Edouard Schmidt, Policy Officer, DG Migration and Home Affairs , European Commission
Summary of the seminar
In her opening remarks, Teija Tiilikainen outlined the recent activities of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs. Last year, the Institute's experts published seven academic books and 32 peer-reviewed journal articles, as well as 58 inhouse publications. Publication downloads from the FIIA website grew 42 percent from the previous year. The Institute’s magazine Ulkopolitiikka (the Finnish Journal of Foreign Affairs) is currently shortlisted for two journalism awards. Dr Tiilikainen thanked all colleagues and partners, saying the Institute is well recognised, skillful and highly international. She also underscored the topicality of the seminar. According to her, there is no other topic more timely in European politics at the moment than Europe’s borders and the migration crisis. The changes in European security have understandably affected the Institute’s research interests, with much attention paid to Russia’s actions and the sanctions regime, the migration crisis and the EU’s new global strategy, as well as the US elections, to name a few topics.
In his remarks, Kare Halonen posed four questions to the speakers of the seminar. First, addressing the root causes of the migration crisis: whether the member states are ready to give much more financial assistance to tackle the questions in the countries of origin and pursue a much more influential common foreign policy to tackle the crisis. Second, the future of European values: whether EU citizens are ready to accept the refugees’ international rights, to carry the ensuing costs, and whether politicians are ready to defend European values despite the risk of losing elections. Third, the implementation of common policies and rules: last year revealed that many common rules have not been followed, decisions not implemented, and the overall record is very weak, so the question is whether member states are ready to set up more effective border control, registration of migrants and really start complying with the common rules. And fourth, Mr. Halonen posed the question of burden sharing: as the crisis affects different countries differently and attitudes vary in different member states, is it possible to give up unilateral national measures and to have a borderless Europe if everyone is not ready to follow the common rules.
In his remarks, Edouard Schmidt said that the Commission’s migration agenda, launched in May 2015, was built on four pillars: 1) To reduce incentive for irregular migration 2) To save lives and secure external borders 3) To develop policy for EU migration and to attract the workers the EU needs 4) To strengthen the common European asylum system based on solidarity. While many actions have been taken by the Commission together with the member states to better manage the current situation, the conclusions are, of course, not very positive 10 months since the implementation of the migration agenda. Relocation is not working very well yet: only 640 migrants have so far been relocated (140 of whom to Finland, which is a good example to other member states), and only 3,400 migrants have been resettled from third countries to Europe. More pressingly, the limitation of entry in the Balkan route has triggered a domino effect which shows that any unilateral action will not solve the crisis but a solution must be found together.
The Schengen agreement offers the possibility to reintroduce border control temporarily for six months if internal security is threatened: many countries have done this. In a paradoxical way, the Schengen system is working: the member states are following the provisions concerning the time limits for temporary border control. The biggest problem is the EU-Turkey external border, and the Commission’s solution is the establishment of a common border and coastal guard before the end of this year. Currently, the pressure is on the frontline member states, and burden sharing is needed. The aim is to revise the Dublin regulations to add solidarity and burden sharing in the coming weeks. A system of defining areas as hotspots is used to assist member states (Italy and Greece) who are facing a disproportionate pressure on the external border. The hotspots represent an integrated response by all relevant EU agencies to help pressure at the entry point. The system is flexible with many modules and it can be implemented based on the needs of the member states. For example, Finland could have some hotspot modules implemented on its territory to help manage the migrant flows coming through the Nordic routes, with the EU agencies helping Finland to identify migrants entering Finland. While Finland is not facing excessive migration pressure right now, migration routes change so quickly that the situation might alter and the Commission is constantly monitoring the situation. While the Commission’s migration agenda has not yet had the maximum effect, much has been achieved with hotspots in little time. This goes to show that a European response is still valid to the migrant and border crisis, at a time when European values are threatened in many ways, Mr. Schmidt concluded.
