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The summary of a key week in the migrant crisis: The European leaders met in Malta while member states continue their individual efforts to deal with the refugee flow... and Mr. Cameron sent a letter.
For the past two days, the leaders of Europe have been meeting in Malta with the African Heads of Government to address the so-called migrant crisis “from the roots”.
After the Summit in La Valletta, the permanent president of the European Council, Mr. Donald Tusk, had asked for an informal meeting of EU heads of state or government to discuss the same topic and “speed up the implementation of the decisions”.
His press remarks after the meeting were worrying as he stated that Schengen area was at risk of collapse. In parallel, the European Commission published a state of play of the measures to address the migrant crisis.
IS CASH RUNNING OUT?
Europe has not many tools to put pressure on African governments and help them tackle with the causes of people fleeing their countries. Funds for development are what they are used to receive and, this time, the deal was €1.8 billion euro, less than expected.
The President of Senegal Macky Sall stated it was simply not enough. The worse news came the next day (Thursday, 12 November), when member states failed to match the amount for the trust fund (only €78.2 million).
A FIVE-POINT ACTION PLAN
The leaders of Africa and Europe signed an agreement where they engage to work together in a five-action plan: development, legal migration and mobility, asylum and protection, fight against irregular migration, smuggling and human trafficking, and finally, the trickiest one: return, readmission and reintegration policies. African governments are not very inclined to receive the migrants that are being sent back.
For each of the points, the states commit to fulfil several initiatives, some very specific, by the end of 2016, which does not give much time.
In addition, this is a bilateral agreement and Europe has little power to force African leaders to put into practice the points, especially regarding the return and reintegration policies. Nonetheless, at least 10 African countries accepted to help identify illegal immigrants whose asylum request has been refused. There are many immigrants without documents and it makes it difficult to send them back.
BUT THE REFUGEES ARE SYRIAN, RIGHT?
Of course a deal with African leaders does not solve the crisis of the Syrian refugees fleeing from civil war. Now the eyes of Europe turn towards Turkey and its recently re-elected leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
In early October the EU had agreed a joint action plan and an EU-Turkey summit is likely to happen at the end of November. Nobody seems to remember Erdogan’s autocratic tendencies after he has crushed the opposition.
It is a matter of urgency: Syrian refugees are pouring into Greece. The European Asylum Support Office (an EU agency based in Malta) estimates that 7,000 refugees arrive every day on the shores of Greek islands. There is no doubt that in this context the EU leaders will “roll up the red carpet” for Erdogan.
TUSK'S WORRYING STATEMENTS
“Let there be no doubt: the future of Schengen is at stake”, started Donald Tusk, the permanent president of the European Council, in his press remarks after the informal meeting of the EU heads of state or government on Thursday, 12 November.
Member states are reintroducing control borders, which is normally an exceptional measure that has to be supervised by the Commission. One of the basic principles of the EU, free circulation of people between EU countries, is teetering.
“We need to regain control of our external border”, insisted Mr. Tusk. The problem is that member states do not agree on how to do it. Many voices warn about the consequences: the Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat supported the renewing of migrant laws but not in order to create a “Fortress Europe”.
AND IN THE MEMBER STATES…
The question is: Is Schengen still alive? On Thursday, 12 November Sweden announced the closing its borders for ten days and re-established border control.
Slovenia has started to build a fence on its border with Croatia to “prevent the dispersal of refugees” and bring them towards the “controlled entry points”.
On the other side, Germany’s Interior ministry announced on Tuesday, 10 November that they will apply again the Dublin policy, which means that the migrants are sent to the first country in which they entered the EU. The asylum application must be examined there. At least, there is an exception: they will not send back migrants to Greece because their reception capacities are over-stretched.
'CAMERON'S TIMELY LETTER'
And the “cherry on the cake”... last Monday, Downing Street sent a letter to Donald Tusk asking to start “EU-reform talks”. This is part of the tactics of UK’s Prime Minister to negotiate the membership of UK in the European Union. Mr. Cameron talks about 4 areas that should necessarily be reformed if the EU wants UK to consider staying in the Union: economic governance, competitiveness, sovereignty and immigration.
Funnily enough, the immigration point addresses internal migration rather than the external borders issue. Above all, Cameron wants to prevent the so-called “social tourism” (in his words: “abuse of free movement”).
Although he states that he is open to discuss the points “with you and colleagues” - meaning Mr. Tusk and his fellow heads of state or government-, it is clear that an advantageous deal for Cameron is needed for him to campaign with all his “heart and soul to keep Britain inside a reformed European Union” [our italics].