During last week’s summit, EU leaders regaled us with another cooking masterclass of their favourite recipe: Euro-fudge. The special ingredient this time was the fate of hundreds of thousands of desperate migrants trying to reach Europe after crossing deserts, the fiefs of the Libyan militia, and the central Mediterranean.
Sixteen Maltese NGOs had appealed to the EU leaders to reject the main drive of the draft Malta Declaration, which was to stop and return migrants to Libya without consideration to their fate there. In effect, the Maltese government was recommending the same pushback policy that had been the inglorious baptism of this administration four years ago.
The EU leaders insisted that this was not their main aim, and the final declaration put more emphasis on collaboration with UNHCR and the International Organisation for Migration. But the text and its intention remained substantially the same. The Malta Declaration cemented another wall in Fortress Europe. Migrants were once again constructed as primarily economic, cultural or military threats, carriers of the virus of terrorism.
I do not wish to belittle the complexity of this issue. Libya is a mess.
The environmental and political catastrophes in Africa and the Near East will continue making Europe irresistibly attractive. The terrible loss of life at sea of 2016 needs to be reversed. But the Malta Declaration could have been bolder in concretely reaffirming Europe’s core values of solidarity and respect for human rights.
But then, the intended audience of the Malta Declaration were not migrants but European electorates. There are a number of major electoral appointments in 2017. The Dutch parliamentary elections that will take place in March are overshadowed by the rise of the Party for Freedom and its leader Geert Wilders, who manages to make even the UK’s Nigel Farage sound quite reasonable by comparison.
They will be followed a month later by the French presidential elections. Here, the far-right Marie Le Pen might well Trump-oline to power as her adversaries on the right and left fight off various controversies and scandals.
Finally, September will see the federal elections in Germany. Chancellor Angela Merkel has been the boldest and truest to the European vocation with respect to migration policy. Her main rival, the Socialist Martin Schultz, holds broadly similar views. But they will both have to contend with rising disaffection to the migrant situation even in Germany.
So much for any hope of moral leadership on migration by Malta in its first EU presidency
A similar scenario is unfolding in Austria and Hungary.
This, along with Brexit and President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant actions, will now constitute the new normal. Try as she might, the insistence of Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign and security policy chief, that “Europe does not, and will not, close its doors” is increasingly sounding like a lonely echo in a morally arid hubbub of nativist hostility.
The paradox is that as the EU puts more and more energy into keeping migrants at bay, a demographic crisis is unfolding across the continent. As Mogherini herself said, Europe desperately needs more young people to run its health services, populate its rural areas and pay more taxes to fund its costly social model. Increasingly, its societies are no longer self-sustaining.
But it seems that many parts of Europe would rather go extinct than be renewed.
However, this does not justify the crass insensitivity of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat who a few days ago asked rhetorically in Parliament: “Should we just allow anyone to come in just because they have crossed a desert?” He was spot on when he told a crowd of supporters: “We did it for you”. Migrants don’t vote.
So much for any hope of moral leadership on migration by Malta in its first EU presidency.
Nudus Errata Corrige
In my last article I wrote that in Malta the King has no clothes. It now transpires that this may actually be the predicament of the Deputy King.
The UK have their Naked Chef; we have to make do with the Naked Minister.
But now things have taken a decidedly more exciting twist. Minister Chris Cardona has chosen to up the stakes: the issue is no longer whether a minister has committed a gross indiscretion (partly on the public dime) during official business. It is now whether he has lied, repeatedly, to the public. On a similar issue 19 years ago, US President Bill Clinton had faced impeachment.
We all have front seats for the shoot-out at high noon at the Acapulco Corral between Cardona and Daphne Caruana Galizia. Either he is lying brazenly, or she has committed a fatal error of judgement.
Cardona has tried to take away his opponent’s bullets by freezing Caruana Galizia’s bank accounts, which sets an ugly precedent against press freedom. But something tells me this will stop Caruana Galizia about as much as a rubble wall would stop a Panzer tank division.
And his bullying tactics are sure to rebound on him as they garner national and international condemnation and result in even more attention on his showdown with Caruana Galizia.
So place your bets, ladies and gentlemen. Now, I wonder, who has the better record of telling the truth…?
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