Europe's Unresolved Migration Crisis Triggers Political Turmoil

Three summers after Europe’s biggest migration influx since World War II frayed social cohesion and threatened to topple governments, the old wounds are reopening.

Lingering political tensions over the unresolved question of how to control immigration from outside Europe have broken out into the open, and the fallout is reshaping alliances and stoking old rivalries from Rome to Berlin, Paris and Vienna.

The issue has returned most visibly in Italy, where Matteo Salvini, leader of the anti-immigrant League, lost no time in falling out with some close European allies over his decision to deny access to port for a refugee vessel. But it’s also forced uncomfortable decisions in Spain and is threatening Chancellor Angela Merkel, who faces renewed domestic turbulence over her open-door stance on migrants that could yet spell her early departure.

Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

The paradox is that the number of arrivals has fallen dramatically since the peak in 2015-2016. But diametrically opposed political positions are straining European Union ties just as the bloc is desperate to demonstrate unity in the face of other external challenges, from Brexit to President Donald Trump’s protectionist trade policies and the rise of China.

“The migration issue is clearly extremely divisive,” said Guntram Wolff, director of the Brussels-based policy group Bruegel. “How we deal with this and how we formulate a European response — that’s the real issue.”

Safe Harbor

The lack of a coherent EU response after eastern European members refused to accept their share of migrants helped bring the League to power in Italy, the EU country that’s experienced more arrivals than any other this year.

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