Public Affairs Networking
13/03 – EU Ministers divided on immigration

Several media report that the EU Interior ministers, gathered in Brussels yesterday, have agreed to strengthen surveillance at external borders facing increasing pressure to control migration. This “emergency” measure aims to identify more easily the return, on the European continent, of EU passport holders involved in Syria’s jihadist offensive, Le Figaro comments, adding that France wants to amend the Schengen code by making “mandatory” these “systematic controls”, something that will however prove uneasy as the EC and EP are quite reluctant.

EU ministers also agreed to reinforce the resources and the operational capacities of the EU border control agency Frontex. El Mundo however reports that Spain’s minister of the Interior Jorge Fernández Díaz expressed forceful opposition against Frontex turning into “a search-and-rescue agency” for migrants in the Mediterranean, saying that he believes that would have a clear “pull effect” on human-trafficking mafias, multiplying the number of vessels heading for European shores.

In an interview with Die Welt, the Frontex Director of Operations, Klaus Rösler, rejects accusations that the agency does “not saves lives.” Frontex coordinates about one third of the rescue efforts at the Italian coast, he stresses. La Repubblica meanwhile reports that Italy called on the EU to reinforce the Triton operation. The ministers also stressed that the fight against the criminal networks of smugglers and traffickers should remain a priority in order to protect migrants and save their lives, and highlighted the great importance of reinforcing cooperation with third countries for the efficient management of migrant’s flows, adds.

The Independent however notes that EU Interior ministers failed to agree on new proposals to allow people fleeing war and persecution to apply for asylum from outside the EU, despite warnings of a record number expected to risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean this year and a call from German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière, notably in an interview with SWR Info, to do so. Daniel Alling reports on Sveriges Radio that Germany, together with Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos, is indeed pushing for the EU to open refugee reception centres in countries in North Africa. In these centres, people who want to come to Europe would be able to apply for asylum, thereby avoiding the dangerous trip across the Mediterranean. The proposal is widely covered in the German press today.

In a commentary on ARD, Monika Wagner notes that welcoming centres sound nice, but they are a “fraud”: German Interior minister Thomas de Maizière does not want to facilitate the refugees’ access to Europe; instead, the centres are to keep migrants out of Europe, she argues. She adds that the proposal will not work: refugees who get a “no” from one of the welcoming centres will not simply turn back, but still go to sea. Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said quoted in Die Presse that a pilot project for distributing refugees who qualify as in need of protection in EU member states is likely to begin no later than this summer. EU Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos supports the project, even though First Vice-President Frans Timmermans said just at the beginning of the month that his office is not planning any formula for distribution in the near future.

Politiken reports that the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees argued in a number of proposals to EU HR Vice-President Mogherini and Commissioner Avramopoulos that the EU needs to make a radical change in the way it deals with the dramatic influx of refugees from Syria, which includes this very proposal of distributing the refugees among the member states instead of letting a few countries deal with the issue alone. La Repubblica highlights the meeting showed that Europe is divided over immigration: on one side, Italy, France, Germany and Mediterranean countries are calling for shared responsibilities and a common management of migration and reception policies, and on the other, Britain and Poland, along with other eastern and Baltic countries, are not willing to establish a common European procedure. ©europeanunion2015

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