Welcome to EU Politics Decoded where Benjamin Fox and Eleonora Vasques will bring you a round-up of the latest political news in Europe and beyond every Thursday.
Editor’s Take: When the wind blows
The EU narrative on migrants has been clear for a while: the Union has to welcome those in need and send back home those that have no right to stay.
That division line seems clear, until the $64,000 question: How do you define those in need and those that have no right to stay?
According to the Geneva Convention, refugee status can be obtained by those “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the State of which he is a national and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that State”.
There is another EU protection contained in the Qualification Directive, dedicated to third-country nationals or a stateless person “who does not qualify as a refugee but in respect of whom substantial grounds have been shown for believing that the person concerned, if returned to their country of origin […], would face a real risk of suffering serious harm”.
As with any other law, these definitions are subjected to interpretations that, in reality, mean the current ‘political wind’, which is preoccupied with closing the borders to a certain category of third-country nationals – basically, those coming from Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia.
That political wind influences the asylum application itself, as any law is subjected to human interpretation and political pressures. It can also result in violations of the laws themselves.
EURACTIV has reported several times about the normalisation of pushbacks and abuses against people crossing the Mediterranean Sea and the Balkan routes, criticised by international organisations such as the Council of Europe, NGOs and, eventually, also by the UN.
So – stating the question again – who has the right to be welcomed because they are in need? It depends on the political wind, is the real answer.
And this pattern can be seen in many EU countries, such as in Italy, where the government is trying to abolish the so-called “special protection” – a measure at the national level for those that do not meet the requirements of the first two international protections, but applied to those that have “reasonable grounds to believe that removal from the national territory would result in a violation of their right to respect for their private and family life”.
It can be guessed that Prime Minister Giorgio Meloni plans to abolish this special protection because most third-country nationals in Italy obtain protection under this special scheme.
Italy, alongside other member states and the EU institutions, is guilty of using political feeling – rather than evidence – to differentiate between those in need and those to return.
The reality is more complex.
In practice, the numbers of ‘people in need’ from the areas mentioned above are growing, because of, among other things, political instability, increasing poverty, wars and the climate crisis. Not to be forgotten, many also want to move because they want to study, work or live in another country – as many Europeans do every day in the Schengen area.
Therefore, while the political wind blows in the direction of closing EU borders and speeding up returns, a growing number of people want to depart from the places they live. And despite all the measures in place to close EU borders, they will continue to move, because stopping migration is like trying to stop the rotation of the Earth.
For this reason, it would be better to invest in a good and prepared welcoming system, in a ‘non-emergency’ approach, instead of closing the borders, publishing reports and investigations saying how member states violate human rights and having hundreds of people die preventable deaths at sea.
But for that, the wind needs to change direction.
Greece sold Predator to Sudan. The Greek government has admitted that it granted permission to export the controversial Predatory spyware system to the military government in Sudan, which is now facing the possibility of a civil war.
Taking the bubbles out of US beer. Belgian customs destroyed almost 2,400 cans of US-brewed Miller Life beers bearing the slogan “The Champagne of Beers”, on the instructions of France’s Champagne Committee earlier this week, in the latest battle over champagne’s protected designation.
Borissov moves closer to new government pact. Former Prime Minister and GERB party leader Boyko Borissov has moved closer to striking a deal with the Change continues – Democratic Bulgaria (PP-DB) coalition that could end several years of political deadlock and three general elections.
Scholz takes aim at Bern over Ukraine arms. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has criticised the Swiss government over their ‘neutrality’, which is blocking the delivery of Swiss-made ammunition which Berlin wants to deliver to Ukraine.
Inside the institutions
Slow decline of Spitzenkandidat. The Spitzenkandidat concept, under which the lead candidate for the most successful political group in the European elections becomes the first option as European Commission president, is quietly losing support, with even its initial backers becoming gradually less vocal about the idea, says Czech conservative MEP Jan Zahradil, himself a former Spitzenkandidat.
Diplomatic moves. The EU’s deputy director general for the European Commission’s enlargement negotiations, Katarina Mathernová, is set to become the bloc’s new ambassador to Kyiv, according to an internal note on appointments by the EU’s diplomatic service (EEAS).
Rules of procedure. MEPs were accused of missing an opportunity to put in place a post-Qatargate reform after the European Parliament decided against introducing mandatory registration of meetings between interest groups and MEPs on Wednesday (19 April) in a move criticised by pro-transparency campaigners.
Rule of law off the agenda. A resolution likely to be critical of the state of the rule of law in Spain, Greece, and Malta has been postponed by the European Parliament’s political group leaders, as MEPs sought to avoid embarrassing their affiliate parties in government ahead of the Spanish and Greek elections.
What we are reading
In the Guardian, Nesrine Malik looks at the power struggle between two generals who were previously allies that risks dragging Sudan to civil war.
Arthur Snell argues that the post-Brexit vision of Global Britain has been shown to be unfit for purpose and the UK must reshape its foreign policy in a paper for UK in a Changing Europe.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan faces a battle to hold on to power at this year’s Turkish elections, writes Luigi Scazzieri of the London School of Economics, in elections that could define future EU-Turkey relations.
The next week in politics
In the Council of Ministers, EU foreign affairs ministers will gather on Monday (24 April). The following day, agriculture ministers hold their monthly meeting with finance ministers also meeting on Friday and Saturday.
Across Rue Belliard in the European Parliament, MEPs will have a week of legislative committee sittings.
[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]