October 16, 2015
Yesterday the Heads of State and Government of the European Union gathered in Brussels for the October ordinary meeting of the European Council. Although they were expected to talk about migration, the euro area and the UK referendum, the urgency of the refugee crisis has pushed governments to “revert to these issues at next meeting”.
A couple of weeks ago, the leaders of the Member States committed to the establishment of “hotspots” in the most affected front line countries to support the management of refugees with EU forces as well as a relocation system to share the burden of arrivals at least in times of emergency. It looked like some progress in the way the Union handles the flow of asylum seekers and migrants getting to its borders, although far from a comprehensive solution to enable the EU to meet its responsibilities in accepting and integrating a number of asylum seekers and migrants in line with its size and level of prosperity.
The conclusions of yesterday’s meeting disavow even the little progress made a few weeks ago. Instead of moving forward in reinforcing the EU response to the crisis by turning emergency mechanisms into permanent solutions and launching an initiative for a single EU asylum and migration policy and border management, most of the time was spent trying to convince reluctant governments to stick to the little commitments made a few weeks ago. For the rest, the most the European Council could do was to confirm that “there is a need for continuing reflection on the overall migration and asylum policy of the EU. The European Council will keep developments under review.”
François Hollande surely surprised everybody calling for the creation of a European Border and Coast Guard System in front of the European Parliament. One couldn’t help thinking it was another statement in a long list of recent high-flying statements regularly turned into unkept promises. What was eventually agreed upon last night is obviously not even close to a real Europeanisation of border management. For the moment the new system will simply strive to coordinate national border services, but no transfer of competences to Frontex or other body has been envisaged. With an impression of déjà vu, Member States are expressing their very good intentions, but they are unwilling to give powers to the Union. The days when police forces manage the entire EU common border wearing EU uniforms and reporting to an EU body are clearly not yet at the horizon. Member States are holding a tight grip on their prerogatives to manage the “holy national borders” at a time when many of them are obviously unable to do so. The effects of this denial are clearly disastrous.
Most if not all of the hopes of the EU Council to whether the storm of the refugee crisis rely on a deal with Turkey to ensure Erdogan’s support in limiting further arrivals of asylum seekers and migrants into Europe, and accepting the return of many of those who came to Europe through the Turkish borders, in return for significant financial assistance, revival of the negotiations for EU accession and visa-free regime. For years, European leaders have despised Erdogan’s openly authoritarian attitude. The current crisis has given him the way to exploit European weaknesses. Even if the deal with Turkey holds and both parties will respect it, which should not be taken for granted, it may provide some relief in the current emergency situation but it is obviously no replacement for European permanent solutions.
One step forward, two steps backward. Waiting to revert to the issues at the next meeting. Waiting for the storm to pass. This is the best that can be done by a collective of 28 national governments, each with its own national concerns and priorities, in night meetings from time to time. A single European government would certainly do better.Author : Paolo Vacca