On June 21st, 2017, the Members of the European Parliament along with the President of the European Commission, the High Representative, and a variety of local, regional, and national public figures gathered at the European Parliament in Brussels to discuss the most pressing topic facing European Politics today: migration. Antonio Tajani, the President of the European Parliament, began his introduction to the meeting by pointing out how the date chosen for the conference, June 21st, 2017, was not random, but instead strategically chosen. The day prior to the meeting, June 20th, was World Refugee Day, and the bi-annual meeting of the European Council took place in Brussels the two days following the conference. He dictated a clear objective for the meeting, which was to make sure that their voices and opinions regarding migration and the refugee crisis were heard by the Heads of State and Government from all 28 member states right before an important discussion was to take place during the meeting of the European Council. A more specific objective of the meeting is given on the European Union website:
“The European Parliament will host the conference on migration management ahead of the EU summit to launch a platform for regular dialogue between all actors involved. It will address responsibility sharing among Member States, ensuring a stable and secure environment both in and at the external borders of the EU, and tackling the root causes of migration through cooperation with third countries.”
After listening to the introductory remarks from a variety of leaders, it was clear that they were going to stick to this objective and promote a more comprehensive discussion of the migration crisis.
Tajani named the three main goals of the EU at present: migration, the fight against terrorism, and youth unemployment. He honed in on the idea that people migrate for a multitude of reasons, such as climate change leading to desertification, and that in order to find a solution to the migration crisis the root causes must be identified. As for dealing with the migrants once they decided to migrate, he mentioned the importance of putting an end to the trafficking of women and children, calling it the exploitation of despair, and that a new distribution system with a new distribution key must be created so that Italy and Greece were not having to process a majority of the applications. The European Border and Coast Guard was implemented to alleviate some of the burden already faced by these border countries, and he said that a satellite system would help improve the situation also. Tajani then went onto confront the issues the EU was dealing with internally regarding the conflict, mainly referring to some member states misconduct in regards to migration policy and the rise of populism due to fear. He said that closing borders would only make the situation worse, and that strengthening their borders would not only help with the migration crisis but it was also necessary to protect the single market and the overall values of the European Union. A week before this conference, the European Commission launched infringement procedures against those countries that were not following the procedures regarding migration. To justify these proceedings, Tajani emphasized that it was not to punish those countries, but if you choose to be a part of the European Union you must follow the rules. To quote him, “Jean-Claude we [the European Parliament] support you, the Commission is not alone.”
Tajani used the latter part of his speech by delving into the topic that would be prominent during the remainder of the speeches: Africa. Africa is of utmost importance when it comes to discussing migration in the EU because not only are people migrating from different parts of Africa, but they are entering Europe through transit countries in the North of Africa who are alone not strong or stable enough to support migrants. He deemed the EU’s role in Africa to be to boost economic growth and alleviate poverty, not only to support the migrants flowing through but also to instill hope in the young people of Africa to build a stronger society for generations to come. In my favorite part of his speech, he warned against eurocentrism saying: “We shouldn’t look at Africa through a European point of view, but through the view of the African people,” and to “send a message to those on the other side of the Mediterranean that we are and always will be a friend.” I think it is especially significant that he included this in his speech, because it addresses those that are either wary of intervention due to Europe’s colonial past or who doubt the African people’s abilities in creating their own successful society by clarifying that intervention will not take the shape of forcing the pillars of Western European society upon Africa, but instead providing a solid support system in which the African states can build their own version of society. Lastly, to promote the importance and potential that lies within the Parliament and the EU as a whole, the President of the European Parliament blatantly said that politics and the formation of policies that will lead the way for other countries are absolutely necessary, and that the EU cannot continue to be perceived or to act solely as a massive bureaucratic body.
