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The EU is in disarray and risks losing its fundamental principle: freedom of movement

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Hungarian riot police charge migrants at the border crossing with Serbia in Roszke, Hungary September 16, 2015. Reuters/Karnok Csaba

Hungarian riot police charge migrants at the border crossing with Serbia in Roszke, Hungary September 16, 2015. Reuters/Karnok Csaba

REUTERS

Hungarian riot police charge migrants at the border crossing with Serbia in Roszke, Hungary September 16, 2015. Reuters/Karnok Csaba

Five words contain the entire content and meaning of the most notorious question ever asked. "Am I my brother's keeper?" We all know the Bible story, and the answer.

Yes, we are all our brothers' and sisters' keepers, and our brothers and sisters are all humanity. Our civilisation, such as it is, rests on that proposition.

Little Aylan, lying dead on a Mediterranean beach, was our brother. The victims of the horrors perpetrated by Isil are our brothers and sisters. So too are the victims of the weapons deployed to so little useful effect by the Western powers, who will neither impose order on the Middle East nor accept any blame for the collapse of the Arab Spring and the propping up of old and new dictatorships.

But surely, one may ask, if brotherhood can be found anywhere it is within that zone of peace established by the European Union and founded on humanity's most noble principles?

Alas, the EU these days resembles an elderly patient who has lain ill for a long time and whose condition has suddenly deteriorated, to the point where we fear he will not survive.

The woes of the EU began a long time ago. A crucial moment came with the decision to create the monetary union in the absence of a political union. Since then, the union has lost its reputation for competence and fairness. Nothing bears that out more solidly than its treatment of Ireland.

In a letter in this newspaper the other day, John Cuffe of Dunboyne put forward a series of propositions. His final item read, "Go to Europe and look for the €8bn we were duped and threatened into paying."

We may not be quite sure about the figure, but we know that it's close enough. We also know that we were promised debt relief and that Europe reneged on the promise, notwithstanding that it had the support of none other than Angela Merkel. But something more ominous - something that relates to the fundamental principles of the EU - has occurred in the last few days.

One of the bases of the EU's foundation is the principle of free movement of people within the borders of the union. That has now been at least partly abandoned. The egregious policy of Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban involves closing off his country from its neighbours. Behind him stands Vladimir Putin, never at a loss to find means of destabilising his own borders.

Perhaps you have seen another picture, as heartbreaking as that of little Aylan. It showed a throng of destitute and homeless people in Damascus. Around them were crumbling buildings clearly ready to fall. Damascus is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, as important as the beautiful monuments which Isil is determined to destroy.

I remember another migration many years ago.

As a boy reporter, I interviewed a group of Hungarian refugees who had sought sanctuary in Ireland but found their conditions of life here intolerable. I was shocked by the depth of their bitterness and anger as they prepared for the next stage of their journey to the United States. How many more such people will we meet? And who will explain an extraordinary manifestation of the crisis, the destabilisation of Turkey, long one of the West's most reliable allies?

But something more important has been breached: the principle of free movement of free peoples. We could lose that, caught as we are between our love of our comforts and the need to find means of settling millions of refugees.

Much of our trouble goes back to the Maastricht Treaty, when the great Jacques Delors warned of the dangers of a monetary union in the absence of a political union. Now the monetary union is suspended, like Mohammed's coffin, between Earth and Heaven, and the political union is in imminent danger of breaking down.

Only strong political action can cure these ills, and only one promising course of action presents itself.

By far the most powerful person in the EU is Ms Merkel. She seems to like large gatherings at which little is decided and nothing is imposed. This cannot go on. Germany must accept the leadership role for which history has destined her, and find a way to solve the current crisis and lay the foundations for a revival.

But what do we mean by a revival? Our own Government, at once weak and boastful, glories in its subservience to the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. It has enthusiastically implemented the austerity policies imposed on Ireland, but still refuses to implement the equally necessary reforms demanded by the troika.

In the meantime, it rejoices in its real and imaginary successes and discounts all the factors which threaten the recovery.

From the Fine Gael and Labour camps emerge contradictory views. Fine Gael openly seeks a return to the pre-crash society. Labour offers a sort of analysis of capitalism which I, for one, find impossible to understand.

We must talk to our brothers and sisters, but in order to do that we must somehow find a common language.

Irish Independent