Catastrophic tragedy in the Mediterranean. How should the EU react?

After another catastrophic tragedy in the Mediterranean the questions are (again) what should the EU do. So what is your opinion on this, if I may ask. But maybe more from the external point of view. How much should we care about what is going (conflicts, economic instability) in the EU neighborhood? And what can we do about this? Read few comments.

Lorenzo NannettiInternational Affairs Analyst

Different countries may have different perceptions on this (italy may have a very different point of view from Slovakia, for example, due to geographic position) but overall EU should care a lot about what happens in its neighborhood, for various reasons (in no particular order):
– security: spread of conflict and terror groups will eventually prove a threat for EU’s mainland as well, or for EU business interests in the Mediterranean (possibile piracy on sea lanes, tourism – see the attack on Bardo museum at Tripoli – but also economic links of EU firms working in North Africa,…). Groups eventually tend to enlarge their area of operation and target Europe itself.
– energy: if EU doesn’t want to depend too much from Russian oil&gas, then African resources are needed. Oil and gas from Libya, Algeria, Nigeria… if conflict or instability persists/grows, threats to these sources grows as well.
France for example uses lots of Uranium for its nuclear energy plants… and it comes mainly from Niger.
– illicit flows: most of drug flows pass through these areas, instability helps the criminal groups due to reduced control
– migration is an issue if EU countries can’t agree on common policies – flows often start in poor/unstable/conflict areas.

The second question is much harder. What can we do? We’re talking about dynamics that have roots on socio-economic and political issues that have existed for decades and are just evolving naturally when nothing was made to counter them. Long-term solution is economic and political stabilization of the entire North Africa-Sahel area, but this can’t be made by force. So an international effort is needed, likely a sort of “Marshall Plan”, to change the entire region, while terror groups are fought by locals (sometimes aided by us, if needed, but no operations like Afghanistan or Iraq for example, se rather the current French Operation Barkhane). Anyway, it would likely take a decade to show good effects.

However, there are two issues, that make it so hard to do it: 1) not all world countries see things this way. For example China wants to do its interests in Africa and often it does it regardless of actual local conditions – as long as it helps Chinese interests (and I have to say, this is what the West has done lots of time in the past too), so there’s no overall focused effort and differing interests tend to contrast each other. 2) local governments are often not strong enough or serious enough – there’s a lot of corruption – or interested enough in doing this sort of stabilization. Some local governments sometimes see this situation as useful to protect own interests. Also, try dealing with the Eritrean regime… and yet lots of migrants to Italy/Southern Europe come from Eritrea too.

In other words, a long-term stabilization of the area is needed, but it requires time, focus, money and, above all, willingness. This will address the root causes. Instead, we often only concentrate on the end effect (the migration over the Mediterranean). Let’s say the first step would be to acknowledge, at government and EU levels, that those root causes are those where we should focus. In my opinion, up till now we’re not even at that point.

David Fernández RojoAssistant in the Research Team “European Integration”, University of Deusto

The EU neighborhood policy should be the starting point if aiming to find answers to the current migration tragedy. In fact, the European Commission pointed out yesterday that “the only way to truly change the reality is to address the situation at its roots. For as long as there is war and hardship in our neighborhood near and far, people will continue to seek a safe haven on European shores. And as long as countries of origin and transit do not take action to prevent these desperate trips, people will continue to put their lives at risk. That is why a large part of the approach we are working on is going to be about working with third countries” (http://europa.eu/rapid/press- release_STATEMENT-15-4800_en. htm)

In this regard, I believe that the European Agenda on Migration that is going to be adopted in May should introduce effective actions to cope with the current migratory challenges. The following measures should be stressed:

– Concerning immediate action with long-term effects: the EU should review its external action and development aid policy in order to relate to the main causes of migration. Furthermore the role of EASO in supporting the asylum systems under pressure should be enhanced, as well as to assist those neighboring countries that are currently providing international protection to migrants. In this regard I strongly recommend you to have a look at the Blog of Prof. Steve Peers who has already propose “solutions” to this issue (http://eulawanalysis. blogspot.co.uk).

– Concerning immediate action with short-term effects: it is necessary to reintroduce a EU rescuing and search operation such as the extinct Italian “Mare Nostrum”. In my opinion, current Eurosur legislation should be adapted in order to prioritize the need to rescue immigrants rather than just controlling the Mediterranean border.

Undoubtedly, this topic is extremely difficult and challenging. Solutions are not straightforward because National and European interests play its role but the EU cannot just regret what happened.

Christian Kaunert, Professor of International Politics, Director of the European Institute for Security and Justice, University of Dundee

I think for the first time, this incident has the potential to change policy slightly. The tragedy is of such an enormous magnitude that it has achieved a lot of media exposure, who quite rightly criticise European policy at the borders, and especially in the Mediterranean. The obstruction, particularly by the UK government to Europeanise the Italian Mare Nostrum operations, have clearly been proven wrong. Those rescue operations do not provide pull factors into Europe, as claimed by the UK government at the time, but rather save innocent lives. Europe will have to change its policies at the border if it wants to stop more lives to vanish.

However, again, the crisis might be used in a different direction. It could also trigger reinforced border controls, which might deter some boats, but, ultimately, will only increase the costs and risks to go across the Mediterranean. The underlying issue might not be addressed. This is of course conflict and deprivation, arising from civil war in Syria, Yemen, Somalia and the unstable situAtion in Eritrea. As long as Europe does not help to address the underlying issues, flows of migration will increase rather than decrease. There are many boats to come still over the next months, and this tragedy might not have been the worst one compared to what there might still be happening over the next few months. This is where European policy has to get involved in order to stop further tragedies, but also in order to work in Europe’s interest as well.

