February 23, 2019

A Rendez-vous with Globalization?

While the media report unprecedented arrivals of migrants and politicians keep mentioning how little time there is to reduce the pressure on Europe’s external borders, very few consider the bigger and deeper significance of the ongoing migration and flight to Europe.


By Martin Wyss, Chief of Mission, International Organization for Migration.

At the moment, it is increasingly difficult to comment in a meaningful way on migration flows to Europe as opinions, analyses and predictions on the subject are literally a dime a dozen. But while it appears as if anything goes, the universe of discourse is actually limited to a frame which can be summarized as how many will be too many. The views in the media resemble a rotating compass needle unable to find its pole.

Almost daily, new announcements are made by different Governments, and these declarations of intent are often cited as new facts in the media before their factuality has been tested against legal, diplomatic or political backgrounds: for instance the exclusion of Greece from Schengen, sky-high numbers of planned returns of rejected asylum seekers from Sweden, thousands of missing children who may have fallen into the hands of traffickers etc.

Maybe we are stuck and going in circles because our frame of reference is still too “Eurocentric”, and maybe it is time to reflect upon the recent quote of the German Minister of Finance who referred to the quickly unfolding developments in Germany as a “rendezvous with globalization”.

In her historical speech in Karlsruhe, Angela Merkel used Schaeuble’s image twice, and the Minister himself elaborated on its meaning during the WEF in Davos in January. Basically, what he is saying is that Europe is surrounded by a “ring of fire”, meaning neighboring or not very distant regions with serious, unsolved problems, and that if we do not wake up to the problems affecting people in these regions, the people will come to us, to Europe rather than going to Canada or Australia.

He thus proposes to build an alliance of the willing in order to put together a new Marshall Plan for these regions with the aim to reduce the pressure on Europe’s external borders. Although the term Marshall Plan has been overused in the past, it is clear that direct, diplomatic, political and financial engagement with regions affected by crises will be inevitable, albeit difficult.

If we accept that there is really no alternative to Schaeuble’s proposal, then we have to differentiate types of aid and interventions that such a Marshall Plan would cover, and to consider their potential for success.

Humanitarian Aid: The need to support those countries which host the highest numbers of refugees is overdue. It is now acknowledged by all that significant reductions in funding for the refugees in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan in the recent past was an unexplainable mistake. The three billions for Turkey have now been pledged and ten billion have been raised for Syria in one day in London.

Development Aid: In spite of many decades of exporting Western models for economic growth and prosperity development aid has not worked very well. In order to achieve sustainable development (together with democracy, human rights, “good governance” etc.), it was assumed, that all that was needed was more money, but this does not seem to be the case. The good news is that economic growth and reduction in poverty have taken place around the globe, but where it did take place it cannot be ascribed to money flows from Western development aid. Economic development requires functional governance which can lead to more investments and growth, but imposing functional governance from outside simply does not work, – too much good money has been thrown after bad already.

Military Aid: The Pax Romana had its limits and so did the Pax Americana, something President Obama would agree with. Compare the enthusiasm after Kosovars returned to their country in 2000, and the hope for some after the falls of Saddam, Ghaddafi or the Taliban with the unsolved problems after the short celebrations. What could be the solution for Syria, a humanitarian disaster as a result of innumerable, diametrically opposing interests and actors so at odds with each other that fundraising to protect Syrian civilians coincides with dropping bombs which force many more to flee to Turkey.

Many countries on different continents have undergone moments of great steps forward towards Western values which were held as universal, but in many cases the achieved progress was reversed. It is thus time to reflect on our repeated and maybe too naïve discourse on development, democratization, human rights and good governance, and it is time to reckon with the limits of our supposedly universal messages, our failed interventions and the lack of success the West had in exporting values, norms and rights.

We are daily made aware of the reality of Globalization, distances for information and goods have shrunken dramatically and continue to shrink, but we wrongly assumed that global interconnectivity would lead to a natural development towards global, i.e. Western values which we believed to be universal. To be fair some values are supposed to be universal, e.g. the declaration of universal human rights, but is there agreement on how to apply it? On democracy there is clearly no consensus, and even less so when we consider what type of democracy works best for the governed people.

Is it possible that the lack of success of Western interventions in exporting stability, peace and models for economic development may be linked to an almost utopian (some call it religious) belief that the Global Village must and will be governed by Universal Values?

If indeed, as Schaeuble’s image suggests, the part of the world with countless unsolved and unaddressed problems is coming closer to the more prosperous part, then it is time to understand that the few islands of prosperity can no longer be kept separate, apart or at arm’s length from a very different and for many of its inhabitants harrowing world.

It is a pity that by far the highest number of articles and pictures related to the arrival of migrants in Europe focused on the perilous journeys they undertook. Although it is understandable in view of the tragic loss of human life, the unimaginable suffering of the survivors and the many heroic rescue interventions, but I regret that the media did not pay more attention to the real root causes: from running for your life from snipers and barrel bombs to being without a job in Kosovo or Tunisia. I firmly believe that more attention will have to be paid to the real causes for the root causes when discussing refugees and migrants. We understood what provoked the beginning of the “Arab spring” in Tunisia, do we understand how terrorism can kill off tourism and job opportunities? Have we thought about the harsh consequences of lower oil prices for certain countries? And have we thought enough about the consequences of replacing authoritarian regimes?

In the main European destination countries such as the Netherlands, refugees invited as speakers in conferences and panels, regularly remind the audiences that nobody leaves happily, nobody loves to separate from his or her family, house, village, city, his or her belongings etc. In other words, they came because staying was no longer an option, and because they were forced to run for their lives or because they had to give up any hope for a future in the villages, towns and lands they called their own.

When speaking up in favor of welcoming refugees, it is therefore only logical and just to simultaneously address the root causes (rather than refer to them as if they were a God given inevitability), and to denounce the many ills, injustices and atrocities that forced them to flee. When human beings are forced to run away from other human beings, we can no longer act as if the causes were forces majeures such as erupting volcanoes, earthquakes or typhoons.

We live in a Global Village without universal values and with very little global governance, but much better global governance could be achieved if we insisted less on universal values, and if we invested more in evidence based Realpolitik.


International Organization for Migration http://www.iom.int/






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