Saturday

1st Oct 2022

Opinion

Defying the populist agenda?

  • 'In 2014 around 200,000 potential asylum seekers landed in Italy alone' (Photo: noborder network)

Might a centre-right Greek politician, formerly in charge of defence policy, be able to reach a compromise among EU member states on immigration reform?

In a plenary debate on ghost ships and smugglers in the Mediterranean held at the European Parliament in Strasburg on Tuesday, Commissioner Avramopoulos front-loaded his presentation with what EU governments and MEPs worried about the terrorist attacks in Paris wanted to hear – security.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

But he also suggested innovations are needed if the EU wants to respond to the changing strategies of smugglers in the Mediterranean and to do more to face the Syrian refugee crisis.

The tactic of finding common ground before exploring beyond it is one that Avramopoulos will have to use during his mandate in order to have member states finally move towards a coherent and integrated migration policy.

Avramopoulos announced a tightening of the EU's grip on smugglers, including revision of the legislative framework on facilitation, more Europol coordination of police operations and further studies on the main migration routes as a response to the recent arrivals by sea.

This was the predictable message.

However, and more importantly, he did not concede to populist claims that the EU is being invaded by boats full of clandestines or hiding foreign fighters.

Rather, the Commissioner made clear that the dozen cargo ships that reached the Italian and Greek coasts towards the end of last year transported people in need of protection, overwhelmingly from Syria.

He also took pride in saying that the first interventions of the EU's Triton operation contributed to saving about 16,000 refugees’ lives.

This was not an obvious account of the EU’s involvement in the Central Mediterranean, given continuous allegations from some member states that search and rescue operations contribute to pulling more migrants to Europe and that FRONTEX's unique mandate is to patrol borders against irregular immigrants and their facilitators.

The announcement that the Commission is working on a ‘distribution key’ for refugees based on criteria such as member states’ population and GDP per capita shows a commitment to try to break the EU governments’ stalemate on the Common European Asylum System.

"Europe has to take charge" said Avramopoulos, almost echoing the repeated requests for help by Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

The Commission and member states need to move beyond the mantra of implementing the EU's current asylum system and start innovating on how to improve it.

For example, the Dublin regulation provides that asylum seekers need to remain in the first EU country of entry, a position that most member states have continued holding despite the fact that in 2014 around 200,000 potential asylum seekers landed in Italy alone.

If member states could agree on a distribution key for refugees, the EU would avoid the paradoxical situation of having two thirds of its refugee population and asylum claims concentrated on only five of its member states.

After solidarity among member states and redistribution of asylum seekers, access to protection is the other big challenge that the EU needs to face.

In 2014, the lack of legal ways to access protection in Europe other than by travelling on leaky, over-crowded boats costed 3,000 lives. Last December, EU member states pledged to increase the number of resettlement places for Syrian refugees from a few thousand up to 37,000.

This remains a fraction compared to what Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan are doing for Syrian refugees, but is a small step forward in a context where xenophobic parties are gaining ground in almost every EU country.

Avramopoulos’ final remarks to the Parliament showed that he is well aware that he will face strong opposition as soon as he tries to tackle Commission President Juncker’s five-point plan on immigration, which provides also for an integrated policy on legal (i.e. labour) migration – an area so far almost exclusively in the hands of the member states.

But the cautious approach he presented on the idea of the distribution key for asylum– “avoiding negotiation and agreeing on a minimum set of common criteria in order to experiment” – may well open some doors that will lead to a greater appetite for the innovative and solution-based immigration reform that is urgently needed.

Costanza Hermanin is a migration policy experts at the Open Society European Policy Institute

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

How US tech giants play EU states off against each other

Some have tried to justify Big Tech's meagre tax payments in EU states with heavier tax burdens by emphasising the fact that these companies create jobs and invest in next-generation technologies. However, their market dominance comes at a steep cost.

Can King Charles III reset the broken Brexit relationship?

The Queen's funeral was an impressive demonstration of solidarity from the EU towards a country that left the Union in 2020, and with whom the EU's relations have never recovered. Can the new King Charles III build bridges to Brussels?

Column

EU should admonish less, and listen more, to the Global South

Whether on Russia, or gas, or climate change, or food security, the EU's constant finger-wagging and moralising is becoming unbearably repetitive and self-defeating. Most countries in the Global South view it as eurocentric and neo-colonial.

Column

EU should admonish less, and listen more, to the Global South

Whether on Russia, or gas, or climate change, or food security, the EU's constant finger-wagging and moralising is becoming unbearably repetitive and self-defeating. Most countries in the Global South view it as eurocentric and neo-colonial.

News in Brief

  1. EU ministers adopt measures to tackle soaring energy bills
  2. EU takes Malta to court over golden passports
  3. EU to ban Russian products worth €7bn a year more
  4. Denmark: CIA did not warn of Nord Stream attack
  5. Drone sightings in the North Sea 'occurred over months'
  6. Gazprom threatens to cut gas deliveries to Europe via Ukraine
  7. New compromise over EU energy emergency measures
  8. 15 states push for EU-wide gas price cap

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. The European Association for Storage of EnergyRegister for the Energy Storage Global Conference, held in Brussels on 11-13 Oct.
  2. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos
  3. European Committee of the RegionsThe 20th edition of EURegionsWeek is ready to take off. Save your spot in Brussels.
  4. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  6. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries

Latest News

  1. Putin declares holy war on Western 'satanism'
  2. Two elections and 'Macron's club' in focus Next WEEK
  3. EU agrees windfall energy firm tax — but split on gas-price cap
  4. Ukrainian chess prodigy: 'We are not going to resign ... anywhere'
  5. Going Down Under — EU needs to finish trade deal with Australia
  6. MEPs worry Russian disinfo weakens support for Ukraine
  7. Everything you need to know about the EU gas price cap plan
  8. Why northeast Italy traded in League for Brothers of Italy

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us