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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A French Headache Called Mistral

Credits: Jean-Sébastien Evrard/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Credits: Jean-Sébastien Evrard/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The Mistral warships are becoming one of the hottest issues for the French government in light of the Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea and now Eastern Ukraine. On November 25th, some media outlets (read here and here) announced that France was moving on with the delivery of its first Mistral ship on November 27th. Soon after these reports, the French President, François Hollande, announced in a communiqué published by the French Embassy in the US that:

The French President believes the current situation in eastern Ukraine still does not permit the delivery of the first [Mistral] amphibious landing ship. He has therefore considered it appropriate to postpone until further notice the examination of the authorization request necessary for the export of the first amphibious landing ship to the Russian Federation./.
 

Ultimately, the questions have been since the invasion of Ukraine: Will France deliver the Mistral-class warships to Russia? and when? Additionally, another one has emerged: how can France arm the principal aggressor on the European continent?

Origins of the Deal

The Franco-Russian deal was signed in 2011 and consisted in the construction of two Mistral-class helicopter carriers. The first one, the Vladivostok, is supposed to be delivered this month, and the second, the Sevastopol, later in 2016. The value of the contract for the construction of the two warships is of €1.12 billion, which has already been paid in full by Russia. The 2011 contract for the sale of two Mistral-class amphibious assault ships was the first large sale from a NATO country to Russia in the post-Cold War era.

The deal was signed in January 2011 between two former Presidents, Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Dmitry Medvedev of Russia. Aside from the obvious economic gains and industrial prestige, Nicolas Sarkozy justified the deal in order to end once and for all the old Cold War enmities. He claimed that “One cannot expect Russia to behave as a partner if we don’t treat them as one.” Was it Sarkozy’s ‘reset button’ moment?

Following the signature of the deal, former french President told STX workers that this deal “represents 6 million hours of work and 1,500 jobs over four years” at the shipyard in the coastal town of Saint-Nazaire. Once elected in May 2012, François Hollande declared that the deal would remain. It was only in 2014, months prior the first delivery, that the tension increased considering the geopolitical context. In May, despite the annexation of Crimea and invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the French government declared that the deal was still on creating some concerns across the pond. Despite the economic sanctions implemented by the EU-28 during the summer against Russia (principally individuals), France was still willing to deliver the warship on time. It was only early September that France, under pressures by its allies, laid out two conditions for the delivery: a cease-fire and a political resolution of the Ukrainian crisis. And since October, a political game between Moscow and Paris has begun between the two partners, with Moscow claiming that France would deliver the ship on time, and Paris responding that the government has yet to make a decision. In recent time, Russia is telling his French counterpart that France has until the end of the month to deliver the first Mistral, otherwise, Moscow could eventually seek for claims for a breach of contract. However, on Tuesday, November 25th, Yuri Borisov, Russian Deputy Defense Minister, has announced that so far Russia would not seek for damages.

The Mistral – A Game Changer

The Mistral-class helicopter carriers produced by the French shipyards of Saint Nazaire are important and powerful logistical military instruments. These Mistral-class ships offer a variety of tactical and materials advantages as explained by Military-Today (for more technical information on the Mistral amphibious assault ship (LHD) class see here):

  • transport and rapid deployment of helicopters (from 16 to 35 helicopters with 6 landing spots);
  • mechanized landing craft;
  • carry a full tank battalion (from 40 tanks to 70 lighter vehicles);
  • carry from 450 marines up to 900 troops;
  • become modular field hospital;
  • be deployed as command and control vessel with up to 150 personnel;

The figure below illustrates the versatility of Mistral-class warship.

Mistral

Undeniably, the Mistral-class would offer a serious strategic advantage to the Russian navy. For instance, in the case of the 2008 Russo-Georgian war, Russian admiral Vladimir Vyssotsky argued that “With a Mistral-type vessel during the South Ossetian conflict, the Russian military could have accomplished all its missions in 40 minutes instead of 26 hours.”

The headaches of the French Government:

Aside from the obvious technological and military functions, the Mistral-class warships are causing complex problems, of different orders – political, economic, and strategic -,  for the French government.

