Public Affairs Networking
20/04 – The EU’s duty to migrants?

The migration crisis in the south of Europe rises once more to the top of European news with the discovery of a shipwreck 60 miles north of Libya in which between 700 and 950 African migrants, depending on the source, may have lost their lives. Most member states media cover  the tragedy, and many include opinion articles criticising the Union’s policies.

In France, most pieces on the topic blame the scope of the tragedy on the poor efficiency of the Triton operation led by Frontex, which took over from Italy’s “Mare Nostrum” several months ago. Les Echos reports in two different articles about this increased criticism of the operation by Italian politicians, and by humanitarian associations towards the change of scope of the mission, which now leaves it up to merchant ships to rescue shipwrecked migrants.

L’Opinion summarises the existing contradictions on migration policy in the EU with the fact that while the “Triton” operation is organised by the Union, only €3 million a month have been allocated to it, citing a European diplomat saying “there is no collective will for a stronger sea operation.” On that topic, Portugal’s Publico recalls that the Mare Nostrum operation cost €9 million per month. Austria’s Die Presse issues a report which checks the inadequacy of the Triton mission.

Le Figaro interviews Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri, who recalls that his agency’s mandate does not cover sea rescue operations, which is “up to member states”, and also insists on the international community addressing the problem at its origin in Libya. Frontex spokeswoman Izabella Copper also comments on the case in The Malta Independent, warning that the failed state in Libya has created favourable conditions for people-smuggling networks to flourish and operate; she also stresses that smugglers are making billions of euros without the fear of being arrested.

In Germany, European Parliament President Martin Schulz was interviewed by the Berliner Zeitung and called out for a “structured migration policy” and cooperation with the Libyan government to tackle the root of the catastrophe, in the failed states in Northern Africa. La Repubblica in Italy also interviewed the EP President, who pointed out that forcing Italy to stop the Mare Nostrum Operation was a major mistake.

An opinion piece in Die Welt describes Europe’s reaction to the crisis as either “cynical realism or naïve idealism” while also calling for stabilisation in Libya. In Spain, El País publishes an interview with European Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy Johannes Hahn, which was done shortly before the latest tragedy. In it, Mr Hahn says that “We do not always have an altruistic approach. If there are 16 million refugees or displaced people in southern neighbourhood countries, this is something we need to address for the sake of our own interest”.

In the UK, The Independent publishes an opinion article in support of Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s criticism of EU member states for not taking sufficient action on the issue, while The Daily Telegraph writes that “those campaigners pointing the finger of blame at European countries for ‘failing to play their part’ need to say precisely what they want to happen”. Denmark’s Politiken switches the point of view and includes the belief of an immigrant from Syria in Sweden that the EU’s asylum procedures are made to complicate things for refugees.

Information quotes Jesper Bjarnesen from the Nordic Africa Institute in Uppsala, who says “EU countries have chosen the most cynical, inefficient, and populist way to solve the problem”, by only focusing on stopping the influx of refugees. Sweden’s Svenska Dagbladet speculates that rising xenophobia on the continent is behind the EU’s inaction on the matter. Finland’s Hufvudstadsbladet reflects on the increasing number of immigrants year after year, and insists on the population not seeing them as a faceless mass, but as the human beings they are.

In Belgium, Le Soir includes a quote by MEP Cecile Kyenge, who wondered “how can you explain that 500 million Europeans are not willing to accommodate 250,000 refugees, while Lebanon welcomes the same number, which is the equivalent of half of its population?”, while a commentary in De Standaard says the EU has a moral duty to take humanitarian action. In the US, the press reports on the Foreign Affairs Ministers meeting to take place on Monday – a new foreign policy, which is set to appear in May, will be discussed. The Russian press focuses its reports on this same meeting announcement.


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