Clotilde WARIN and Anne MACEY
It is a migration crisis of historic proportions. Never, since the end of the Second World War, has Europe experienced such a huge influx of refugees – more than one million in 2015. A crisis of solidarity too, since the EU Member States have still not managed to agree and some countries are planning to build walls at their borders (Hungary, Poland and Austria for example). And finally, an existential crisis: the refugee crisis is putting to the test our open border culture and our ability to tackle challenges together.
In fact, Europe has been unable to come up with a joint solution, much less a joint response to the conflict in Syria. In March, in a bid to control the influx of refugees, the EU and Turkey signed an agreement that effectively shifts the burden of the crisis from the Member States to Turkey. While this may be regarded as a first step towards a solution, it should be incorporated into a wider geostrategic agenda: Turkey could be considered as an “associated State”, to use a term coined by Philippe Herzog. Of course, however, it would have to assume all the responsibilities that such a role implies.
This crisis, which has laid bare such deep human distress, should stir Europe to seek a coordinated, and above all human, solution.
- Maintain effective controls at the external borders of the Schengen area by pooling the human and financial resources of the European agencies and Member States on a long-term basis. It is important to address the lack of strategic leadership from the various agencies (Frontex, which manages operational cooperation at the external borders of the Member States ; EASO, the European Asylum Support Office; and Europol, the European police office tasked with combating international crime and terrorism). The latter cannot be coordinated solely by the Justice and Home Affairs Council (JHA), which is composed of the Justice and Home Affairs ministers of all the Member States.
- Bring asylum seeker assessment procedures within the competence of the Community, or at least harmonise them. In practice, more financial and human resources could be allocated to the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) to enable it to handle these procedures.
- Ensure the more equitable distribution of refugees between Member States. Although the Member States had reached an agreement on the redistribution of 160,000 refugees from Greece and Italy, actual enforcement of the agreement has been a resounding failure. It is neither realistic nor acceptable to expect the countries of entry (Greece and Italy) and a handful of countries in the north (Germany, Sweden, Denmark and so on) to bear the majority of the migrant burden. A more ambitious solidarity system is needed, with a distribution key based on objective criteria specific to each country: number of inhabitants, national wealth, unemployment rate, population density, etc. Countries refusing to take in refugees would contribute to the joint financial effort.
- Facilitate the integration of newcomers and their children. Migrant aid associations are very clear : the first priority should be language learning followed by education, training, the recognition of qualifications and job search assistance. Bearing in mind that some countries would prefer to take in Christian refugees only, it is important to initiate a dialogue with refugees in host countries about democracy, human rights, women’s rights and the cultural rules specific to their host countries.
- Tackle the root causes of the crisis. The aim should be to join forces with the Union’s southern neighbours to develop a joint approach to people-smuggling networks and to prevent asylum seekers from setting sail because the countries on the southern shores of the Mediterranean are unable to offer them a decent life. To attack the problem at the roots, the Union should play an active and cohesive role in the Syrian peace process and review its security and defence policy to promote stability and economic growth across the region.