BRUSSELS – The European Union has no border patrol. It's one of the many ways in which the bloc lacks power, with its member countries jealously guarding their sovereign prerogative to enact their own laws about defense, police and coast guard.
This vacuum of authority, and the failure of EU policy-makers to anticipate how events in faraway Libya or Syria might trigger the flood of refugees now swamping Europe, are some of the reasons the group of 28 European nations originally founded as a common market has failed to deal more firmly and effectively with what has mushroomed into a major humanitarian crisis.
NO COMMON VOICE
"The EU is still very much in formation," said Frances G. Burwell, vice president for the European Union at the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank. "And the lack of a central authority is keenly felt."
She likened the situation to putting a number of U.S. governors in a room and telling them to deal with a large-scale influx of immigrants from Latin America.
OUR CONCENTRATION WAS ELSEWHERE
Also, Burwell said, for much of 2015, EU leaders had been focused on another, very different crisis: the possibility of a massive economic default by Greece and its resulting exit from the euro.
The EU's fixation on Greece was so intense, Burwell said, that it failed to adequately anticipate and prepare for what she said was the "obvious eventuality" of the spillover onto EU territory of massive numbers of people fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.
SOMEONE ELSE'S PROBLEM
According to another independent analyst, despite the rhetoric at EU meetings in praise of inter-European solidarity, as long as the refugee crisis was confined to a small number of countries like Italy and Greece, some of their partners in the EU didn't feel overly concerned.
"The problem is, they've refused to look at the issue at the European level," said Yves Pascouau, director of migration and mobility policies at the European Policy Center, a Brussels think tank. Now, "we are dealing with millions of people on the roads of exile."
Attitudes toward the migrants, many of whom are Muslim, differ throughout the EU, another fact that has made it hard to achieve a bloc-wide political consensus on how to deal with them.
Hungary has built a razor wire-topped fence to keep migrants out, while in Munich, Germany, officials and ordinary Germans turned out to welcome some of the people arriving by train, Burwell said.
Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the EU's executive arm, the Commission, has lamented the lack of an EU-wide approach to the crisis. "We need more Europe in our asylum policy," he said last month. "We need more union in our refugee policy."
As it continues to react to the migrant crisis, the Commission is now talking about giving the EU more teeth by launching the bloc's own border and coast guard system.
"It is certainly feasible. But it will cost money," the Commission said in a statement. It said that before the end of 2015, it will propose "ambitious steps" toward creating a European Border and Coast Guard.