Three challenges for the EU: Migration, climate and China

Success Migration
6 min readDec 31, 2019


A new migration policy, a joint strategy towards China, and to what extent do we switch to sustainable energy? The European Union has several major challenges ahead in the coming years. What can we expect in terms of migration, climate and the expanding role of China?


War in Syria, Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and attacks in Afghanistan are causing a large flow of refugees to Europe in 2015. On the Mediterranean, rickety boats float towards the coast of Europe. Many do not survive the journey, those who make it, travel on to the north: Germany, Sweden and also the Netherlands.

The migration crisis showed that the EU rules do not work. The so-called Dublin Regulation, which stipulates that a refugee must apply for asylum in the first EU country of arrival, does not work. Member States such as Italy and Greece receive a disproportionate number of asylum seekers.

Under the Dutch Presidency, agreements were made with Turkey to regulate asylum flows. Agreements have also been made to strengthen the external borders of the EU: the European border security agency Frontex will receive more money.

However, one of the EU’s biggest asylum problems remains unresolved and it is doubtful whether it was the last time in 2015 that refugee caravans traveled through Europe. With increasing instability on the North African coast of Libya and refugees making the crossing from there, the asylum crisis is partly under control, but not resolved.

For years, the Member States have also been unable to reach agreements on a fair redistribution of refugees among EU countries, which puts mutual solidarity under pressure.

Eastern member states such as Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic see nothing in the compulsory admission of asylum seekers, to the great frustration of the northern countries in particular. It sounds like the lusts of the EU, not the burdens.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte said this week at Nieuwsuur with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel about the reintroduction of border controls within the Schengen zone. Countries that do not want to cooperate in a fair redistribution will then form a separate block within the Union. “Membership also has the consequence that you have to show solidarity,” said the prime minister. “If you are not, then there may come a time when we will reintroduce border controls more in the western part of Europe.”


In the field of climate, the EU adheres to the Paris agreement as a directive. In the treaty signed by 175 countries in 2015, it was agreed that the global temperature rise would be limited to 2 degrees compared to the pre-industrial era, around 1850. The signatories aim for a maximum warming of 1.5 degree.

The EU would like to play a pioneering role in implementing the Paris agreement. To achieve this, various goals have been set that should drastically reduce CO2 emissions by 2050. There are also objectives in the shorter term. For example, European emissions must be reduced by 20 percent in 2020 compared to 1990. Ten years later, emissions must be reduced by 40 percent compared to 1990.

Objectives for EU CO2 emissions

  • 2020: emissions reduced by at least 20 percent
  • 2030: emissions reduced by at least 40 percent
  • 2050: EU is climate neutral

Member States have the freedom to determine how they are going to reduce emissions, but the EU does give direction by, for example, imposing emission standards for cars.

“If the EU sets a reduction target for emissions from a certain industry, then you have to adhere to that as a member state,” says Arnold Tukker, professor of Industrial Ecology at Leiden University. “The EU tries to achieve the goals by drawing up guidelines. They give direction to the emissions of production processes. For example, a steel plant in the Netherlands must be just as dirty or clean as one in France. The EU ensures that the way of production is country is the same and that prevents unfair competition. “

In 2030, the aim is to generate energy that is at least 32 percent carbon neutral. Tukker believes that this goal can be achieved. “But on the one hand you have to invest enormously in energy savings and on the other hand in a huge use of renewable energy sources, instead of fossil fuels,” explains the professor. “In the end it is not too bad what the costs are. It is about political will, but it is lacking. Many parties are going to be frustrated, so it is difficult to make major changes on this theme.”

Arnold Tukker, professor of Industrial Ecology

In the spirit of ‘Paris’, the European Commission has the ambition to have a climate-neutral Europe by 2050. This means that emissions are reduced to a minimum and that any remaining emissions are fully compensated. This can be done, for example, by planting trees or storing CO2 underground.

This means that the Member States must reduce their emissions considerably in the coming decades. The Netherlands also has to work. The government has set the bar higher than the EU and wants to have a reduction of 49 percent by 2030 instead of the 40 percent set by the EU.

The climate agreement must give substance to this ambitious objective. The intended pioneering role of the Netherlands is not yet reflected in the figures. Over the period 1990 to 2016, the Netherlands is in 20 out of 28 member states in terms of reducing emissions. During that period, emissions were reduced by 20 percent.

“With current policy, the reduction for 2030 will be difficult,” says Tukker. “We have to go a step further. Certainly in the Netherlands, because little has been done here in the past twenty years. Denmark invested a lot in windmills twenty years ago and is now one of the front runners in Europe.”


To call China a danger, the Dutch government is going too far, but what is certain is that the Asian country is storming the economic and political world stage with giant steps. While the United States is engaged in a trade war with China, Europe is not yet taking a position in the economic handshake.

China’s economy continues to grow and its share in the world economy has grown from 1.5 percent in 1978 to 15 percent in 2017. The country has since become the second largest in the world.

The Chinese are investing in construction projects all over the world, all the way to Europe. At the same time, there are fears in several countries that the conditions of the loans made by the Chinese cannot be met. If countries fail to pay back the loans, then China can take control of, for example, a port.

With the initiative of a new Silk Road, China wants to capture and expand the recaptured position at the highest level of the world stage. The aim is to set up the infrastructure in such a way that it makes it easier to trade via different transport lines.

EU and G8 members Italy recently joined the project and Beijing has already gained a foothold elsewhere in Europe. Croatia, Portugal, Poland, Malta, Greece, Hungary and the Czech Republic have already joined the Silk Road. The port in the Greek port of Piraeus is already partly owned by China.

In the meantime, the European member states are unable to arrive at a joint EU-China strategy. Macron recently warned that China “uses European divisions”. For example, the EU is no longer able to jointly condemn China’s human rights policy now that countries such as Greece and Italy are obstructing.

Even when it comes to the construction of the 5G network, Europe cannot succeed in arriving at a common policy. The Chinese Huawei is the market leader when it comes to constructing the successor to 4G, but countries are wondering whether such vital infrastructure should fall into the hands of the Chinese.

This week, the Dutch cabinet came up with the long-awaited China strategy in which it emphasized the importance of European cooperation. The first step is the so-called ten-point plan that the European Commission presented in March.

The EU needs to monitor more closely whether important infrastructure ends up in Chinese hands. In addition, member states must be keen on cyber espionage and economic theft. This may lead to a joint European approach with regard to China in the coming years.



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