Friday

20th Sep 2019

Opinion

EU split on migration widens

  • Migration to Europe is an extended emergency (Photo: Alessandro Rota/Oxfam)

Illegal immigration poses an ongoing political crisis for the European bloc and politicians' failure to act has left Europeans reportedly more concerned about immigration than climate change.

Will November's change of leadership in the European Commission help improve its track record on the humanitarian emergency?

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Large numbers of migrants continued to arrive on European shores this summer and hundreds of people died en route so far this year.

But while immigration dominates the headlines, Europe is divided on how to respond, meaning that the issue tops the to-do list for incoming European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

Pressure is rising on Europe to take a firm stance on the extended emergency.

In August, Greece underscored its calls for the EU to share the burden of new arrivals amid a sharp increase in migrants landing on Greek islands in recent weeks.

Deputy minister for citizen protection Giorgios Koumoutsakos even warned that the country had "exhausted its capacity" to cope with the newcomers - and called on the rest of Europe for help.

And as well as loud complaints from the front-line nations, Europe is struggling to bridge increasingly polarised political positions on immigration.

European member states are far from on the same page when it comes to their willingness to accept and accommodate migrants.

Illustrating the cleft between political responses to the crises, the Bertelsmann Stiftung's  SGI's 2018 survey on integration, probed the question: How effectively do policies support the integration of migrants into society?

Its findings are telling.

In total, 11 countries from the bloc are said to pursue cultural, education and social policies which "do not focus on integrating migrants into society," and five Eastern European nations - Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, Croatia and Bulgaria - even scored just three out of a possible 10 points. 

Among the better performers, 17 European countries scored between six and eight points, but while seeking to integrate newcomers, they still "failed to do so effectively", according to the survey.

Reforming Dublin

Ahead of taking the reins of the European Commission in November, von der Leyen has said she supports reforming the EU's Dublin regulation, which rules that state asylum-seekers must file their applications in the first EU country they reach, more often than not, Greece, Italy and Spain.

In an interview with the German daily the Bild and other European newspapers, von der Leyen said it was time to reform the EU's Dublin regulation, which was last amended in 2013: "Migration takes place by land or sea. We can only have stability on our external borders if we provide sufficient help to member states that are exposed to a lot of migration pressure because of their position on the map," she said. 

A reshuffle in the European corridors of power - including the arrival of newly elected and re-elected members of parliament this summer - will also refocus Brussel's attention on the humanitarian emergency.

But this summer the rifts within the bloc have been made painfully clear, for example, with private rescue missions being refused safe entry by Italy and Malta as well as protracted wrangling over where to send each migrant on board.

Europeans increasingly worried

A number of EU countries, including Germany, have outlined that they aim to introduce some changes to the bloc's migration policy.

But lawmakers have had mixed success in hammering out changes.

In June 2018 member states talked through a raft of measures to ease the burden, but despite their agreements, many of their plans are yet to see the light of day.

Increasing the size and range of power of the EU's external border agency Frontex was one of the goals.

But without a clear time frame, progress towards this goal has spluttered.

While the EU commission has voiced plans to add another 8,500 personnel to Frontex by 2020, von der Leyen has mooted reaching this target by 2024 at the latest. 

But as inaction and division plagues the bloc, immigration has risen to the top of Europeans' list of concerns, according to the European Commission's biannual Eurobarometer public opinion survey published in early August, showing the issue now provokes more fear among a sample of European citizens than climate change.

Meanwhile, polarisation between European nation's stances on immigration appears to be growing, suggesting that von der Leyen will have her work cut out to steer the European Commission towards compromise.

According to information gathered as part of SGI's 2019 survey, due for publication in autumn 2019, there is an uptick in the number of the countries who failed to focus on the integration of immigrants.

But at the same time countries such as Germany, Spain and Portugal managed to improve their treatment of newcomers.

This sends a worrying signal that Europe is moving in contrasting directions when it comes to this key test of its unity.

And those in Brussels (and beyond) know that the political stakes are high.

After all, failure to reform the bloc's asylum system and to manage the crisis, will likely push increasingly numbers of voters towards far-right and populist parties. 

Author bio

Jess Smee is a Berlin-based journalist and editor of SGI News and the Bertelsmann Stiftung's BTI blog.

Disclaimer

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

Libya: EU first sends migrants back, then deplores deaths

Some 40 died following an attack at a Libyan prison, where people hoping to reach Europe are locked up. The EU commission wants an investigation but remains silent on how it trains Libyans to return rescued migrants to the country.

Analysis

Will EU keep paying to keep migrants away?

The EU has made deals with several countries, such as Libya, Turkey, and Niger, to keep asylum seekers far away from Europe. Now it is planning to relocate some migrants to Rwanda, in response to the Libya migration crisis.

Europe's refugee policy is test of its true 'way of life'

As ex-national leaders, we know it's not easy to withstand public pressures and put collective interests ahead of domestic concerns. But without strong institutional leadership, EU values themselves risk ringing hollow, not least to those seeking protection on Europe's shores.

Stakeholder

Transforming the EU's response to forced displacement

Only through joining up external policies to ensure no one is left behind, establishing a humane and predictable asylum system, and recognising humanitarian emergencies are a political emergency, can the EU champion the humanitarian response globally.

News in Brief

  1. Austria to veto EU trade deal with South America
  2. Brexit minister asks EU for 'flexibility' to secure a deal
  3. Kovesi has 'sufficient majority' for prosecutor post
  4. France, Finland give UK ultimatum for Brexit plan
  5. Minsk talks bode ill for EU's peace summit on Ukraine
  6. Poll: Poland's nationalist rulers to win October election
  7. Irish lawyers clash with EU commission in Apple case
  8. NGOs take aim at EU smartphone pollution

Defending the defenders: ombudsmen need support

Ombudsmen are often coming under attack or facing different kinds of challenges. These can include threats, legal action, reprisals, budget cuts or a limitation of their mandate.

Column

The benefits of being unpopular

Paradoxically, the lack of popularity may be part of the strength of the European project. Citizens may not be super-enthusiastic about the EU, but when emotions run too high in politics, hotheads may take over.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  6. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  8. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  9. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  10. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  11. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat

Latest News

  1. Malta PM accused of 'blackmail' over slain reporter
  2. Diplomats back Romania's Kovesi for EU top prosecutor
  3. Brexit raises questions for EU defence integration
  4. Low-carbon cities can unlock €21tn by 2050, report finds
  5. France, Italy want 'automatic' distribution of migrants
  6. Europe's refugee policy is test of its true 'way of life'
  7. A new Commission for the one percent
  8. Juncker: No-deal Brexit 'palpable'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us