It seems obvious to say that the problems affecting all Europeans have to be faced by a joint response by all States of the European Union. But it is not so easy to put it into practice. The current refugee crisis and its consequences show the cost for Europe of the lack of a European response. The vast majority of European leaders accept and wish a common solution. Others are reluctant to assume that role. We are of course facing a complex situation. Therefore, our response must be clear and should set a precedent for the future.
The waves of migration had been perceived by many as a matter of concern only for the South of Europe. For that reason, there is a lack of decisions at European level. Obviously, they were wrong, because anyone entering the Schengen area can move freely throughout its territory. The issue is, thus, a European one, and it concerns all Europeans. And countries such as Spain and Italy have been rightly insisting on it during recent years.
The war in Syria is causing a significant increase in people seeking asylum in Europe, in addition to migrants coming from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Nigeria, among others. Between January and September this year, over 710,000 migrants have arrived in the European Union, according to the agency responsible for controlling the external borders of the EU (Frontex). How to respond to this migratory crisis? It is necessary to differentiate between irregular migrants arriving to our borders for economic reasons, and refugees fleeing wars and terror seeking international protection. Solidarity is one of the fundamental values of the European Union, but we also have to avoid the “pull factor” making clear that it is not possible to accept all refugees. The answers to both situations must be different, and the European institutions are acting in that direction. On the one hand, the external borders are being strengthened against illegal immigration through the signature of readmission agreements and the strengthening of the role of Frontex. On the other hand, the European Commission has proposed the relocation of 160,000 refugees throughout the European Union.
The President of the Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has recently stressed that Europe is a continent that has witnessed the exodus of millions of Europeans fleeing political and religious persecution, and wars and oppression during history. It is also true that Europe has to face the worst migratory crisis since World War II, which caused 60 million refugees. But that is not all. Deportations of Jews, Sinti and Roma in Nazi Germany; Spaniards fled during and after the Spanish civil war; Hungarians escaped to Austria after the Soviet intervention to crush the Hungarian Revolution of 1956; Czechs and Slovaks exiled after the repression of the Prague Spring in 1968; and thousands of people fleeing the wars in Yugoslavia. In addition, 20 million people of Polish descent do not live in Poland, 33 million US citizens are of Irish origin and 46 million are of German descent. This just shows that Europeans have been migrants in several occasions, so now we must respond appropriately according to the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees of Geneva (1951), in order to face the challenge of the requests of international protection, depending on the reception capacity of the European countries.
The European Commission launched in May 2015 the European Agenda for Migration, an important step towards the creation of a long-awaited common immigration policy. The Commission proposed the relocation of a total of 160,000 refugees with quotas for countries to assist Italy, Greece and Hungary with asylum requests; the establishment of a list of safe countries of origin so that the citizens of those countries can be returned if they seek asylum in the EU. The Commission also opted for a permanent relocation mechanism with national quotas, a measure that has not been supported by the majority of States and, as a result, this will be only applied on a voluntary basis. Although the European States have not been as ambitious as the European Commission, the agreements represent a positive step towards a European immigration policy.
At the European Council of 15 October, EU leaders gave the European Commission a mandate to negotiate an agreement with Turkey so that this country accepts two million Syrians already in Turkish territory while controlling its coasts in order to prevent departures of immigrants to Europe. Furthermore, it is also intended to include Turkey in the list of safe countries of origin so that Europe can return the migrants who have previously left Turkey. In exchange, in addition to a considerable sum of money, Ankara will ask for an acceleration of the visa liberalization process and for progress in the negotiations for the Turkish accession to the EU.
The Syrian conflict and the consequent increase in the influx of refugees to Europe has reminded us Europeans that there is no time to lose and that we must anticipate crisis through common mechanisms, because together we are always stronger. President Juncker called to join forces and improve our Union, because, as he stated in the European Parliament, “there is not enough Europe in this European Union. And there is not enough Union in this European Union”.
Author: Rubén Ruiz Calleja
This article has previously been published as an opinion article in Diario La Rioja on 19 October 2015, page 20.