Agenda on Migration – Forget about Soft Power and Solidarity

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With the death of 600 migrants in April, the EU and its Member States have been working on finding a solution to a serious and pressing regional crisis. In a matter of a month several proposals, with diverging philosophical orientation, have been drafted. On the one hand, the Juncker’s proposal, initiated by the European Commission, seeks in deepening the integration process through an harmonization and homogenization of EU immigration and asylum policies. While on the other hand, the Council of the EU agreed on the creation of a military CSDP naval mission, EU Naval Force in the Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR-Med), in order to disrupt smugglers. Even thought the Juncker’s proposal addresses a long-term need, it fosters opposition in most EU Member States, while EUNAVFOR only provides a quick and superficial fix to the problem of mass migrations. So far the EU and its Member States have not found the proper answer to this crucial regional crisis.

The Juncker’s Proposal: European Agenda on Migration

The European Commission presented its European Agenda on Migration on May 13th in order to contain and solve the current crisis taking place in the Mediterranean sea. The publication of the Commission’s agenda is a reaction of the massive influx of migrants and refugees coming from Libya, a transit country (read here a previous analysis on the migration crisis). Ensuing the largest human tragedy causing the death of 600 migrants in mid-April and an extraordinary European summit meeting leading to no real lasting solutions, Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the Commission, declared on announcing its Agenda that “We will be ambitious. We will be bold.”

The Agenda produced by the Commission laid out several policies. The first one consists in finding solutions through immediate actions:

  • Tripling the capacities and assets for the Frontex joint operations Triton (off the coasts of Italy) and Poseidon (off the coasts of Greece) in order to save lives;
  • destroying criminal smuggling networks through a possible Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) operation in the Mediterranean to dismantle traffickers’ networks and fight smuggling of people. Federica Mogherini, EU foreign policy chief, was at the UN Security Council on May 11th seeking for a UNSC resolution allowing EU Member States “to deploy military force to seize and destroy smugglers’ ships before they take on their human cargo”;
  • Relocation of migrants;
  • an EU-wide resettlement scheme to offer 20,000 places distributed in all Member States. The EU budget will dedicate an additional €50 million in 2015/16 to solve this problem;
  • Working with third countries in order to solve the root causes of migrations;
Source: EurActiv
Source: EurActiv

The infogram produced by EurActiv (see above) illustrates which EU Member States are the largest recipients of migrants and refugees and the main destinations. No surprise in finding Germany, France, Sweden and Italy as the main destination for migrants and refugees.

The second dimension of the Commission’s Agenda is about managing migration better on the long run.

  • first, the EU wants to address the root causes of migrations, crack down on smugglers and traffickers, and provide clarity in return policies;
  • second, develop better border management capabilities and increasing the power of Frontex;
  • third, develop a common asylum policy at the EU level. The Commission wants to create a Common European Asylum System;
  • fourth, a new policy on legal migration in order to attract skilled workers to the EU. The Commission wants to solidify a Europe-wide scheme, called the Blue Card Directive;
Source: European Commission
Source: European Commission

National Oppositions to the Juncker’s Proposal

All the EU Member States are not welcoming these new directives. For instance, the United Kingdom has announced that it would not participate in any quota scheme to distribute refugees across EU. In the case of Britain and Ireland, both countries have an ‘opt out clause’ allowing them to decide to participate or not on a specific program of this nature. The Home Office of the UK already released a statement saying that “We [Britain] will not participate in any legislation imposing a mandatory system of resettlement or relocation.” For Denmark, the country has an opt-out right where they do not participate at all. “The exemptions granted to the three countries are making it difficult for the commission to impose binding quotas on the 25 remaining EU member states, EU sources told AFP.”

The position of several EU Member States challenges the concept of European solidarity. “The European Council clearly stated that we need to find European solutions,” said First Vice-President Frans Timmermans “based on internal solidarity and the realisation that we have a common responsibility to create an effective migration policy.” Dimitris Avramopoulos, Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Commissioner, underscored the same message when saying that “In a spirit of greater solidarity, we are determined to implement a comprehensive approach that will improve significantly the management of migration in Europe.”

