The Unacceptable European Policies and Narratives towards Migrants

Sources: The New York Times and Associated Press
Sources: The New York Times and Associated Press

Too much has been said in dehumanizing the refugees coming to Europe in the name of simplification and nationalism (read here a previous analysis on the issue). The 71 refugees recently found dead in a truck in Austria is another horrific example of the tragedy taking place on European ground. Ensuing the discovery of the 71 corpses in the truck in Austria, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, made a powerful, and yet short, statement about the migration crisis in Europe. “This is a human tragedy” he declared “that requires a determined collective political response. It is a crisis of solidarity, not a crisis of numbers.”

It seems that the Austrian case has motivated Germany, France and the United Kingdom in seeking for a European solution. A call for action from Berlin, London and Paris is important as they are the most powerful capitals in the EU and usually action occurs once the three of them have set the motion on. However, on the question of migration, they have diverging reasons: Germany is the largest receiver of asylum seekers and seriously needs assistance from its European partners; the United Kingdom is rethinking its European membership and Cameron appears to be in favor of maintaining the UK within the EU, so he cannot move to far right; France receives a large amount a refugees and is dealing with rising cases of terrorist attacks. For the three of them action will always look better from a domestic standpoint. Ultimately on September 14th, the EU ministers of interior will be meeting at an emergency summit.

Even though the three EU powerhouses have agreed on seeking for a common approach, other EU Member States have adopted anti-migrants measures that go against the normative and ethical standards established, agreed and promoted by the European Union.

Anti-European Measures?

With increasing numbers of migrants coming from the Middle East, North Africa, and Africa, several EU Member States have implemented radical measures in dealing with the large movement of migrants (read previous analyses here and here on the issue). Interestingly enough, these Member States are not receivers of migrants, but are transit countries on the way to the final destinations of Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Sweden. The measures implemented by Bulgaria, Hungary, France, and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (an EU candidate country) are troublesome.

Source: Europol & BBC
Source: Europol & BBC

Bulgaria, one of the most recent EU Member States, is a transit country for most migrants coming from Turkey. Bulgaria deployed troops, which included tanks, to its border with Turkey and Macedonia. Such political move has raised some serious criticism from human rights groups. The Bulgarian Ministry of Defense argued that it was simply a “preventive” operation. A military solution to a human crisis is generally not the most appropriate option. Bulgaria has as well built a 160-km fence along its border with Turkey. And Slovakia only wants Christian refugees.

Hungary has received the most negative coverage and attention for its approach to dealing with the crisis. Hungary’s policies are directly aligned with the government led by Viktor Orbán. His narratives against migrants and even the EU have been quite virulent. “The

Photo: Attila Kisbenedek/AFP/Getty
Photo: Attila Kisbenedek/AFP/Getty

prime minister and many members of his cabinet have made it perfectly clear,” argued Marton Dunai of Reuters “saying things like, we don’t want thousands and thousands rampaging through the country every day.” As Bulgaria, Hungary is a transit state to richer EU countries, as it is “the gateway to Europe’s visa-free Schengen zone.” In order to lower the number of migrants crossing the country, the government has ordered the creation of a razor wire fence along its border with Serbia. This fence is more of a nationalist stunt than a wall blocking migrants in Serbia. Asked on the wall being built by Hungary, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius expressed his anger towards the Hungarian initiative. “I take a very dim view, a very dim view” said Laurent Fabius. “Hungary is part of Europe. Europe has values and these values are not respected by putting up wire fences.” The comments by Laurent Fabius have created a fraught between France and Hungary. Hungarian Foreign Minister, Peter Szijjarto, responded that “Instead of shocking and groundless judgements, one should instead concentrate on finding common solutions for Europe” and has even summoned the French Ambassador to Hungary.

Source: The Economist. 2015
Source: The Economist. 2015

France should as well be listed as a EU Member State not doing enough in the case of the migration crisis. The recent call by the French government for an emergency summit is a positive element, but for too long France has let camps grow in the suburbs of Calais, first with Sangatte and now with the Jungle. The current situation in the Calais camp demonstrates the lack of desire by the French government to deal properly with the 5,000 migrants trying to reach the other side of the English Channel. European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans has announced that France will receive up to five million euros that “will be used to set up a camp that can provide humanitarian assistance to around 15-hundred migrants. The money will also go on transporting asylum seekers to other destinations in France.” France has not done enough in the last decade to create appropriate infrastructures in the region of Calais to accommodate the migrants.

The last case is the recent use of force by the Macedonian authorities. The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is not a EU Member State, but a EU candidate. As Bulgaria, they do not belong to the Schengen agreement and are transit countries. Macedonia is directly on the path to Hungary. In the last two months, Macedonia has recorded over 40,000 migrants crossing its country to either go to Serbia or Hungary. In August 21st, the Macedonia authorities used force against migrants. This event comes at a time wherein the Prime Minister has been facing serious domestic criticism as he is facing allegations of illegal wire-taps, corruption and authoritarianism.

