The Brief: Commission bares teeth over refugee crisis

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COMMISSION BARES TEETH OVER REFUGEE CRISIS

When it comes to dealing with the refugee crisis, the EU and its member states are as bad as each other.

Brussels has been too lenient and not followed through with its proposals, while countries haven’t relocated refugees at anywhere near the speed they should have.

Today Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans threatened court action against countries that refuse to relocate refugees. The first infringement procedures, which could result in fines, may be launched as early as next month.

Member states pledged in 2015 to take in 160,000 people from Greece and Italy by September this year. As of December 2016, they had only managed 8,162. With less than a year to go they are more than 150,000 people short of the target.

Solidarity has failed. There isn’t a big enough carrot to convince some countries to step up. The Commission has no option but to reach for the stick.

A good start might have been mentioning the soon-to-be-missed target in its press release, rather than all this talk of “encouraging progress”.

There are some signs of improvement at national level too. Six German regions have rebelled against Angela Merkel and stopped sending rejected Afghan asylum seekers back home.

Regional governments are worried about security in Afghanistan. The UN’s refugee agency said it cannot guarantee that ‘safe zones’ will remain conflict-free. No matter the political pressure on the likes of Merkel, the concerns are genuine.

This is all long overdue but it isn’t all good news. Erdogan’s repeated threats to cancel the EU-Turkey refugee deal leaves it looking shaky at best.

More EU resources for Libya to spend on its coastguard and better housing agreed at last week’s Council summit were also dismissed as a mere drop in the ocean.

And the EU’s infringement procedures are slow, cumbersome and not that effective. If they worked the Commission wouldn’t have to launch a fresh batch of lawsuits every month.

It could be a case of the Commission finally being willing to bite back only to find that its teeth are uselessly blunt.

THE ROUNDUP

NATO is upping its military presence in Lithuania but Moldova doesn’t want anything to do with it. “Europe’s last dictator”, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, is no NATO fan either but things aren’t all that rosy in his relationship with Moscow.

Romania’s president has lashed out at the government for its corruption wheeling and dealing but stopped short of calling for early elections. Bulgaria is poised to go to the polls soon and one of the outside bets on the ballot paper gave Georgi Gotev a rundown on each party’s chances.

Angela Merkel was given a warm Warsaw welcome but that didn’t stop her telling Poland that its hopes of changing the EU’s treaties are not going to fly.

Her rival in the upcoming elections, Martin Schulz, told Der Spiegel that “I am going to become German chancellor”. Gotta admire his confidence.

The father of Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel has said limiting parliament salaries to (just) €4,800 would be “bad for democracy“. Louis Michel has to make do with a paltry €306 a day “subsistence allowance”.

The European Parliament, whose new president assembled his crack team today, has told Nigel Farage that his employment of local parliamentary assistants was above board. Nigel promptly sent out a press release declaring his innocence.

EU Ombudswoman Emily O’Reilly has also brushed off a National Front MEP’s complaints about discrimination against political minorities in the Parliament. She simply said she has “no role to play in the political sphere”. Here she is mocking Donald Trump.

We’ve had ‘Netherlands Second’, then it was ‘Switzerland Second’, now Croatia is asking Trump if it can be put ‘Third’ (after Germany).

The EU agreed to scrap geo-blocking for online subscription services, so soon you’ll be able to watch Netflix wherever you want.

Michel Barnier dropped by the Euractiv office earlier (sort of). James Crisp had no luck getting him to reveal his Brexit negotiation strategy though.

LOOK OUT FOR…

Industry Commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska is set for a grilling from the European Parliament’s Dieselgate inquiry committee. She is under pressure over the emissions scandal.

Views are the author’s.

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