France already announced over the weekend that it was against the provision (read here a piece by Politico on France’s position). In case the quotas were to be implemented, “France would be asked to accept 14.17 percent of all those who reach the EU, while Germany would receive 18.42 percent, Italy 11.84 percent, and Spain 9 percent.” Instead France would be in favor to increase the number of asylum seekers. “Asylum is a right, attributed according to international criteria …” said French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, “That is why the number of its beneficiaries cannot be subject to quotas, one is an asylum seeker or not.” The Commission’s plan was rejected by seven other EU Member States, Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, and Poland. These ought to be added to the three EU Member States with opt-out rights like Britain, Ireland and Denmark.

The difference between the quota system and the current asylum rules is quite simple. By implementing a quota system, the Commission seeks in helping frontline states, like Greece, Italy and Spain, and sharing the burden across the EU. While the current system of asylum, established under the Dublin II, stipulates that the asylum seekers ought to ask for asylum in the country of arrival. The Commission’s plan is in fact a strategy in order to avoid frontline countries to be overflow by migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers in case of an explosion of migrating flux as predicated for 2015 and the coming years.

This agenda produced by the Commission is unlikely to be adopted as such. The foreign ministers discussed the agenda on May 18th, and will be preparing for the final plan for the June 25 EU leaders meeting.

The Military Option – EUNAVFOR to Combat Migration

Photo: Lynsey Addario for The New York Times
Photo: Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

Ensuing the May 18th meeting between European foreign and defense ministers, the EU agreed on the launch of a CSDP naval mission in order to stop and disrupt smugglers in the Mediterranean. In the conclusions of the meeting, the Council argued that “This [global security environment] calls for a stronger Europe, with a stronger and more effective Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP).”

The EU naval force – EUNAVFOR Med – will be based in Rome and headed by Italian Rear Admiral Enrico Credendino. EUNAVFOR Med will cover the Southern Central Mediterranean road and work in partnership with Libyan authorities. It will receive an initial 12 month mandate and a budget of €11.82 million for the first phase. As per HR Mogherini, EUNAVFOR will follow a specific progression: first stage, planning and assessment of smuggling networks; second stage, searching, seizing and disruption of assets of smugglers within the framework of international law.

However, in order to launch the naval mission, several crucial aspects will need to be discussed and agreed on. First, the EU will need more talks, and then reach an agreement on a resolution, under Chapter VII, from the United Nations Security Council. So far, it is yet unclear if the UNSC will be granting a resolution to the EU for such type of operation off the coast of Libya as it could establish a precedent for other maritime migration routes throughout the world. Additionally, Russia has already expressed its opposition to the use of jets and helicopters for the mission. Second, the EU Member States will have to agree on whom will be providing the required military capabilities and forces. It was already a problem with the Frontex’s operation Triton, so it may be another difficult negotiations for this one.

Last but not least, some wonders about the usefulness of such military operation. For instance, “Military operations in the Mediterranean are only really likely to have any impact” said Elizabeth Collett, the director of the Migration Policy Institute Europe, to the New York Times, “as one very small piece in a far more comprehensive strategy to address smuggling.”

Another Lost Opportunity?

The migration crisis illustrates once again a central problem for the EU and its Member States, the Member States.  How to solve a global crisis requiring greater cooperation and integration without deepening the EU? In other words, more Europe is necessary in order to address a crisis as a bloc, but some Member States are either calling for less Europe or are cheery-picking. The challenge of the Juncker Commission and other EU institutions is how to advance the interests of the Union when most Member States are not willing to deepen and increase cooperation at the EU level.

Picking the Juncker’s proposal would allow the EU and its Member States to harmonize their immigration policies at the EU level. Choosing the Member States’ route of military action will only be a quick and temporary fix. In any case, both proposals do not address the root causes of the problems of mass migrations from MENA and Central Africa. If the EU and its Member States want to be a ‘security provider,’ they will have to do more than a naval mission in the middle of the Mediterranean sea.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).
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‘Europe Did not Cause this Tragedy’

Photo: Massimo Sestini—Polaris
Photo: Massimo Sestini—Polaris

The Mediterranean sea is the most dangerous migrating route in the world. In 2014, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) concluded that 75% of the total migrant-related deaths in the world lost their lives in the Mediterranean sea. Unfortunately, many experts predict that 2015 could be one of the deadliest years in modern history. This prediction was confirmed with the tragic event in mid-April with the death of an estimated 900 migrants with only 28 survivors.

