On the evening of Tuesday 12th September, the ANU Centre for European Studies (ANUCES) hosted a panel discussion on the refugee crisis in Europe.

The panel brought together researchers and representatives of the European Union (EU) delegation to Australia, including Associate Professor Matthew Zagor from the ANU College of Law, Dr Laurence Brown from the University of Manchester and visiting fellow at the ANUCES, as well as Bruno Scholl, Political Counsellor and part of the EU delegation to Australia.

The event gave an insight into different reactions to the crisis and its global consequences, as well as a comparison between Australian and European refugee policies, with panellists also including Associate Prof. Francesca Vassallo of the University of Southern Maine and visiting fellow at the ANUCES, and Prof. Klaus Neumann from the Swinburne University of Technology.

The discussion began with a brief overview and history of the situation in Europe.

“What Europe is faced with today, as described by some commentators and politicians, is one of the most significant challenges the EU has had to face since its inception,” said Prof. Zagor, who chaired the panel.

The crisis is not a rare phenomenon, but an accumulation over the recent years, with panellists referencing an increase in particular since the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011. Significant changes are also being brought about by this refugee crisis – for instance, terminology and legitimacy regarding the concept of refuge are being continuously and actively redefined.

“Europe as we talk about it today is, not simply defined by flows of refugees… it’s also marked by extreme mobility…” commented Brown.

Scholl provided good insights into the responses that Europe had been taking. The EU, the main aid provider, has been responding sufficiently to the crisis, he said. Improved coordination between various European institutions was also helping to solve the problem. The “HotSpot” approach, proposed by the European Commission, was one way to help EU member states to process, relocate and distribute refugees throughout Europe.

Traditionally, Europe has displayed “good will and bad action” characteristics towards the situation, but now they are operating on the basis of putting “good will and good action” together to tackle the challenge.

The cracks and divisions within Europe are also evident. The initial response divide between North and South Europe has now changed to one between the East and West. Historically, Eastern European nations are generally smaller and inexperienced with dealing with refugees. On the other hand, Western European nations are generally considered to be larger and more prepared for the refugee inflow. There is also no general consensus on the refugee quotas for the list of nations that are welcoming refugees. Vassallo expressed the internal divisions was something that “has to be dealt with.”

The panel also discussed the difference between the European and Australian approach to asylum seekers; that the latter is extreme and largely based on the distinction between deserving and undeserving refugees, a conception based on compassion or fear instead of rights.

“The bi-partisan agreement on asylum seeker policy in Australia is based partly on the mistaken assumption that elections are won and lost on asylum seeker issues,” stated Neumann.

He went on to say that if Australia were to follow in Europe’s footsteps, a change of discussion on the topic is required.