Despite the new measures of a military operation to catch migrant traffickers, involving European warships patrolling international waters in the Mediterranean, and increased dialogue with the Turkish government to support refugee resettlement and stabilise border security which has faced an influx of 2.2 million refugees over recent months. Migration and asylum policy and is still leading the agenda throughout the European Union.
In the first five months of 2015, 153 000 migrants have been detected across the external borders of the EU, an increase of 149% compared to the same period last year (2014). Among others, this has affected member states ability to conform and abide to the Schengen area, maintain homeland and international security and defence policies, as well as uphold the fundamental values of the Union themselves.
After the tragedy of Lampedusa (where 366 immigrants died trying to reach the EU), facing inaction of the European Union and its member states, Italy decided to put forward a rescue operation called Mare Nostrum. The aim was to “safeguard life at sea” and to patrol closer to the coast of Libya to prevent refugees reaching the coast of Italy and ensure they safe return to land. It was successfully in its aim of managing to reduce the number of victims of pirate trips. However, the cost of the operation, €9 million per month, forced the Italian authorities to withdraw from the mare nostrum operation – paving the way for a joint EU border control mission, coordinated by FRONTEX: Triton.
As migratory pressure increased due to the escalation of the Syrian civil war, Triton failed. With only a third of the budget (€2.9 million a month in 2014) and a different mandate of border control rather than prevention and rescuing, it was only ever going to be a matter of time before tragedy recurred.
The crisis in 2015
Due to the higher migratory pressure and the continued border enhancement – in part due to the disproportionate gains of center-right parties across the EU (See Hungary, Poland) – migrants and refugees have been forced to use sea routes (more dangerous) rather than land travel, reinforcing tragedies at sea.
After the sinking of a ship with more than 950 people earlier this year, the European Commission proposed a common plan in May, which included the relocation of 40 000 people already within EU territory, and the resettlement of 20 000 people from outside the EU over the next two years.
Under the influence of ideological positions and electoral pressures, governments rejected this proposal. This refusal, in addition to other realities such as a lack of economic and political resources of countries in the front line of the crisis (Greece) and continued cuts to the social welfare policies since the crash of 2008, have contributed to the worst refugee crisis that Europe has experienced since World War II.
Paradoxically, the demographic situation in Europe is alarming. More young workers and consumers are required to tackle the demographic crisis that will begin to bite in 2025. Although the majority of those migrants would not have been able to fulfil the upcoming gaps in the European labour markets in the short term, the long term picture is very different. The German government was aware of the impact that migrants could have on internal consumption and pushed to accept a higher number of migrants, predicted to approach 1.5 million by the end of 2015. Nevertheless, these good intentions were blocked by their Bavarian partners (one of the richest regions in Europe, and ultimate destination for many migrants).
In September, controversial pictures were published in newspapers throughout the world, , turning European public opinion in favor of a solid and consensual emergency solution. EU governments appeared to be responsive to the call of the European Commission for a new and more ambitious proposal. This proposal even favoured a change in public discourse on immigration and pushed governments (such as the Spanish one) to accept three times the number of migrants sand refugees that they refused in May. To put this in perspective – Lebanon was taking 2000 times more migrants and refugees than western nations and EU members such as Spain.
The number of refugees / migrants in Spain would have been the third highest in the EU, after Germany (31,443 refugees) and France (24,031) and is the result of a calculation based on the same four criteria proposed in May: Population, GDP, the level unemployment and previous effort of each host country. The 180º turn could only be explained from the perspective of the Catalonia elections – where the candidate of the party in power has been called a xenophobe – and the prospective influence this influx may have on the decisive general elections due to be held on December 20th.
In any case, whilst the European Commission doubled the emergency finance tools to help affected member states identify applicants and so facilitate a quick return for those who do not require international protection. the proposal on quotas was blocked in first instance by a minority of countries (Hungary, Poland, Slovakia or Czech Republic) that feared that migrants would harm the health of their societies.
With the continuing refugee crisis and scrambled EU responses, what do you think should and could be done by EU leaders?