Reportedly, the EU will receive more than a million asylum seekers in 2015. The Union already has seen more than 330,000 people arrive by sea, of whom 210,000 landed in either Greece or Italy. In the previous eight months, around half a million people entered through illegal border crossings, which is double what took place in 2014. The arrival of these individuals is often facilitated by criminal organizations.
The answer is two-fold. First, the EU is still reeling from the economic crisis of 2009 and the accession of many members that are not financially strong. Even Germany is feeling the pinch; it is believed the current crisis will cost the country between €9 and €10.5 billion. The EU is still waiting to see how the Greek crisis will be played out, even though Alexis Tsipras and Syriza were returned to office, because the International Monetary Fund has not given complete backing to the bailout and has demanded an “explicit and concrete agreement” on debt relief from the Greece’s Eurozone creditors. Furthermore, many of the EU’s eastern and southern states remain in a precarious financial situation. Second, we live in an era of rules and regulations, so one cannot simply take a group of people and place them somewhere. Put differently, consideration has to be taken vis-à-vis the health and safety of refugees—food distribution, the type of shelter provided (one can make do with tents only until winter comes), medical facilities and checkups, etc. Notably, the EU has to contend with around 600,000 people who have no nationality, which is worrying as it means that these individuals, and particularly the children who are often born in “exile,” remain stateless. It is increasingly difficult for a stateless person to acquire a nationality, especially as some of the Council of Europe countries do not grant nationality on the grounds that one was born within their jurisdiction.
The second implication that the Syrian refugee crisis has raised for the EU relates to the identity of the Union. This question begins with the divisive statement of Hungary’s Victor Orban, that Muslims are not wanted in Hungary, and even though Orban was criticized for being unchristian and ungenerous, one has to wonder whether his comments are reflective of the views of many ordinary people. Moreover, this issue concerns the image that the EU seeks to promote, which is that of a paragon of human rights. In the Treaty of Lisbon, the EU declares that it was founded on “the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law, and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities” (Art. 1a). Under this rubric the EU has a very high commitment to the protection and promotion of human rights. Art. 63 of the Lisbon Treaty recognizes that the EU has duties and obligations toward those seeking refuge, and these duties include providing protection, either as a subsidiary concept or temporary one. Additionally, the EU has to abide by the principle of non-refoulement (Art. 33) under the Refugee Convention, which prohibits a host country from expelling or returning a refugee “to the frontiers of territories where” their lives or freedoms may be threatened. This principle of non-refoulement is enshrined in EU law (Art. 78(1) TFEU).
There are a number of other ways that the current migration wave is impacting Europe. First, it can be argued that the infusion of more people into Europe can help address a number of structural population problems. There are a number of countries in Europe that are seeing net emigration, for instance. Looking at Spain, in 2012 outflows rose to 1.2% whereas inflows fell to 0.8% of the domestic population. This balance changes the composition of the population, adding diversity, but at the same time it creates concern for those worried about losing their culture (this concern is often manifested in the views of extremist movements, who see foreign inflows in negative terms). Europe is in the midst of a demographic crisis. Birth rates are falling, making immigration an important tool in addressing ageism (in the 1980s immigration raised Europe’s total population by around 100,000 annually, whereas in the 1990s, it was 600,000, and today its closer to a million). If we are to look at great historical migration, one has to wonder whether the United States would be as strong as it is if not for the large Irish inflow of the 1840s, or the Chinese migration in the 1870s and 1880s that helped build much of the American West.
Notably, the OECD makes it clear that migration has many positive aspects. Forty-seven percent of America’s workforce and 70% of Europe’s is migrant. Migrants may be well-educated, counter-acting a nation’s “brain drain,” or at the other end of the educational scale, willing to take jobs that locals may not want. When working, they contribute to the public purse when they pay taxes. Immigration also can have a positive cultural (and nationalist) impact: just look at the successful German and French national soccer teams, which now have many players with immigrant roots.