First, when money tromps regional stability. The financial crisis and its domestic impacts on the French economy and society are affecting the strategic vision of French leaders. The deal signed in 2011 was seen as an important economic boost for France. It not only created hundreds of job in the shipyards of Saint Nazaire, but as well boosted the production of heavy military armaments by the French armament industry. The French industrials are now fearing that a breach of contract may affect their global credibility and reliability for future armament sales with foreign states. Currently, France stands as the fifth world largest arms supplier. In 2012, France totaled €6.87 billion of arms sales, which provide over 50,000 jobs in France. Ultimately, the economic impacts could be serious for the French economy and its military-technological industries. Such claim was validated by a conversation between President Obama and Hollande in Paris in June. As reported by Vincent Jauvert of Euromaidan Press, Obama said “I am deeply concerned. The annexation of Crimea is not a good signal. Why not cancel the deal?” To which, Hollande replied “Because I do not wish to discard the reputation of France.”

Last but not least, with the €1.12 billion already paid in full, the penalty for France for not delivering the warships is valued at €250 million. In case, the Socialist government decides to stop the sale of the warships, €250 million fine plus the two unsold warships could become a serious political headache for the current government.

Second, the delivery of the Vladivostok would send the wrong message to Moscow. By providing such military instrument in times wherein Russia is destabilizing the Eastern neighborhood of the Union, France cannot afford from a strategic point of view to deliver it. Since 2008, Russia has perturbed the European continent with the war in Georgia (2008), the invasion and annexation of Crimea, the incident of Malaysian airliner (weapons provided by Russia to Ukrainian separatists), and the sponsoring of Ukrainian separatists. Politically, France, despite its deep and historical ties with Russia, cannot provide such capability. The invasions of Crimea and now of Ukraine directly threaten the stability on the European continent. President Hollande argued that the delivery was on hold because of Russia’s behavior running “against the foundations of security in Europe.” Additionally, Vladimir Putin is advancing Russian interests until he will meet a serious challenge. Until then, Putin won’t alter his strategy.

Third, what about Europe? The EU has had trouble formulating a clear response and strategy in dealing with Russia for over a decade. For France to deliver the warships in this difficult time for the Union would demonstrate its absolute irrelevance in foreign affairs. Individually, EU Member States such as the United Kingdom, Germany and naturally Eastern EU Member States have expressed their concerns. London has for instance called on suspending the deal. Despite the criticisms emerging from 10 Downing Street, the UK is still receiving large amount of money and investments coming from Russia. From Eastern Europe, these warships represent a real threat to their national security. Radek Sikorski, Polish Foreign Minister, advanced that “Russian generals have already said what these ships will be used for: to threaten Russia’s neighbors in the Black Sea and that means Europe’s partners.”

The deal is a bad one for European security. How can France provide military assets to a state in search of destabilizing the European balance of power and promoting its interests at any cost? France is unable to respond to such crucial question.

Fourth, what about the French political voices? The French political extremes, right and left combined, have expressed their opposition to the current status-quo on delivering the warship. For instance, Marine LePen of the Front National, extreme-right, argued that it was a clear demonstration of French submission to American hegemony.She said that it “reveals our subservience to American diplomacy.” A similar argument about American imperialism was formulated by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the extreme left.

Marine Le Pen, whom has become an apparent force in shaping the French political debate, added that the decision to uphold the delivery is serious as “it runs contrary to the interests of the country.” From her point of view, the reasons are double: French jobs would be at risk and France would have to pay a fine if it failed to deliver the warships. Aside from the economic argument made by the Front National, one should underscore that the party recently accepted a €9 million loan from a Moscow-based First Czech Russian Bank. Moscow has become a large financial sponsor for extreme-right parties throughout Europe.

Even, Nicolas Sarkozy holds the same message that the extreme right, which is not surprising, when arguing mid-November that “France needs to honor its words and deliver the Mistrals, France decides by itself, not from what the US wants.” Sarkozy, in search of re-gaining the leadership of the right wing party, UMP, and ultimately the French presidency is demonstrating once again his desire to fulfill his personal ambitions rather than demonstrating his understanding of geopolitics.

In sum, the future of these two Mistral-class warships is still unclear. On the one hand, as advanced by the New York Times, “a decision by France to suspend the deal would encourage other European countries to accept whatever sacrifices future sanctions might entail.” Such action would demonstrate the commitment by France to stand against Russia in its clear violations (read analyses on the issue here and here). On the other hand, some experts have argued that France could sell it to other buyers, preferably NATO members. In recent days, Canada, or even the European Union (in theory), have appeared as a possible buyers of the warships. Until then, the Mistral-gate is here to stay.

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