Failure in Germany – success in the Baltics. The refugee question has been a hot topic in the European media and beyond. The matter was also discussed among European leaders in the June 25 EU Summit. Although the EU Commission proposed quotas for each country, little hope remained for acceptance by all of the member states. Instead, the summit decided on voluntary distribution of 40,000 refugees. In order to analyze media coverage within our selected countries, we chose to observe national medias from 22 to 29 June.
Interest in the topic was intense in most of the observed countries, and the Russian media was the only source to not show great interest. Outside of the continent, the U.S. produced a significant number of articles. Nevertheless, Germany seemed to have the most active media coverage in the week of observation. Other countries focused on the topic from the end of May to the beginning of June, but the issue was consistently covered in Germany until and throughout the summit. The pattern suggests that, by the week of the summit, the Baltic states had already decided not to accept quotas. On the other hand, Germany apparently tried to convince other states of the quotas until shortly before the summit. Looking at the media of the directly affected countries, or the EU member states, we observe two main kinds of coverage: on one hand the German media coverage saw the result of the summit as failure, and, on the other hand, the coverage in Lithuania and Estonia saw it as a success because the countries would not have been able to take in the number suggested by the Commission.
In both Lithuania and Estonia, the biggest fear concerning the quotas seemed to be settled by the time under observation. The tone of the articles was rather neutral. However, the German media reacted differently, as the Eastern European states were blamed several times by all of the media channels for failure of the quotas. The failure of the quota system was said to have shown a lack of solidarity among the member states. It was also said to have been a “fatal signal.” Eastern European states were called “state egoists” and were blamed for “building walls” and “immuring” Europe by Süddeutsche Zeitung. The whole solution was seen as a “shame for Europe” and a “ridiculous minimum consensus.” The overall tone of the articles was pessimistic, for general opinion suggested that voluntary distribution would not work out easily.
As previously mentioned, the refugee question was not only discussed within the borders of the EU. The U.S. media also covered the topic intensely. The liberal New York Times and the alternative Vice News presented critical opinions on the European refugee question. Most often, the EU was criticized with headlines like “You’re better Than This, Europe.” Vice News also used emotional language and presented individual human refugee pieces to gather sympathy among its readers. The topic was further used to not only criticize the European asylum system, but also to question the American system. The recognition underlined the idea that the refugee question was not only a European problem, for the U.S. also struggled immensely with their policy.
Although not highly pronounced, the Russian media also expressed some opinions on the crisis. The article in Vesti.ru mainly took an anti-immigration perspective, underlining the problems refugees caused by not speaking European languages and not having professional skills. According to this article, too many refugees would cause the formation of “new ghettos.” TV Rain took more a critical tone towards the EU, calling the situation “embarrassing” and “problematic”. The EU was seen to be in unity and internal differences were not thematized.
To summarize, the refugee question was a highly debated topic in many countries. However, the topic seemed to have been surpassed by other hot topics like the Greek crisis. Evaluation of the solution ranged from very positive in the Baltics to negative in Germany. The countries outside the EU also took a critical opinion of the EU and its solution of the refugee problem. Future observation of the topic should reveal how voluntary distribution is to be carried out and reflected upon in the different countries.