Ahead of the extraordinary EU summit currently going on in Brussels, European Parliament President Martin Schulz told EurActiv’s partner Tagesspiegel that he wants efforts for a European solution to the refugee crisis to be increased, so that the bloc remains “unbroken”.
Martin Schulz spoke with Der Tagesspiegel’s Hans Monath and Albrecht Meier.
Before Angela Merkel joins her European colleagues at the Council meeting, how isolated will the German Chancellor feel in terms of her approach to tackling the refugee crisis?
Angela Merkel is certainly in a difficult position, but she is not isolated. The number of member states realising that this is not just a German problem is increasing and the implementation of a reasonable distribution of refugees throughout Europe is being accepted by more countries.
How have you come to this conclusion?
We are in the midst of preparing for a summit and have been in discussions with representatives from many countries. I have seen a shift in opinion and a willingness to make significant progress in finding a solution at the summit. More countries are now prepared to engage with the plan, if we can all agree on a mixture of different measures.
Despite the negativity shown by a number of European leaders at previous summits in regard to quotas?
I strongly advise that the plan that was agreed upon previously, the distribution of 160,000 refugees throughout Europe, be implemented. I realise that this is not going to completely solve the crisis.
But if we can deal with 160,000 people, then we will bring invaluable political movement to the process and increase the chances of us being able to come to a common solution. When we have registered and identified the people arriving here, in addition to knowing how many refugees are arriving in a given place and from where they have come, we will be able to implement the plan.
In reality, only a few hundred people have been relocated so far.
That is the problem. Everybody has to abide by the agreement, but nothing is happening, at least not efficiently. My appeal goes out to all the EU member states to finally uphold the plan they agreed to. We have to carry out a pragmatic redistribution. If we were able to deal with the 30,000 people currently backed up in Greece, then that would be of enormous benefit to that country.
An increasing number of European countries are ready to pitch in and help redistribute those 160,000 people. I’ll put it more practically: if Germany takes 40,000, France takes 30,000 and Portugal 10,000, then we are already in a position where 80,000 people have been redistributed. The remaining 80,000, to be distributed among the other 25 member states, should not pose a problem.
Under the current distribution criteria, which takes into account a country’s wealth and population, Hungary would only need to accept 1,294 people. Yet this is something Prime Minister Orbán wants to hold a referendum about! The supposed burden this will all have on individual states is finally being exposed for what it is: fear mongering.
Some EU politicians have suggested a “coalition of the willing”, without Victor Orbán, as a potential solution. What do you think of this?
I think it is useful to consider alternative scenarios. If several countries don’t want to participate, then how do we best approach the problem, how do we coordinate better? If we can’t be sure that everyone is going to participate, then we cannot proceed.
Is Chancellor Merkel correct when she labels cooperation with Turkey as an asset?
I am committed to the EU reaching an agreement with Turkey at the summit. Turkey must protect its coasts better and prevent traffickers from carrying out their business. Refugees could be identified in Turkey and then the most vulnerable could be distributed throughout the rest of the EU. This would really get things moving.
While the EU’s external border between Greece and Turkey remains unsecured, people are still going to arrive in Greece. After nearly going bankrupt, Athens is in the midst of yet another crisis. Should the rest of the EU help by agreeing to relax the austerity measures Alexis Tsipras accepted, such as pension reform?
One must make an important distinction here. Athens must, refugee crisis or no refugee crisis, implement those reforms so that Greece can get back on its feet. But on the other hand, Greece has been hardest hit by the influx of refugees. The crisis goes hand in hand with budget problems, so in this regard, we need to show flexibility when it comes to dealing with its deficit. Greece needs more solidarity if it is to participate with the rest of us in tackling this problem.
Should the International Monetary Fund (IMF) stay on board as one of Greece’s lenders?
I wasn’t the one who invited the IMF to help in this way. That was a decision made by others. The Fund’s recent talk about giving Greece a haircut is hardly likely to please those who approached them in the first place though.
The European Commission has put together €700 million in humanitarian aid for countries like Greece. Is that enough?
Of course that’s not enough. But it is an important first step. The refugee crisis is going to cost us all a lot more money. But if we are talking about money, take the banking crisis, in which hundreds of billions were mobilised literally overnight, without many people batting an eyelid. Suddenly, there’s worry about these comparatively small amounts, both at a national and intergovernmental level.
This article was also published by EurActiv Germany.