Refugee crisis: Is the EU moving forward?

Except of refugee quotas which still an issue for some countries (prominently for Slovakia), do you think that now we see more unity in the EU re refugee crisis, or not? After yesterday’s informal EU summit it seem that the members states agreed on things like need for strengthening external borders or helping countries like Turkey. Is this the step into the right direction, or much more must be done? Read few comments.

Sarah WolffLecturer in Public Policy, Queen Mary University, London

Given that a couple of months ago discussions over refugee relocation across Europe were completely stalled; the recent agreement is a positive development. France, which a couple of months ago were reticent to take on refugees, has shifted its position, agreeing to take 20,000 migrants over the next two years.  The UK too has announced it would take 24, 000 migrants over the next five years.

So far, unity has been mostly reached on the EU External Border management, as a way to ensure EU internal security. Most of the measures announced yesterday will strengthen Frontex, the EU Border Management agency, EASO, the European Asylum Support Office and Europol in staff and resources. Also an emergency funding for countries the most under strain by the influx of refugees such as Italy or Greece where ‘hotspots’ to register migrants should be put in place.

These immediate measures are however no enough and EU unity will be tested on several issues in the months and year to come. Most of the hard work is yet to come. Strengthening EU border management is the easiest part and responds to immediate concerns of EU policy-makers and public opinion

First, it is high time to decide upon a European Corps of Border Guards, which is almost ten year old-long debate, pre-dating the creation of Frontex. Historically, many EU Member states have been reticent to create a unique border guard agency with extensive border management powers and a single uniform. Frontex was then the lowest common denominator, depending much on EU member states willingness to cooperate and provide funding to the agency. A true independent border guard agency with a single curriculum would be a true progress, but EU member states are still very reticent to give up sovereignty.

Then, revising the Dublin Convention is the other elephant in the room. The summit announced a revision in 2016, but this will be a key battle for most EU member states.

Overall it is a tough battle to bring about a true Common European migration and asylum policies. It is important to note that the Commission has also opened 40 infringement decisions against 19 Member States for problems in transposing in national law EU legislation in the field of asylum. This shows that it is a long-term undertaking for the European Commission.

Regarding cooperation with third countries, the announcement yesterday of an allocation of humanitarian aid measures close to 1.7 billion euros to support Syrian refugees in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan is crucial. Yet again this is only an immediate measure and more needs to be done to tackle migration and asylum together with EU’s southern neighbours. Since the adoption of the Global Approach to Migration and Mobility in 2005, which governs EU relations with third countries, a lot of attention has focused on externalising EU border management and co-opting third countries in securing EU’s borders. This is not sustainable anymore and the EU need to help those countries to develop true migration and asylum policies. To do so, the EU should be working in close cooperation with international organization such as UNHCR and sit together in task forces to reform national agendas on migration and asylum. So far, only Morocco is currently developing such a policy in the region. This necessarily requires a true cooperation between EU ministry of interior and EU diplomats.

Migration is a transnational phenomenon, which concerns all countries in the Mediterranean. It therefore requires transnational cooperation beyond EU fences and walls.

Thomas LacroixDirecteur Adjoint de Migrinter, Université de Poitiers

Indeed, there is no unity among EU members, if only on the usual “smallest common factor” i.e. security and a minimal agreement on the reception of refugees. This is nothing new and explains the difficulty for the EU to design and implement a coherent migration governance since Maastricht in 1992. There is something ridiculous in this situation. We have on the one hand neighbouring countries of Syria which accommodate 4 million of people while the EU, the first economic power in the world, which is highly reluctant to receive the equivalent of 0,00024% of its population (even the 4 million would still represent 0,008%) on the ground that it would destabilise the cultural basis of the European society…

There is no agreement among EU members, but no agreement either within countries. The French right wing is preparing the coming electoral campaign with immigration as a key issue. Internal tensions also explain the back and forth movements of Germany, etc. The politicisation of immigration since at least two decades forbear any rational discussion about this issue. We are currently paying the cost of this politicisation.

The inflows of refugees could have been better planned. One knows from other examples in Africa or Asia that refugees tend to migrate as close as possible from the their place of origin in order to be able to keep an eye on their properties and keep informed about the evolution of the situation. But if the conflict lasts too long and living condition deteriorate, they tend to migrate further away in safer places. That is what happened with the current crisis. We could have prepared hotspots, police transportation and infrastructure to the coming of refugees. But the stance of EU members is only reactive. That is why I think that the decision to strengthen border controls and quotas are only a way of postponing the need for a longer term solution. Only the increase in the financial support to neighbouring countries is, in my view, a step in the right decision.