After an impressive introduction came the most important speaker of the meeting and the most influential leader of the European Union: Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission. Juncker’s term lasts from 2014 to 2019, and therefore he has not only seen the worst of the migration and refugee crisis play out, but is also expected to lead the Union in finding a solution to their most pressing issue. Juncker, a Luxembourgish native and member of the European People’s Party, is an extremely experienced actor in European politics, having represented Luxembourg in the Council of Ministers for half a decade before assuming the role of Luxembourgish Prime Minister for almost two, and his contribution to the European Union has been significant as he was involved in the construction of both the Maastricht and Lisbon Treaties and the President of the Eurogroup, the Ministers of Finance from the Eurozone, from 2005 to 2013. I mention this to emphasize the importance of his voice as the main leader of the EU in such an important time in its development. The three key values of his campaign platform (experienced and efficient leadership, solidarity amongst people and nations, and a strong vision for the future) remain more relevant than ever three years later as he tries to not only achieve his ten priorities but more specifically to focus on migration, an issue that I doubt he thought would be his top priority for the duration of his term.
To preface the short speech he gave at the conference are two previous Juncker quotes used on the 10 priorities outline regarding migration:
“The recent terrible events in the Mediterranean have shown: Europe needs to manage migration better, in all aspects. This is first of all a humanitarian imperative. I am convinced that we must work closely together in a spirit of solidarity to ensure that situations such as the one in Lampedusa never arise again.”
“I also believe that we need to deal more robustly with irregular migration, notably through better cooperation with third countries, including on readmission.”
His speech was brief, focusing on the progress being made and actions being taken to address this crisis—while reiterating the same beliefs he has held regarding migration throughout his presidency. When discussing the implementation of the European Border and Coast Guard, he said that there are 1600 guards currently deployed, and 1600 standing by ready to be deployed when needed. He also said that the number of refugees coming into the country who were registered has gone from 8% in 2015 to 100% now, and that since the agreement of the EU-Turkey Statement, the number of refugees arriving in Greece from Turkey has gone down 19%. He made clear that the EU had no intentions on leaving any country behind where there are people in need, reminding the audience that behind the statistics are men, women, and children who would rather stay in their countries—and are leaving because they have to, not because they want to. Juncker then discussed the recent infringement procedures the Commission had started against the member states who are not following procedure, saying “[he] believe[s] solidarity must first come from the heart,” but if the states do not cooperate then it is necessary for the Commission to take action to ensure that the procedures are followed. Just as the Commission is responsible for ensuring that the member states behave accordingly, the member states all have their fair share of responsibilities when it comes to dealing with the migration crisis. He closed by mentioning actions the EU is taking for the future, including conducting negotiations regarding readmissions into Morocco, Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia, and discussing the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa.
The third person to speak was Federica Mogherini, the High Representative for CFSP and Vice President of the Commission. Mogherini is a key player in the migration crisis because she is the head of the European External Action Service, chairs the Commission Group on External Action, chairs the Foreign Affairs Council, and chairs meetings of the Defense and Development ministers. She is essentially the Secretary of State of the European Union and the head of all foreign affairs, so the influx of migrants and refugees is one of her most important tasks. She specializes in working with the African countries to combat the root causes of migration, which is clearly reflected in her speech. At the beginning she criticized the EU’s initial response to the crisis saying, “some people were ashamed of the numbers being hosted, I am ashamed of the deaths the EU refused to see.” She said that in the past, dealing with migration was an exclusive national competence, but now people were coming to Europe, not one specific country. Therefore, Europe as a whole now has to address the problem and find a solution, in the words of Mogherini it is a “global phenomenon that requires unified external action.” Following the tone of both Tajani and Juncker, she said “if you’ve ever seen a woman put her children’s lives at risk, the push factor is much larger than the pull factor,” meaning that people are leaving because they have no better choice. Pointing out how people are often only concerned with those migrants coming by sea, she reminded the audience that there are lives to be saved as well as criminal networks to be dismantled in the desert too. Mogherini also warned against eurocentrism when discussing solutions to the issue, saying that some people have compared what the EU is doing for Africa to the Marshall Plan but a better name would be the “European Plan for Africa” which would be more of a partnership and an effort to empower instead of contributing money in exchange for power and influence. In order to support Africa’s development and resolve the migration crisis, she said it is necessary to combine both geography and ideals. Below is a map showing common routes migrants take from the Middle East and Africa, showing how crucial they are to finding a long-term solution to the problem.