 

Cartoon: Kountouris
Cartoon: Kountouris

Amalgams and Political Games

Extreme-right wing and mainstream parties throughout the Union have oversimplified the migration crisis in the name of short-termism and nationalism. The rise of nationalist parties throughout the EU framing the debate and ultimately fostering fear in the hearts of many Europeans and elected officials are transforming the debate on one of the most important problems facing the Union into an absolute aberration.

The amalgam that has been made, and is starting to hold in the collective memory, that migration translates into an increase of terrorist and criminal acts has to be rejected by the elected officials. The recent tragic event in the Thalys train from Amsterdam to Paris has nothing to do with the current migration crisis. But the link is continuously made and hammered by media and politicians that a belief with no empirical evidences, as most of the specialized literature on terrorism rejects, is being transformed into a fact. Elected officials, politicians in Europe and in the US are constantly reminding the audience of such belief.

Across the pond, the leading candidate for the Republican nomination, Donald Trump,

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images
Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

has completely shifted the debate on immigration from a social problem into a security problem using similar strategy. In the brilliant piece published in the New Yorker, Evan Osnos quotes Trump’s 1987 memoir, wherein he wrote “I [Donald Trump] play to people’s fantasies. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration – and a very effective form of promotion.” The words and narratives made by politicians like Donald Trump, Marine LePen, Nicolas Sarkozy, Vicktor Orbán, David Cameron, Geert Wilders are a constant reminder of the danger of radicalizing a debate as contentious as immigration. The case of Thalys, perpetuated by a Moroccan citizen Ayoub el Khazzani, clearly a terrorist act, has no connection with Syrian refugees fleeing a warzone between dictator Bashar Al-Assad, ISIS, and a multitude of factions.

“This may not matter to the National Front’s core electorate,” wrote top French expert François Heisbourg in an op-ed published in the Financial Times “but it does mean that mainstream policy has largely conceded defeat when it comes to values. Europe is better than this; so is France. Europe’s leaders need to live up to our responsibilities as humans and as neighbours, assume part of the burden, and talk straight to the electorate. Continued European and French fecklessness will only improve the far-right’s prospects of success, and deepen what is already an unprecedented crisis.”

Juncker called in a recent op-ed for “collective courage,” rather than solidarity. Now is the time to do so. The migrant crisis has underlined a paradox between national asylum policies and the schengen agreement of open borders. This crisis, like the Euro crisis, demonstrates the challenges that the EU and its Member States are facing in balancing out national priorities (protection of national sovereignty like fiscal policies, defense and immigration) and the deepening of the integration process. One of the recent tensions between the Member States and the EU has been about the Schengen Agreement. If conservative parties want to reintroduce border control, either to stop migrants or terrorists, the Commission refuses to touch at the border-free agreement calling it one of the greatest European accomplishment.

The migration crisis is highlighting another paradox in the European integration process between European and national interests. The tensions between the Member States and Brussels cannot continue any longer. Letting migrants die and be mistreated on European ground is an unacceptable reality.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).
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Politico Lands in Brussels

PHOTO: JIM WATSON/AFP
PHOTO: JIM WATSON/AFP

Politico, the giant of American/D.C. politics, is now observing, dissecting, and commenting on Brussels’ political life. In less than a decade Politico, founded in 2007, has become a powerhouse in American media, covering political life in D.C. and in the US. April 20th was the grand opening of Politico Europe online and its first printed version will be sold on Thursday, April 23rd in several European capitals.

The European adventure started in September 2014 with German publisher Axel Springer creating a European edition of Politico based in Brussels. In December 2014, Politico bought the European political newspaper, European Voice, and rebranded it Politico Europe Edition. The executive body of Politico Europe is composed of Shéhérazade Semsar-de Boisséson, the owner and publisher of European Voice, as managing director, Matthew Kaminski of the Wall Street Journal, as executive editor, and John F. Harris the Editor-in-Chief. John Harris made Politico what it is thanks to his coverage of the US Presidential campaign of 2008. Many thought that Politico would die after the presidential campaign, but it continued and today accounts for over 7 million readers per month. Politico was even compared as a ‘scoop factory‘ by The New Republic in a lengthy 2009 piece.

In the case of Europe, Politico already includes 40 journalists (with some serious names previously working for Reuters, Wall Street Journal, USA Today such as Kalina Oroschakoff, Craig Winneker, Nicholas Vinocur and Pierre Briançon in Paris), and bureaus in Berlin, London and Paris. Other bureaus in Moscow and Frankfurt (to cover the ECB) are scheduled to open later on this year.

