When we warned in January of this year that Europe was sleepwalking into a new migration crisis, social democrats and liberals accused us of feeding the flames of populism. They dismissed our warnings and citizens’ concerns. Instead of looking for solutions to stop the irregular flow of migrants into Europe, they ignored it,” according to an article by the head of the parliamentary group of the European People’s Party (EPP) in the European Parliament, Manfred Weber, and the vice-president of the parliamentary group of the EPP in the European Parliament, Evangelos Meimarakis.
The full article published by the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA-MPA) follows:
“While mayors and local councillors from all parties are sounding the alarm that they have reached the limits of what they can do to help people, the left is slowing down the reform of asylum and migration laws in Europe and torpedoing attempts to work with countries in North Africa, like Tunisia, to bring down the number of irregular boat arrivals. The political responsibility for this failure to protect Europe’s borders lies squarely in the camp of the social democrats and the liberals.
Now Europe is again confronted with a migration crisis and the political tragedy is that we saw it coming. Within a week, more than 10,000 migrants arrived on the shores of Lampedusa, a small island with around 6,000 inhabitants 145 kilometres off the coast of Tunisia. In a matter of hours, this tiny island duplicated its population, with all the consequences that this entails for the migrants, the authorities and residents. It is a situation that no city or municipality would consider acceptable anywhere in Europe.
To put it bluntly, we are in this situation because President Macron and Chancellor Scholz refused to take responsibility for this European problem. Lampedusa is not just an Italian island, it is a European island and the people who arrive there do not want to stay. They want to go to France and to Germany, to Sweden and the Netherlands. How is it possible that the leaders of France and Germany can ignore a simple fact: people are not crossing to Italy, they are crossing to Europe. Instead of looking away and leaving Italy on its own with this, Europe must deliver solutions together.
The French Government is quick, though, to send reinforcements to the Italian border to keep the economic migrants in Italy, but they have refused until now, just like the German Government, to support the Tunisia deal which could reduce the number of irregular arrivals. We are not naive about who we are dealing with in Tunis, but we cannot prevent people from risking their lives crossing the Mediterranean, without building good relations with countries in North Africa. We expect from the next Home Affairs Ministers meeting that they send an unambiguous message of support for the Memorandum with Tunisia.
To make matters worse, the only proposal the social democrats and the liberals have to regain control of irregular migration is search and rescue missions. We are not against search and rescue, but it cannot only mean that the people that are rescued automatically are brought to a European port. We need a new European naval mission on the Mediterranean, but it needs to be able to bring back migrants to the North African coast. It is the only way we will break the business model of the criminal gangs who are getting rich by smuggling people to Europe.
The reality is also that the overwhelming majority of people making the crossing are economic migrants, they are not refugees, who have little to no chance of getting international protection in Europe. But the people smugglers also know that Europe’s returns policy is not working. Once you cross, the procedures and logistics are so complicated and costly that it is near to impossible to send someone back. Despite this, the left in Europe wants to make legislation even more restrictive than it already is. Instead of trying to spread economic migrants throughout the EU, they should be sent back quickly and consistently.
Europe has welcomed more Ukrainian refugees in the past years than we have ever done in our history. We are proud of that. We stand by the fundamental right of asylum, which is a defining principle in our relationship with the rest of the world. At the same time, the scale and complexity of migration has radically changed. The longer we wait with a more realistic and less idealistic migration approach, the more it will undermine citizens’ trust in government, be it local, national or European.
It is not an inevitability. We know what to do. What we need is that Europe unites around a migration and asylum reform that is within reach. We are closer than ever to finding an agreement. Years from now, people will look back on this moment as the biggest missed opportunity in a decade or as the first step to bringing back order in the migration flows that arrive in Europe.
In order to achieve a breakthrough, social democrats and liberals need to accept that it is a new world out there, that without a European approach we will move from one migration crisis to the next, slowly feeding the extreme right and undermining the people’s support for the European Union. The time to act is now.”