EXCLUSIVE / If the French government had supported its German partners on the issue of refugees, the European response to the crisis would not have been a failure, according to Philippe Lamberts.
Philippe Lamberts is a Belgian MEP and co-chair of the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament.
The EU-Turkey migration summit led to a series of proposals that have been roundly criticised, notably within the European Parliament. How would you assess the attitude of the European governments during the negotiations?
First of all, the deal on the table is illegal. For Europe to say that for every refugee that is turned away from Greece, it will accept one refugee arriving through a legal channel, is both illegal and immoral. This means that as many refugees as possible should try to leave Turkey illegally, in order to open the door to the EU for the largest possible number of refugees.
A workable solution would be a programme to resettle asylum seekers from Turkey in Europe, without forcing them to go through the dangers of the Aegean Sea and the Balkan route.
But we cannot limit this kind of agreement to Syrian refugees. There are other war zones, like Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq, Libya, and countries where persecution is rife, like Eritrea.
Is Turkey the problem here?
Our discussions with third countries cannot be limited to Turkey. Proportionally, Lebanon and Jordan are hosting many more refugees than Turkey. I am extremely worried about the political stability of these two countries, particularly Lebanon, which has taken in 25% of its population in refugees. This is a country that needs our help if we do not want to see it getting dragged into the Syrian conflict. Europe has an enormous responsibility here.
It is obviously shocking that these negotiations took place at the very moment when the last vestiges of a free and independent press in Turkey were being brutally taken over by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president.
We cannot turn a blind eye to the actions of this EU candidate country, where the police and judiciary serve the will of one man who has increasingly come to resemble Vladimir Putin.
This is an authoritarian regime that thinks nothing of sparking a civil war to win an election. Erdogan decided to reignite the civil war against the PKK [Kurdish separatists] to increase his chances of winning an absolute majority in the Turkish parliament.
Do you think that European governments should refuse to negotiate with Turkey?
I did not say that, but we have to understand that it is not just money that is at stake, but the liberalisation of visas and the relaunching of the accession process. All this at a time when European values have never been more distant in Turkey.
Instead of going begging to Turkey, Europe should be proudly asserting its values. If European governments had decided to accept one million refugees per year for five years, which would only have represented 1% of the EU population, we could have approached Turkey from a very different position.
European governments are cowards. That is why they are forced to kneel before Erdogan today. It is a real moral failure of the European Union, not just a legal and political failure.
I call on Europe’s governments to act, but I hold no illusions. Many have spent so long saying “I don’t want these savages in my country” that I can hardly see them suddenly changing their minds.
But German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been trying for several months to create a European consensus.
Yes, and I condemn the other member states for having left Angela Merkel alone on this issue. She is the only one who has realised the scale of the challenge, moral and human, as well as political. I am delighted to see at least one European leader that still understands that politics should above all be about the common good.
What is more, I find the French position disgraceful, because Paris always likes to present itself as a defender of human rights. But the cowardice of the French government in this migration crisis is unconscionable.
When the European Commission proposed its first distribution plan for 160,000 refugees, the reaction of Prime Minister Manuel Valls was to say it was “out of the question”. He had to be pushed into line by President François Hollande.
In the end, France agreed to host 30,000 refugees over two years. This is the same number as arrived in Germany in two and a half days at the height of the crisis.
The facade of pseudo-unity between Hollande and Merkel is scandalous. France has not lifted a finger.
So the French-German alliance has clearly failed on this issue?
If Hollande and Merkel had put their minds to it and explained to the other 26 member states that they had a historic responsibility and that it was possible to take in one million refugees per year, then Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain, Italy and Portugal would have followed their lead.
While the EU’s moral failure has affected everyone, it has been especially bad in France. For some time I have hoped to see the French Socialist party make U-turns on a number of issues. But I have been consistently disappointed. I can’t imagine that Hollande, whose policies are not liberal-socialist but right-wing – or even extreme right in the case of the depravation of nationality – will ever go back on his decisions.