March 05, 2020
EU keen to avoid a repeat of 2015 migrant crisis
EU interior ministers met in Brussels yesterday for an emergency meeting about the Greek border. More than 25,000 migrants have arrived at the Greek border seeking passage into Europe after Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested the borders were open on Turkey's side.
The EU ministers came up with a joint statement criticising Turkey sharply for using the migrants for its own political reasons. They also showed a hard stance on border issues. It is worth quoting this paragraph in full:
"The EU and its member states remain determined to effectively protect EU’s external borders. Illegal crossings will not be tolerated. In this regard, the EU and its member states will take all necessary measures, in accordance with EU and international law. Migrants should not be encouraged to endanger their lives by attempting illegal crossings by land or sea. The Council calls upon the Turkish government and all actors and organisations on the ground to relay this message and counter the dissemination of false information. The EU will continue to actively fight human smuggling."
We agree with Lucas Guttenberg that all necessary measures is a belligerent message, though compared to a tougher draft version the ministers added the qualifier that these measures are to be in accordance with EU and international law. But what about those laws? EU member states are silently tolerating Greece's suspension of its own asylum procedures. Surely this is not in accordance with international law. And videos are circulating on social media suggesting Greek border guards opened fire on a group of migrants and refugees attempting to cross yesterday morning. If this is confirmed, what will be the EU's response?
EU member states are keen to avoid another 2015-style migration crisis. But how will they deter the migrants from coming? There will be more Frontex staff at the borders and patrolling the sea, and more EU money for Greece. And Turkey? Erdogan said before that the €6bn agreed under the migrant deal with the EU is not enough. Will there be a council majority to reopen the deal with Turkey, and all the fundamental questions it raised about European values? Will there be a coalition of the willing to support Erdogan? The German finance ministry suggested to the budget committee in the Bundestag in its letter to give €32m to help Turkish coast guards, in the name of Germany's state interests.
Angela Merkel is also active on the political front, advocating a safe zone in Idlib to stabilise the situation for the refugees. Her defence minister AKK is putting sanctions against Russia on the table, just in case. There are many more actors moving behind the scenes. But it is also the front end image that counts. If the EU ends up erode its value system, it will have shown blackmailing it can be successful.