Welcome to EU Politics Decoded where Benjamin Fox and Eleonora Vasques bring you a round-up of the latest political news in Europe and beyond every Thursday.
In this edition, we look at the never-ending issue of migration and how Europe is dealing (or not dealing) with it.
Editor’s Take: Europe’s insoluble migration crisis
The first test of new Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni on migration control has seen the deliberate pushback of mostly adult male asylum seekers in the Mediterranean Sea.
Last week, almost 1,000 asylum-seekers arrived in Italy via four boats operated by NGO boats. The Italian government at first tried to prevent the passengers from coming ashore completely, before allowing only those considered ‘vulnerable cases’ by Italy.
The response has followed the usual pattern: indignation and statements of the obvious.
Meloni insists that her government has not broken international law. Migration and human rights experts, however, say that they have. The European Commission has underlined the legal obligation to rescue lives “irrespective of the circumstances that lead people to be in a situation of distress,” to avoid a “humanitarian tragedy.”
Pope Francis has urged EU countries to share responsibility for taking in migrants and not just leave it to the countries where people arrive.
The Commission insists that its existing ‘solidarity mechanism’ means that “a significant number of relocation places are available to help alleviate some of the pressure through relocation to other member states”.
However, the ‘solidarity mechanism’ is barely worth the paper it is written on. Meloni has made requests for other member states to offer relocation, including her friend and political ally, Hungarian premier Viktor Orbán. Orbán, who, needless to say, has been silent in response.
What we can say with near certainty is that this situation will be repeated in the coming months and that the Mediterranean Sea will continue to be a watery graveyard for thousands of people from the Middle East and Africa fleeing war and persecution or just seeking a better life.
The failure of EU lawmakers to overhaul the Dublin Regulation and make its immigration and asylum rules fit for purpose is among the most glaring in the 21st century, though the UK’s floundering attempts to deal with the scores of migrant boats crossing the Channel underscore that it is not just an EU problem.
The EU executive insists that its latest version of a ‘new pact on migration and asylum’ will provide for a “sustainable framework” to face the migration situation in the Mediterranean Sea.
The Commission and European Parliament have also promised an agreement will be reached before the next EU elections in spring 2024, though without offering any detail on how and why. As promises go, this one looks like the most wishful of thinking.
Besides, even if the new EU migration laws were adopted tomorrow it would not solve the basic problem that few national asylum and immigration systems are equipped to process applications quickly.
The most effective policy solution – at least in the short term – has been to strike cash-for-migrants deals with the likes of Turkey and Morocco. That has worked to the extent that both countries have strictly policed their European border.
The trouble with that approach is that it gives those countries the ability to weaponise migration by opening up the borders for a day or a few hours, meaning that they have leverage to demand further concessions from the EU.
Belarus used this tactic with Poland earlier this year, and Morocco has done so with Spain. This is expensive and ultimately unworkable.
The boats will not stop coming and Europe’s sea borders are too big to police. Until all European states recognise that this is a shared problem and that a purely ‘fortress Europe’ approach cannot work, migration will remain an insoluble problem.
Charts of the week
The chart below shows the number of asylum seeker applications from 2008. Note the rising during the 2015 crisis as well as the slight drop during the pandemic.
However, applications are expected to grow due to the deep instability of some areas in Africa and the Middle East in particular and the long term effects of climate change.
Screenshot 2022-11-10 at 13.42.57
Charts credits: European Commission. Eurostat Data.
US mid-term elections. While the count is still ongoing, we appear to be looking at a split in Congress, with a Democratic Senate and Republican majority in the House of Representatives. For the Republicans, the big winner is Ron DeSantis, confirmed as Florida’s governor for the third time. He is widely seen as a viable candidate for the next presidential elections, reported the BBC, potentially setting the scene for a primary battle with former president Donald Trump.
It is a quiet month for elections in Europe. November will see local elections in Slovenia. Slovenian mayors of all 212 municipalities will be voted on 20 November (first round) and 4 December (second round).
Erdogan’s foreign policy blackmail. As long as Sweden has relations with Kurdish organisations, there will be no greenlight from Turkey on NATO accession, it seems. A similar dynamic occurred in 2019, when Turkey invaded Rojava (Northern Syria) and told the EU to not intervene unless they want a huge amount of migrants coming into Europe.
NGO boats vs Italy. Copying the precedent set by ex-Interior Minister Matteo Salvini in 2018, Giorgia Meloni’s government blocked the disembarkation of boats carrying hundreds of asylum seekers this week, demanding relocation to other EU countries.
Macron unveils decarbonisation strategy for French industry. French President Emmanuel Macron presented his carbon emission reduction targets for the industrial sector on Tuesday (8 November), highlighting the need for investment in greener industry and countering American protectionism.
Inside the institutions
EU negotiators reached an agreement on Tuesday evening on mandatory emission cuts in different sectors, such as buildings, road transport, agriculture and waste. According to the common position, EU countries will have to cut emissions by 40% compared to 2005 levels in those sectors, which are currently not regulated under the bloc’s carbon market, the EU’s emissions trading scheme.
EU imposes meeting ban on UK officials. EU officials have been told not to hold meetings with UK counterparts unless they are strictly related to the war in Ukraine or are ‘legally mandatory’, in the latest indication of frosty relations between Brussels and London.
In a note circulated to senior European Commission officials, seen by EURACTIV, the Secretary-General of the Commission, Ilze Juhansone, requested that “all Directorates-General and Services inform the Secretariat-General of any requests for bilateral meetings with United Kingdom officials or United Kingdom stakeholders to be made or that have been received, irrespective of the level of seniority”.
Microsoft faces new EU antitrust complaint from competing cloud services. A long-standing criticism that Microsoft has set unfair terms for running software services, like Windows, on competitors’ cloud infrastructure might result in EU antitrust scrutiny following a new complaint.
EU Commission endorses migration relocation, prioritises rescue of lives. Member states must support more frontline migration arrival countries with relocations and prioritise the safety of lives at sea, the European Commission said on Wednesday (9 November). In the press release, the Commission requested that the 234 survivors on the Norwegian NGO boat Ocean Viking, currently heading to France, be immediately allowed to disembark.
What we are reading
- In Ukraine, it’s too early even to be talking about talking, writes the Washington Post Editorial Team
- There’s one big subject our leaders at Cop27 won’t touch: livestock farming, writes George Monbiot for The Guardian
- Europe should not be complacent on energy security, write the Financial Times Editorial Team.
The next week in politics
- General Affairs Council. EU ministers will discuss the state of play of EU-UK relations, the situation of human rights in Hungary, and the related article 7 procedure, and the 2023 legislative program that will be presented by the Commission.
- The G20 Summit will take place in Bali, Indonesia, on Tuesday and Wednesday.
- Foreign Affairs Council. EU foreign affairs and defence ministers will meet to discuss the war in Ukraine, and Western Balkans current affairs. Additionally, there will be an exchange of views on the situation in Lebanon, COP27 outcomes, the upcoming COP 15, and EU-CELAC ministerial meeting that took place in Buenos Aires on 27 October.
- EU-Kyrgyzstan Cooperation Council. In this meeting, partners are expected to discuss different aspects of their bilateral relations, including the follow-up to the initialling of the EU-Kyrgyz Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (EPCA).
- Political groups and committee meetings at the European Parliament