Europe Sets Out to Fortify Borders Under New Migration Blueprint
A traveler holds their Latvian passport and flight tickets as European Union travel restrictions are lifted at Berlin SchoenefeldAirport in Schoenfeld, Germany. (Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg)

Europe Sets Out to Fortify Borders Under New Migration Blueprint

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The European Union’s executive arm proposed an overhaul of the bloc’s migration system, in a bid to avoid a repeat of the crisis that almost tore it apart.

Under the plan, all EU member states, not just front-line countries, will be required to help accelerate the return of migrants who don’t qualify to remain in the bloc. If a member state is struggling with large numbers of migrants, a “mandatory solidarity mechanism” will be activated, whereupon another country will either take responsibility for relocation, for returning the person back to their home country or through investing in asylum centers, according to the proposal.

In 2015, the EU’s inability to manage an influx of refugees brought governments to the brink of collapse and tested adherence to common rules that are meant to bind member states together, amid a revolt against demands to share the burden. Today, the issue constrains the EU’s room for maneuver in foreign policy and gives unwelcome ammunition to Turkey, upon which the EU relies to stem migration flows.

In its proposals unveiled on Wednesday, the European Commission said asylum applications should be processed within 12 weeks. The EU hopes to reach a political agreement on the plans by the end of the year.

A crisis mechanism in the event of an even larger inflow could also be instated, involving longer periods for processing and a possibility to make a decision for a lot of people at the same time. For countries who take relocated migrants, the proposals stipulate that 10,000 euros ($11,700) will be provided as an incentive to take that person, or 12,000 euros if the person is an unaccompanied minor.

“It’s about realizing we have a common problem,” said Ylva Johansson, European commissioner for home affairs, in a press briefing Tuesday. “I will have 27 member states saying ‘we are not fully on board with this.’ But I do also think I will have 27 member states saying it’s a balanced approach.”

Dublin Regulation

In the more-than 400 pages of text, the Commission said it will withdraw its controversial mechanism for dealing with asylum applications, dubbed the Dublin Regulation, whereby migrants have to seek refuge in the country where they first arrive. Instead, those coming to the bloc will be distributed depending on a set of criteria, including if they have a sibling in another member state or have worked or studied elsewhere in the EU. They could also be processed elsewhere under the mandatory solidarity mechanism.

While the number of migrants coming to European shores has dropped significantly since five years ago, non-governmental organizations have lambasted the draconian measures used to stem the flow. They point to pushbacks in the Mediterranean, detention centers in Libya and the impounding of vessels that have tried to bring migrants into port. The number of illegal border crossing fell by an annual 14% in the first eight months of 2020 to 60,800, according to Frontex data.

The bloc is engaged in an uneasy relationship with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who struck a deal with the EU in 2016 that stemmed the flow of migrants toward Europe in exchange for financial assistance. Earlier this year, tensions between the two sides flared after the Turkish government publicly told millions of migrants that it wouldn’t stand in the way if they wanted to head for Europe.

Closer to home, the EU has come under particular scrutiny in recent weeks after a fire at Greece’s largest migration camp on the island of Lesbos left 13,000 without shelter and underscored how just a few countries on the continent’s Mediterranean coast are left to deal with migration.

How Johansson said the mandatory solidarity mechanism would work:
  • If a country, say Malta, is under pressure due to large numbers of migrants, they can ask to activate the mechanism
  • That request will be assessed by the European Commission
    • Those not eligible to stay should not be relocated, but returned to the country of origin
  • All member states have to contribute to the process through relocation, returning the migrants or building capacity in reception countries or third countries
  • Countries aiding the relocation process will use their “diplomatic muscle” to sort out the proceedings, then the EU’s border force Frontex can deal with a boat or a plane. The diplomatic agreements can’t be done by the commission
  • These member states will be responsible for taking in migrants they are unable to return
  • Mechanism will also be used for search and rescue cases

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