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The EU Migration Summit: The New Reality

For years, Europe's isolationist policies have been on the rise, with various states on Europe's periphery building fences, installing modern surveillance technology and using physical force at their borders. The EU migration summit at the beginning of February made it clear how much this approach is tolerated and sometimes even encouraged by Brussels.

During the Special European Council on February 9th, the Council adopted conclusions regarding the ongoing war in Ukraine, the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue, the earthquake in Türkiye and Syria, and on migration. On this last matter, the Council agreed on

a comprehensive approach to migration in line with EU principles and values and fundamental rights, with a focus on increased external action, the effective control of external borders, and internal aspects.”

These worrisome agreements come to no surprise to civil society organizations, advocates, and the European solidarity community as a whole. As the Council was approaching, alarming reports had been circulating in the media, predicting the increased securitization that is about to be implemented. In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at these measures.

First, statements clarify that the European Border- and Coastguard Agency FRONTEX will continue to have the Council’s “unrestricted support”, and renewed negotiations shall culminate in revised agreements among FRONTEX and so-called third-countries are encouraged to take place soon.We have already reported in the past on the numerous accusations and failures of Frontex regarding compliance with humanitarian responsibilities at the external borders. Second, the current action plan for the Balkan and the central, western, and eastern Mediterranean are expected to be presented by the Commission by the end of this month, whereby it has been emphasized that the surveillance of Visa-policies in neighboring countries will be strengthened. Third, a focus was set on “migrant smuggling”, regarding stricter data collection and harsher sanctions on any company that is evidenced to be involved in “smuggling” activity.

Fourth, the Council requests the co-legislators of the EU to conclude their work on asylum-policies soon. The background for this key point is the so-called “EU asylum reform”, developed by the “Common European Asylum System” (CEAS) with the aim to unify asylum application processes among all EU-member states. The main goals except for establishing a “common framework” are the creation of a system that is “more resistant to migratory pressure” and that will “support the most affected member states better”. While Project Elpida is in agreement with efforts to distribute displaced persons more evenly across the EU, especially since most people experiencing flight-migration usually do not wish to stay in their first place of arrival, the language used by the EU mechanisms is increasingly hostile and implies heavily that migration is a security issue similar to matters of “traditional” defense. On the one hand, issuing pressure on member-states that have refused to accommodate more refugees would hypothetically prevent gravely inhumane situations as those reported in the infamous Moria camp on Lesvos and other Greek islands. Yet there is little ground for hope, as the constructions of new camps even in first-destination EU-countries have led to other problems, such as the enhanced compartmentalisation and isolation of their inhabitants, shutting them off from the “general public” and have allowed an alarming upgrade in their surveillance. Moreover, given the ever stronger anti-immigrant sentiments reflected in most countries, the accommodation standards for people experiencing flight-migration are expected to be poor.

One of the rather disturbing reports that have surfaced in the wake of the 2023 EU agenda is the request for the Union to finance a 2 billion euro fence along the Bulgarian-Turkish border, most prominently advocated for by Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer, which was met with dissent by his coalition partner. Currently, Ursula von der Leyen, the Head of the EU Commission, has also stated her disapproval of this plan, presumably because there is little support from center-left and green parliament members, potentially hindering her re-appointment in the upcoming elections in 2024. The building of walls and fences, which was rejected in Germany in particular because it was symbolically charged by its own decades of division, has now become fashionable. This is by no means to say that Germany was a vehement opponent of fortifying Europe's external borders; the opposite is true. However, the mere mention of building new walls in Europe was a thoroughly dicey topic in German politics. What a few years ago was mainly to be found in the rhetoric of Donald Trump has now become political reality in the EU.

However, the Commission’s President is also adopting defense-like language regarding flight-migration in her recent speech addressing the Council, and has not shied away from including the Türkiye-Bulgaria border, stating:

We can strengthen the border management capabilities. We can also provide infrastructure and equipment, like drones, radar, and other means of surveillance”,

reminding the audience that this has already taken place in the last six years in Romania, Greece, Spain, and Poland. If this sounds like waging war on a non-armed non-warring party, that is because it’s true: The increased use of military-like tactics to allegedly “contain” migration in Europe has proven to be a multi-faceted issue that Project Elpida has also previously explored in other blog posts, raising awareness on the deployment of private military companies (PMCs) and militant units to use force against migrants and refugees in Europe’s periphery.

Lastly, according to an article published by Politico, the revision of asylum procedures which will be concluded in 2023, includes the EU’s involvement with reception processes outside of its borders, for instance by planning the construction of reception centers in African countries. This scurrilous “outsourcing” approach has already been implemented by the United Kingdom since the dissolution of its EU-membership, through their euphemistically named “UK-Rwanda Migration and Economic Development Partnership”, which was enacted in spring of 2022. Externalization processes are not only a sign of a non-existent strategy for dealing with the issue of migration in a more humane way, but are also emblematic of a refusal of responsibility in migration policy that in no way does justice to the EU's self-promoted values.

Notably, third-countries also incorporate Türkiye, which has been party to a treaty with the EU since 2016 to reduce flight-migration movements from the country into the member-states. With plans to jointly renew the “deal” in March of 2023, many humanitarian organizations have expressed further concern for the EU’s migration policy trajectory.

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