At the European Council in Tampere, October 1999, European Head of States agreed to establish a Common EU Asylum and Migration Policy. “The European Union needs a comprehensive approach to migration addressing political, human rights and development issues in countries and regions of origin and transit,” they said. “The European Council calls for closer co-operation and mutual technical assistance between the Member States' border control services, such as exchange programmes and technology transfer, especially on maritime borders, and for the rapid inclusion of the applicant States in this co-operation.”
At today’s Home and Justice Ministers Council, nothing of that European spirit was left. Today it was politics, dirty bargaining at its best. Germany and France rejected Italy’s demand for a European solution and told the country to deal with its Tunesian migrants on its own. Yesterday, Bavaria’s home minister had already said that Italy is large enough to accommodate 23000 Tunesian migrants, threatening border controls at the German-Austrian border.
Certainly, both countries have accepted more migrants than Italy in the past (Germany from Afghanistan, Iran and the Balkans, France from the Maghreb) and therefore have powerful arguments against Italy. And there is a thing called the Dublin II Regulation stipulating that migrants have to ask for asylum in the country through which they enter the European Union (a debate for another time). Still, all this doesn’t justify leaving a European country in the lurch. There are many more ways to deal with the problem than allowing Tunesians into French or German social systems. Providing technical support, ships or equipment to Italy to deal with migratory flows, for example. But ministers today chose confrontation over cooperation.
We pride ourselves with an integrated European market, with free flow of goods, with a high standard of living that is achieved through cheap imports from abroad. We pride ourselves with the possibilities of investing and withdrawing millions of Euros from companies all over the world. We gladly take the benefits that globalization has to offer. But when it comes to people entering into Fortress Europe, every country has to deal with migration on its own.
What we need is a common European effort, a common European approach to the challenges. The Home Ministers Council was a step in the wrong direction.
Update: The Council Conclusions are here (but I haven't had time to have a look yet)
Update (10 May 2011): Everybody sometimes heads in the wrong direction and my viewpoint has changed with more information. I maintain that we need a European migration policy and a European response to North African migrants, but I see Italy's role far more critically now. While other European countries have dealt with far more than 25,000 migrants, Italy is creating a problem where there shouldn't be a problem. And Sarkozy is happy to blow up the migrant issue to a security question. To get a better idea of the issue, I can only recommend today's debate in the EP (from 15h25), and there in particular Mr Weber, Mr Schulz and Mr Verhofstadt.