On January 21, 2016 the Jean Monnet Center of Excellence co-sponsored with the Atlanta Council on International Relations (ACIR) a luncheon program and panel discussion on the “Refugee Crisis in Europe.” The featured guest was Caroline Vicini, Deputy Ambassador of the EU to the U.S. and joining the panel were Deputy Consul General Thomas Wülfing, from the Consulate General of Germany in Atlanta and Atlanta’s Honorary Consul for Hungary, John Parkerson. Tony Cuzzucoli moderated the discussion and Nunn School Professor Emeritus, Dr. Robert Kennedy, delivered welcoming remarks. Approximately 80 individuals attended the event and distinguished guests included Consul General for France, Denis Barbet, Greek Consul, Georgios Panagiotidis and Honorary Consul for Poland, Lawrence Ashe.
In her opening remarks, Deputy Ambassador Caroline Vicini’s underscored that Europe is facing the most severe refugee crisis since the end of the Second World War with over one million refugees and other migrants reaching Europe since 2015. Although the EU has introduced a number of emergency measures and is working towards a coordinated approach, some Member States have taken independent actions particularly in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks. She acknowledged the strain that the crisis puts on the integrity of the Schengen system with various border closings and passport checks erected by several Member States, but she noted optimistically that the EU would most likely establish a European Border and Coast Guard to “ensure a strong and shared management of the external borders.”
The two other panelists offered distinct, national perspectives. Deputy Consul General Thomas Wülfing explained changing German attitudes and government actions particularly after the recent events in Cologne, where gangs of migrants perpetrated assaults against women. Though in no way minimizing the violence or dismissing the charges, as a former member of the military, the deputy CG had sympathy for the police and the difficulty of crowd control particularly at an event on New Year’s Eve with widespread intoxication. Another point made by Mr. Wülfing was the insistence that despite widespread criticisms, multiculturalism, tolerance and secularism remain essential values of Germany, which in the long run he believes will serve to successfully integrate this wave of migrants and refugees. This perspective was in contrast to the message expressed by Honorary Consul for Hungary, Mr. John Parkerson, who tried to explain why Hungarians were among the first to put up barbed wire fences in an attempt to stop the influx of migrants. He stated that Hungarians feel that the influence of different religions and languages are a threat to their society and their way of life after having a difficult past with shifting borders, forced occupations and changing complex ethnic and linguistic communities before achieving a strong sense of national unity.
After the panelists’ insightful presentations, a lively Q & A ensued with discussions ranging from queries about the future of the EU to rising Islamophobia in both Europe and the U.S. An important interjection was made by the Greek Consul who reminded everyone of the difficult burden shouldered by his country, which has over 13,000 kilometers of coastline and thus has borne the brunt of the crisis that has its roots in the collapse of Syria and growing instability in the Middle East. Deputy Ambassador Vicini had also touched on the origins of the refugee crisis emphasizing that while Europe is more exposed geographically than the United States, it is the interest of the United States and indeed all of humanity to help resolve the crisis.