EU has no Coast Guard, Schuwer called on southern neighbors to show solidarity with refugees and work create a tenable situation in the region.
In addition to the refugee issue, Schuwer pointed out other matters that the EU will need to prioritize in the coming months, including the aftermath of the recent economic crises. The notable financial issues face by some members of the EU—such as Greece and Spain—should cause greater “openness” within the EU of individual countries’ budgetary processes, he said.
“We need to make these rules and regulations as stringent as possible,” Schuwer said. “We need to guarantee the reserves of banks across the EU.”
The Dutch Ambassador also pointed to two other challenges the EU will face: implementing changes dictated by the recent accord, COP21, to address climate change, and retaining the United Kingdom in the EU. As a member who eschews participation in the Eurozone, the UK could more easily leave the EU than most states. As one of the largest economies in the EU, Schuwer emphasized the importance of retaining the UK within the EU while disclaiming a situation where a member is exempt from regulations by which EU states are expected to abide.
“[The Netherlands] has a long history of trade, of partnership with [the UK],” Schuwer said. “We’re in favor of the UK staying. But we’re not going to create special rules.”
UK voters will decide June 23 whether or not to remain in the EU. Polls indicate that voters are fairly evenly split ahead of the referendum.
On the climate change issue, Schuwer said he was “optimistic common sense will prevail.” He said the EU must curtail its reliance on Russian energy, replace fossil fuels as a primary energy source, and continue to employ and advance clean energy initiatives. COP 21, an agreement among 195 countries to immediately work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, vitally includes previously reluctant China and the U.S. The global pact could help spur world-wide efforts to curb carbon output beyond the EU, he said.
European Union Day at the University of Illinois is an annual celebration of transatlantic relations and strives to promote a better understanding between the peoples of the United States and the European Union. EU Day is open to the public and provides citizens with the opportunity to learn about the importance of the European Union to the United States and its role in promoting international relations. Invited guests and dignitaries included members of the Diplomatic Corps from Washington, DC, members of the Consular Corps from Chicago, business leaders, state and local government officials, and faculty and students from universities and high schools throughout Illinois.
For more information, visit: http://europe.illinois.edu/