Europe’s Last Stand on Immigration Reform

The controversial reorganization of the migration system in Europe is imminent. Due to its Council Presidency, Germany may even possess more weight than usual. However, a consensus among the member states remains inconceivable. The Common European Asylum System The EU is standing on the precipice regarding its Common European Asylum System (CEAS). Negotiations over this new approach have stalled since 2016, as several member states do not concur with the many of the plans CEAS includes. Germany plays a crucial role in the negotiations, particularly now due to its presidency and Berlin has changed its stance on immigration as of late. Instead of insisting on a mandatory admission quota for all 27 EU countries, as it has for years, Berlin is now also in favor of “flexible solidarity”. The pending reform is primarily about establishing the most uniform standards possible within the EU to process and assess asylum applications. Besides, there is a fair distribution of refugees, common standards for legal migration, and a coordinated and reinforced deportation policy in the event of illegal migration. Time is of the essence, as for the first time since the 2015 refugee crisis, the number of people coming to the EU and five other European countries has seen an increase over the previous year. Seven Proposals for EU Asylum Reform The EU asylum reform comprises seven legislative proposals, 5 of which find consensus among the members. 1. Reform of the Dublin Regulation. It is the most controversial point. The critical question is which country is responsible for examining the asylum application in the event of strong migration movements. According to the previous law, the country where the migrant first sets foot on European soil must take care of it. However, this leads to an utterly unequal burden on the member states. 2. An expansion of the Eurodac regulation identification database to prevent secondary migration and illegal migration better. In addition to fingerprints, facial images will also be stored in the future. 3. Strengthening of the EU’s asylum agency and support the member states in asylum procedures. 4. A new recognition regulation that ought to ensure that asylum seekers have the same chance of asylum under the same conditions. The aim is to achieve uniform protection criteria and greater consistency in terms of recognition rates. In addition, severe penalties for “asylum shopping” should be enforceable. 5. Europe’s Reception Conditions Directive aims to ensure that asylum seekers are received decently and treated equally throughout the EU. 6. Human traffickers should be combated through resettlement programs. Special selection processes are intended to enable legal migration for those in particular need of protection. 7. A new asylum procedure regulation aiming to make asylum procedures more efficient, including harmonized rights for asylum seekers and more severe penalties for abuse. The aim is also a common list of safe third countries. So far, no consent has been reached. Juncker’s Big Mistake Besides these points, the services are to be harmonized within the EU — naturally taking into account the respective cost of living. The penalties for illegally escaping from another EU country to Germany — which continues to be the most sought after destination of many asylum seekers because benefits are comparatively high — would also be significantly increased. The EU Commission, led by Jean-Claude Juncker, had made numerous proposals for a modern European asylum system in recent years. Together with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, however, Juncker made the grave mistake in the spring of 2016 of submitting a proposal to reform the distribution of refugees (Dublin Regulation) without a significant vote, which obliged all member states to admit refugees by way of quota. Massive resistance came from numerous Eastern, and Central European countries as these did not want Brussels to dictate which and how many refugees they would take in. This dispute continues to this day and continues to weigh heavily on sentiment within the EU. The Heat is On Von der Leyen The EU Commission knows how toxic the issue is and has postponed its reform proposals several times since the spring. Ursula Von der Leyen is under massive pressure. In early summer, they received several letters from the EU capitals: Austria and Denmark warned that there should be no “automatic and compulsory distribution” of refugees. The interior ministers of seven Eastern European countries have also announced: “fierce resistance” to mandatory distribution. In contrast, five southern European countries demanded in a letter that a “compulsory redistribution mechanism” was “essential.” The reason is obvious: the Mediterranean countries are usually the first point of contact for migrants and therefore, according to the Dublin Regulation, have to process the applications and take care of the asylum seekers – which does not seem like a fair way of sharing a burden many European states have never asked for. Nevertheless, Europe needs to find answers and quickly. Most importantly, however, Europe also needs to find answers for the growing number of European states and citizens who have learned from 2015 and want better solutions this time around.

