Friday

13th Dec 2019

Opinion

Why a far-right surge won't change EU migration policy

  • It appears unlikely that a surge by far-right parties could change the parliament's course on migration on its own (Photo: European Parliament)

Migration looks to be the biggest topic for voters in the European Parliament elections in May.

The most recent Eurobarometer survey shows that 40 percent of Europeans consider immigration to be one of the two most important issues facing the EU - the highest reported of all issues, and far ahead of terrorism (20 percent) or the economy (18 percent).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

While some subjects, like the Dublin Regulation, are so politicised and difficult that reform can appear implausible at this point, there are still numerous, discrete migration-related issues where the parliament has been able to act.

In 2018, the EU parliament passed three resolutions for which NGOs and civil society actors in the migration field have been campaigning.

The first was a call to end the detention of migrant children.

Practices vary across the EU when it comes to migrant child detention.

Although even a short time in detention can have a devastating impact on children's health and well-being, only a handful of Member States never detain migrant children.

A second resolution called on member states to prevent the criminalisation of humanitarian assistance.

This was passed in response to a series of alarming arrests and legal proceedings against humanitarian aid workers and volunteers who had helped rescue asylum seekers and migrants in danger of drowning in the Mediterranean. Some of these legal proceedings are still ongoing.

The third resolution requested the European Commission to submit proposed regulations for a European Humanitarian Visa, which would provide a safe, legal pathway to a particular Member State for people seeking protection.

This is already an option in some countries, like Italy, where the humanitarian corridors programme enjoys a broad base of support from the public and community and religious groups - but this programme and others like it are small and not available EU-wide.

While these resolutions did not create widespread changes in the EU's migration policy, they were steps that could help save or improve the lives of many - children trapped in prison-like conditions, humanitarian workers and volunteers (and the people they rescue), and people around the world who need a safe way to escape from violent conflict or other desperate situations.

Small but big

Thus, the upcoming elections are important not just for how they might impact high-level migration policy, but also because they have major consequences for how the parliament will approach these 'small' - but important - migration topics in the future, especially because these types of actions are likely to focus on the most urgent humanitarian and human rights issues in migration.

Looking at how MEPs voted on these resolutions, which all passed either by a show of hands (clear majority), or in the case of humanitarian visas, by a large majority of 429-194, it appears unlikely that a surge by far-right parties could change the parliament's course on migration on its own.

The far-right and/or Eurosceptic Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD), Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF), and European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) groups currently hold 151 out of 751 seats in the parliament; even large gains are unlikely to give them a majority.

Moreover, in the case of the EFDD, there was considerable disagreement within the group.

The Italian members of the EFDD, who come from the Five Star Movement, deviated from the rest of the group on all three resolutions by generally voting in favour of them.

However, support for far-right positions from the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), currently the largest group in the parliament, could still tilt the balance - even more so if the far-right parties' success makes more EPP members feel obliged to adopt similar positions or avoid controversy by abstaining from voting whenever migration comes up.

Internal splits

Divisions among EPP members also tend to take the form of national voting blocs.

There were 52 EPP members who voted against humanitarian visas, including all 12 MEPs from Hungary and 15 of 20 MEPs from France (121 voted in favour and 24 abstained).

These results underscore the importance of national voting blocs within the political groups; the national parties comprising each EU political group can have significantly different agendas.

These voting patterns suggests that NGOs and civil society can have a major impact on outcomes by campaigning at the national level.

These types of efforts can help ensure that, even if far-right groups and positions gain ground following the upcoming elections, the EU parliament can continue its work to support human rights, humanitarian action, and a more humane system of migration.

Author bio

Monica Li works for the Migration Policy Group, a Brussels-based think tank covering EU migration policy, and contributes to Migration News Sheet, a UNHCR-sponsored website.

Disclaimer

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

Austria EU presidency seeks 'mandatory solidarity' on Dublin

EU interior ministers are meeting in Luxembourg this Friday to discuss migration. The Austrian EU presidency is hoping to reach a consensus on Dublin reforms and a concept of 'mandatory solidarity' after briefing 27 EU states bilaterally over the summer.

Migration and May elections - time to get facts right

If misinformation in the field of migration can bring a government down, as in the recent case of Belgium following the country's adoption of the UN migration pact, then it can doubtless produce a populist majority in the European parliament.

Interview

Meet the lawyer taking the EU migration policy to the ICC

Juan Branco is a lawyer and co-author of a legal document submitted to the International Criminal Court (ICC) accusing EU officials and member states of crimes against humanity for their migration policies. "Some people should have to go to prison."

News in Brief

  1. EU Scream podcast wins media award
  2. Sturgeon will set out Scottish independence plan next week
  3. Slovenia, Croatia ex-leaders highlight jailed Catalans
  4. Italian court tells Facebook to reopen fascist party's account
  5. EU extends sanctions on Russia until mid-2020
  6. UK exit poll gives Johnson majority of 86
  7. Orban: 'financial guarantees' to reach climate neutrality
  8. Merkel hopes EU leaders agree 2050 climate-neutrality

EU investment bank 'wide open to abuse by fraudsters'

Fundamental reforms are needed if the EIB is to become more accountable, democratic and transparent. Establishing a firm grasp on corruption to ensure that public money no longer feeds corrupt systems is a vital first step.

European beekeeping in crisis

Europe's bee population is dying. The number of pollinator species threatened by extinction is increasing each year, and human activity is the main cause.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  5. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture

Latest News

  1. EU values face scrutiny This WEEK
  2. EU sighs relief after 'decisive' Johnson victory in UK
  3. Huge win for Conservatives in UK election
  4. Behind bars: a visit to an imprisoned Catalan politician
  5. Leaders agree 2050 climate neutrality - without Poland
  6. EU leaders cagey on 'Future of Europe' conference
  7. Pressure mounts to grill Malta's Muscat at EU summit
  8. Revealed: little evidence to justify internal border checks

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  2. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  3. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us