Migration: Which is the European Agenda for the Hopeless?
The European Agenda for Migration, launched on May 2015, is a clear example of the political discontinuity promised by Jean-Claude Juncker. Some proposed measures can be described as bold in the current political context: the mandatory quota of refugees from Italy and Greece to be distributed in EU Member States, by activation of the emergency mechanism under Article 78.3 TFEU is certainly a daring proposal.
Some Member States initially opposed the European Commission’s proposal on what they considered an unfair system of calculation of quotas or the exclusive focus on the two southern countries most directly affected. The Council finally has decided to commit to a voluntary system of distribution.
A further controversial proposal on military intervention in Libyan coastal waters for the destruction of boats used by traffickers and smugglers, got the thumbs-down from the Secretary-General and UN Security Council members, including Russia. It is a proposal that no longer has legs.
The deaths in the Mediterranean are on-going, and there are more than one million desperate people in Libya hoping to come to European shores, mainly through Italy. Prime Minister Renzi has called for real European solidarity, highlighting the low number of 26,000 refugees who arrived in Italy to be relocated to other countries in the European Union (14,000 in the case of Greece). Some refugees have already been stopped by the Gendarmerie at the French border crossing of Ventimiglia and tensions between Italy and France are visible. It is evident that the Common European Asylum System needs to be improved, including the revision of the Dublin Regulation. But without political will, legal reforms will always be insufficient.
Twenty thousand more refugees who came directly from third countries will be resettled between EU Member States in a voluntary system over the next two years. The figures are, however, far from insignificant in relation to the real needs of millions of refugees attracted by the stability Europe offers them. Financial aid provided by the EU to encourage Member States to accept these refugees (about €300 million) does not seem sufficient to achieve the objective set by the Commission. Member States know that the real economic cost is higher, but the insurmountable obstacle seems to be the high social and political cost of receiving such migrants and refugees, so many of their leaders want the limitation or even suppression of the proposed measures.
Member States generally agree upon increasing resources envisaged to strengthen Frontex operations (Triton and Poseidon), but the EU agency remains as a primary borders control entity, in spite of some rescues already carried out. While increasing the social and political pressure to Frontex in rescuing people at risk at sea as one of its primary purposes, a modification of its mandate would be accordingly appropriate.
The European Agenda for Migration also addresses the fight against the smuggling of migrants, which has been developed in the five-year plan (2015-2020) published in late May by the European Commission. This plan attracted less media attention than the earlier proposals Yet it does contain an interesting 25 specific measures (legal, law enforcement, judicial, intelligence, etc.), including information campaigns in third countries, publication of a prevention handbook and guidelines for consular and border control authorities and cooperation with third states, aiming at reducing this significant criminal phenomenon.
During this year some EU Member States have had or will hold national and presidential elections. Migration often constitutes one of the hottest and most controversial issues in campaigns and represents a high political cost for whoever is acting decisively in favor of an extension of the status quo. However, the EU and its Member States face a substantial dilemma: to be “European”, that’s to say, responsibly open and supportive to the emergency needs of migrants and refugees, or, on the contrary, to leave behind their own way of being, forgetting their history and moral ethos.
It was the view of the late Pope John Paul II that the roots of Europe made this fertile continent a meeting place of cultures, nations and peoples, and developed its ability to synthesize the new elements in continuous renovation. The bishops of Europe often point out that openness to the other is not primarily a political issue, but a moral imperative. Responsible openness, on the other hand, can ignore neither the reality of individuals and groups who knock at our doors, nor the idiosyncrasy and limited resources of European societies.
José Luis Bazán