Wednesday

23rd Oct 2019

Germany: Refugee crisis is like euro crisis

  • Von der Leyen said German migration policy is combination of "security" and "humanity" (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

The migration crisis is like the euro crisis because the solution is for member states to cede more power to the EU, Germany’s defence minister has said.

“The refugee crisis is deja vu to the euro crisis,” Ursula von der Leyen said at the Globsec conference in Bratislava on Friday (15 April).

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  • Zaoralek (r) said the EU should accept "miscellaneous unity" on migration policy (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

“When we introduced the euro, we didn’t have the heart to tell our people … that we’d have to build up new financial infrastructure and to partly give up national sovereignty where finance is concerned to the European level.”

“We had to build up the financial architecture under enormous pressure,” she said.

“I have the same feeling about Schengen and Dublin,” she added, referring to the EU’s internal free-travel area and to its “Dublin” asylum laws.

“We didn’t talk about the other side of the coin - that’s the necessity to have guarantees on how to protect external borders and what is our definition of asylum in Europe,” she said.

“We had many deficiencies in Schengen and Dublin and now, under huge pressure, we have to build up all these things.”

The euro crisis, which Von der Leyen said is “still far” from being solved, prompted the 19 euro-using states to give the European Commission sweeping new powers over national budgets.

The migration crisis prompted the commission to propose a border guard force that could be posted to EU states even if they don’t want it.

It has also proposed permanent quotas for sharing refugees and a new Dublin law for sharing asylum applications.

If enacted, the new laws would partly transfer control of immigration policy from the national to the EU level.

Deja vu

Germany and Greece have been at the heart of both crises.

German chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country paid the lion’s share of eurozone bailouts, led the EU reaction to the financial menace.

She has also led on migration.

She first said asylum seekers were welcome to walk from Turkey to the EU. Then she made a deal with Turkey to crack down on irregular migrants in return for a refugee resettlement scheme.

Greece got three EU bailouts in the euro crisis, but in return EU officials made drastic changes to the Greek economy.

EU states have also agreed to take tens of thousands of refugees from Greece. But Greece was forced to stop them from going to Germany and to let in EU border guards under threat of expulsion from Schengen.

Von der Leyen said on Friday she was “confident we’re on the way to a real European solution.”

But several central European states have rebelled against the German and European Commission ideas.

Responsibility

Speaking also at Globsec, Czech foreign minister Lubomir Zaoralek said his government has a “responsibility” to Czech “people” to retain control on immigration.

He said that permanent quotas could, in future years, see the EU force his country to take in “tens of thousands” of north African and Middle East migrants.

“We cannot accept that in the Czech Republic there will be … I don’t know, maybe tens of thousands of people, over which we have no control,” he said.

“We have to guarantee that we can manage this process. It’s our responsibility to the people of the Czech Republic.”

He said the 22 March terrorist attack in Brussels, which is suspected to have been carried out by EU nationals of north African origin, shows the “inability” of “more experienced countries” to “deal with the problem of integration.”

He said the Czech Republic is prepared to take part in “voluntary” refugee resettlement.

But he urged the EU commission to go back to the legal drawing board on its quota proposal. “We have to accept dissenting opinions [in Europe], and not just say: ‘You’re xenophobic’,” he said.

Ghosts

Hungary, Poland and Slovakia also oppose permanent quotas.

Local NGOs, such as Czech group People in Need, have said authorities and media fed popular anti-immigrant fears.

But Zaoralek said that the fear is real and that EU quotas could “destroy the political stage” in the region.

Andrej Kiska, the president of Slovakia, which recently voted a neo-fascist party into parliament, told Globsec that the EU should have a “values-based” migration policy.

But he said Europe’s mishandling of the crisis up till now had “encouraged ghosts from dark corners of our societies … extremism, xenophobia and general suspicion against democracy.”

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Opinion

Europe's refugee policy is test of its true 'way of life'

As ex-national leaders, we know it's not easy to withstand public pressures and put collective interests ahead of domestic concerns. But without strong institutional leadership, EU values themselves risk ringing hollow, not least to those seeking protection on Europe's shores.

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