To understand why the recent waves of migrants have become such a crisis, it is worth noting that in 1956, Europe faced another refugee problem, when more than 180,000 Hungarians crossed over to Austria and Hungary. In the space of 10 weeks, 100,000 individuals were resettled in 37 different countries. Notably, the refugees ranged from garage mechanics who ended up in South America to innovators and entrepreneurs, one of whom founded Intel in San Francisco (semi-conductor pioneer Andrew Grove was born András István Gróf in Budapest, Hungary, in 1936). The evidence is that many of these Cold War refugees fared well. However, at the moment the EU is facing almost a million asylum seekers, which is exponentially more than it faced in the 1950s. Interestingly, in 1992 when a unified Germany saw 400,000 asylum applications, it opted to deal with the issue by narrowing its asylum legislation, making it harder for people to apply for refuge in Germany. This policy, some have suggested, created an atmosphere of fear that fueled the rise of far-right Republican Party, which won seats in Baden-Württemberg, and the German People’s Union (DVU), which won 10% of the seats in Schleswig-Holstein. There were also several attacks against asylum seekers and refugees, which painted Germany, always worried about far right extremism, in negative light.
Ultimately, the threat to the EU is fragmentation. We are already noticing lines being drawn, and there is enormous discord between the members on how to deal with the crisis. In truth, the roots of this problem lie with the Schengen Agreement and the Dublin Regulations because they both allow the richer northern countries to leave the migration issues to the southern and eastern states, without providing aid and assistance. For decades the rich northern members have ignored the refugees and migration issue, which is why it has become a crisis. Furthermore, it has been the lack of response to what was taking place in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria that has created much of the problem. People will only stay at their country of origin for so long; once they recognize the hopelessness of their situation, they will seek an alternative.
 Reuters, “OECD tells Europe to act fast on migrants, adapt long-term too.” Thompson Reuters Foundation, Sept. 22, 2015, http://www.trust.org/item/20150922090236-g65kk/?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Expresso+22+September+2015&utm_content=Expresso+22+September+2015+CID_ce3e458a4207f16d5e94172f61c564df&utm_source=Campaign%20Monitor&utm_term=OECD%20tells%20Europe%20to%20act%20fast%20on%20migrants%20adapt%20long-term%20too
 Heather Stewart, “IMF will refuse to join Greek bailout until debt relief demands are met.” The Guardian, July 30, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/jul/30/imf-will-refuse-join-greek-bailout-until-debt-relief-demands-met
 Emma Batha, “European refugee crisis risks creating generation of stateless children.” Thompson Reuters Foundation, Sept. 20, 2015. http://www.trust.org/item/20150920230231-jdujs/?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Expresso+21+September+2015&utm_content=Expresso+21+September+2015+CID_c49161443316f049f3ceeb02d65afbf4&utm_source=Campaign%20Monitor&utm_term=European%20refugee%20crisis%20risks%20creating%20generation%20of%20stateless%20children
 Nicola Abé, et. al, “Sharing Burdens: Germany to Urge Shift in EU Refugee Policy,” Der Spiegel, Sept. 22, 2015, http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/germany-to-urge-shift-in-eu-refugee-policy-a-993076.html
 Zan Strabac & Ola Listhaug. “Anti-Muslim prejudice in Europe: A multilevel analysis of survey data from 30 countries.” Social Science Research 37.1 (2008): 268-286; Harald Schoen, “Turkey’s bid for EU Membership, Contrasting Views of Public Opinion, and Vote Choice. Evidence from the 2005 German Federal Election.” Electoral studies 27.2 (2008), pp. 344-355; Liz Fekete, “Anti-Muslim racism and the European security state.” Race & Class 46.1 (2004): 3-29.
 M.S.S. v. Belgium and Greece, Application no. 30696/09, Council of Europe: European Court of Human Rights, Jan. 21, 2011.
 Reuters, “OECD tells Europe to act fast on migrants, adapt long-term too,” Thompson Reuters Foundation, Sept. 22, 2015, http://www.trust.org/item/20150922090236-g65kk/?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Expresso+22+September+2015&utm_content=Expresso+22+September+2015+CID_ce3e458a4207f16d5e94172f61c564df&utm_source=Campaign%20Monitor&utm_term=OECD%20tells%20Europe%20to%20act%20fast%20on%20migrants%20adapt%20long-term%20too
 Nicola Abé et. al, “Sharing Burdens: Germany to Urge Shift in EU Refugee Policy.” Der Spiegel, Sept. 22, 2015, http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/germany-to-urge-shift-in-eu-refugee-policy-a-993076.html
 “Walls and violence will not solve migrant crisis-EU Commissioner.” Reuters, Sept. 17, 2015, http://www.trust.org/item/20150917092939-tu0nj/?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=expresso+sept+17+2015&utm_content=expresso+sept+17+2015+CID_88d5170e0fd48980b1d5dc97357e2fd9&utm_source=Campaign%20Monitor&utm_term=Walls%20and%20violence%20will%20not%20solve%20migrant%20crisis%20-%20EU%20Commissioner