The Brief, powered by ESA – A dose of reality on migration, or kicking the can

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter. [EPA-EFE/MIGUEL PAQUET]

The EU migration pact announced on Wednesday (24 September) may not be remotely close to the “entirely new architecture” promised by the von der Leyen Commission but at least it offered a dose of reality.

Altruism, or that much abused and misused word ‘solidarity’, on migration, is a pipedream outside Germany. Offering to pay governments for hosting refugees and economic migrants who cannot be returned home is merely a workable band-aid for a broken policy.

In truth, while Greece, Spain, Italy and Malta, continue to be the overburdened and under-resourced front-line, for the rest of Europe, the importance – or lack thereof – of migration policy is underscored by the €8.5 billion or 27% cut to migration and border control funding agreed as part of the bloc’s next seven-year budget in July.

There are two separate problems here: the emergency scenario, where several million people flee civil war, as was the case from Syria and Libya five years ago; and the long-term reality of economic migration. European leaders failed to deal with the first, and there’s little sign they are prepared to meet the challenges of the second.

“Return sponsorship”, where governments refusing to take refugees and asylum seekers can instead opt to return people denied asylum to their country of origin is at the heart of the Commission’s new plan.

Hungary, one of the two countries to veto refugee quotas in 2016, has hinted that it is ready to be a ‘return sponsor”. But brokering bilateral returns agreements will be far trickier than many imagine.

As many as 491,200 people were ordered to leave the EU last year, but fewer than one in three were returned to their country of origin, and it would be a mistake to think that this will change any time soon, even with a new Commission-appointed co-ordinator on returns.

In fact, this has been one of the thorniest issues throughout the lengthy and repeatedly delayed negotiations on the successor to the Cotonou Agreement between the EU and the African, Caribbean and Pacific community of countries.

Many African governments see the EU’s migration woes as a bargaining chip – they won’t agree to migrant returns, re-admissions and more border control without legal pathways for would-be migrants, financial support and improved trade conditions.

Their argument, entirely legitimate, is that south-north economic migration flows are inextricably linked to the one-sided trade agreements between Europe and Africa, which effectively prevent the latter from building up their domestic and regional industries.

This industrialisation would allow African countries to export higher-value finished products rather than, as is currently the case, raw materials and produce to Europe, making their economies and people’s wealthier and less likely to want to migrate to Europe in search of better opportunities.

Some European governments are simply not prepared to meet these demands or to level with their voters about this dilemma. Until this changes, the bloc’s migration policy will continue to tackle the symptoms rather than the root cause.


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The Roundup

In case you missed it this morning, our EURACTIV Network reported on how EU member states reacted to the European Commission proposal for a New Migration and Asylum Pact.

Eastern European countries rejected the EU’s latest plans for handling migrants, after talks with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Brussels, and insisted that the plans for tougher new asylum rules do not go far enough.

In the meantime, as the big EU foreign policy summit was postponed, have a look at the latest edition of our Global Europe Brief.

The European Commission is not able to say when a COVID-19 vaccine will be available, EU health chief Stella Kyriakides admitted, even though a senior EU official voiced hope earlier this month that the first vaccine could have market authorisation as early as November.

EU’s support for Ukraine will continue, but it “is also linked to the urgent need to enhance the rule of law and develop the fight against corruption,” the EU’s top diplomat said amid growing concerns of stalling reforms and attack on anti-graft institutions in the post-Soviet country.

Since the 1990s, European infrastructure has been developed purely for civilian purposes, but in recent years military aspects have gained in importance as they could fill funding gaps for dual-use infrastructure projects.

A new report accuses the UK government of failing to ensure that the cross-Channel rail link can continue to operate after the Brexit transition is over, while EU officials are yet to confirm their plans for the tunnel.

The former chief of disgraced data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica, Alexander Nix, has not disputed accusations that he engaged in unethical commercial practices including ‘bribery’ and ‘voter disengagement campaigns,’ in a procedure that will see him banned from heading up companies for seven years.

Look out for…

With the big EU summit postponed, look forwards into an early, quiet start into the weekend.

Views are the author’s
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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