This post is a follow up of the earlier posts on the Common European Asylum System published on this blog. It is based on a Statement from the Commission, published on 2 March 2017 concerning renewed efforts in implementing solidarity measures under the European Agenda on Migration. The European Agenda on Migration is an agenda based on four pillars to better manage migration. The four pillar are reducing the incentives for irregular migration, saving lives and securing the external borders, a strong asylum policy and a new policy on legal migration.
Since 2015, a lot of people have applied for asylum in different parts of the world. The main reason for this is the crisis and war in Syria. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 6.5 million people have fled from Syria. Because of the unexpected amount of people applying for asylum, the migration policy in the EU has been highly discussed and criticised (see earlier posts). On 2 March 2017, the Commission stated that all Member States need to ‘pick up the pace of relocation to alleviate pressure from Italy and Greece’.
The EU-Turkey Agreement, which has been discussed earlier on this blog, is an agreement which aims to end illegal migration from Turkey to the EU. The agreement came into force 20 March 2016 and includes, inter alia, a provision stating that irregular migrants crossing from Turkey to the Greek Islands will be returned to Turkey. On 2 March 2017, the Commission stated that Greece and the other Member States must continue working on the Joint Action Plan on the implementation of the EU-Turkey agreement, which is a cooperation between EU and Turkey on migration management. The objective is to improve the situation on the Greek Islands and the work of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency.
Frans Timmermans, the Commission’s First Vice-President stated, that all Member States must continue to implement a comprehensive approach. The engagement with Turkey needs to continue. Dimitris Avramopoulos, the Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship stated that ‘responsibility cannot be fairly shared without solidarity’. Avramopoulos refers to the fact that the Member States need to carry through their obligations and to ensure full operational capability of the European Border and Coast Guard.
A renewed push without actual effect?
Concerning the relocation and the resettlement of migrants, the Member States are performing in various degrees with regards to their obligations. Only two Member States, Finland and Malta, are fulfilling their obligations towards Greece and Italy. However, other Member States, such as Hungary, Austria and Poland, are refusing to participate at all in the process. In addition, some Member States are meeting their obligations to a very limited extent, for example Bulgaria, Croatia and Slovakia. So far, the Member States have only provided safe pathways to 14,422 out of 22,504 persons which they have agreed to relocate. It is in this light that we must ask ourselves the critical question if the Commission’s renewed push towards implementing solidarity measures will really encourage the Member States to live up to their obligations on the issue of relocation and resettlement of migrants.
The Commission’s stance towards the Member States is quite firm. Either the Member States comply with their obligations or the watchdog of the EU will hold these naughty Member States accountable for not living up to their obligations deriving from the Council decisions. But, will the Commission’s stern approach help the migrants in the Mediterranean sea? It is evident that the Member States should participate in the relocation scheme of migrants. The principle of solidarity and fair sharing binds all Member States.
As a consequence of the Member States’ failure, or refusal, to comply with their obligations, the Commission is indeed calling for renewed efforts in implementing solidarity measures under the European Agenda on Migration. By stating it will not hesitate to make use of its powers under the Treaties for those who have not complied, the Commission shows it is firmly determined to make the Member States equally deliver our obligations. However, will this threat actually lead to the Member States complying and is this the only way forward? As Avramopoulos said, all operational preconditions to make relocation work are in place, yet only two Member States are complying with their obligations. In this case, it is not hard to argue that, although the EU officially has agreed upon how to solve this ongoing problem, it is obvious that very few Member States actually support what they have agreed upon. Therefore, if the Commission were to realize its threat, it would have to do this against almost all the Member States. In such a case, it is doubtful if the Commission is brave enough to do this or if the threat is an ‘empty threat’.
So, why are some Member States not complying with their obligation? One of the reasons for this is the conflicting interest between the EU and the Member States. While the EU has their own interest to maintain their obligations, the Member State are concerned about their national priorities. Since the Commission, which takes the interest of the EU, is the initiator of the agreement, the Member States may not feel sufficiently included in the decision-making process. Bulgaria, Hungary, Macedonia, Greece and Turkey have put up fences to hinder refugees from entering their countries, which clearly manifest some Member States’ contradicting opinions about the refugee crisis.
In addition, it is also possible that some Member States, especially those refusing to comply with their obligation at all, would prefer to be brought before the Court by the Commission and eventually be fined instead of having to relocate refugees. The relocation and resettlement of refugees is clearly a very sensitive issue for both the EU and the Member States, and although the Commission is firmly determined in implementing the solidarity measures under the European Agenda on Migration, it is not hard to argue that this renewed push is without actual effect. It seems more likely that the EU must get back to the drawing board and come up with a solution that all Member States support and, sadly enough the refugees are the ones most affected by this, not the Member States.
Christofer Bjerkhoel, David Peralta, Anna Puck Lundgren and Nora Shoki