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Conclusions from the MED7 Meeting in Corsica

The EU Med Group, widely known as MED7, met in Ajaccio, Corsica on Saturday, September 10. The alliance consists of seven Mediterranean countries which are member states of the European Union, namely Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal, and Spain. The most critical issues the top of the meeting’s agenda were the current developments in the Mediterranean, predominantly the Migrant Crisis and unilateral Turkish actions against Greece and Cyprus. France, Greece and Cyprus; a Strong Alliance Directly Condemning Turkey’s Actions French President Emmanuel Macron, the official host of the meeting has been the one to open the joint press conference of the seven country leaders. Macron initially talked about the worrying issue of the uncontrolled migrant flows from Libya stating that the problem should be immediately dealt with. The French President grabbed the opportunity and attacked Turkey, stressing that Ankara should adhere to the 2016 Turkey-EU deal over the refugee crisis and stop acting unilaterally. He also emphasized the important need for absolute respect towards the arms embargo on Libya, commenting that there have been some discrepancies from Europe so far, indirectly criticizing the stance of Germany. Regarding the tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean, Macron used clear and decisive language, delivering an unambiguous message of solidarity to Greece and Cyprus and talking about illegal drilling and unilateral provocations from the Turkish side. He stated that Europe is seeking a bona fide dialogue, but the Turkish reactions so far, are making this initiative rather difficult. Under any circumstances, Paragraph 6* of the MED7 Joint Declaration would be strictly applied, and this is something Macron has emphasized, even though the context of Paragraph 6 with regards to the EU response towards Turkey still remains somehow generic. The French President concluded that a coordinated European effort is deemed necessary on other critical issues within the Mediterranean territory, like Lebanon and Syria. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis followed Emmanuel Macron. Mitsotakis opened his speech with the recent events in the Moria camp in the Greek island of Lesbos. The Greek PM thanked the other European countries for their essential support on this developing crisis and underlined that the immigration challenges, are correctly treated as a common European problem. Mitsotakis also condemned the constant violation of Greek-Cypriot rights from Turkey and referred to the illegal occupation of the northern part of Cyprus since 1974. He called Ankara to abstain from further provocative and unilateral actions in the Mediterranean, and he recalled that President Macron has characterized the region as Mare Nostrum, Our Sea, implicating that the European South should be the key player in this region of vital importance. The Greek PM said that European support for Greece and Cyprus should not be just an act of solidarity but a self-conscious action to protect the strategic interests of the European Union. An Appeal to Turkey There has been another appeal to Turkey to negotiate in good will, otherwise Greece would take the dispute to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. The Greek PM closed his speech announcing that he is looking forward to the next MED7 meeting in Greece and specifically on the island of Crete, Mitsotakis’ place of origin. Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades mentioned that the weight of the immigration crisis is disproportionate for Cyprus, which is a front-line country. He harshly criticized Turkey for using the asylum seekers, as a tool of geopolitical pressure, and said that a new EU asylum deal to control the migrant flows is deemed necessary. Anastasiades talked about reckless Turkish actions that pose a risk for the wider area, and complained about Ankara’s continuous war rhetoric. He also called the other countries to assist in ending the Turkish illegal exploration and drilling operations in Greek and Cypriot maritime zones. The violation of the international law and of the sovereign rights of two EU member states are not only threatening the reliability of the European Union but also the integrity and security of the continent as a whole. Anastasiades aligned with the comments of the Greek PM, and reaffirmed that if the dialogue with Ankara is not fruitful, the Hague should definitely be an option, but also harsh sanctions against Turkey should always be on the table. Italy and Malta; Solidarity and Dialogue Italian Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, praised the importance of the southern countries of Europe in dealing with the EU challenges. Talking about the immigration challenges, he confirmed that the South should stop simply dealing with the results and start acting proactively. Coordination with third countries -countries of origin and transit countries- is deemed necessary to reduce the flows in European territory, while the elimination of the migrant smugglers should always be on the top of the agenda. Regarding the Greek-Turkish