Migration Policy: Europe

Italy is getting a lot of flack of late. A right wing, anti-immigrant alliance has taken power—and Europe is responding with shock, more shock and righteous indignation!

Starting In 2015, the number of boat people seeking asylum in Europe rose dramatically, largely due to the war in Syria, political upheaval in Libya and declining living standards elsewhere in Africa.

People smugglers operating in Turkey placed migrants (mostly from Syria, Iraq and in Iran) on rafts and towed them to the edge of Greek territorial waters to fend for themselves, en route to nearby Greek islands.

In Libya, human smugglers towed boats (some containing hundreds of migrants) to the edge of Libya’s 12 mile limit, and abandoned them in international waters–with the assumption that boats would pick them up and take them to the nearest Italian port–often on the volcanic island of Lampadusa.

It was a hardship for Italy and Greece. But, they didn’t carry it alone. EU programs helped cover costs of providing for the migrants.

What has changed regarding EU migrant policy?

1) As the number of migrants into Germany exceeded her expectations Ms. Merkel unilaterally declared that other EU countries should take more migrants and put restrictions on the number of them allowed into Germany.

2) Countries that bordered Greece (Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Turkey) and Italy (France, Switzerland, Austria and Croatia) started erecting fences or checkpoints to keep the migrants from entering their countries.

3) In July 2013, the EU fully implemented the Dublin Regulation which that the EU country in which the migrants first landed were responsible for caring for the migrants. Such gave the neighbors of Greece and Italy an added incentive to tighten their borders, and deport the migrants to their country of entry.

4) EU member countries also cut back on the numbers of boats patrolling the international waters, instead of taking migrants to ports other than in Italy or Greece. They essentially said that Italy and Greece must carry the burden alone.

Italy and Greece were in different circumstances. While Italy’s coastal waters (excluding brief stretches where it borders France and Croatia) it is surrounded by international waters, where boats can be intercepted before they reach Italian territorial waters.

Greece is not so fortunate. There is no buffer zone. Their territorial waters, largely border Turkey to the south and east. Once a boat leaves Turkish waters adjacent to Greece, its cargo becomes the responsibility of Greece. However, in 2013, the EU implemented the European Stability Initiative, which gave each of the Balkan countries something of value: Greece saw the boats carrying Syrian migrants almost entirely stop arriving from Turkey. Turkey was given money by the EU to take back thousands of Syrian migrants from Greece in exchange for stopping the boats. The Balkan countries were able to shut their gates to undocumented migrants.

However, the sea lanes could be reopened to people smugglers if the Turks don’t get what they want.

1) Turkey wants good faith and fast track consideration for entry into the EU, as prospect that has always been dodgy at best. With the June 2018 election of autocrat Recep Erdogan, this seems unlikely. A poor track record as a stable democracy has long been a key objection to Turkey joing the EU. Such a prospect seems distant now.

2) The EU wants 6 billion euros spent entirely and directly upon migrant relief. I see no reason why this must be so. Does the EU expect Turkey to put its own resources into assisting migrants? Such is a lot to ask for a union that has done everything it can to shift the burdens to EU member nations, bordering the Mediterranean.

What are other EU counties doing that border the Mediterranean?

1) Malta simply refuses to allow any ship carrying migrants to dock at its island nation–and uses its Navy to enforce same.

2) Spain uses warships to prevent such ships from entering its territorial waters.

3) France is the most distant EU country bordering the Mediterranean from both Africa and the Middle East. So, few boats are capable of reaching it. Their focus is on preventing migrants from entering France via its border with Italy, which it now heavily patrols.

In June 2018, French premiere Macron chided the newly installed Italian government for closing its ports to two ships carrying migrants–then announced that these two ships would not be allowed to dock in France. (Spain has now accepted the ships, contrary to their usual ban.)

4) Germany’s Andrea Merkel talked big when it came to commitments for Germany to take a million immigrants, and then backtracked–only to compound her misjudgment by demanding that the EU meet its commitments–after making a hash out of the Greek financial crisis.

Is it any wonder that Italy has elected anti-EU leaders and a right of center parliament?

If the EU can get a country, such as France or Spain to make their countries the point of entry for migrants, I would leave them to do what such countries would decide to do. But, to smugly dictate to Italy what its humanitarian obligations are without sharing the burden is a big mistake. Such encourages dissent among EU members and threatens what little cohesion the EU currently has.

And, cohesion is a big issue in the EU.

1) The inability for Greece to devalue its currency and its forced fealty to EU banks will force it to seek autononomy, and the absence of veto power over EU regulations that affect it most directly compel Greece to follow a self-destructive policy that it has no power to resist.

2) Italy has elected a right wing government of euro-sceptics that see few benefits in the EU.

3) Brexit. Unexpected. The Londoners should have seen it come, and have buried their heads in a morass of delusion which they believe a few protests and a political subterfuge or two will right. They are wrong.

It is easy to be an armchair humanitarian. Taking responsibility for one’s own actions is less easy than placing the burdens on others.

Until other EU countries take their share of the burden, Italy should have ships in international waters discouraging boat people from entering its waters in the first place and escort ships that pick up the migrants in international waters to stay out of Italian waters.

The EU is not heartless. It has long allowed generous numbers of refugees to resettle in the EU. But, just as Northern European countries naturally look to the welfare of their nations first, and have the right to dictate the number and origin of the refugees that they are willing to allow. By law and by posturing, they can–under excuse of geography–dictate obligations to others in their Union that spare themselves. At least, they can for a while.

In its formative time years as the European Economic Union, it was what its name implied. A customs union that had no political portfolio–more a facilitator for trade than a political and social overlord. If could learn from the mistakes of misunderstanding the member states. But, it probably won’t.

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