Robert Harneis –TDO- (France)-The arrival on the scene of an openly Eurosceptic Italian government has revealed its first fruits. As 100 more would be illegal immigrants drowned off the coast of Libya, the European summit was forced to keep negotiating until 5 o’clock in the morning to patch up a fuzzy compromise deal that saved as many faces as possible.
Europe saw one million migrants arrive in 2015 refugee crisis. More than 377,000 reached Europe in 2016 and some 160,000 entered by sea last year. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates 80,000 people will enter by sea in 2018. The problem has been mitigated by arrangements reached with the Turkish government at great cost.
Chancellor Angela Merkel was desperate to produce a result that would enable her to hold her coalition together and avoid new elections as threatened by her CSU allies who face uncertain state elections in Bavaria. Her 2015 easy going acceptance of one million refugees in Germany has undermined her power base in Germany and Europe and left her at the head of a weak divided coalition.
Immigration has proved to be the issue that enflamed electorates across Europe, already unenthusiastic about the performance of the European Union on economic grounds. Merkel tried to recover her position by forcing all EU states to accept compulsory quotas of migrants. Instead the defiance she has aroused has been her undoing.
The Vise grad four, Poland and the three Baltic states have point blank refused to accept quotas and questioned the sanity of the European leaders who suggested it. Now they have been joined by Italy and the quota scheme has been quietly dropped. The main fig leaf that has been proposed is the ‘voluntary’ setting up of migrant centers for rapid processing. This will not overcome the difficulty deliberately created by well advised migrants who deliberately throw away their papers and won’t say where they come from. Nor does it overcome the reluctance of countries who refuse to take back their citizens.
No sooner was the difficult debate over than Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte found it necessary to correct French President Emmanuel Macron who had suggested that the control centers would only be in front line countries – Italy, Greece and Spain – not France. "Macron was tired. I deny what he said," Conte told reporters, adding that all EU states could set up such centers, "including France".
He also lit a fire under Merkel saying the deal did not foresee that Rome would take back migrants who had moved onto Germany from Italy. This will not go down well with her CSU ‘allies’.
"The accord does not foresee that Italy takes migrants from Germany," Conte told a news conference in Brussels. "I did not undersign any specific agreement with Merkel" on taking back migrants, he added.
The Europeans were on more solid ground on what they plan to do in Africa. Efforts to stop people smugglers operating out of Libya and elsewhere should be intensified. The EU will also step up its support for the Sahel region, the Libyan Coast Guard, and South European communities. It will increase its work towards ensuring humane reception conditions, voluntary humanitarian returns, cooperation with other countries of origin and transit, and voluntary resettlement.
The EU-Turkey Statement is to be fully implemented to prevent new crossings from Turkey and bring flows to a halt. A second tranche of the Facility for Refugees in Turkey will be launched, and 500 million euros from the European Development Fund (EDF) reserve will be transferred to the EU Trust Fund for Africa. EU member states are "called upon" to further contribute to the latter.
The European Council concluded that the European border and coast guard agency FRONTEX should be strengthened "through increased resources and an enhanced mandate."
It remains to be seen how effective all this will be first in controlling immigration and secondly in calming angry European voters. The next European elections are less than a year away and Brussels is haunted with the thought of a European Parliament with a massive Eurosceptic presence generated by the immigration problem. A problem that was largely caused by the military interventions by NATO and the United States in the greater middle east and Libya.