The willingness of the two main groups in the European Parliament to enforce burden sharing may finally provide a solution to frontline countries dealing with the surge of migration flows in the Mediterranean.
However, everything hinges on tomorrow’s summit of EU leaders in Brussels.
While the Socialist group has argued in favour of burden sharing, the centre-right European People’s Party has been unwilling to impose it on member states. But a new EPP position paper prepared ahead of this meeting calls for a clear distribution mechanism among member states.
“There are member states not assuming responsibility but asylum is everyone’s responsibility so a clear mechanism is needed,” Monika Hohlmeier, coordinator of the EP’s civil liberties, justice and home affairs committee, told Times of Malta.
Five member states – Sweden, Germany, France, Italy and Hungary – held about 75 per cent of refugees, she pointed out. The paper calls for all member states to establish the minimum requirements for asylum reception.
“Some member states have no facilities. They aren’t able to cater for resettlement or anything to do with asylum. This has to change. Fairer distribution and burden sharing among member states shall be more than a slogan,” she added. The fight against smuggling networks is also a priority. The EPP is calling for international cooperation for a coordinated military operation against human traffickers.
As Europeans we can’t allow hundreds to lose their lives at our doors... This should shame us
“Trafficking in human beings is a modern form of slavery and criminal networks must be tracked and eradicated where they operate. Member states and competent agencies must apply a zero-tolerance strategy,” the position paper states.
While the need to strengthen Frontex and its search and rescue operations was uncontested, replacing Italy’s Mare Nostrum was not enough, the group said.
“With Mare Nostrum we saved more lives but we lost more too. It’s not enough on its own. We need to tackle the traffickers. There are 50 million people trying to find a new home in Europe,” Ms Hohlmeier said.
The EPP is also calling for the consideration of new legal possibilities of migration, such as humanitarian visas to make irregular migration less attractive. Yet the group insists this has to be based on member states’ labour markets, in terms of low and highly skilled workers.
Different European countries were experiencing high unemployment rates and economic crises that should be taken into account, the EPP said.
Elisabetta Gardini, head of the Forza Italia delegation, stressed Europe could not be the solution for millions seeking jobs. Southern countries were experiencing their own problems.
“In Italy, 40 per cent of youth are without jobs. We need a realistic approach,” she said.
Stress was also placed on the need for the Arab League and African countries to carry responsibility. These rich countries were not doing anything to help the situation, the EPP said, pointing out that migration was not only Europe’s problem.
Bordering countries were in fact hosting millions of refugees themselves. Yet those distant from the crisis were quietly standing on the side happy to see the responsibility laid at Europe’s feet.
Despite the challenges different member states face, the change in approach to solutions seems spurred by the death of more than 1,000 migrants in the Mediterranean in recent weeks.
EPP vice-chairman Esteban Gonzales said that all EP political groups had been shocked by the recent events.
“This is one of the worst humanitarian tragedies. As Europeans we can’t allow hundreds to lose their lives at our doors. Measures so far are not to up to scale. This should shame us. We must act faster and better,” he said.
The EPP’s stand, coupled with what the Socialist chairman of the same committee told this newspaper on Monday, emits a ray of hope that Europe may finally be getting its act together.
PES civil liberties committee chairman Claude Moraes told Times of Malta it amazed him how Europe had left Malta in this position. He said the European Council was culpable and he hoped a sane policy would emerge.
Everything now hinges on tomorrow’s meeting.
Will governments grasp the urgency of a situation far from their borders, and if they do, will they prefer to pander to populist anti-immigrant sentiment that may cost them votes?
“If we don’t fight populism, the populists get the chance to destroy everything that is normal and rational,” Ms Hohlmeier stressed.
Meanwhile, Labour MEP Miriam Dalli has written to the UN’s envoy leading peace talks in Libya, asking him to include migration in the discussions and to place the issue at the top of the agenda of a National Unity government in Libya.
Her initiative was supported by another 64 MEPs, including the Labour Party’s Alfred Sant and Marlene Mizzi.
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