Although Tajani, Juncker, and Mogherini were the three main speakers, they were followed by short speeches given by a variety of people which I have summarized below:
Fayez al-Sarraj, the Prime Minister of the Government of National Accord of Libya set up by the United Nations in 2015, was invited to speak due to Libya’s strategic role in handling migration into Europe because it is a transit country. As a transit country, many migrants are moving through it to reach Europe. It is in the EU’s best interest to strengthen these transit countries so that they can take better control of the migration through their country and so that more people will stay in Libya instead of continuing on to Europe. In Libya specifically, not only do they lack the resources to attend to the health needs of migrants, but they are also suffering from a drug problem which exacerbates the situation greatly. He emphasized that irregular immigration cannot be resolved by security policy alone, and that the transit countries’ economies and social policies must also be boosted so that they are capable of dealing with the situation. In order for this to happen, help must first be concentrated at the Southern border of Libya, not the coast where the migrants are leaving from, and within the countries that it neighbors because that is where the migrants are entering the country. He mentioned how Libya is working bilaterally with Italy to address the problem and that Libya has now sent an official application to the United Nations to lift the embargo currently placed on Libya so that they can begin to make progress.
Louise Arbour, the United Nations Special Representative for Migration, discussed concepts that those working towards a solution must first understand. This includes realizing that people are not migrating for one reason, but there are complex, multi-layered reasons to migrate. She also referred to the New York declaration and how it declares migration should be voluntary, not forced, and that there needs to be a global compact facilitating safe migration instead of halting it altogether. Furthermore, there needs to be an increase in the variety of pathways in which to migrate into a country and domestic labor markets must integrate migrant labor. On the issue of migrant labor, she discussed how important our perception of migrants is, and that it is necessary to integrate them into our society. Overall, she called for human mobility in a safe, orderly, and regular fashion.
Markku Markkula, President of the European Committee of the Regions, spoke very shortly. He said it was necessary to reform the Dublin Rules, which are part of the Common European Asylum System, and state that a person seeking asylum can only apply for it in one member state of the EU. The current problem with these rules is that the most common way to decide which country processes the application is based on the first EU country the asylum seeker enters, which has been Italy or Greece for a majority of the migrants since 2015 and they are therefore bearing an unfair amount of burden from the migrants. He also said that “when we speak of migration management we must also speak of integration of migrants” which refers back to the common theme of integrating and accepting migrants into society instead of preventing them from entering to start a new life.
Georges Dassis, President of the European Economic and Social Committee, discussed how many people’s perception of migrants has been strongly influenced by media and politics and is not based on fact. He also said that we are obligated on moral and legal terms to take in refugees, and that the legal terms were set in the Geneva Convention when the EU was dealing with refugees from Eastern Europe, pointing out the irony that now Eastern European countries in the EU are rejecting refugees. To close, he called for an overall holistic policy that included conflict resolution and state building, promotion of democracy and human rights, and development of civil society.
In conclusion, the conference was very interesting to take part in, not only because of the speakers who attended but also because of the way that the leaders came together and essentially delivered the same message to the European Council, and to the world, on their position on the migration crisis. In order to address this issue, the Common European Asylum System must be reformed including a new distribution key and changes to the Dublin rules, root causes for regular and irregular migration must be identified, transit countries in Africa must be supported with the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa and through long-term plans for sustainable development, bilateral and multilateral agreements concerning issues like relocation must be negotiated between member states and transit countries, and the attitude of EU member states as a whole must reflect solidarity and an agreement to support those in need by not only providing them with physical security but also by willingness to integrate them into their own societies. Overall, I think attending this conference was beneficial as an introduction into the European, as opposed to American, view of the migration crisis and will be an effective lens in which to learn about European Security.