Photo: Larry Fink for The New York Times
Photo: Larry Fink for The New York Times

One of the landmarks of Politico US is the Politico Playbook by Mike Allen. In a 2010 article, the New York Times ran a story titled, The Man the White House Wakes Up To. In this piece, Mark Leibovich argued that Mike Allen’s Playbook sent by email between 5:30 and 8:30am 7 days a week is the must read in D.C. in order to start the day. Five years later it is still the case. Particularly for Europe, Ryan Heath is now running The Brussels Playbook. Mr. Heath joined the European Commission spokespersons service in 2011 under José Manuel Barroso, former President of the Commission, and has since worked for prestigious media outlets.

In one of the first article published on Politico.eu, Harris and Kaminski, in a dialogue format, discuss the place and role for Politico in Europe. “Too much of the traditional reporting on the EU ” claims Kaminski “looks and tastes like oatmeal.” However, Politico, argues Harris, “has an institutional identity of self-confidence bordering on obnoxious” driven by the “fear of failure.” 

For having studied and monitored European politics for almost a decade, it surely seems that Politico has found a clear niche. Aside from the strong, but too specialized platforms available, like Bruxelles2, Politico covers everything remotely connected to politics. Despite Euractiv, the former European Voice and EuObserver, Politico is finally filling a void in monitoring Brussels’ political life. Beware Brussels, American media is now going to “put on a fun party for the people who live and breathe pan-European politics.” Toast with jam will work perfectly with the oatmeal.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

The Berlin Wall – The Centerpiece of European Integration?

Photograph: Rex Features
Photograph: Rex Features

The fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9th, 1989 is one of the most important geopolitical events of the late 20th century. It marks the onset of the fall of the Soviet Union, symbolizes the end of the Cold War, and launches a new round in the construction of the European Union. Germany, and especially Berlin, were celebrating on Sunday the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

On the one hand, the fall is a direct celebration of the freedom and liberty of the people from state-oppression. On the other, the fall of the Wall created a series of fears and concerns in Western Europe and the US wondering about: What would a reunified Germany look like? Can a reunified Germany be left unchecked? How can the West maintain strong ties with Germany? The answer was: incorporation of the reunified Germany into the Western institutional networks, meaning the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU). In the case of NATO, a reunified Germany did neither affect its institutional design nor its principles, but it permitted Western powers to ‘control’ Germany on questions of defense and security. However, in the case of the EU, the reunification was an axiomatic moment leading to an unprecedented effort towards greater and deeper integration.

Even though the reunification of Germany triggered a new round in the integration process of the Union, at first Western EU Member States were extremely concerned of this geopolitical shift. Soon after the reunification of Germany, a year later, France and Britain understood the need to incorporate the unified Germany inside the European Communities (EC). But the period from November 9th, 1989 to the signature of the

Source: Madame Le Figaro
Source: Madame Le Figaro

Two-Plus Four Treaty (between the US, the Soviet Union, UK and France) on September 12, 1990, granting full sovereignty to Germany,  was very tense. At first, London and Paris were opposed to the reunification as they feared that it would upset the balance of power on the European chessboard. For instance, during a meeting on December 8th, 1989, Margaret Thatcher expressed her fears to her French counterpart, François Mitterrand, about the resurgence of a ‘Grand Reich.’ Additionally, France did not want to see its deep ties with West Germany being upset by a new Germany; while, the UK aspired to maintain its special relationship with the US.

Ultimately, the integration process of the EC was closely linked to the desire to ‘anchor’ the reunified Germany inside a European network of institutions, rules, principles and procedures. In parallel, Paris and London were disagreeing on the degree of European integration required. The 1986 Single European Act (SEA) laying out the foundation of the future European Monetary Union (EMU) and a 1990 intergovernmental meeting pushed the trend towards deeper political, economic and even security integration. The SEA established the common market, the heart and soul of the EU. London was not ready to accept deeper integration as it saw it as a threat to its national sovereignty (seems familiar?). Nevertheless, the 1992 Treaty of Maastricht, incorporating all these dimensions, was a solution to the ‘German dilemma.’ Following the fall of the Wall, “the Treaty of Maastricht became a priority in order to solidify the Union and integrate a reunified Germany inside Europe” (refer to Chapter 5 of Debating European Security and Defense Policy).

