Another capsized boat; civilian search and rescue vessels blocked for days; more push-backs at the EU’s external borders with Turkey and Bosnia; first the ‘jungle of Calais’ and now Moria up in flames. When tragedies strike, we take note once again: human suffering, fire and destruction all make for good headlines. And then it goes back to normal – until the next tragedy strikes. For many it’s easy to understand why – whether from the (far) right or the (far) left: „the EU has failed“. Either the borders would have to be barricaded completely, or we should evacuate all camps immediately and bring the people to cities in Germany.
What’s mostly neglected in that debate, however, are the two main pillars of the current misery: on the one hand, the EU-Turkey deal on blocking refugees from entering the EU. It concentrates these persons in Greek and Turkish camps. On the other, the epically-failed Dublin III system, which regulates the initial reception of asylum seekers in the EU: nothing will change as long as the EU’s asylum and migration policy is based on these.
Pointing the finger at „the EU“ however, would be pretty misleading and cheap, because the EU-Turkey deal was invented mainly in Berlin and The Hague. The other Member States then willingly went along. The European Parliament – the only democratically-elected EU representation – was not even asked, even though through the Lisbon Treaty it holds a say on asylum issues.
And the Dublin III system, which ascribes all responsibility to countries in the Mediterranean? It should have been revised long ago because it has proven to be completely inadequate.
Dublin calling, again?
This “Dublin system” – the system that regulates almost everything that concerns refugees from the moment they arrive on EU soil – has already been fundamentally revised. And it was a major improvement! The European Parliament adopted a revised text on November 6th 2017 with a two-thirds majority. Six parliamentary groups supported the revision – and they represented 180 national parties across the EU. This law would have meant numerous improvements for those affected, be they refugees or first-time reception states.
But the text apparently went too far for the governments in Berlin, The Hague, Warsaw, Budapest or Vienna, so they jointly blocked the proposal in the Council configurations and refused to start negotiations with the European Parliament. To this day, the Parliament is still waiting for a constructive reaction from the Council – and it has been 1,042 days! And here, the EU Council Presidencies starting with Austria (second half of 2018) all the way to current one in Germany have worked together:
The Austrian Council Presidency – which, at that time, included the far-right fascists FPÖ (ID) in the government coalition – had one simple goal during its term, namely to not touch the issue of the asylum package at all. After sitting it out for a year, they were the very last government that could have pushed through such a monster package before the 2019 European elections. But if you take a closer look at the activities of the Austrian Council Presidency, you see that they dealt with absolutely everything except the asylum package. True to the motto: after the election, the make-up of the European Parliament would change dramatically.
As expected, it turned out that way and the progressive majorities of 2017 are now a thing of the past. But the proposal still exists. And yet still is not up for debate.
So now it’s the turn of the German government’s Council Presidency to bury the most progressive text that the EU has ever drawn up on migration issues: Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has the glorious task of drafting a completely new proposal. Starting from scratch. This time with the credo that „2015 must not be repeated„. In other words: farewell to the upholding of “human rights” and hello to the upholding of “control” or short: Take back control (UKIP).
The German federal government, plus the other EU27/26 capitals and national as well as European news outlets simply ignored the European Parliament’s proposal. Almost completely. They just didn’t want to give this text or the European Parliament a chance. That’s pretty undemocratic as well as anti-European. The Parliament has not only done a pretty good job politically-speaking, but above all, it has shown that European solutions across political divides and countries are possible – even on this issue. Screw the disputes between capital cities! But nobody in the Member States wanted to get out of their shell – not the politicians, not the parties, not the press. Everyone has made themselves far too comfortable with the EU-Turkey deal and a Dublin III system that leaves the north largely undisturbed and the south shouldering the tasks. With counter revolutions in the „Middle East“ and North Africa as well as climate change, all those in charge in Europe deliberately overlook the fact that this humanitarian crisis has only just begun. The topic will stay. The tragedies will repeat. Time and time again. Progressive, European solutions are inevitable if we do not want to give up our moral identity entirely.
However, neither the schizophrenia in dealing with Turkey nor the legal breach that the EU Member States are committing by blocking this Dublin reform are facing much public scrutiny. With the Lisbon Treaty, the Council is obliged to respond within six months to proposals from the EU Parliament, otherwise it commits a “Failure to act” (EU Art. 265). Such a negotiation process would have come before the EPP-ID-coalition in Austria (#schwarzblau) and also before Salvini in Italy, who both railed against the “inactivity of the European Union”. But nobody holds these national governments really to account – where there is no plaintiff, there is no judge. With the implementation of the legislative proposal by the European Parliament, Moria would have been prevented because Moria in this way would never have existed.
And the EU-Turkey deal? It’s the reason why it is practically impossible to apply for asylum in Europe without having to get on a boat. Safe passage, humanitarian visa or the possibility to claim asylum at embassies outside the EU are the only effective means of ending the tragedy in the Mediterranean. But the bottom line remains: EU capitals accept the suffering, it’s that simple. So what is the point of having this annoying European Parliament anyway!?
Photo (c) Olivier Hansen