Taking the stage after Mr. Schmidt, Ilkka Laitinen stressed that the border itself is not at the heart of the current crisis: it is of course part of the problem, but not the most pressing one. Illegal border crossings are easily detected, that is not the problem. But after the crossing, we have trouble registering and identifying migrants. There are not enough places to put up the migrants when the asylum process is started, and the migrants often continue to other countries inside the Schengen area and begin the process anew. Everyone is doing something but no one is carrying out the process properly. If we want to stop this from happening, we need to prevent migrants from exiting member states. But what is the legislation concerning this, are there lawful means to prevent exit? We need to respect European laws and human rights commitments although that might make controlling the situation more difficult.
Operationally, the EU and the member states have a good situational understanding of what is happening. But if we don’t have sufficient infrastructure and logistics in place to make the hotspot system work with the current migrant volumes, the whole system will collapse. There is a set of conclusions, statements, action plans etc. as regards the tasks the EU needs to undertake. But the bulk of actions is taken by the member states and not as a result of joint European activities. This is where we need to shape up and get the member states to boost their activity.
Summing up, the problem is not at the border, and neither is the solution. We cannot solve this problem by increasing personnel or surveillance at the border. The big problems are on the outside and on the inside: what happens before and after the external border crossing. The critical problem concerns infrastructure and logistics in Europe. Because we cannot keep the migrants in one place until we are able to find out who they are and what they are doing here, everything always starts from scratch all over again, Mr. Laitinen concluded.
The final speaker to take the stage, Marc Pierini reminded the audience that the trigger of the migration crisis, the Syrian war, is currently entering its sixth year. During last year we witnessed a quick escalation: ISIS grew stronger and the Syrian army almost collapsed. The Russian intervention was done to rescue the regime, to help it regain territory and to signify to the West that it is not alone in shaping the international settlement to the war in Syria. A critical turning point was that a US intervention did not happen. This made Moscow draw the conclusion that the US is unwilling to intervene, and it has taken advantage of this both in Ukraine and in Syria.
One of the EU’s roles could have to do with combatting organized crime in the context of the migration crisis. The networks that smuggle migrants are like water, they will go where there is a passage. They are extremely well organized and operate through social media, satellites etc., this means that their reach is very wide. A message needs to be sent to criminal networks in Turkey: you’re not allowed to carry on. This is important to the EU and to Turkey. There is a parallel economy developing in Turkey, with fishermen using their boats to smuggle migrants as it is more profitable, Mr Pierini said.
When it comes to receiving migrants in Europe, Germany is in the best position to do this as regards the economy and population. But public estimates of the number of arriving migrants should be made carefully. The smugglers in Beirut, Kabul and elsewhere use these often exaggerated statements in their marketing so the estimates end up being an incentive.
The EU-Turkey negotiations on the migration crisis can be called bazaar diplomacy. The EU is paying Turkey irrespective of previous promises by Brussels to Turkey on accession and visas, and with no regard to the problems with freedom of expression in Turkey. There is no attention paid to EU foreign policy or the Turkish domestic situation, but it’s just money for keeping migrants in Turkey, Mr. Pierini concluded.
Commenting on the speakers’ remarks, Leena Malkki wanted to offer an academic perspective instead of a policy-oriented one.She contemplated the future of European studies: How will the history of European integration be taught to students 20 years from now? Will this be seen as another crisis that led to further integration, or the start of disintegration in Europe? As integration is not benefiting EU citizens as obviously as before, will the European project find legitimacy among the citizens and among the member states, Dr. Malkki asked. Are intergovernmentalists getting the last say in the dynamics of European integration? We might also say that the response to globalization has revealed the limits of the EU: the EU has dealt with economic globalization, but not with humanitarian and social globalization. Therefore, the situation calls for redefining the European project. On a more positive note, this might also be the moment when the EU developed a global role for itself, widening its scope from a European peace project to a global one, Dr. Malkki concluded.