The construction of the European experiment took a sharp turn moving from the European Communities (EC) to the European Union (EU). In a matter of three years, the Maastricht Treaty strengthened and deepened the integration process of the European construction. Maastricht laid out the EU under a three-pillars system (see illustration below):

  • the first pillar, the European Communities, dealt with the Common Market and the four freedoms linked to it (under supranational decision-making process)
  • the second pillar, the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), offered the Union and its Member States an institutionalized external policy (under intergovernmental decision-making process)
  • the third pillar, the Justice and Home Affairs (JHA), dealt with the policies of the sector of justice and police (under intergovernmental decision-making process)
Source: Institute for Language and Speech Processing (ILSP)
Source: Institute for Language and Speech Processing (ILSP)

Undeniably, the European Communities was a passive geopolitical entity, principally focusing on trade and economics, throughout the Cold War. Such risk-aversion was possible for several reasons: NATO offering a security umbrella over the continent; and active Member States like France and the United Kingdom provided security and did not want to see the EC overshadowing their national sovereignty. As well, the European Communities was not design to be an active security and defense actor. With the end of the Cold War and the reunification of the Germany, the EU understood the importance to increase its role in geopolitics and foreign affairs. Despite the creation of the CFSP, it took almost a decade for the creation of the European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP). The 1990s demonstrated, once again, the European inabilities to secure its neighborhood. Additionally, the integration of a reunified Germany as a full NATO member soon after the fall of the Wall was an important moment in order to lower some of the transatlantic concerns about the future of Germany as a regional actor.

Lastly, the fall of the Berlin Wall symbolizes the end of an era for Western power, the victory of liberal democracy over communism (remember Fukuyama’s “End of History”) and underlines the power of individual freedoms in Germany and Europe. The fall of the Wall illustrates the end of the Cold War, which has appeared to be dearly missed in the BRITAIN-G8-SUMMITWest, especially in America. The Cold War was a period of relative stability, offered by the bipolarity of the world order (as theorized and advanced by neorealism), between two blocs, two models. 25 years later, American leadership, especially its most conservative/hawkish branch, is looking back at the Cold War with a certain degree of nostalgia. Today’s world does not hold such clear cut enemy and strategic approach to containing and/or confronting the enemy. All these narratives and actions are all intertwined inside this axiomatic moment of the Fall of the Berlin Wall.

(Copyright 2014 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

Key Dates for the Fall in Europe

Image by European People's Party, used under Creative Commons 2.0 license.
Image by European People’s Party, used under Creative Commons 2.0 license.

Summer 2014 was far from peaceful with its wide variety of crises from the European inabilities to select the High Representative, President and Chairman of the Eurogroup, to the continuous and vicious rise of ISIS in Iraq, the war in the Middle East between Israel and Hamas, the continuous chess-game between Russia and the West over Ukraine, the targeting of a Malaysian flight over Ukraine by pro-Russian militiamen, the increase of European sanctions against Russia, the Russian imports bans on EU food products, all this under the complex and dire economic slowdown of European economies. So yes, Summer 2014 was a good one for analysts and a long one for civil servants (listen here to a chronicle, in french, about Western leaders’ vacations).

This succession of events underscores a clear regional shift occurring in Europe and the Arab world. The EU and its Member States have had serious challenges in shaping events in their neighborhoods (see here a recent post on this issue). One reason behind this European inability seats in the complex domestic problems/tensions/issues within the Union. The EU has become so complex with a large number of Member States that it does require a clear leadership. Unfortunately, the original powers – France and Britain – are for different causes trying to remain powerful and influential, when their credibilities are being _75388462_75388461undermined by their behaviors and domestic contexts. Britain is soul-searching about its European future, while France is unable to address its structural problems and its popular dislike of the EU. Germany is otherwise leading Europe by default. With this complex power-shift and power-searching among the Big three – Berlin, London and Paris – the European ship seems in search of a new direction. One of the most obvious examples was the inabilities to appoint a new President of the European Council and High-Representative back in June. Postponing the appointments has sent the wrong message to Europeans and the world, as well as affecting Europe’s credibility as a global power.

This end of the summer and early Fall 2014 are important for the EU as some of the most pressing issues will be addressed. European leaders ought to finally agree on the top jobs. Aside from European politics, NATO will be meeting for its traditional high-level summit, and Scotland’s future within the United Kingdom will be decided. A Scottish independence from the UK could open the Pandora’s box of regional independence and European membership. Here are some important dates to remember for this end of summer and early autumn (based on the original list published by European Voice):

  • 26 August: Summit on Ukraine in Belarus. Scheduled to attend are Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s president, Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, and three members of the Commission
  • 30 August: Summit to name next representative for foreign affairs and security policy,
    Credit: European Council
    Credit: European Council

    president of the European Council, and president of the Eurogroup

  • 31 August: Jean-Claude Juncker expected to announce composition of college of European commissioners and distribution of portfolios
  • 3 September: Deadline for MEPs to submit questions for nominated European commissioners ahead of confirmation hearings
  • 4-5 September: NATO summit in Wales
  • Second half of September: Confirmation hearings for nominees for next college of European commissioners begin
  • 14 September: Swedish general election
  • 18 September: Referendum on Scottish independence
  • 4 October: Latvian parliamentary election
  • 5 October: Bulgarian parliamentary election
(Copyright 2014 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).