Lawmakers from across the political spectrum in the European Parliament lined up on Tuesday (July 3) to criticise the results of last week’s EU summit on migration.
During their monthly Strasbourg plenary session, MEPs took it in turns to slam European Council President Donald Tusk and his institution for not being able to reach substantial agreements on how to deal with migration and asylum flows.
Another point of frustration among MEPs was the sparse progress on reforming the eurozone and the fact that ten years after the financial crisis, EU leaders have not been able to install mechanisms that could prevent an economic depression in the future.
The Council agreement aims to set up “controlled centres” within EU territory to process asylum applications and differentiate between genuine refugees and irregular economic migrants, while migrants recovered in Search and Rescue (SAR) operations, mostly in the Mediterranean, should be taken to ‘disembarkation centres’. Resettlement will continue to be taken on a voluntary basis.
In his opening speech, Tusk recapped the summit outcomes emphasising that in a “deteriorating geopolitical context”, the EU must get its act together by “increasing military cooperation, preparing for worst-case scenarios in terms of trade, and – above all – looking for unity in every aspect of European cooperation, including migration and euro area reform.”
He pointed towards three proposals on migration – a budgetary tool to combat illegal migration, increasing support for the Libyan coastguard and the establishment of disembarkation platforms outside Europe – that were supported by the heads of state. However, he acknowledged that although progress was made on all issues, “the road ahead is long and not easy.”
Frustrations on migration
Addressing Tusk, EPP chief Manfred Weber welcomed the agreement on centres in Africa and Europe, as well as the idea of funds for Turkey and Africa and strong defence of the bloc’s external borders.
“The European Council has followed three of the EPP Group’s key demands to stop illegal migration and to control our borders in a better way.” His colleagues from other parties were not so optimistic.
The final summit statement was designed in a way that each member state could find something to ‘scream for victory’, but in the end ‘nothing happens again,’ S&D’s Udo Bellman said.
“On migration, we lose lives. Each life is one life too much to lose. It’s a scandal that we do not get our act together”, he said, pointing towards the failure to discuss a complete Dublin reform.
“We, the leaders of three parties in this House have written to you to place Dublin reform on the top of the agenda and we have not seen political response.”
ALDE leader Guy Verhofstadt was even more critical.
“I proposed to the chairman to examine if it is not necessary for our Parliament to go to Court because there is a clear failure to act by the Council, especially on the file of Dublin.”
In a crisp speech, the former Belgian Prime Minister said that leaders should be locked in a room until they could reach agreement.
Recalling the deaths on Lampedusa in 2013 and accusing the Council of “turning a blind eye”, Greens leader Ska Keller said that “active engagement against rescue at sea, is against any sort of humanity and against international law.”
Moreover, voluntary resettlement would not mean that members state would accept the people requesting asylum through centres in Africa. “This is the end of the right to asylum,” she said.
Juncker disappointed over migration quotas
Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker expressed disappointment that the Council only reached agreement on five out of seven migration issues as no agreement on migration quotas could be found with most members refused to accept EU-wide responsibility:
“Even where we agree, we can’t agree that we agree. It’s a little ridiculous. I had proposed that the two areas which are still pending, that we would deal with those by the end of December. People regret that we are not making progress, but people aren’t willing to tackle any issues and ensure that the only seven issues are dealt by the end of the December.”
On border protection, Juncker suggested that the scope and mandate for border protection forces needs to be expanded, and they should be able to act both in member states and in third countries, with their consent.
“We need to ensure that we do not give the impression that the reception camps in North Africa are a return to neo-colonial attitudes. We need to work together with African countries to reach decisions,” he said.