The migrant problem should not have been insoluble. The numbers involved may have been daunting but, in truth, they were not unmanageable as a proportion of the whole EU population. Had the situation been addressed properly from the outset, and rigorous mechanisms put in place for assessment and re-settlement, this might have been a success story for Europe: the humane and fair-minded handling of a painful dilemma.
But it wasn’t – and the reasons for that go right to the heart of what will cause the EU to collapse. Each member state came to this with its own economic limitations, its own historical memory and its own political culture. When it came to confronting the sight of those endless marching columns of strangers, every country dealt with the experience in its own way – not as one small part of an Ever Closer Union, but as Hungarians or Poles only recently liberated from the Warsaw Pact, or as Danes or Swedes who took pride in their liberal traditions but were now feeling uncharacteristically alienated.
In the emergency created by migrant pressure, the EU simply became visibly what it should always have been understood to be: a confederation of different peoples whose varying experiences and attitudes cannot be homogenised. The governments of those differing nations have taken it in turns to be berated by EU officialdom: Hungary for its impromptu barbed-wire borders, the UK for taking too few refugees from Calais, and Denmark for its plan to confiscate valuables from refugees who will be receiving state support. Each one of those governments is, in fact, doing what its own electorate demands – which is exactly what democratically elected governments are supposed to do. Unless the EU abolishes democratic accountability altogether, this must continue to be so.