“unless Europe acts to reform its failed policy on migration” writes the editorialist of the New York Times of April 21st, “this could be the deadliest year yet for the thousands of people who fled to Libya from conflict-torn regions across the Middle East and Africa, only to find themselves in a deadly pincer.” After years of inactivity and avoidance of this problem, the Member States are now facing human and political crises requiring rapid and substantial solutions. Blaming the EU for such failed policy would be an error, as according the Treaties, the Member States are the ones in charged of the security of their borders. The protection of the territory depends on the Member States, not on the EU. In this current crisis, the Member States have three options: first, to patch a problem with a short-term policy; second, to do nothing; third, to empower the EU. In any case, the Europeans are now facing a dilemma.

How can the EU identify itself as a normative power with that many people trying to reach its coasts for a better life? And, how can the EU bring a serious solution on the table when so many EU Member States are dealing with the rise of extreme-right wing parties – for many xenophobist and racist – domestically?

The Central Route to Europe

The crisis in Libya is serious for two reasons. Since the fall of the Qaddafi regime in 2011, led by an Euro-Atlantic coalition, the country has spiraled into a civil war. The civil war has created a power vacuum in the middle of North Africa offering the exit point for many Northern and Central Africans leaving their home countries because of political violence, war, dire economic conditions, terrorism with the hope to reach the European continent for a better life. Libya has become the transit country for most of illegal migration. In addition to unchecked migration, the civil war and lack of government have offered a new ground to the Islamic State (IS). IS has emerged in the country directly threatening neighboring countries, which includes Europe.

The migrants leaving their countries have changed over the years. They were once the

Source: Le Monde
Source: Le Monde

poorest and the most desperate. Today’s migrants are composed of individuals belonging to the middle class with a predominance of women and children. Some come from Middle East countries devastated by war like in Syria, Iraq and others from further South such as Mali, Gambia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Eritrea and Somalia. The price of the trip has increased and cost between €2,000 and 6,000 per person. Migrants can ask for asylum in a European country unless they set foot on European ground. Such law empowers the smugglers. Once in Europe, their lives remain extremely difficult.

If Libya is the exit point of Africa, Italy is one of the entry points of Europe. Since the Arab Spring, Italy has been on the front line of illegal mass-migration from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). For years the numbers of migrants seeking asylum in Europe has considerably increased. The Central Mediterranean Route, from Libya to Italy, has seen a serious increase of illegal migrants from 40,000 in 2008 to 170,000 in 2014 (see here the different routes to Europe).

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As reported in the New York Times by Jim Yardley, “after a year in which more than 3,200 people died and more than 130,000 were rescued by Italian naval and coast guard ships. Humanitarian groups estimate that nearly 500 people have already died at sea this year, compared with about 50 in the same period last year.” The Mediterranean has become a large cemetery at the doorstep of Europe. The number of death at sea is increasing. So far this year, it has been estimated that more than 500 migrants have died as opposed to 47 in the same period of 2014. Additional Lampedusas may very well become routine considering the recent numbers.

From Mare Nostrum to Triton

In order to control this illegal migration, but mostly in reaction to the Lampedusa catastrophe costing the lives to 232 migrants in October 2013, the Italian launched a program in October 2013, Operation Mare Nostrum, in which the Italian navy was used in order to stop boats transporting illegal migrants. Because of the continuous rise of migrants and an increase in the cost of the operation (around $9.7 million per month), the Italians have been calling for support from their European counterparts in sharing the burden on costs and materials as all European nations are directly or indirectly confronting the problems of illegal migrations. Ultimately the Italian cancelled Mare Nostrum because of financial constrains considered too costly within the dire Italian economic context.

