Make Me a Norm to Imitate

The Syrian refugee crisis calls into question some academic presumptions about European integration.

As Liesbet Hooghe and co-authors write in this working paper, political scientists have long thought that countries join together in transnational institutions when they share a common culture, trade ties or both. Liberals and neo-liberal institutionalists in international relations scholarship tend to see transnationalism as good, while realists tend to think it doesn’t matter.

The Greek crisis showed that there are circumstances when deeper integration both matters and is undesirable. The current refugee crisis shows that even deep integration can be quite patchy – and not based on shared culture.

As Rick Lyman reports,

Europe’s failure to fashion even the beginnings of a unified solution to the migrant crisis is intensifying confusion and desperation all along the multicontinent trail and breeding animosity among nations extending back to the Middle East.

With the volume of people leaving Syria, Afghanistan and other countries showing no signs of ebbing, the lack of governmental leadership has left thousands of individuals and families on their own and reacting day by day to changing circumstances and conflicting messages, most recently on Thursday when crowds that had been trying to enter Hungary through Serbia diverted to Croatia in search of a new route to Germany…

“What we expect from the E.U. is to tell us what the form of good European behavior is,” said Nebojsa Stefanovic, Serbia’s interior minister. “Is it what Germany is doing, where refugees are welcomed with medicine and food? Or is it where they are welcomed with fences, police and tear gas?”

The European Union, Mr. Stefanovic added, “needs to say not just what the law is, but what the European norm is, what the values are that Serbia should share.”

Here is a blatant tragicomic admission that Europe has no shared culture: it’s not much of a norm if you have to ask what it is. For scholars interested in norm diffusion, here is new channel: when social actors demand that a norm be created so that they can start imitating it. Take that mimetic isomorphism!

Europe’s top leadership is responding to the norm vacuum with about the level of tact they used with Greece, as Lyman reports:

All of Slovakia’s top parties, which normally can agree on almost nothing, concurred that the country should not be obligated to accept refugees.

“We have rejected these quotas for two reasons,” said Robert Kalinak, the interior minister. “They don’t solve the situation. It won’t work. The ones who draw Germany in the lottery will be happy, the ones who draw Estonia will be unhappy.”

Western leaders, particularly in Germany, bristled at what they saw as opportunistic selfishness among Eastern nations, who are eager to accept money and help from the West but are not always willing to share a burden.

“The current situation gives the impression that Europe is something people participate in when there is money, and where one disappears into the bushes when it is time to take on responsibility,” said Sigmar Gabriel, head of Germany’s center-left Social Democrats who serves as Chancellor Angela Merkel’s deputy.

While this shaming might play to domestic German anxieties about being taken advantage of, I’d be surprised if it persuaded Eastern European countries to make costly changes.

I see two paths forward. Europe needs an inspirational Lincolnesque figure to demand shared sacrifice, or else European leaders need to be honest with themselves about the economistic bias of Europe thus far, and break out the pocket book and start paying Eastern Europe to do what Western Europe wants.

Money talks, while refugees continue their walk.

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