Another year is slowly coming to an end, but there has been very little progress made towards solving the migration crisis that has become Europe’s number one problem. Even though there have been many initiatives to date, the measures proposed and taken have been ineffective. Some of them have resulted in everything but their aim.
The migrant quota system has arguably been the biggest policy failure within the context of the crisis. There have been many attempts by Jean-Claude Juncker’s European Commission to promote such schemes one way or another. Those were wrong moves. First, the relocation plan has been unsuccessful in achieving its very objective. The numbers speak for themselves – to date there have been fewer than three thousand migrants relocated within the EU.
More importantly, the quota system, whilst officially intended as mechanism of solidarity and burden-sharing amongst the EU states, has led to discontent between Brussels and the national governments as well as among the states themselves. The lukewarm acceptance of migrants by countries has been interpreted by some in Brussels and elsewhere as a sign of xenophobia and racism propagated by the respective governments. Yet it was the tone, the form and the ways by which the quota scheme was pushed through that caused the unease. The national governments that protested have rightly said that their – and their people’s – concerns must be taken into account. The dismissal of the governments’ legitimate worries initiated retaliatory measures. The forthcoming referendum on migrant quotas in Hungary – where the majority of voters are expected to reject the imposition – is one such example.
The migrant quota system has arguably been the biggest policy failure within the context of the crisis. There have been many attempts by Jean-Claude Juncker’s European Commission to promote such schemes one way or another. Those were wrong moves.
One must also understand that the EU countries that used to be part of the Soviet Union or its satellites do not have a sufficient experience and readiness to accept migrants. Moreover, countries like Latvia and Estonia that already have a significant majority of immigrants due to deliberate historical policies by the Soviet Union are not yet capable of successfully integrating any more new migrants.
There is also the harsh reality of differences in social standards amongst the EU states. No amount of EU money handed per migrant relocated will result in significant improvement in well-paid job opportunities or general quality of life in most Eastern and Central European countries. Indeed, it is virtually unheard of that migrants arriving in Europe are picking Eastern European countries as their final destination.
The Commission, as part of its attempt to tackle the migration crisis, has most recently announced another set of new proposals that officially seek to create common procedures across the EU for asylum seekers. The more implicit aim is unburdening of those EU states that are popular migrant destinations. To achieve the objective the Commission is willing to take “bolder” steps. In addition to some existing directives becoming regulations, among other things, it wants the Member States to ensure that asylum seekers have access to job market within six months after an application is being lodged. For those applications that are likely to be well-founded the deadline is even shorter – three months. Other common social provisions are also laid down. By trying to harmonise the EU migration policies in this manner, the Commission is making fertile ground for further conflicts with unpredictable outcomes. In poorer Member States it will be a hard job to explain to public why migrants have to be treated better than some other groups of people.
What is more, the Commission’s new proposals further cement its desire to limit secondary movement within the EU. In other words, a migrant who does end up somewhere in Eastern Europe because of the relocation scheme would be limited from moving on to another country of choice. In reality, this will be nearly impossible to achieve. However, the very attempt to limit the movement of people within the EU is dangerous. By doing so, we are threatening an effective functioning of the Schengen Area. This, in turn, can lead to other serious consequences including the breakup of the Single Market and the single currency as well as a fragmented European Union. There has already been a small preview thanks to some countries’ unilateral decision to invite all migrants on the one hand and the retaliatory response by other states through border checks and closures on the other. Whilst temporary border checks may have been necessary in some cases, there is a danger that the emergency measures are becoming the new normal across the EU. A restriction-free travel around the whole of Schengen is the only way to insure smooth functioning of the Single Market and in the longer term – the very existence of it.
A recent Eurobarometer poll, commissioned by the European Parliament, revealed that 74 per cent of Europeans want the EU to do more to manage the migration crisis. This will no doubt be used as an argument by the EU federalists that the Commission needs to initiate more top down solutions, including a revamped scheme of migrant relocation. Quite the contrary. The EU does indeed have to do more but the policies have to be different.
he guarding of external borders so as to reduce the absolute number of incoming migrants has to become the number one priority. Although there have already been steps taken, including the deal with Turkey, more can be done. Without strong external borders the crisis will never cease and no amount of talk about solidarity will improve the situation. As part of the plan to secure the borders, consideration should be given to more profound measures including a migrant pushback scheme. Further, the illegal business of people smugglers must be stopped. The smuggling has emerged as one of the most financially lucrative trades with little legal risks. This also strengthens the role of criminal networks which creates a number of other problems.
At the same time, the aforementioned migrant relocation schemes within the EU, whatever form they take, should be reworked. They are hindering the goal of working out a comprehensive EU answer to the migration problem and are not even in the migrants’ best interests.
More generally, the EU strategy to combat the migration crisis, whilst acknowledging the rights of the migrants, has to be permanent, sustainable, respect the sovereignty of individual Member States as well as take into account the legitimate concerns voiced by their governments. This is no easy task, but it is achievable with a concerted effort. It is a known truth that one should not wait until the crisis hits to come up with a plan to fight it. This has already happened. It is high time to fix this migration crisis which, if unresolved, risks tearing apart the already thinning fabric of the EU project