Europe must show courage in migrant crisis, says Juncker

Jean-Claude Juncker [Unión Europea en Perú/Flickr]

The European Union needs “collective courage” to confront the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean even if immigration issues are unpopular at home, the bloc’s chief executive said on Monday, rejecting suggestions of inaction in Brussels.

Facing what the European Commission says is the worst refugee crisis since World War Two, European governments are bickering over how to deal with record numbers of migrants fleeing war and poverty and heading across Europe.

“What we need, and what we are sadly still lacking, is the collective courage to follow through on our commitments – even when they are not easy; even when they are not popular,” Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker wrote in an opinion piece for France’s Le Figaro newspaper and Germany’s Die Welt.

“Instead what I see is finger pointing – a tired blame game which might win publicity, maybe even votes, but which is not actually solving any problems,” he wrote.

Juncker’s direct urging appeared to be an effort to reach beyond national governments and appeal to Europeans’ better instincts, on a day when Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande were meeting in Berlin to discuss the immigration crisis, among other issues.

>> Read: Schengen in danger, Germany warns

Almost 50,000 migrants arrived in Greece in July alone, more than in all of last year, according to the Commission. Italy and Hungary have also witnessed record arrivals and all are calling for help from other EU members.

EU leaders have already agreed the outlines of a two-year plan to deal with unprecedented numbers of migrants from North Africa and the Middle East, shamed into action by the deaths of 900 migrants off the Libyan coast in a single weekend in April.

But implementing the system to resettle or relocate 60,000 refugees is proving to be highly contentious at a time of rising anti-immigration parties in Europe. EU leaders argued through the night at a summit in June over the plan, wary of taking in migrants and reflecting deep national rivalries that the bloc’s cooperation is supposed to transcend. They have set December as the latest deadline to agree final numbers.

Juncker said that he saw no need for another EU summit on migration because what was needed was action, although his office welcomed any chance that the Merkel-Hollande meeting would speed up implementing a common EU approach on immigration.

A Commission spokesman also rejected any suggestion that the EU executive was ‘a mere spectator’ in the crisis and set out many of the steps and pledges made so far, including stepping up mechanisms to send home those who do not qualify for asylum.

The Commission will make 8 million euros available for emergency assistance in the Western Balkans and Turkey, while 90,000 euros in humanitarian aid will go to the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia. Overall for this year, emergency funding has doubled to €50 million, the Commission says.

But the spokesperson declined to comment on reports of violence and beating of migrants by Macedonian police force.

>>Read: Macedonian police use violence against migrants

Austria is also seeking help to quickly expand its ability to deal with and process migrants. Many arrive in Italy and Greece with wealthy northern Europe as the final destination. 

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