dispute, Conte expressed his absolute solidarity towards Greece and Cyprus, condemning unilateral actions by Turkey, and mentioning that he fully trusts the German Presidency of the EU Council and the actions of the European Council, which could lead to swift deescalation. The Prime Minister of Malta Robert Abela clarified that cooperation between neighboring and friendly countries is of critical importance, expressing his full solidarity to Greece. Even though the neutral status of Malta is clearly defined in the country’s constitution, Abela stressed that international law and sovereign rights must not be challenged under any circumstances. The Maltese Prime Minister emphasized the importance of peace and stability in the Eastern Mediterranean is important and said he is really optimistic for the results that the MED7 coordination could bring. Finally he referred to the refugee crisis, which is directly affecting his country, stating that the emergency could only be managed through the establishment of peace in Libya, and the prompt reconstruction of a viable economy for the country. Spain and Portugal; Deescalation the Only Way Ahead The Prime Minister of Portugal António Costa initially discussed the COVID-19 European and global geopolitical challenges. He expressed his solidarity to Cyprus and Greece and made a special reference to the important role of the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Joseph Borel, and the President of the European Council, Charles Michel. Costa repeatedly stated that a solution should be sought through negotiations and multilateral dialogue. The Spanish Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, focused on the immigration crisis, expressing his solidarity for the Moria incident and calling for responsible actions from the EU, adequate border control, and a dual approach that could ensure the security and well-being of the European people, always with respect on the human rights and the humanitarian values. In the Eastern Mediterranean front, Sánchez highlighted that dialogue should be the only way forward and de-escalation has to be the top priority for Europe, through a process dictated by the European interests, and led by the European institutions. Conclusions and the Turkish Reaction After examining the statements of the seven leaders, we understand that the MED7 could easily agree on a mutual policy towards the common problem of the migrant flows, but in the case of the Easter Mediterranean and the Greek, Cypriot and Turkish dispute the things are different. On the one hand Cyprus, France and Greece adopt a straightforward stance, seeming ready to confront the Turkish provocations, while the remaining four leaders have chosen a much more moderate attitude. In the meantime Turkish President Recep Erdogan has found a unique way to protest again the MED7 conclusions. Shortly after the end of the Joint Press Conference, he posted an old video from the time he was Mayor of Istanbul, through his personal Twitter account. In the video the Turkish President is saying that “a wolf-pack is about to attack us, but they cannot eat us; we are too great for them” referring to his Kemalist opponents back in the day. Adapting the statements to the current circumstances, Erdogan is indicating President Macron and the rest of the European leaders that took part in the summit. *Paragraph 6 of the MED7 Joint Declaration We reiterate our full support and solidarity with Cyprus and Greece in the face of the repeated infringements on their sovereignty and sovereign rights, as well as confrontational actions by Turkey. We call upon all the countries in the region to abide by international law, in particular international law of the sea, and encourage all parties to resolve their disputes through dialogue and negotiation. In this respect, we welcome the mediation efforts of the HR/VP and Germany in order to achieve a resumption of the dialogue between Greece and Turkey on the maritime zone issue. In addition, we welcome the invitation by the Government of Cyprus to negotiate with Turkey, noting that delimitation of exclusive economic zones and continental shelf should be addressed through dialogue and negotiation in good faith, in full respect of international law and in accordance with the principle of good neighbourly relations. In line with recent European Council and EU Council conclusions, we regret that Turkey has not responded to the repeated calls by the European Union to end its unilateral and illegal activities in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea. We reaffirm our determination to use all adequate means at the disposal of the European Union in response to these confrontational actions. In line with the latest Informal Meeting of EU Foreign Ministers (Gymnich), we agree to speed up work on the additional listings based on the proposals tabled so far, with a view to its rapid adoption. We maintain that in absence of progress in engaging Turkey into a dialogue and unless it ends its unilateral activities, the EU is ready to develop a list of further restrictive measures that could be discussed at the European Council on 24-25 September 2020.

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