• Entering its second last day, the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting has discussed the glaring issue of influx of refugees to Europe and what it means to the continent.

    In 2015, the rate at which refugees entered Europe increased causing an uproar from many leaders and citizens alike concerned about security and the future of their economies.

    While the arrival of refugees and migrants in Europe posed as a challenge in terms of governments spending so much to deal with the crisis, this could also be a gateway to growing the economy, European Central Bank (ECB) President Mario Draghi told participants at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2016.

    “One driver of the economy, which still hasn’t deployed its effect, is the probable increasing government expenditure to cope with the refugees,” he said. “For Europe, the refugees are a challenge and an opportunity. Our society will change, in which direction one can only guess. The government expenditure needed to cope with this challenge could be a large stimulus to growth.”

    This highly debated issue has caused division among Europe’s leaders over how to handle refugees freeing persecution and war especially with the rise of populists and xenophobic parties.  

    When refugees started arriving en mass, German’s Chancellor Angela Merkel took a strong, principled stand and opened German borders. This move made her constituents question her leadership which has put her under tremendous political pressure.

    In contrast, Sweden’s Open-door policy towards people fleeing war and persecution changed into ‘closed-door policy’, a move the country said was to deter the overwhelming numbers of the refugees. Sweden’s prime minister, Stefan Löfven said they would revert to ‘EU minimum.

    Josef Joffe, Publisher-Editor, Die Zeit, Germany, pointed out that “the great moral superpower of Sweden started closing its borders,” a trend that is cascading. “European values aside, the highly regulated welfare state stands in the way of absorbing vast numbers of people,” he said. “It is easy to talk about values; how do we do it?”

    Due to all these divisions on who is doing right or wrong, leaders feel European Union solution will work best in this scenario.

    Federica Mogherini, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy; Vice-President of the European Commission, European Union, Brussels, said in Davos, that leaders and citizens realize that, without the European Union and its unity, “we could not face the problems of terrorism, migrants and refugees.”

    Although it has taken eight months of summits to craft a coherent Europe-wide response to refugees, Mogherini pointed out that, it is now up to the national governments to implement the response. “I do not see it as a failure that it took this long. This is a European issue; finally, we are doing something … we need to implement the European solution,” she said.

    Emmanuel Macron, Minister of the Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs of France, concured. “We are at a critical point and we have just a few weeks to deliver concrete European solutions,” he said. Solutions include border controls with Turkey and deeper cooperation with countries such as Lebanon and Jordan, which have accepted hundreds of thousands of refugees. “If we enter into a non-European approach, it will kill the right European approach,” he added.

    Commenting about refugees and terrorism, David Miliband, President of the International Rescue Committee, USA said that evidence shows that the greatest terrorist threat to the continent comes from people born in Europe. “Relocation is part of the answer in Europe, but it isn’t the only answer.” To those who believe most people arriving in Europe are not refugees, he noted that 59% are from Syria and 22% are from Afghanistan.

    The major challenge in Europe today is integration, employment, education and citizenship for the refugees.

    Talking about integration of refugees, Draghi told the meeting that “All European leaders are trying to drive their people closer to the common European interest in a way that is respectful of democracy.” He added: “what is always true with a crisis is that there can’t be a purely elitist process, but it has to be democratic. That is why after a crisis is resolved, the democracies are stronger and the common journey to an ever closer union is continued.”

    More than 2,500 leaders from various fields including government, business, international organization, academia, civil society, media and the arts are taking part in the 46th World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland. The meeting started January 20th to 23rd.

    Image Credit: Reuters