Welcome to EU Politics Decoded where Benjamin Fox and Eleonora Vasques bring you a round-up of the latest political news in Europe and beyond every Thursday.
In this edition, we look at why the new ‘Fortress Europe’ being built by EU leaders on migration will likely harm the EU’s geo-political interests.
Editor’s Take: Fortress Europe will harm EU’s geo-political interests
Long live Fortress Europe! Tomorrow (10 February) EU leaders will adopt their toughest stance yet on migration at the summit which started in Brussels today, much to the delight of national leaders for whom border protection means more votes.
EU leaders will promise to “do whatever it takes” to stop irregular migration, including tougher policing of the EU’s borders and a bigger role for the bloc’s border agency Frontex.
But the presence of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the European Council today underscores the contradictions and hypocrisy of Europe’s stance on immigration and asylum.
Since the Russian invasion last February, around 4.5 million refugees have arrived in the EU from Ukraine. They have been given temporary protected status which gives them the right to work and access public services and benefits, rights that typical asylum seekers do not get.
The temporary protection directive has been in place for around 20 years but has only been used in the Ukrainian crisis, despite attempts to activate it for other crisis moments in the Mediterranean.
Few would argue that opening the front doors (literally) to Ukrainian refugees was not the right thing to do. However, we have to be honest that the same courtesies are not on offer to people fleeing wars elsewhere.
The message that could be read between the lines from Brussels is that you will be welcomed into the EU if you are Ukrainian and white. If you are brown, black or Muslim, from Syria, Yemen or sub-Saharan Africa, you can forget about it.
The bloc is willing to use “as leverage all relevant EU policies, instruments and tools, including diplomacy, development, trade and visas, as well as legal migration” to increase returns.
The idea of being able to talk tough on border control and returns will sound good to most national leaders, since significant relocation movements and solidarity do not exist between EU leaders.
However, migrant returns are just one cog in a broken European immigration and asylum system. This week, EURACTIV reported that national authorities across the bloc are facing major case backlogs and do not have the staff and resources to keep to their targets, usually six months, to make a decision on an asylum application. More ‘cash for migrants‘ deals with third countries will not solve these structural flaws.
Besides, there are also major geopolitical consequences to a fortress Europe mentality.
Earlier this week, the European Commission announced new plans to counter disinformation campaigns by Russia and China which have pushed the argument that Western sanctions related to the war in Ukraine are to blame for the global food crisis and disruption to the supply of grains and fertilisers.
These campaigns have borne plenty of fruit. Sustained anti-European propaganda and fake news in central Africa and the Sahel, co-ordinated by Russian networks, have resulted in a series of diplomats and European soldiers being told to leave Mali and Burkina Faso where they were leading anti-jihadist defence and security missions. In their place will be mercenaries from the Kremlin-linked Wagner Group.
More evidence that Europe is hostile to African migrants and asylum seekers will do the Russosphere’s work for it. Chasing votes at home will come at the cost of European influence, particularly in its southern neighbourhood.
Politics in the Spotlight
Qatargate has badly damaged the European Parliament’s reputation, Swedish EU lawmaker Abir al-Sahlani told EURACTIV in a video interview, describing how an EU Ethics Body could work to fight corruption and conflict of interests.
‘Fences protect Europe’, says Orban, ahead of EU migration summit. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on Tuesday (7 February) called for European Union financing for border fences, reviving an idea which has previously been a taboo ahead of a summit of the bloc’s leaders to discuss curbing irregular immigration.
Italy will use EU funds to become a European energy hub, Meloni says. Italy intends to use funds from the European Union under the so-called REPowerEU plan to completely wean itself off Russian gas and turn the country into an energy hub for the bloc, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has said..
France in new row with Germany and Spain over nuclear-derived hydrogen. A new row has erupted between France, Germany and Spain over nuclear energy, with Paris furious at what it perceives to be a lack of support from Berlin and Madrid for its efforts to have nuclear-derived hydrogen labelled as ‘green’ in EU legislation, sources said.
French strikes cause costly surge in electricity imports from Germany. France imported €330 million worth of electricity in order to meet domestic demand in January while only exporting €96 million to Germany, data shows.
Sunak shuffles cabinet to bolster pledges on economy. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak reshuffled his cabinet on Tuesday (7 February), breaking up two departments to better suit his pledges to spur the UK economy, reduce energy prices and turn around his Conservative party’s fortunes before an election expected next year.
Baltics, Poland make push on use of Russia’s frozen assets ahead of EU summit. Poland and the Baltic states are expected to push EU leaders to accelerate work on the use of frozen assets to support Ukraine’s reconstruction, according to a joint letter seen by EURACTIV.
Poland passes judiciary, wind farm laws in bid to unlock EU funds. Poland’s parliament on Wednesday (8 February) passed two pieces of legislation the government hopes will unblock billions in European Union funds, but doubts remain over whether the president will sign a judicial reform bill into law.
Migration: Pushbacks from Italy to Greece. This week on the Beyond the Byline podcast we discussed migration and more specifically, pushbacks. Italy and Greece have been condemned internationally for their actions, with the latest investigation showing that the staff of commercial ferries are responsible for pushing back migrants that travel from Greece to Italy.
Inside the institutions
Greenlight to anti-Qatargate reforms. The European Parliament’s leaders have agreed on a reform plan following the Qatargate scandal.
As EURACTIV reported, it includes a six month ban on lobbying by ex-MEPs, mandatory registration of the transparency register for groups that organise events or participate in Parliament activities, tougher rules on declaring conflicts of interest and meetings with third country parties by MEPs and staff, and a ban of friendship groups.
Concerns over EPP chief’s leadership style, second salary. Officials of the conservative European People’s Party (EPP) have voiced concern about Manfred Weber’s leadership style and his attempts to collaborate with Italy’s far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.
The AI Act’s fine line on critical infrastructure. As EU policymakers make progress in defining an upcoming rulebook for Artificial Intelligence, the question of how to regulate AI models employed to manage critical infrastructure remains open.
EU agency to start evaluation on ‘forever chemicals’ ban. The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) published its much-awaited proposal aimed at restricting 10,000 synthetic substances hazardous to human health, with the evaluation process set to start in March.
Exit from Energy Charter Treaty ‘unavoidable’, EU Commission says. The European Commission has told member countries that a joint EU exit from a controversial international energy treaty appears inevitable, according to a document seen by Reuters, with some of them already leaving the accord because of climate concerns.
What we are reading
The next week in politics
- On the Council side: Finance ministers meet for the Eurogroup on Monday (13 February) and the Economic and Financial Affairs Council on Tuesday (14 February).
- The European Parliament meets in Strasbourg for its monthly plenary session.
Thanks for reading. If you’d like to contact us for leaks, tips or comments, drop us a line at [email protected] / [email protected] or contact us on Twitter: @EleonorasVasques & @benfox83
[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]