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Refugee quandary

Barbara Wesel / gro
April 29, 2015

The EU Commission and European Parliament are marching together for new migration and refugee policies. But the member states actually make the decisions, and until now, they have blocked all reforms.

Afrika Flüchtlinge in der Sahara
Image: AFP/Getty Images/D. Faget

Jean Claude Juncker showed a passionate side yet unseen in European Parliament.

He said that the response by EU government leaders to the refugee crisis was unsatisfactory. Breaking out the violins was not enough, he said.

He announced a new migration and refugee policy coming up in mid-May. In addition to spending more on development cooperation to address the problems, especially to combat their source in sub-Saharan Africa, he wants to introduce a quota system that will be used when accepting legal refugees in the EU.

So Juncker is breaking the taboo against proportional distribution, which the member states have been fighting against for years, tooth and nail.

Frankreich EU Parlament Jean-Claude Juncker
Juncker (r.) is angry over the lack of European actionImage: AFP/Getty Images/F. Florin

Great Britain, Denmark and others have kept their gates firmly closed.

At the crisis summit in Brussels, British Prime Minister David Cameron voiced his willingness to help refugees in emergency situations at sea, but that they should be brought ashore in Italy and not seek asylum in Britain.

Commission President Juncker leads the battle

When the Council of Interior Ministers first discusses the Commission's proposals, there may even be a new prime minister in London after the elections there.

The majority of the MEPs in the European Parliament support Jean-Claude Juncker. His efforts have been so valiant that many of the them repeatedly interrupted his speeches with applause. Hardly anyone has made such an eloquent plea to facilitate legal migration to Europe. "If we do not open the doors a bit, people will come in through the window," he cried out to the parliamentarians.

Infografik Flüchtlinge in die EU Ursprungsländer Englisch

Forging ahead with quotas for refugees

A large, cross-party majority voted for a resolution which requires EU governments to implement the main proposals of the EU Commission.

"No one should go into hiding; we need a quota like this in the EU so we can justly distribute the asylum seekers," said the German Christian Democrat, Elmar Brok.

This is a quantum leap for Brok, the long-serving chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the European Parliament. He and his party have thus lifted parts of a year-long blockade.

Social Democrats, like Arne Lietz from the German state of Saxony-Anhalt, welcome the new fellowship. "With this cross-party agreement on a quota system, parliament is taking a step in a new direction," he said. The German parliamentarian is trying to make his constituency aware of the refugees' plight and to improve the "culture of welcoming."

Infografik Flüchtlinge Asylanträge in Europa 2014 Englisch

Legal migration or Australian policy?

A large number of MPs want legal means of migration, especially the green, liberal and left-wing parties.

"We should not build new walls," demands Ska Keller from Germany's Green party

But it isn't all sweetness and light. Right-wing populists, like Nigel Farage of the British UKIP party and Marine Le Pen of the French National Front, called for the "Australian policy". The refugees do not have to be taken to land, but instead, returned to their home ports, demanded Marine Le Pen. Farage pointed out that Europe is to blame for the drowning people in the Mediterranean because he believes the fall of Gadhafi turned the country into a failed state. Now it is home to a great number of human smugglers.

Fighting smugglers as a test

The EU has taken up the cause of fighting the smuggler groups, but no details have been clarified. Many of the speakers, especially from conservative parties, stressed how important it was to put them out of business.

There are, however, no proposals on how this could work. Foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini is supposed to develop proposals, but the majority of European parliamentarians have few illusions about the feasibility of EU police or military operations along Libya's land or maritime borders.

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