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21st Apr 2019

Athens mayor wants direct access to EU migration fund

  • Athens houses more than 4,000 refugees in 300 apartments (Photo: Nikolaj Nielsen)

Georgos Kaminis, the mayor of Athens, is on a mission.

In Brussels last week, he told MEPs that the Greek capital is better able to service and help refugees and asylum seekers by getting direct access to EU money.

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"EU funding needs to be organised in such a way that local authorities are entitled to distribute it," he said on Wednesday (16 May).

The European Commission earlier this month proposed to almost triple the money dedicated to migration in the next EU budget to around €35bn. It is unclear how receptive they will be in allowing cities direct access to it.

But Kaminis pressed his case. He said more money is not needed, just better organisation on how to spend it. He later told this website that noone knows the needs of a city better than its mayors.

"The government is a very remote instance for those very crucial issues that have to do with integration," he said.

The Greek capital is host to scores of asylum seekers and refugees, many of them stuck in the country after the routes leading to Hungary were shut down. Around 75 NGOs in Athens are working to help them without any government support. Others are community-led initiatives.

"Throughout the crisis we have tried to find resources wherever we could and Athens was the first Greek city to receive UNHCR humanitarian funding, this was then extended to the whole country and helped us overcome the crisis," said Kaminis.

Political priorities

A closer look at the European Commission proposals on the budget increase shows it has other priorities. It wants to shore up border controls and finance an asylum agency - which is currently under a fraud probe.

Agencies like the European border and coast guard also known as Frontex may end up getting a standing corps of 10,000 guards. Today, it has around 1,500 on loan from EU states. But its budget could increase from €320m to €1.87bn in 2027.

Such figures play into the wider vision of turning Frontex into a law enforcement agency. Fabrice Leggeri, the agency's chief, has described the current system of pooling resources from EU states to help carry out its tasks as a dead-end.

"We need to move one step further and ensure that the agency has its own capacities regarding staff and equipment," he also told MEPs on Wednesday.

Easo, the EU asylum support office, is making similar demands in terms of being able to use the money with fewer conditions. The Malta-based agency has had its budget amended four times in 2016. It increased six-fold from around €15m in 2014 to €92m in 2018.

But it is also under investigation by the EU's anti-fraud office, Olaf. Jean-Paul Schrembri, its spokesperson, said they will take the steps needed to improve financial management and procurements.

"We also await the on-going investigation by Olaf and on the basis of these facts we will ensure to get the necessary steps to get our house in order," he told MEPs.

Budget problem: old and incomplete data

The EU has two big migration funds. The asylum migration and integration fund (Amif) and the Internal Security Fund (ISF), together totalling some €11bn. Details on both for the next EU budget will not be fully revealed until next month.

The EU commission says Amif has since 2014 supported the reception of more than one million asylum seekers, out of which nearly 160,000 were either minors or people with special needs.

It says the fund also helped create 16,000 reception places, train administrative staff, and resettle 23,000 people.

Beate Gminder, the European commission's director for migration and security funds, noted that the EU has financed integration programmes that provide 3.5 million migrants regularly residing in member states assistance.

But not everyone is convinced.

"At the moment an estimated 80 percent of Syrian refugees in the EU are not employed and this cannot be solely due to a lack of skills, whether practical, professional or of language," said Emily O'Reilly, European Ombudsman, also speaking to MEPs on Wednesday.

A briefing paper by the European Court of Auditors also found that there is little to no public data available on EU member state integration efforts.

It also found discrimination, administrative delays, lack of committent, incomplete policies, among others, as big issues that prevent legal migrants from being able to feel at home in their host communities.

"Several EU funds can finance integration measures but the total amount being spent is not known," said the report.

Such issues have confounded attempts to trace how the EU's current budget on migration has actually been spent and led to anomalies.

For one, the current EU budget is based on data that dates back to 2010, some five years before more than one million people rushed to Germany to seek international protection.

Professor Zsolt Darvas, who penned a report on EU funds for the Brussels-based economic think tank Bruegel, also noted that the United Kingdom received more Amif funding than any other EU state. Britain then allocated most of that to evict unwanted migrants.

It also noted that anti-migrant Poland has allocated some 56 percent of its Amif funding to legal migration and integration. Hungary, which has strongly resisted migration, set aside some 40 percent for the same effort.

But such data may be skewed given that allocation information may not actually correspond to implementation.

"There is no information publicly available on actual spending patterns," said Josephine Liebl, head of international advocacy at the Brussels-based NGO, ECRE.

European Commission wants 10,000 border guards

The European Commission in its new budget wants to almost triple the amount of EU money, to over €34bn, that goes into border management and migration. Part of that sum may go to finance 10,000 border guards for Frontex.

Analysis

Frontex: Europe's new law enforcement agency?

The past 18 months have seen the EU's border agency Frontex morph into a law enforcement as it steps up efforts to crack down on crime and terrorism.

EU ministers try to crack asylum deadlock

Redistribution of migrants remains the worst sticking point as EU ministers discuss the latest attempt to rewrite Europe's 'Dublin' asylum law.

Magazine

Tug of war between 'top-down' and 'bottom-up' cohesion money

The European Commission has promised greater flexibility for local authorities when it comes to delivering on-the-ground results - but it has also tied cohesion policy to the European Semester, a tool used to coordinate macroeconomic policies.

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