The Brief, powered by The Martens Centre — Word on the wire

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


Waves of desperate people are trying to reach the EU: Images from the Poland-Belarus border this week have reopened the wounds in the very tissue of Europe that have barely scarred over since the first migration crisis in 2015. 

There is no doubt these people, wherever it is they come from, are victims, brutally exploited, mentally, physically and financially, by the Lukashenko regime, smugglers, and the Belarusian secret services.

But their fate is exploited as a communication vessel on the other side of the border, too — by those who would like to wall the bloc in, as well as by those swearing fortress Europe will only be built over their dead bodies.

On the one side, cue in European Council President Charles Michel, who said his institution’s legal service has assessed that EU law allows “physical border infrastructure”, the euphemism du jour for barbed wire.

But truth be told, this is not news. The regulation is indeed quite general, there are no clear criteria on what can and cannot be financed. EU countries apply for border management funding by pitching programmes to the Commission, which are agreed after a “dialogue” between the EU executive and European capitals, just like cohesion programs.

What we have at the moment, however, is a political promise by the Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who told journalists after the last leaders’ summit she was “very clear” that “there will be no funding of barbed wire and walls”. 

While that might be literally true, this virtuoso double-speak should be translated as ‘no direct funding from Brussels of walls and wires’. 

Meanwhile, according to a fresh booklet published by the European Commission on Friday (12 November), EU countries already got €2.8 billion for border management in the previous budgetary period (2014-2020), which will be bumped up to €6.4 billion by 2027.

Though the executive has no exact numbers of how much of that went to border infrastructure, partially because ‘infrastructure’ is a vague enough term, there is little doubt a good portion in the new period will go to projects that are a bit more concrete than updating visa processing software. 

That’s on top of the €6.4 billion for Frontex, the EU’s scandal-ridden border agency, which,  among other things, has been accused of helping Greek authorities push back migrants into the sea.

Ultimately, this question of money or no money to a politically unsavoury cause will be resolved by the EU’s very own version of bait-and-switch, in a move that could perhaps be described as deny-but-fund.

It’s a classic used, for instance, coincidentally in cohesion policy: Brussels will not fund X, but by funding Y, it will free up national resources to channel money where Brussels cannot foot the bill itself.

The EU may not fund flesh-cutting fences. But word on the wire is that it doesn’t matter as long as it can fund the roads leading up to them, the vehicles to drive on those roads, and the drones flying over the spikes. 

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The Roundup

Two monoclonal antibody medicines for treating COVID-19 have been recommended for authorisation by the European Medicines Agency on Thursday (11 November), sparking new hopes in the fight against the virus.

British farmers have set an ambitious strategy to reach net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in agriculture by 2040. But for all farmers to be able to contribute, the government should step in and provide the necessary means, the national farmers’ union said.

A year after the Polish Constitutional Tribunal’s ruling that de facto banned abortion, the European Parliament called on the government in Warsaw on Thursday (11 November) to lift the ban that puts women’s lives at risk.

The European Commission has established contacts with various airlines in an effort to cut the Minsk-facilitated migration route, the EU executive said on Friday (12 November) as several airlines confirmed they will restrict certain practices that could benefit human trafficking.

Closing down respected Russian rights group Memorial would deal a “devastating blow” to civil society in the country, the secretary general of pan-European rights body the Council of Europe said on Friday.

Members of the employment and social affairs committee of the European Parliament voted on a draft EU law that aims to ensure decent minimum wage protection in the EU. Compared to the Commission’s version, MEPs strive for more ambition on collective bargaining.

In theory, all Europeans have the right to vote in local and national elections. But in practice, people with disabilities often face significant hurdles to exercising their voting rights.

Despite participants’ fears that the Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE) is not making headlines and therefore might not be as impactful as hoped, the European Commission has reassured them that the media is listening and their voices will be heard.

Five years on from the Brexit referendum and nearly two years after leaving the bloc, most Britons would vote to rejoin the EU if a plebiscite were held, according to a new survey released on Friday.

Last but not least, don’t forget to check out our weekly Digital Brief.

Look out for…

  • Parliament’s committees’ meetings on Monday.
  • High Representative Josep Borrell chairs Foreign Affairs Council and Eastern Partnership Foreign Ministers meeting on Monday.
  • Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius participates in Agrifish council on Monday.

Views are the author’s.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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