(The Bloomberg View) -- European Union leaders say they have a new deal on migration. It’s hardly that: They came up with a text but no clear agreement on what to do. The plan is a muddle that leaves important details blank. Most important, it ducks the main challenge: to devise a common EU policy on refugees.
The EU has been struggling to deal with an inflow of migrants from across the Mediterranean Sea. Southern European countries, especially Italy and Malta, have spent heavily on rescuing people at sea and processing refugees. The job falls to them because of a controversial rule — the so-called Dublin regulation — which says that asylum applications should generally be handled by the country of entry.
The number of new arrivals has fallen sharply since the peak in October 2015, but dealing with the consequences of earlier migration is still difficult. Resentment of migrants and of the EU’s part in the problem is, if anything, still growing. It was decisive in propelling the League, a right-wing xenophobic party, to its place in Italy’s government. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel has come under pressure from the Christian Social Union, a junior coalition partner, to restrict the movements of migrants within the EU.
The new agreement takes several small steps. Leaders said they’d set up “controlled centers” across the EU to process migrants, but only on voluntary basis — suggesting that Italy should expect little relief. The plan also talks of exploring whether centers could be set up outside the EU, most likely in north and west Africa — but again that calls for volunteers. Crucially, Europe did nothing to revise the Dublin agreement; in fact, the leaders agreed that any changes to that accord would require consensus, giving a veto to hard-line governments such as Hungary’s.
One of the EU’s proudest achievements is its single labor market, allowing workers to move freely among member countries without internal barriers. The implication is obvious: Europe needs a single policy on refugees. The EU should commit more money to securing the external border and have one centralized system to allocate refugees fairly across countries. Member states should then be responsible for ensuring that immigrants integrate into their new societies, for example by providing training and language courses. Here too an expanded EU budget would be helpful, so the necessary projects could go forward everywhere, including in poorer member states.
Migration is a challenge for Europe as a whole and demands a truly European response. This new agreement isn’t it.
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.