Massive waves of refugees and migrants flooded Europe over the past few years, adding to the migration that Europe has been encountering now for decades. With a worsening demographic winter blowing over the region together with increasing poverty and income inequality, the refugee crisis brings with it a host of new liabilities, political, demographic, cultural, and economic in nature, to be faced by the bloc.
The issue has been somewhat of a political football game threatening the unity of the Union and the political stability of some governments. For this reason, it was necessary that some sort of talks went down to address the issue, whether it resolved the crisis itself or not, just as long as it relieved some political pressure, which is essentially what a recent summit in Brussels was able to achieve.
BRUSSELS — European leaders declared victory Friday, claiming to have set aside major differences over how best to handle migrant arrivals as they commissioned new plans to screen people in North Africa for eligibility to enter the continent.
But even as they met for a second day in Brussels, the coast guard in Libya — the main jumping off point for most migrants trying to reach Europe — said around 100 people were missing and feared dead in the Mediterranean Sea after their smugglers’ boat capsized.
Bickering over who should take responsibility for the tens of thousands rescued from the Mediterranean has undermined European unity and threatens the future of cross-border business and travel inside the E.U.
The summit underscored how the 2015 spike in immigration continues to haunt the continent, despite a sharp drop in arrivals of people fleeing conflict and economic hardship in the Middle East and Africa.
It also took place in an atmosphere of political crisis, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel under intense political pressure at home to take a firmer stance on migration.
At the summit, the E.U. leaders agreed upon a “new approach” to managing those who are plucked from the water. They would be “disembarked” from rescue ships into European nations that agree to share responsibility for handing migration with the main point-of-entry countries like Spain, Italy and Greece but also to centers in North Africa and possibly the Balkans.
“A complete approach was adopted,” French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters after a night of haggling to address vehement demands from Italy’s new anti-migrant populist government.
“We are not an island,” said Macron. “Europe will have to live a long time with such migratory pressures which come from countries in crisis, poor countries.”
No North African countries have agreed so far to sign on to the plan, though possible E.U. funding that could bring billions in aid may prove persuasive.
Italy long held up any interim agreements at the summit unless it received concrete commitments the country would get help managing the waves of newcomers that arrive from across the Mediterranean.
“Italy doesn’t need any more verbal signs, but concrete deeds,” Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte said, insisting that the responsibility needed to be shared more equitably across the E.U.
As with so many E.U. agreements, Friday’s deal stopped well short of being decisive in solving the problem but created enough of a platform to build on.
“Europe is going step by step, and this was necessary,” said Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
But migrant experts and humanitarian aid groups fear the agreement is a political smoke screen aimed at addressing the concerns of the resurgent far-right and which will only leave vulnerable people once again at risk.
“At a time when E.U. leadership on global issues is needed more than ever, European heads of state and government continue to try to offload their responsibilities onto poorer countries outside the E.U.,” said Oxfam migration policy adviser Raphael Shilhav.
The International Organization for Migration estimates that some 80,000 people will enter Europe by sea this year, based on current trends. That’s around half as many as in 2017.
Yet anti-migrant parties have made significant political gains, most recently in Italy, which along with Greece and Spain is among the preferred landing destinations for people from Africa seeking better lives.
Merkel, for her part, is fighting a battle at home and abroad against critics who accuse her of endangering European security with her hospitality. Her conservative coalition is under pressure from the far-right Alternative for Germany.
But Merkel is deeply aware of the threat the issue poses to Europe, notably to its Schengen passport-free travel area — one of the jewels in the E.U. crown — that allows easy cross-border business and travel.
“Europe has many challenges, but that of migration could determine the fate of the European Union,” Merkel told German lawmakers Thursday before heading to the summit.
The meeting’s main accomplishment was removing a mandate that the refugees must be received and shared among the EU’s member nations, which has been a matter of major contention, especially with more anti-migrant governments cropping up in recent election cycles, such as that of Italy. An agreement was made that EU member nations should voluntarily receive migrants and strengthen the blocs external borders.
Receiving migrants is to be concentrated at ‘reception centers’ which are voluntary for each nation, and secondary movement of migrants between member states is to be discouraged. Additionally, the EU’s favourite means of dealing with problems is to throw money at them, so that a massive fund is being generated to basically donate to African countries.
In this case, how that is going to decrease migration is a really good question, as the ethical efficiency of African political entities is a little bit less than optimal and the migration issue from Africa really stems from both political and economic instability and inefficiency on the continent, largely due to Western meddling for resource exploitation.
Middle Eastern migration, of course, being a result of Western backed terrorism and regime change efforts, its no wonder that there is a migration and refugee crisis at all, so that it’s really more a matter of Europe finally having to pay the piper, and paying is what EU bureaucrats do best to solve their problems. Fostering functioning democracies in Africa with prosperous economies and at the very least cutting back on their intervention in the Middle East, Europe could improve the situation, but that would run counter to Washington’s interests, and that just won’t do. So, while some political crises may have been averted, the core problem remains unresolved and the problem will continue, but with a different political score board.