Roxana BarbulescuPostdoctoral Research Fellow, European Neighbourhood Policy Chair, College of Europe

The Southern EU external border in the Mediterranean has become the deadliest border with nearly 4000 people losing their lives in 2014 in an attempt to reach European soil. The numbers are set to be higher this year because the root causes of such tragedies have not been addressed and the Italian government has interrupted the large and comprehensive Mare Nostrum mission that rescued migrants from the Mediterranean. On Sunday 19 of April, 700 hundred people are feared to have lost their lives trying to reach European shores making it the largest tragedy in the Mediterranean in the recent history.

European countries as well as the EU have made protection of human rights a badge of their values and have obligations under international treaties to protect such rights. The absence of a solid European solution in getting the people safe to the shores and allowing them to file an application for asylum is unjustifiable. More problematic is the fact that it shed doubts about the commitment of EU and the quality of the EU integration project is a common solution fails to materialise.

On what EU should do. In my opinion this is the problematic part. EU already has well developed instruments to tackle the humanitarian migration crisis in the Mediterranean and to prevent further loss of human lives.

First, the EU agency Frontex is currently running the Triton search and rescue mission whose purpose is none other than detect and help bring to shore migrants from the Mediterranean. The mission was launched in November 2014 and was supposed to be the successor of Italian Mare Nostrum mission. While nearly 4000 people lost their lives when Mare Nostrum was operating, the mission still saved the lives of 150.810 migrants in 2014 (source: http://www.marina.difesa.it/ EN/operations/Pagine/ MareNostrum.aspx)  In comparison with Mare Mostrum, Triton is its cheap substitute lacking the capacity, budget and jurisdiction to intervene that Mare Nostrum had. For example triton can only intervene up to 30 nautical miles from the Italian shores whereas Mare Nostrum could head out further into the Mediterranean. The French President Hollande has already called for more robust support to Triton (source http://video.corriere.it/ canale-sicilia-hollande- mediterraneo-mare-comune- dobbiamo-agire/d5b0bb0a-e6a0- 11e4-aaf9-ce581604be76 )

In my opinion, at this point the number one priority must be avoiding further loss of human lives in the Mediterranean by providing the EU mission Triton with the necessary resources.

The second important tool that EU already has is the Eurosur border surveillance system which has a secondary role in detecting migrants at sea in need of rescue. This tool unfortunately has not yet been utilised for this goal.

The third tool is not yet materialised but it is gaining increased support from the member states. The third solution is to set up asylum seekers EU centres in Northern Africa where people could apply for asylum prior to embarking on the dangerous sea crossing.

While these present with solutions to better manage the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean and prevent deaths, they still however fail to deal with the root causes of the phenomenon: the war in Syria (approximately half of those attempting crossing the Mediterranean are Syrian asylum seekers) the instability of Libya (most ships sail from Libya), the crude violation of human rights in dictatorships such Eritrea and extreme poverty in Central and Western Africa. Even in the event of witnessing the rapid birth of a common EU solution to the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean, it will only offer a temporary patch if its causes are not addressed.

Comment. I would be careful about using the term “another” tragedy. The sheer scale of this tragedy makes it the largest in recorded history and it is very likely that it will have enduring political and policy consequences on future interventions in the Mediterranean and the Southern neighbourhood.

Less than 2 years ago, 359 people lost their lives in a similar tragedy South of Lampedusa in what was then unprecedented event which prompt the EU and the Italian government to upgrade their action in the Mediterranean. This time the casualties are twice as many.

Europeans from the four corners of the continent should be concern about the unfolding crisis on EU’s doorsteps. This is not a phenomenon for Italians, Germans or French to fix but require common thinking, common decisions and above all a compromise with the European integration project and its core values. The Central and Eastern Member States with their own traditions and history of migrations, have an opportunity to contribute to developing an important common European solution. The various crises in the neighbourhood on the South in the Mediterranean and in the East in Ukraine threaten to deepen the political and economic instability in the area and put additional pressure on the neighbouring EU Member States.

Stella GeorgiadouAssociate Tutor (Politics), Research Student (Politics), University of Sussex

The EU, having been founded on the principles of solidarity and respect for human rights, has, first of all, an ethical duty to respond to the crisis in the Mediterranean.

To prevent such tragedies from occurring again, however, the root causes of the problem need to be addressed. The insecurity that arises from the conflicts in North Africa is the main reason for the increase in illegal immigration. The only way, therefore, to stop this human trafficking is the restoration of the peace and stability in the region. An effective collaboration between the EU and North African countries on this matter is, therefore, needed.

Daniela Irrera, Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Relations, Department of Political and Social Sciences, University of Catania

Indeed, it is astonishing to read actual comments and declarations made by politicians after the last tragedy.

Nothing new is happening – unfortunately – in the Mediterranean, that we haven’t already experienced in the last decades, except the sad extremely high number of victims this time. There is no doubt on the fact that this is a phenomenon linked to organised crime and smuggling of human beigns on one side; on the understestimantion and bad governance of root causes (wars, deprivation, political and institutional instability) on the other.

In other words, the tragedies we assist so frequently in the Mediterranean are the most visible (and the last steps of a chain) of a complex of insecurities which involves several actors and levels of action.
As for the EU, I would particularly stress the fact that it counts a long list of chances which were missed over the years (from the Barcelona process, passing through the ENP, to Triton). Chances to build a grand strategy based on effective cooperation (instead of mere conditionality), less affected by state preferences and more focused on the common priorities. This strategy should inevitably be complex and imply the involvement of several and different competences, both political and technical.

Nothing new and nothing easy, but at the same time, nothing that the EU and other regional actors could not – potentially – do.

 

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