The recent tragedies in the Mediterranean, with the loss in a few days of hundreds of lives of people desperately trying to reach the EU shores, brought starkly to the fore the issue of migration, both of the asylum-seeking and the economic kind. In a typical fashion, EU ministers and heads of government reacted with half-baked measures, trying to respond to the emergency at hand but failing to put forward a comprehensive strategy or vision for addressing the issue and its root causes in the long run.
Meeting in Luxembourg on 20 April, EU Foreign and Home Affairs Ministers agreed on a 10-point plan for dealing with the immediate humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean. Three days later, in an emergency summit, the heads of government made a number of commitments that partly reproduce, partly define better and occasionally expand the ministerial 10 points. After briefly speaking of a tragedy in the Mediterranean and declaring that “Our immediate priority is to prevent more people from dying at sea”, the headings chosen by the European leaders for their commitments are indicative of the way the EU works, or does not (with our questions and comments):
– Strengthening our presence at sea, which includes tripling resources for the limited EU search and rescue operations Triton and Poseidon;
– Fighting traffickers in accordance with international law, including the legally dubious destruction of vessels before they are used by traffickers (where exactly?) and a possible CSDP (Common Security and Defence Policy) operation to that effect (off to new military adventures in foreign lands?);
– Preventing illegal migration flows, which includes support to countries of origin and transit to control their borders and migration routes (à la Australia and its out-of-country refugee detention camps?), and using development assistance to promote the return of economic migrants to their homes;
– Reinforcing internal solidarity and responsibility, including emergency aid to frontline EU member states, deploying teams of the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) to jointly process asylum applications with those states, and setting up “a first voluntary pilot project on resettlement across the EU, offering places to persons qualifying for protection” (emphasis on “voluntary”?).
Glaringly missing from this set of commitments are:
- An overall framework that would allow for legal migration of skilled and unskilled labour, of which the EU is in need, not least because of its ageing population and increasing demographic deficit. That would go a long way towards providing potential economic migrants with an outlet for their energies and deprive human traffickers from their lucrative and lethal trade.
- A self-critical assessment of the causes of asylum-seeking and migration that often originate from states that failed after Western intervention, including European political and often military meddling with no clear long-term plan, notably Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.
- Broader joint control of the Union’s common borders, the responsibility for which still unfairly falls primarily on the frontline states, not only those in the South of the Union, despite the existence of Frontex.
- Any rethinking of the current legal framework that saddles the frontline states with the burden of caring for and processing the applications of thousands of migrant who arrive there, and penalizes a small number of countries that generously accept to receive asylum seekers, like Germany and Sweden, as final destinations.
The next hope for decisive action, which might include the missing points mentioned above (although it would be unwise to hold one’s breath for that), would be the European Agenda for Migration, to be elaborated by the Commission by May and considered by the European Council in June 2015. Europe’s citizens, civil society and others who care should put pressure so that something substantive and long-term comes out of this process, for the sake of the Union, its frontline and asylum granting states, but also of the millions who view Europe as paradise for a better future and face death or politico-bureaucratic hell once they attempt to reach it.