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 how focusing on border control rather than the root causes of migration will increase the number of deaths and illegal pushbacks.
Editor’s Take: Plugging a leak on a sinking ship
After several weeks of dominating the news, migration is quietly moving back to the inside pages of newspapers. That means that politicians no longer regard migration as a matter of crisis. That means less rhetoric about closing the borders, but it also reduces the sense of urgency among leaders to finally overhaul the EU’s broken immigration and asylum policies.
There is no logical reason why migration is not the crisis that it was, say, two weeks ago, just as there is still no coherent approach on how to deal with it beyond a commitment by EU leaders to tighten border control.
In the last extraordinary Council on migration, EU leaders said they were on ‘the same page’, vowing to prioritise halting departures, increasing repatriation and creating an EU framework to deal with the bureaucracy. None of these pledges amounts to much more than pipe dreams.
Meanwhile, despite their lip service to the importance of protecting human rights and fighting smugglers, closing the borders will increase abuses and the number of illegal pushbacks.
Today the Border Violence Monitoring Network published the “Black Book of Pushbacks”, a comprehensive piece of research on migrants exposed to violence at the border, interviewing 733 individuals who tried to reach Europe in 2021 and 2022.
The findings hint at an “unprecedented rise of violence” at the border and found that nearly 25,000 people had illegally been expelled from the EU since 2017.
We are not going to see more liberal immigration policies across a Europe that conservative governments dominate, but even the most right-wing government will never be able to shut the door of the border or to stop desperate people fleeing.
According to Frontex data, illegal border crossings have increased by 77% this year. The central Mediterranean and the Western Balkan route are the most travelled by migrants, and the former is considered the most dangerous path in the world.
Regulating migration movements at the EU level is part of the solution, while border control and cutting ‘cash for migrants’ deals with third countries will maybe help EU leaders to win elections. At some point, another approach, which actually addresses the root causes of migration, is going to be inevitable.
In the long term, migratory pressure on Europe will sharply increase. The consequences of extreme climate change – already being seen in rising droughts – combined with political instability and crises in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia will increase the number of people moving. EU leaders will eventually have to level with their electorates about this. In the meantime, their ambition amounts to little more than plugging a leak in a steadily sinking ship.
Charts of the week
Today we share a group of charts which show numbers of arrivals, missing migrants and many other updated trend information by the International Organisation for Migration (OIM).
According to their gatherings, 169,046 migrants arrived in Europe while 2,410 people are missing (6 December 2022 update).
Tunisia. It is a quiet month for elections within the EU’s borders, but across the Mediterranean Sea in Tunisia, parliamentary elections will be held on 17 December for the first time since President Kais Saied suspended parliament and began to rule by decree in July 2021.
However, constitutional reforms passed in July have significantly weakened the parliament’s powers, and opposition parties representing nearly three-quarters of the seats are boycotting the polls in protest. Turnout is likely to be between 10-30%.
Bordering on Schengen. EU ambassadors raised no objections to Croatia’s accession to the bloc’s passport-free Schengen area next year, hinting that final approval could be given at a justice and home affairs meeting later this week.
Rama: I can’t tell people not to leave. Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama tells EURACTIV that he cannot tell his country’s young people not to leave for a life abroad. However, he hopes they return, bringing their skills and a different mentality with them.
Sanchez closes the gap. Pedro Sanchez’s socialist PSOE party are closing the poll gap with the centre-right Popular Party ahead of the next Spanish general election set to take place in December 2023. New polls put Sanchez’s party on course for 112 seats in the 350-seat parliament compared to 120 seats for the PP.
A very German coup. German police have arrested 25 members and supporters of a far-right group that prosecutors said were preparing a violent coup d’etat, with some members suspected of plotting an armed attack on the parliament. The bizarre plot appears to have envisaged a former member of the aristocratic House of Reuss taking power.
Inside the institutions
Ministers nix Spitzenkandidaten and EU-wide election list. EU governments are set to use next week’s pre-Christmas summit in Brussels to formally kill off plans for transnational lists and Spitzenkandidaten, or lead candidates, at the next European elections in 2024.
Revolving doors. The European Commission is underestimating the scale of ‘revolving door’ conflict of interest cases, according to a new study presented at the European Parliament. Meanwhile, Transparency International reports a drop in the number of meetings reported between MEPs and lobbyists.
According to the draft conclusions seen by EURACTIV, prepared ahead of next Thursday’s gathering of EU leaders, “discussions within Council indicate that there is no unanimity in favour of the European Parliament’s proposal as it stands”.
Orban raises the stakes. Evi Kiorri’s ‘Beyond the bylines’ podcast looks at Hungary’s veto on the EU’s financial aid to Ukraine, a move designed to put more pressure on the European Commission to unblock funds for Budapest from the EU’s recovery fund, and which ups the ante in the Orban government’s battles with Brussels.
New Green wave. We reported from the European Green party’s annual congress in Copenhagen last weekend, where officials are confident that they are positioned for a new ‘green wave’ at the next European elections, with energy policy likely to be one of the dominant campaign issues.
Croatia joins Schengen 1 January 2023. EU ministers confirmed on Thursday Croatia joining Schengen on 1 January 2023
What we are reading
- It is the west’s duty to help Ukraine win this war, Martin Wolf writes for the Financial Times. “We can afford it, and backing Kyiv will be less expensive in the long run than allowing Putin to prevail,” he thinks.
- While EU regulators take on Elon Musk, Britain’s online safety bill is a beacon of mediocrity, Chris Stokel-Walker writes for The Guardian.
- Human smuggling and trafficking of Vietnamese people to Europe has increased over the last decade, with smugglers increasingly active in Belgium, a report by the Belgium Federal Migration Centre Myria published Wednesday found, Wilhelmine Pressen and Nicolas Camut write for Politico.
The next week in politics
- Pre-Christmas summit. Heads of states will attend the end-of-the-year summit. The highest on the agenda the war in Ukraine and energy, as expected.
- Council of the EU meetings: expected early next week Eastern Partnership Foreign Ministers, Agriculture and Fisheries Council, Foreign Affairs Council, Energy Council, and Home Affairs Council meetings.
- Plenary session in Strasbourg. EU lawmakers will gather in Strasbourg for the monthly plenary (the last of 2022). EURACTIV will be there, so stay tuned.
[Edited by Alice Taylor]