In an interview with Vocal Europe, Rebecca Harms, Co-Chair of Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance at the European Parliament, expresses her take on some of the critical challenges stemming from ongoing refugee crisis between the European Union and Turkey.
Vocal Europe: What is your take on the current refugee crisis Europe is facing? How did Europe end up with such a huge flow of refugees?
Rebecca Harms: I think that we are now in a way earning the results of years of ignorance of the EU towards the refugee issue. Everybody who wanted to know could know what is going on in the South of the Mediterranean and also in countries like Afghanistan, Erythrea or Yemen to mention only few of those countries were the refugees are arriving from. Our mistake in the European Union, where the Greens have always been critical against it, was to think that the refugees would stay outside the EU or close to our borders in countries like Italy or Greece.
This mistake has now many consequences which by many of our citizens are felt as chaotic development. It is not good. The EU, as fast as possible, has to get better organized in solidarity to solve better part of the huge refugees’ crisis. In part, it has to be solved in the EU. I am convinced we have to invite more people to survive in Europe. In part, it has to be solved in other countries outside Europe like Turkey for example. The big part of the solution would be to work in a visible and trustful way on the results of the refugee crisis.
Vocal Europe: As co-president of the Greens at the European Parliament, what do you think about the EU solution given to the refugees crisis? It is relevant in such a context?
Rebecca Harms: We had an agreement on the Dublin system, since nearly two decades. It is a system made to keep the refugees outside the central of Europe at least. The achievement in September was to establish an urgency redistribution mechanism for 160 000 people. It was needed but did not work because it is part of the strategy to ignore the problem and it is going to slow in this redistribution. It does not mean it is wrong, it is only not sufficient.
Beyond this redistribution we need to agree not on an urgent redistribution quota but on quota for every year to come. So, I am very much in favor of bringing order to influence refugees by agreeing on the quota system in close cooperation with UNHRC. So that, in the big centers of refugees, or the big camps everywhere in the world, people know what they can expect and we as the EU are delivering in a responsible way.
Vocal Europe: Do you think that the welcoming of the refugees will increase the well-being of the European Union and will benefit member states?
Rebecca Harms: There is chance in it but also a challenge. I come from Germany and in my own region there are many institutions called “centers for first accommodation” with hundred thousands of people. In Germany, it is a very good mood by many citizens called the “welcome culture”. Nevertheless, at the same time, it is very difficult to accommodate people. Refugees are surprised by the low quality of the urgency accommodations. This poses true challenges.
Vocal Europe: Do you think there are negative impacts of receiving refugees on Europe?
Rebecca Harms: We need migration in Germany but it is not an ideal way of organizing migration right now. The German government blocked better development in the Dublin system. They were comfortable with the system as long as the refugees stayed in Italy. It was so very good that Angela Merkel opened the borders of Germany but the process with several hundred thousand people arrived in a short time was not the best process. There are not enough people working for the cause. The accommodation of more or less people depends on the development of the EU. If a big Member States like France accept less people in a year than regions of Germany, the EU could not develop in the best way.
Vocal Europe: What are the measures to be taken in short-, mid-, and long run to limit the negative impact of refugee crisis on Europe? What is Green’s position on that?
Rebecca Harms: In Germany, we are not only receiving. We enter in a very difficult period because during the next weeks and months many people will be returned to other countries, especially people who came in the beginning of the year from the Balkan countries. They will be sent back and that will be in many cases very tough to do it. The German decision was to give a priority for people who come from countries in war or who suffer from very bad conditions like Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan, etc.
Beyond the “welcome culture”, there are all these practical demands… we, as Greens, are trying to contribute to practical solutions on the ground because we see the better the Germans are solving the practical problems right now (accommodation, language skills, schools for children, …), the better are the chances to get the European solidarity working.
Vocal Europe: Angela Merkel showed a strong interest in concluding an agreement with the Turkish President, Erdogan, do you think it is the best way to prevent a new wave of migrants?
Rebecca Harms: There are two issues we have to deal with. Turkey in a way has similar problems than the European Union. It is a country with direct borders with Syria and the whole conflicts territories… It will always have many refugees inside its borders. The EU has to know it and to deal with it. Giving them money, and taking some of their refugees.
However, to be better off, we should try to get a common understanding of the situation and give a common solution. In addition, Turkey has internal problems. We saw an electoral campaign full of violations of fundamental rights and democratic principles. Nevertheless, Erdogan made it and the EU, whether we like him or not, has to deal with him but also should be clear about our perspective. He must contribute to a better and stable democratic development in Turkey.
Vocal Europe: What is your take on the Erdogan’s visit to Brussels? How realistic that Europe will get what it wants from Turkey vis-a-vis refugee crisis?
Rebecca Harms: Our problem was that, for too long time, we did not do what we had promised towards Turkey. In parts, the EU has responsibilities for the negative internal development in Turkey. I do not say it is only our fault but there is an European responsibility in it and we cannot after the last elections ignore mister Erdogan.
In addition, only a “deal” between Turkey and the EU on the refugees and accession to the EU will not help to stabilize the situation. Turkey was the most “promising” country dominated by Islam in the region because it was taking a very democratic road. Without getting back to this road, EU will not get to stabilize Turkey, not in the refugee issue and neither on the question of accession to the EU. Turkey is needed as a stabilizing factor in the region. Superficial deal will not bring peace.
Vocal Europe: Angela Merkel promises a new “dynamism” in the question of the accession of Turkey to the EU. What does it mean? What would be the consequences?
Rebecca Harms: I do not understand what she thinks about it. It sounds very surprising because she was among those players who always blocked better negotiation strategies with Turkey. We need as the EU to clarify how we can impact on the development in Turkey and what are our instruments and competencies to push and influence a democratic way in Turkey.
Vocal Europe: Why the EU does not negotiate with actors such as the Gulf countries about the European Refugee Crisis?
Rebecca Harms: Probably because we do not trust them. Which Syrian refugee would like to go to Saudi Arabia? In general, I agree that those countries which can afford should contribute more to the solutions and intern accommodation of the refugees.