It’s no secret that Europe is in a state of crisis. From the recent vote of no confidence faced by Theresa May faced in Britain following her Brexit deal proposal, to ongoing protests across France against fuel price increases and Emmanuel Macron’s government.
But this crisis state has, in reality, gripped Europe for the best (or worst) part of ten years. The financial crisis of 2008 spread into global economic shock which caused European Bank failure and a currency crisis.
This force seamlessly mutated into European debt crisis in 2009, when several eurozone member states (Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Cyprus) were unable to repay or refinance their government debt and required huge government bailouts.
The fallout from this lasted years, and in turn gave way to the present migrant crisis. In 2015, rising numbers of refugees started arriving in the European Union. Civil war in Syria, and unrest and persecution across the Middle East and Africa has led to unprecedented numbers of migrants travelling overland to reach safer European destinations.
During this time, hundreds, if not thousands of people died on the journey across the Mediterranean Sea. Boats packed full of desperate but hopeful migrants continue to tragically sink.
The European Union has struggled to cope with this surge of refugees, with political opinion staunchly divided on the topic. This has resulted in enormous refugee camps like the Calais Jungle, where men, women and children routinely face police brutality and bitter conditions.
Previously, the general assumption was that closer cooperation within the European Union was a foregone conclusion to solve these ongoing crises. But the EU is currently and frequently coming under fire for its complex bureaucracy and migrant policy.
Political opinion has become increasingly polarised across member states, in part due to social media echo chambers, fake news and disillusionment at each end of the political spectrum. So much so that in 2016, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, with rumours that Sweden, Greece or the Netherlands might be next.
“In spite of the fact that European citizens can choose their representatives in the European Parliament once every five years, there still seems to be a feeling among the public that as a citizen you have very little influence on the course of the European supertanker,” explain experts from Leiden University in the Netherlands.
This turbulent and regenerative age of European politics is explored by researchers on Europe at Leiden Law School from a number of different angles. Academics address complex issues of the migrant crisis and human rights, contributing to a better, more informed and more realistic debate on Europe, and the impact of the EU on the lives of its citizens.
Leiden is the academic home of many European experts. They regularly make appearances in the media to express views on issues ranging from the possibility of excluding Greece from the Eurozone or sending boatloads of refugees back to Turkey, to ‘Brexit’ or the Association Agreement on Ukraine concluded between EU and member states.
The Europa Institut at Leiden is one of the oldest academic institutes specialising in the law of the European Union and the European Convention on Human Rights. It was established in 1957, the same year as the European Economic Community itself.
Its research also examines the Council of Europe which has 47 members, including Russia. The European Court of Human Rights, which is part of the Council of Europe, delivers judgements on the grounds of the European Treaty on Human Rights.
With crisis as the current status quo for Europe, research on European human rights protection at Leiden aims to ensure that people are more aware of their rights. Researchers address questions such as what protection do different European countries offer, and what is the nature of the relationship between the EU and the Council of Europe on human rights?
On December 17, Leiden hosted a conference entitled Challenges to European Integration: welfare states and free movement in the EU.
During the conference, academics from universities across Europe addressed topics such as ‘Do larger welfare states have tighter immigration policies? ‘Social protection and immigration restriction in OECD countries’ and ‘More Equality, Less Immigration: Labour Market Institutions, Migrant Rights and Foreign Labour Recruitment in Post-war Europe’.
In an age where uncertainty abounds, academics at universities around Europe aim to make citizens more aware of their human rights and the rights of their country, contributing to a better-informed debate on the European Union. Crises might be fascinating areas for study, empowering better-informed decisions that could mitigate such issues in future.