Migration in Europe – Liberalism versus Shield

Image: dpa

Emmanuel Macron in France and Mette Frederiksen in Denmark have very different ideas on migration policy than Olaf Scholz in Germany. The Austrian Minister of the Interior, Gerhard Karner, recently drove to the north of Copenhagen to visit the two-story brick building. The building houses the “Danish Return Agency”, a new authority that will take care of the return of asylum seekers from Denmark to their countries of origin.

In many EU countries, the mood and politics are currently becoming more critical of migration. Not to mention the Eastern European states, which welcome Ukrainians seeking protection but are categorically against accepting refugees from Africa and the Middle East.

Despite this mixed situation, Germany continues to try to get the EU to agree on an open migration policy. At the national level, the government is pursuing a path of liberalization. Its migration package envisages granting residence permits to rejected asylum seekers, which gives them a good chance of a right to stay.

At the European level, the German government has focused on a new distribution mechanism for refugees since taking office. “Germany still stands for an open, humane Europe,” said Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD) in spring. In June, just 18 of the 27 EU countries agreed on a voluntary refugee distribution mechanism. The opponents of the initiative included not only Eastern European countries, but also Sweden, Denmark and Austria.

Denmark as an example for Austria

There and at other meetings, Karner was shown the Danish path in migration policy. No EU country has such strict rules on immigration as Denmark, and Austria’s conservative ÖVP likes to show itself to be a friend of the Danish way and advocates a tougher migration policy.

There are similar tones from other countries: France is about to tighten immigration laws, it is being discussed in the Netherlands and Sweden, Greece is pursuing a strict border protection strategy and in Italy the right-wing nationalist parties are also announcing a change of course after the election.

The „traffic light“ coalition in Germany, ruled by Social Democrats, Greens and the Liberals, is currently liberalizing German immigration rules, wants to win the whole EU over to such a course – and ignores the fact that Europe is tending in the opposite direction towards tightening asylum and integration policies.

Denmark has been making a name for itself for years with its harsh asylum and integration policy. A law stipulates that no more than 30 percent of the residents in a district may have a “non-Western” migration background.

If the value is exceeded, people in social housing are also resettled. Copenhagen now has an agreement with Rwanda. Asylum seekers should be brought to the Central African country for their application to be examined – and even if the decision is positive, they have to stay there. Denmark recently opened an office in Rwanda, and the government in Copenhagen wants the new mechanism to be up and running in around a year.

The Austrian Minister of the Interior often and happily praises this Danish idea. But during his visit to Copenhagen, the Austrian Minister also said that his country could not implement this principle “one-to-one”. There are legal reasons for this. Denmark has negotiated a special position in the EU, the country does not have to adhere to the guidelines of the EU refugee policy.

However, EU law prohibits examining asylum applications in distant countries. Karner said in Copenhagen that one must “look at whether procedures in safe third countries can be anchored in European law”. Such a change in the EU asylum law, which has grown over the years, is currently completely unthinkable.

French new migration law awaited

The picture is similar in France: There, too, is an interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, who speaks loudly about crimes committed by foreigners and announced a reform of immigration law for the autumn.

In the future, a rejected asylum seeker has to leave France immediately, the deportation notice will be valid for three years instead of one, and foreign criminals can be expelled in any case. The governing party is under pressure from Marine Le Pen’s right-wing national Rassemblement Nationale, which performed better than ever in the parliamentary elections.

Sweden and Italy after the election

Until 2015, the country had the most liberal asylum law in Europe, and every recognized asylum seeker immediately received a permanent residence permit. The Social Democrats, who have been in power for decades, tightened the legal situation a year ago and limited the residence permit. During the election campaign, the centre-right parties were demanding further tightening, including an upper limit for immigration.

The pressure from the right-wing nationalist Sweden Democrats, together with the Moderates Party the winners of the vote, had also an effect here. In the Netherlands, the government of liberal Prime Minister Mark Ruttejüngst decided not to take in any more refugees recognized as part of the Turkey deal.

In Italy, the issue of migration played a central role in the election campaign of Girogia Meloni and her post-fascist Fratelli d’Italia. The right-wing nationalist politician promised to “seal off” the Mediterranean together with the states on the African coast.

In the countries on the other side of the sea, “hotspots” are to be set up, where asylum applications are processed.

Greece and its fence

In Greece, too, which as a coastal state has been confronted with the arrival of migrants from Turkey for years, the government is relying on strict border protection in view of the growing anti-migration mood among the population.

The national border is to be completely sealed off with a fence. At the same time, it is now an open secret that the coast guard also resorts to illegal pushbacks, i.e. picking up migrants and bringing them back to the Turkish coast.

New study by German think tank underlines the European shortcomings

Seven years after the turbulence of the refugee crisis, the division in Europe threatens to deepen. “The structural crisis in European migration and asylum policy continues to smolder,” writes the German think tank „Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik“ (SWP) in an analysis. “Voluntary coalitions of the willing have become possible again since the new German government has advocated it.” But it is unlikely that this will “provide better results than in previous years” without legal changes.

According to SWP’s policy paper, a differentiated integration has helped to defuse fundamental conflicts of interest between EU member states in the past, open up new fields of integration and facilitate national implementation processes. Differentiated integration has played an important role in the development of EU domestic policy. States with fundamental reservations about integration were granted comprehensive opt-outs in the respective treaty reforms.

However, these experiences with the differentiated integration would only help to a limited extent for the future, says the SWP. In view of Brexit and fundamental disputes about the rule of law, strengthening the cohesion of the area of freedom, security and justice should be a priority. Denmark in particular may not be able to follow further integration steps, as has already been shown in the past with a look at Europol. On the contrary, there is even a risk of Denmark drifting significantly, even to the point of permanent restrictions on the cross-border free movement of people, should the country continue with its extremely restrictive policy on asylum.

For the German think tank, the structural crisis in European migration and asylum policy continues to smolder. Voluntary coalitions of the willing have become possible again since the new German government has been campaigning for them, but it would be unlikely that a simple relaunch without changed legal obligations would deliver significantly better results than in previous years. Substantial sanctions against states that refuse to take on migrants and those seeking protection also remain unrealistic. If the member states do not fundamentally change their positions by the end of the current EU legislative period so that the present package for migration and asylum could be adopted, the instrument of enhanced cooperation can show a way out. Breaches of the law and structural restrictions on fundamental rights must not be normalised, neither within the EU nor in neighboring third countries. Increased cooperation between at least nine EU states offers the prospect of growing beyond weak and unreliable coalitions of the willing. It must be demonstrated that the participating states can count on each other’s support in order to tackle the ongoing migration and asylum policy challenges.

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