Refugee crisis: a test for EU leaders
The law is harsh, but it is the law. This is the message that the countries most affected by the current migration and refugee crisis in the EU wanted to send to other Member States: a lack of consensus means that the rule of the qualified majority laid down in the treaties is imposed. Through this mechanism the four countries of Central and Eastern Europe (Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania) frontally opposed to a mandatory relocation system, will be obliged to implement the decision (Poland softened its position).
Even though the long-term consequences of this new approach are not easy to foresee, it is imaginable that euroscepticism could be easily fed with this argument in countries where social opposition to compulsory relocation is mainstreaming. This qualified majority operated in the Justice and Home Affairs Council of 22 September, adopting the decision (obligatory to all Member States, excepting the UK, Ireland and Denmark) to temporary and exceptionally relocate 120,000 people ‘in clear need of international protection’ over two years from Italy and Greece to other Member States. Hungary decided not to be in the same list as Greece and Italy in spite of the over 50,000 newcomers in its territory.
The expression ‘in clear need of protection’ reminds the complaints made in 2012 by Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands in their letter addressed to the European Commission concerning the ‘fake asylum seekers’ (most of them going to Germany) from Western Balkan countries. It is evident that the problem still remains, as mentioned by Frontex in its Western Balkans Annual Risk Analysis 2012. The actual recognition rate of Western Balkan asylum applications in the EU and Schengen-associated countries is from 1% (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) to 8,1% (Albania). In fact, the vast majority of these citizens are migrants for economic reasons.
Reinforcement of external borders
If relocation was the star attraction in the Home Affairs Council, the informal meeting of EU heads of state and government of 23 September represented a better example of consensual agreements, probably because the main issues were related not to the current migrants/refugees present in the EU, but on how to stop an uncontrolled influx of those ‘millions’ (Tusk dixit) waiting in neighbouring countries to live the ‘European dream’: up to 5 million, according to some sources, could be willing to enter into the EU in the next five years, plus those others waiting outside for family reunification purposes.
The answer of the EU Council is articulated around four pillars: a) reinforcing EU external borders; b) providing external assistance to neighbouring countries (particularly, Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, but also Western Balkan states) and refugees living in them; c) helping African states to alleviate the grounds causing their people to migrate; and, d) addressing the situation in Syria and Libya. The three first pillars are practically expressed in funding and technical assistance, while the forth one represents an extraordinary political and diplomatic task that the EU should face with determination. The end of the war in Syria is the goal to reach: difficult but absolutely necessary. In this regard, the active participation of the EU in the ad hoc UN-led conference is indispensable, as it is the effort to push a united government in Libya to control the territory and neutralize traffickers and smugglers and their criminal activities.
Schengen at stake
The current migration and refugee crisis has certainly had an impact on the Schengen system, and some doubts about its future were raised. To clarify any doubt, the EU heads of state and government sent the message to all EU Members States to avoid the failure of the most cherished achievement of the EU (freedom of movement): ‘We have all to uphold, apply and implement our existing rules, including the Dublin regulation and the Schengen acquis.’ The European Commission is very proactive in this regard, having initiated 40 infringement proceedings against 19 Member States for failing in their legal duties with respect to EU asylum law. At the same time internal free movement is considered possible only if external borders are controlled: ‘Now the focus should be on the proper protection of our external borders and on external assistance to refugees and the countries in our neighbourhood’, declared EU Council President Donald Tusk. If solidarity was usually the principle invoked in the EU, now responsibility is becoming the mainstreaming word amongst Member States.
José Luis Bazán