Friday

27th May 2022

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

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

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.

Erdogan warns Europe of new migration crisis

Turkey's president Erdogan said more violence in the north-western Syrian province of Idlib would trigger a new migration crisis "felt by all European countries."

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.

Johansson: 'No new proposals in first 100 days'

The European Commission's possible next home affairs chief, who is responsible for creating a new pact on migration and asylum, struggled to provide MEPs any specific details on how to unblock the impasse over asylum.

Column

The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth is back

Ukraine is finally understood — and hopefully Belarus will be soon too — as a self-standing society and state with close links to its EU neighbours, rather being relegated to Russia's backyard.

Brexit hostility to Good Friday Agreement is damaging UK in US

Democratic Unionist MPs could affirm unequivocally they support the Good Friday Agreement, with no return of a border with physical controls on movement of people, goods or agricultural produce within the island of Ireland — but they won't.

News in Brief

  1. Dutch journalists sue EU over banned Russia TV channels
  2. EU holding €23bn of Russian bank reserves
  3. Russia speeds up passport process in occupied Ukraine
  4. Palestinian civil society denounce Metsola's Israel visit
  5. Johnson refuses to resign after Downing Street parties report
  6. EU border police has over 2,000 agents deployed
  7. Dutch tax authorities to admit to institutional racism
  8. Rutte calls for EU pension and labour reforms

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic delegation visits Nordic Bridges in Canada
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersClear to proceed - green shipping corridors in the Nordic Region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers agree on international climate commitments
  4. UNESDA - SOFT DRINKS EUROPEEfficient waste collection schemes, closed-loop recycling and access to recycled content are crucial to transition to a circular economy in Europe
  5. UiPathNo digital future for the EU without Intelligent Automation? Online briefing Link

Latest News

  1. EU summit will be 'unwavering' on arms for Ukraine
  2. Orbán's new state of emergency under fire
  3. EU parliament prevaricates on barring Russian lobbyists
  4. Ukraine lawyer enlists EU watchdog against Russian oil
  5. Right of Reply: Hungarian government
  6. When Reagan met Gorbachev — a history lesson for Putin
  7. Orbán oil veto to deface EU summit on Ukraine
  8. France aims for EU minimum-tax deal in June

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us