Saturday

16th Dec 2017

Opinion

The 'Soros Plan': what to keep and what to scrap

  • Hungarian-born US financier George Soros has become the subject of a so-called 'national consultation' in Viktor Orban's Hungary (Photo: World Economic Forum)

On 26 September 2015, George Soros, an American financier of Hungarian-Jewish extraction, published an article entitled 'Rebuilding the Asylum System' on the Project Syndicate website.

Exactly two years later, in September of 2017, the Hungarian government opened a so-called 'national consultation'.

In the 'consultation', each Hungarian household is being asked to answer seven questions about the so-called Soros Plan.

The consultation cites two proposals from Soros' Project Syndicate article and it quotes other statements by the financier from a variety of sources.

The claim of the Hungarian government is that George Soros is lobbying the EU institutions to adopt his "plan".

Perhaps it is time to look at what policies George Soros in fact, advocates.

Despite significant differences in view, at least two of Soros' recommendations chime with what the Hungarian government has been promoting in its policies. And although Soros is correct on some points, he is wrong on others.

Six points

Soros' piece in the Project Syndicate article includes the following six recommendations:

Point 1. The EU should accept at least a million asylum seekers a year and pay for the upkeep of asylum seekers.

This is a point of disagreement with Hungary and many other countries.

Soros' piece proposes that the EU has to accept at least a million asylum-seekers annually for the foreseeable future and that it "must share the burden fairly" and that "the EU should provide €15,000 … per asylum-seeker for each of the first two years to help cover housing, health care, and education costs."

George Soros was wrong on this point. In fact, the EU is not prepared to take in so many people. EU leaders are increasingly recognising that it is a much better idea to create better conditions for asylum seekers in safe havens closer to home. This is to save lives, spend taxpayers' money more effectively and encourage returns where possible.

Point 2. The EU should lead the global effort to provide funding to Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey; the EU should help to create special economic zones with preferred trade status to attract investment and generate jobs for refugees and locals; and the EU should provide funds to the 'frontline countries'.

This is a point of agreement. The Hungarian prime minister has promoted the externalisation of immigration control, no doubt realising that the bill for implementing the policy will inevitably be footed by Hungarian and other EU taxpayers.

Point 3. The EU should build a single EU asylum and migration agency.

This is a point of disagreement with the Hungarian government. In the 'national consultation' the Hungarian government objects to the creation of an EU asylum agency as it 'erodes national authority'.

Indeed, the European Commission has proposed to transform the European Asylum Support Office into a fully-fledged EU asylum agency with enhanced powers. This is because the uncoordinated band of 28 systems that do not communicate with one another is patently unable to handle a massive influx of migrants.

Point 4. The EU should establish safe channels for asylum seekers from Greece and Italy to their destination countries, to calm the panic; and as the next step extend safe avenues to the frontline regions, and establish processing centres there.

Again, this is a point of genuine agreement between Soros and the Hungarian government. Several weeks into the European refugee crisis in 2015, Budapest eagerly participated in the creation of a corridor that allowed migrants travel via Hungary further west and north.

Point 5. The EU operational and financial arrangements should become "global standards for the treatment of asylum-seekers and migrants".

The national consultation does not take up the point of the EU asylum standards, so the degree of agreement or otherwise is difficult to ascertain. Nevertheless, the practical Hungarian policy has been contrary to Soros' proposal, deterring migrants and asylum seekers by sometimes brutal methods on the border and in detention camps.

Point 6. The EU should mobilise "the private sector – NGOs, church groups, and businesses – to act as sponsors" to absorb and integrate more than a million asylum seekers a year.

Again, this point is not included in the national consultation. The official stance of the Hungarian (and many other) governments – an opposition to accepting asylum seekers – means that there is no convergence with Soros' approach here.

However, for those individuals who are granted asylum in the EU, there is little doubt that the assistance of citizen and church groups and business would assist their integration.

Finally, the national consultation refers to Soros' claim that national borders are the obstacle to protecting refugees.

Whatever Soros meant by this statement is not important. Reasserting effective external border control is precisely what the EU institutions, supported by the Hungarian government, are working towards.

No prime minister or interior minister, and nobody in the EU Commission, would agree with an open-border policy.

Irrelevant of whether Soros and the Hungarian government are right or wrong on specific points, a question remains as to whether it was necessary to attempt to mobilise a country against the opinions of one man.

At a time of such deep conflicts over immigration and asylum in Europe, it is a pity that only points of disagreement are addressed in the national consultation.

Vit Novotny is a senior researcher at the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies - this article represents his personal opinion.

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