photo source: eubulletin

by Alexandre Barray

 As many European countries are facing increasing numbers of refugees and asylum seekers, tensions are increasing in Europe. The European Commission revealed in a public opinion analysis  released in July 2015 that immigration has become for the first time the main point of concern for European citizens. In a previous analysis dating back to November 2014, immigration only ranked 4th on the list of concerns of European citizens behind the economic situation, unemployment, and the state of Member States’ public finances.

Thousands of migrants try every day to cross the British Channel in Calais and several have died in the last few months in the attempt resulting in an increase in tensions between London and Paris. Greece and Italy are overwhelmed with the successive waves of migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea every day as they have become major gateways for migrants to Europe. Germany has received 300.000 asylum applications so far this year, and is expecting to reach more than 500.000 applications by the end of the year compared to last year’s total of 200.000. Smaller countries are not exempted from the consequences of this massive influx of migrants such as Malta who is experiencing a real immigration crisis and receives the highest number of asylum applications in the world in relation to its population.

In reaction to this ongoing inpouring, many member states have resorted to physically block the migrant’s routes to prevent them from entering the EU zone. It is the case of Bulgaria and Greece, where borders with Turkey have been fenced with the aim to block refugees from Syria and other migrants from the Middle East and North Africa. Spain has also fenced off its Ceuta and Melilla enclaves to bar the pathway to the EU through Morocco. Even within Europe have borders been fenced like in Calais where Great Britain is trying to prevent migrants from crossing the British Channel.

Other countries have taken action aiming at making themselves less attractive to migrants. Austria stopped processing asylum applications all together while Denmark reduced the amount of benefits perceived by asylum seekers. Hungary resolved to challenge and quit following the Dublin Regulation which obliges it to host the refugees that have filed asylum claims on its territory upon entry in the European Union.

Like many national measures to counter and control migrant flows, EU measures are imperfect and cannot provide real relief for its members nor for the migrants. In 2014, the EU engaged Operation Triton with the goal of securing its Mediterranean borders, intercepting and bringing in to safety migrant ships  coming from North Africa and the Middle East. Unfortunately, the operation is much less funded and efficient than its predecessor Operation Mare Nostrum led by Italy.  As a result, more migrants have lost their lives to shipwrecks and have not been saved causing a humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean sea.

The European Commission is pushing forward assigning quotas of migrants to member states in order to provide relief to the main hosts of migrants that are Austria, Germany and Sweden. Being two of the most important gateways for migrants to Europe, Italy and Greece support this plan. Unfortunately for them, other countries (France, Belgium, Spain, Hungary, most Eastern European and Baltic states) strongly oppose this plan on the basis that it should be up to the states to decide who stays on their territory and not the decision of unelected EU bureaucrats.

Because leaders are not able to reach an agreement on such an important issue, the European Union itself is facing yet another major challenge. This issue will need to be addressed as soon as possible as migrants will keep on coming in mass and will have a significant impact on the economy and demography of the continent. The European Union needs to come together as strong and provide with a long term plan in order to coordinate immigration regulation on its territory. If leaders do not manage to cooperate and share the effort, the European Union’s future might yet suffer another another blow.

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