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“A feud that only gets worse”

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European governments clash over the issue of migration. National interests stand in the way of European solutions.

October 21 last. In a press release, Nicole De Moor (CD&V) shows herself to be a satisfied Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration. Under strong pressure from the European Union, the Serbian government has just decided to put an end to the visa exemption with Burundi and Tunisia. “Serbia is a neighboring country of the European Union and itself benefits from a visa-free regime for the Schengen area (the area within the EU where people are free to move, editor’s note ). It can therefore be expected to align its visa policy with that of the Union. I hope this is an example for more common European action,” says De Moor.

For Belgium, Burundi is the fourth country of origin of asylum seekers this year. But maybe for a reason. Because four days later, the high representative for European foreign policy Josep Borrell expressed his concern about the state of affairs in the country in a press release. The European Union, it seems, is urging the Burundian government to act to improve the human rights and rule of law situation: “Human rights activists must be protected, political prisoners must be released”.

Balkan route

Serbia is one of the countries that are part of the so-called Western Balkan route. During the 2015 migration crisis, more than 760,000 migrants crossed the border “illegally” by European standards, mainly along Turkey. We no longer see such scenes today. Nevertheless, the European Coast and Border Guard Agency Frontex again recorded 22,300 irregular migration movements in the Balkan region in October this year, the German newspaper reports. South German Zeitung. This is almost triple compared to last year.

We must gradually realize that the migration problems of, say, Italy or Poland are also ours.

A well-placed official at the European Commission

The Balkan route is not the only route of concern to European Member States. The migration of boats to the European Union has also increased significantly via the Mediterranean Sea. According to the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration, 130,000 people have already joined the European Union this year. With just under 90,000 arrivals, mostly Egyptians and Libyans via Turkey and Tunisia, Italy remains the most popular destination – a 59% increase from 2021. The number of asylum applications in Italy was significantly higher each month between January and August than last year.

Dead end

The situation is sparking resentment between French President Emmanuel Macron and Italy’s newest Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. Since her appointment, the latter, known for her radical right-wing views on migration, has rightly called for more European solidarity. Paris, supported among others by Belgium and the Netherlands, believes that Italy, on the other hand, allows a large part of the migrants who arrive in the boot of Europe to pass without further delay. According to France, this is in contradiction with the European Dublin agreements of 2013, which stipulate that the country where a migrant sets foot or registers is also responsible for processing the asylum application.

This creates a persistent impasse between European solidarity and national responsibility. In this context, tensions between France and Italy reached a new peak last week when the rescue ship ocean viking was denied access to an Italian port for weeks. After many standoffs between Paris and Rome, the ship with more than two hundred migrants was able to dock in the French city of Toulon. For such emergencies, France has attempted a voluntary and à la carte create a mechanism of solidarity. In vain.

Due to recent tensions, national ambassadors to the European Union, also known as the Coreper meeting, met this week. France has pleaded for a special meeting of the Ministers of Justice and of the Interior, Italy in turn is asking for consultation between the Ministers of the Interior and of Foreign Affairs. In any case, the European Commission has – for the umpteenth time – announced an action plan. “It probably won’t work anymore. The noses are just not in the same direction,” said an EU diplomat.

Distribution plan

The search for structural solutions continues. More than two years ago, the European Commission presented a comprehensive proposal to reform the asylum and migration system in the Union. But due to differing views in capitals, only the less controversial items were approved. The biggest stumbling block is a structural distribution mechanism that has been under discussion since the 2015 migration crisis. The Commission wants mandatory solidarity – a Coalition of the Will receives migrants, those who do not want to participate must contribute financially, diplomatically or operationally. Caught in the grass: those who do not turn back migrants must still receive them on their own territory.

The Commission hopes to reach an agreement by the European elections in 2024. In line with European tradition, we aspire to an agreement with which everything Member States can agree. It seems unlikely. On Wednesday, EU countries Hungary and Austria signed another memorandum of understanding with Serbia that aims to push the three “illegal” migrants back to Europe’s external borders. Austria is registering three times more arrivals this year than last year. The ruling conservative party of the Alpine country will not act immediately of its own free will to find a European solution. His partner in the green coalition tacitly accepts.

razor wire

The Commission does not simply want to submit to resistance. If necessary, according to the competent European commissioner Ylva Johansson, the question will be pushed by a qualified majority. This requires 55% of European Member States representing 65% of European citizens. According to the European treaties, this way of working is also perfectly legal. But history teaches other lessons. In September 2015, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic systematically refused to participate in the European plan for the compulsory and temporary dispersal of Greece and Italy, which was also approved by qualified majority. A conviction by the European Court of Justice did not change Budapest and Warsaw’s minds.

It is therefore necessary to seek temporary fixes. In Until the point Johansson announced last week that she wanted to protect Europe’s external borders better than today. Even more. Since 2015, the external borders have been equipped with fences and barbed wire at a breakneck pace. In fact, the Union has outsourced a significant part of its migration to third countries. The most notable deals are those with Turkey and – via Italy – with the Libyan regime’s controversial coastguard. But deep in Africa, the Union has already had agreements and officials to stop migration movements for some time. In addition, in recent weeks, Brussels has strengthened “operational cooperation” with Morocco and Egypt so that they better guard their national borders.

National reflexes

As a result of all these disputes, one of the cornerstones of the European project – the free movement of people within the Schengen area – is increasingly affected. Certainly, since 2015, more and more national border controls have been introduced which hinder free passage. Although the European Court of Justice ruled earlier this year that such checks are contrary to the European treaties, the European Commission does not want to initiate infringement proceedings against member states at this time. It is feared that such interventions will completely destroy the chances of a European agreement.

According to European policy professor Steven Van Hecke (KULeuven), the Commission’s strategy carries the necessary risks. “Member states have a feud that will only get worse. But if the Commission’s proposal doesn’t reach the finish line, as it seems, Brussels has let Europe’s agreements on internal borders be flouted. In fact, we will be worse off than before the migration crisis of 2015.’

According to a well-placed European official at the Commission, the heart of the problem lies mainly in the national reflexes of the Member States. “We must gradually realize that the migration problems of, say, Italy or Poland are also ours,” he sounds on condition of anonymity. In the spring of 2024, Belgium will take over the rotating presidency of the European Member States. It is not entirely improbable that our country will have to do everything in the last months before the deadline to get a European agreement out of the fire.

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