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19th Aug 2022

EU migration system relies on despots, Schäuble says

The president of Germany's parliament has said that on migration the EU has no choice but to work with despotic regimes - and suggested the possibility of offshoring detention.

The comments were made by Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany's hawkish former finance minister, who took on the role as Bundestag president in 2017.

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Speaking at a conference on Thursday (19 November) co-organised by the German EU presidency and the European Parliament, Schauble also said that the EU deal with Turkey "really didn't work out".

That 2016 deal sought to keep refugees from leaving Turkey to the Greek islands, in exchange for billions of EU funds to Ankara and other political concessions.

"We need to recognise that we are reliant on cooperation with dubious powers and regimes in the areas of transit and origin," said Schäuble, without citing specific countries.

He further noted that people with no right for asylum and who cannot be returned home may have to be sent "to facilities outside of Europe," an idea that echoes positions held by Hungary's right-wing leadership.

Schäuble is a member of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the largest in the Bundestag and that of Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel.

He did make the case that lives need to be saved in the Mediterranean Sea.

Schäuble then called for more cooperation with North African and sub-Saharan states, saying migration pressures will only increase due to poverty, climate, and demographic change.

"Since 2015, we haven't actually made much progress in terms of substance," he also said, contradicting past narratives of a European Commission desperate to overhaul EU-wide asylum and migration laws.

Those overhaul efforts are now under the aegis of European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, who unveiled a long-awaited new pact on asylum and migration in September.

"The current system no longer works," confirmed von der Leyen, who was also speaking at the conference.

She then announced the commission is unveiling plans next week on how to better integrate migrants - a proposal that comes on the heels of a heated political debate in France.

"People who come to Europe legally need clear rights and they need to feel welcomed," she said, noting education schemes with other countries will be a factor.

But such plans are often also used as leverage to squeeze other concessions - especially when dealing with so-called readmission agreements, whereby countries are required to take back their own national citizens.

The point was driven by EU home affairs commissioner, Ylva Johansson.

"If we can't return those who are staying illegally in the European Union, it will be more difficult to build legal pathways. So these are linked to each other," she said at the conference.

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