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Europe and Migration: rising to the challenge

The public outcry caused by the images showing the extreme distress of migrants crossing the Mediterranean has succeeded at least in reminding Europeans that asylum is, first and foremost, a right that is part of their fundamental texts and that it is the result of a moral duty. The surge of generosity that followed has partially compensated for the lack of foresight and incompetence of their governments which to date had turned their backs on the drama taking place on our doorstep - 20,000 deaths since 2000, 2,800 since January 1st – this was a crisis announced.

The European institutions, which for a long time was refused any competence in this area – anticipated it. In the field each one has tried to improvise necessarily partial answers.

Legitimate emotion which has illustrated true generosity must now be followed by concrete answers.

This means an agonizing review of strategy regarding foreign policy and even defence, which calls for more courageous initiatives.

Europe and its Member States cannot just sit there without responding to the chaos ongoing in the South. Conflicts, civil wars, dictatorships and misery are our problems more than ever before. And we cannot avoid that.

From the political point of view, although asylum is a duty and openness an asset, we cannot ignore response on the part of public opinion. Everywhere in Europe “an egotism of the wealthy” fired by simplistic populism is worsening withdrawal and causing rejection. The failure of integration policies is the main cause of this, the confusion of the mind its best ally. In the societies in transition, laxity and permissiveness often serve as beliefs and spread anguish, stimulate identity backlash and hackles rise.

From a technical point of view responding effectively to the challenge of migration is extremely complicated. It is easy to criticise the, often unacceptable, declarations that have been made by governments, overwhelmed by the crowds which are pressing on their borders – it is more difficult to devise a way of coping.

Indeed how should we receive those fleeing the horror of war without creating a “pull-effect” the first consequence of which would be to empty entire countries and multiply the numbers of the displaced?

How can we protect the freedom of movement, which is consubstantial to the European project, and in any case inherent to globalisation, and organise it humanely and intelligently?

It is a paradox that goods, services and capital circulate freely in the world whilst human beings see their freedom restricted. Never have as many walls, barriers, fences been erected than with the present trend in economic and trade globalisation. And yet never have so many people been on the move. 42,500 of them decide daily to flee a conflict in comparison with 11,000 in 2011! There are 4,000 more refugees every 24 hours.

Never have so many people voted literally “with their feet” for a Europe that Europeans spend their time denigrating. The source of dreams on the outside and of desperation from within – is this to be the fate of our continent? To the emotion we might also add a dose of modesty. Criticised just a two months ago during the Greek crisis, Germany has saved Europe’s honour via its response and generosity. In Europe some have learned the lesson of history better than others!

However we should not be leave the present situation at that along with the half-measures put forward to improve it.

Thanks to the personal, courageous commitment on the part of Jean-Claude Juncker, the plan drawn up by the European Commission is moving in the right direction, but it will not be enough without bold, active involvement on the part of the Member States. And if 28 States cannot do it together then it must be undertaken with just a few – as always, integration will be achieved according to the example set.

A common asylum policy is necessary but before we reach that point we should harmonise refugee reception conditions: the same social and labour rights, the same social integration obligations and the respect of the law.

A concerted migration policy even before it becomes “common” will help to take on board differences in situation – labour market, integration – we also have to agree on procedures, request processing, return policy and the means to achieve this. Since they have not wanted to relinquish any of their State competences the Member States – via the Dublin Agreements – have granted the border States with the competence of managing the flows. This policy has failed.

Frontex would be much more effective in this capacity but the issue of its remit remains. It was designed for rescue, reception, the identification of requirements and immigration sources and it could take on these tasks on behalf of the Union. But it cannot ensure the protection of borders where the use of force might be required. To whom would it be accountable?

To do this, and for a long time to come, the Member States which are willing might mobilise the necessary police, judicial and military means. Fighting together to counter terrorism, trafficking and threats of all kinds is now an urgent imperative. Might it be conceivable for some to act on behalf of all and with their financial support?

Indeed mastering migratory flows will require a great deal of diplomatic and even military initiatives, vital for the stabilisation of the European environment. We cannot just deal with the consequences – we must also address the causes with greater determination.

Diplomacy however is only effective if it is backed up by military means to make it credible. And from this point of view Europe is even more divided, and especially, impotent. Are we going to accept the settlement of the Syrian question via an international solution which will have been imposed by the major world and regional powers? Europe is taking the Syrians in; will it be the US and Russia who are to settle the crisis in Syria? 

As announced the question of European power – whether we like it or not – is now a matter of absolute urgency.