In November 2014 Mare Nostrum ended and let the spotlight to a small European program, Triton, under the supervision of Frontex, the European immigration agency. Triton is much smaller in scope, in geographical coverage (operates only within 30 nautical miles of European shores), and in financial terms (represents 1/3 of Mare Nostrum’s budget). Additionally, Frontex depends on the supports and contributions of Member States in order to receive material and human capabilities. Last but not least Triton’s mission is not to replace Italy’s work on protection of its territory but assists it when needed. As per the European Commission’s memo of October 2014 “Triton is intended to support the Italian efforts, and does not replace or substitute Italian obligations in monitoring and surveying the Schengen external borders and in guaranteeing full respect of EU and international obligations, in particular when it comes to search and rescue at sea.” Frontex coordinates, Italy leads.

Table: Comparative Analysis of the Mare Nostrum with Triton

©Politipond                                                                                                                                                                                                         Sources: Ministero della difesa. Mare Nostrum Operation. Accessed online at http://www.marina.difesa.it/EN/operations/Pagine/MareNostrum.aspx [accessed on April 21st, 2015]; Yardley, Jim and Bilefsky, Dan. 2015. “Migrants Blame Captain of Capsized Boat.” New York Times. April 22. ; European Council on Refugees and Exiles. 2014. “Mare Nostrum to End – Frontex operation will not ensure of migrants in International waters.” ECRE Weekly Bulletin. October 10. European Commission. 2014. “Statement by EU Commissioner Cecilia Malmström on operation Triton.” Brussels. October 7.; European Commission. 2015. “Fact Sheet – Questions and Answers: Smuggling of Migrants in Europe and the EU Response.” Brussels. January 13.

The table clearly demonstrates the fundamental distinction between Mare Nostrum and Triton in terms of mandate. Triton’s mandate does not make the operation a search and rescue mission, but simply a border management operation. Additionally, the capabilities provided to Frontex are based on the contribution of the willing Member States. Frontex facilities the work of the Italian navy. Frontex’s hands are clearly tied.

European Union’s Responses and Actions

European reactions and responses will depend on the complex paradigm: balancing humanitarian responsibilities against budget constraints and widespread public sentiment against immigration. Ensuing the catastrophe, most European officials and heads of state and government expressed their emotions. In addition, President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, called an emergency European summit meeting for Thursday, April 23rd to address the issue. The problem of illegal migration and lack of EU unity was addressed in a report eight years ago wherein the EU acknowledged a “disunity within the E.U. over which obligations arise from E.U. fundamental rights, international human rights and refugee law, and how these obligations relate to the law of the sea.”

Matteo Renzi of Italy and his counterpart Joseph Muscat of Malta declared during a joint conference after the weekend that “What happened on Sunday was a game changer. There is a new realization that if Europe doesn’t act as a team, history will judge it very harshly, as it did when it closed its eyes to stories of genocide — horrible stories — not long ago.” The President of European Parliament, Martin Schulz, made a similar argument when raising two questions: “How many more people will have to drown until we finally act in Europe?” “How many times more do we want to express our dismay, only to then move on to our daily routine?”

Frederica Mogherini, Chief of EU Foreign Affairs, declared once again ‘‘We have said too many times ‘Never again.’ Now is time for the European Union as such to tackle these tragedies without delay.’’ French President François Hollande called for more material capabilities “more boats, more aerial surveillance and a much tougher fight against traffickers.”

Prior the extraordinary European summit meeting, the President of the European Council highlighted a list of overarching questions: How to stop the human traffickers, whom put the migrants’ lives at risk? How to step up European combined efforts for rescuing people in need? How to better help the EU Member States most affected? and, how to step up European cooperation with countries of origins and transits?

Days before the summit, during a joint meeting of Foreign and Interior Ministers with HR Mogherini, Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Commissioner Avramopoulos presented a 10 point plan of the immediate actions in the Mediterranean region. During the emergency meeting of Thursday, the European heads of government agreed on a list of points:

  • First, the High Representative (HR) is now charged of the mission to “propose actions in order to capture and destroy the smugglers’ vessels before they can be used.”
  • Second, Triton’s budget has been tripled and is now at the same level than Mare Nostrum and Member States have committed more material resources (no numbers though).
  • Third, increase cooperation with origin and transit countries, especially Libya.