Hein de Haas, Co-Director of the International Migration Institute (IMI), Associate Professor in Migration Studies, University of Oxford

Much remains to be done, but the only forward is a truly European response to this issues, which means that countries have to accept the principle of responsibilty sharing, which implies that a quota system is the only practical and moral way forward. Border controls do not work and are counterproductive and only lead to a diversion of refugee flows, more dependence on smugglers (who are service deliverers) and more suffering and dying at the borders. Countries such as Hungary and Slovakia should accept this reality and also take their responsibity in this matter. As long as there is a war going on in Syria and other countries, it is inevitable that refugees will keep on coming. With a populatoin of 500 million, the EU can easily handle this issue if countries share responsibilities.

Nando SigonaSenior Lecturer, Deputy Director, Institute for Research into Superdiversity, University of Birmingham

I think the refugee and migration crisis is straining relations in the EU, however I also think that a collective response is important and necessary. The compulsory quota system is affirming a principle and while there has been much attention to the disagreement of Slovakia and three others, we should also appreciate the fact we have 20 + countries who joined in. As we saw also at previous meetings, EU states seem to find agreement much more easily on ‘tough’ measures, such as destroying boats, building enhanced fences, increasing border policing, as they are much more spendable on the national arena where nationalist pulses are on the increase.

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

Yesterday’s EU summit in Brussels on the refugee and migration crisis resulted in the European Union leaders agreeing on a number of steps to be taken. These included, among others:

–  €1 billion of aid to UN and other agencies helping refugees in the Middle East

– More EU assistance to Turkey and other countries dealing with the arrival of Syrian refugees

– Strengthen border controls

Given the deep intra-EU division on how to deal with the crisis, it is important for the Union’s coherence that the EU has finally managed to agree on some measures. However, the divisions among EU member states continue to exist and are in fact becoming deeper. The fight over the quotas is indicative of that.

Turning to your second question, the EU Summit focused on how to control the influx of refugees and not on how to protect people. As a result, the measures agreed by the EU leaders are a step towards this direction. The question of how to create safer and more legal routes for refugees to access Europe has not been touched upon at the Summit.

Lorenzo NannettiInternational Affairs Analyst

I don’t really see more unity, because there’s a block of countries that is still contrary to any Agreement. But they have proven to be minority and the vote doesn’t require unanimous approval. So what i’m seeing is a better response from some countries about sharing burden and costs, and these countries are the one who can use more political weight on the issue (Germany factors heavily here). Taking for granted that the agreement and related measures are effectively put in action (and this may still to be seen), there remains an issue in dealing with the smuggling networks and in ensuring a proper integration policy inside EU states for migrants/refugees who are accepted. In other words, action is still limited to the end part of the flows (the arrival), but what of the rest?

In addition, we’re seeing lots of walls and fences being built, an indicator of disunity (migration is like water: it follows the path of least resistance) because it signals “let the other country deal with it”. Several countries still use demagogy towards their own people to show “we can close everyone out” (which won’t work in the long run).

Also, media is now looking at flows from Greece/Balkans, but have you noticed (at least here in Italy) someone talking about the trans-Mediterranean flows from North Africa? It looks to have disappeared… (which of course hasn’t).

Ioannis MichaletosPolitical & Security Analyst, Associate at Institute for Security and Defence Analysis

Generally speaking its the first time that the EU at least has agreed to something which by itself is a very big step for the Union. On the other hand the refugee/immigration issue can only be dealt effecively if the original flow is stopped which can only be achieved if the crises in Syria and Iraq are countered. Also there was no real mention on the expanding smuggler network, nor around security issues such as Jihadists infiltration via refugees (for example recently the Kurdish YPG party revealed that the refugee that was thrown down by a Hungarian camerawoman-a very big story in the news-was in fact high ranking member of the Al Nusra terrorist group and has participated in the killings of Kurdish civilians.

Therefore we still have a long way to go, plus the quota system most probably will be seen by smugglers and refugees as a new incentive to travel more to Europe and of course it will not deter them, on the contrary it will facilitate more flows into the EU.

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