Across Europe there is a risk that nationalism, protectionism and populism will usher back in an era where ‘fearing thy neighbour’ once again becomes a defining characteristic of our policy making.

Many politicians will have us believe that we are now more fractured as societies – at precisely the time we are more diverse, more inter-dependent and more inter-connected than ever.

Reconciling this political discourse with the reality of our globalized world is futile. No country – big or small – can rewind diversity and “un-globalize” its economy.

Unmanaged migration like we saw across the Aegean last year and continue to see across the Mediterranean this year is one of the most combustible political factors in Europe today.

In this climate, many European governments with long and proud traditions of welcoming those fleeing war and oppression are ‘battening the hatches’ with mounting concerns about “imploding” welfare systems, “exploding” unemployment and “failing” integration models, and violent extremism. No matter that acts of violent extremism are more likely to come from citizens than from those that have claimed asylum.

As the media boils down a hugely complex issue to one over security or rights, it has become extremely challenging to have sensible debates about how to sustainably manage migration and integration and how to counter extremism.

So we are building walls, putting up fences and fuelling patrol boats.

Sure, integrated border management is a vital part of a rational migration movement system – but it mustn’t be the only or even the centrepiece of such a system.

Why?

The pernicious propaganda of ISIS works because it tells young immigrants that they will never be accepted, will never belong, will never be European – and so a few drift off into extremist content, and for a handful, acts of violence.

This problem is not going away – as the prospect of Aleppo, Mosul and eventually Raqqa falling grows, it is likely that what remains of ISIS will look to salvage its influence by infiltrating the ranks of the dispossessed as they flee north-west.

This is why proper vetting and border controls matter. But border controls will not stop everyone bent on destruction and – more fundamentally – it will not make the millions of young people already in Europe feel less alienated from society, or better able to integrate.

It is not just the countries of Western Europe that need be concerned.

A weakened, divided, introverted EU would be calamitous for those countries on its southern/eastern periphery; counties that remain greatly influenced by Europe’s ability to coalesce around transnational challenges.

 

If the fences are put up and the proverbial welcome-mat is removed in the EU, then the reality for these countries is that they will shutter, cut themselves off and revert to protectionism; stifling their economies and driving conflict risk.

 

Fundamentally, we need to have a policy debate that is not about security or rights but about securityand rights.  If this debate remains polarized Europe’s voters and politicians will flee to the political fringes.

Europe has shown in the last 12 months that it can hugely improve its border management capacity.

Europe is an ageing continent – and its economies badly need new, skilled workers – but turning an unskilled asylum seeker into a successful, integrated and employed citizen will require civic education, vocational training; social policies that promote inter-cultural understanding – and the relentless prosecution of hate-crimes.

This is a generational problem. As UNDP, we are working with a consortium of international organizations, partners, governments and civil society around Europe and Central Asia to support work that prevents violent extremism. We do so by promoting inclusive citizenship within sustainable development.

Social change is indelible – and reverting to a cosy, homogenous, inward-looking and nostalgic vision of the past will not be our future.

We may not be able to go Back to the Future but we can turn a challenge into an opportunity. So we must.

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