These agreements seem quite shallow considering the complexity of the problem. The Commission is scheduled to deliver its Europe Agenda on Migration due on May 13, which in Juncker’s words “We will be ambitious. We will be bold.” The destruction of boats and an increase of budget are only a quick fix to a regional problem requiring state-building, economic and trade cooperations, security sector reforms, additional humanitarian and aid assistance, and even military interventions.

Solidarity, Responsibility and Norms

“With no coherent policy and woefully insufficient financing,” writes the New York Times “lives are needlessly being put at risk, and the European Union’s humanitarian values are exposed as meaningless.” The continuous dying of migrants at the doorstep of fortress

Photo: Matthew Mirabelli/Agence France Presse - Getty Images
Photo: Matthew Mirabelli/Agence France Presse – Getty Images

Europe is forcing the EU and its Member States to reflect on three dimensions: solidarity; responsibility; and normative action. Solidarity is the core component of a social contract and an Union like the EU. Unfortunately with the financial crisis and the rise of populist movements throughout the Union, this core value has been lost in translation.

“The E.U. has been struggling to respond to the crisis because governments think it is too expensive,” Mr. Pascouau said, and “the debate on immigration has become toxic because of the rise of the far right.” Sweden, Poland, Austria need to be as concerned as mediterranean Member States about the rise of illegal migrants and their deaths in vein. Most migrants do not stay in Spain, Italy or Greece, they are trying to reach France, the United Kingdom, Germany and Sweden. In this case, solidarity can be represented under two dimensions: material, human and financial aspects; and a reform of the European immigration policy.

Solidarity does not only imply European solidarity, but global solidarity. During an interview with NPR with François Crepeau, the U.N. special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, argued in having the Global North (North America and the EU) absorbing immigrants. He argues that the best solution in resolving the massive illegal influx of migrants is through the integration of these migrants in each country of the Global North over a 5-10 years period by giving them visas in order to build a life. Crepeau claims that by offering them a legal solution/exit they would wait in their home countries for a way out rather than risking their lives and burning all their savings. The EU-28, especially European citizens, needs to accept such option and implement it and then find a common agreement with the US and Canada. Unfortunately this option seems off the table as Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the Commission, declared after the extraordinary summit that his “proposal for legal immigration was not supported” in order to secure resettlement across Europe for 10,000 refugees.

Responsibility, Member States ought to demonstrate their commitment to the Treaties and accept their own responsibility in the deaths. So many Member States are blaming the EU for these catastrophes, when in fact the Member States are to be blamed. Even though the blame game is counter productive, Member States and domestic political parties ought to have serious national discussion about the rise of illegal migrants from Africa. The arguments of closing the borders, ending the Schengen agreement and passing the buck to neighbors are unacceptable. Member States have to increase spending and cooperation either at the European level or even on bilateral basis.

Normative action seems to have died in the Mediterranean sea. The EU and the EU-28 need to materialize the self-proclamation of soft power through actions. Even if one cannot expect the EU to solve the migration problems coming from Africa, the EU and its Member States have to demonstrate a willingness to work with African partners. During an interview with a French expert on European defense in 2010, he argued that the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) was developed in order to solve the most pressing

The Economist
The Economist

crises in Africa. He claimed that if the Europeans were not doing as much as possible in order to solve political cronyism in Africa, terrorism, and contribute on stabilizing the region with substantial economic incentives, the European continent would be flooded by massive waves of migrants. This expert was 100% correct.

Five years ago the EU and its Member States could have implemented preventive measures. Today the EU and its Member States are confronting a serious crisis requiring massive human, capabilities and financial contributions, a European reform of the immigration policy and a serious commitment to cooperation at the European level all this under dire economic situation and unfriendly domestic electorate. The EU ought to liberalize immigration policy and open up legal routes for migrants. The EU and its Member States have quite a challenge in front them.

Last but not least, the most shocking line was made President Tusk right after the Council meeting, “Let me be clear. Europe did not cause this tragedy. But that does not mean we can be indifferent.” Was the summit about finger-pointing or about solving one of most pressing issues facing Europe? Such comment clearly illustrates Europe’s mindset in addressing this crisis.

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