Instead of closing the borders, Europe’s leaders should come up with a real plan.
Europe’s national leaders are not capable of getting a grip on the refugee crisis. The last informal summit in Amsterdam with the ministers of Justice and Home Affairs was a nothing short of a disgrace. The 28 confirmed that the resurrection of national border controls will be maintained for at least another two years. Their solution to the challenges posed by the refugee crisis is to deprive over 500 million Europeans of their free movement, making it more difficult for tourists and businesses to cross borders. This is the ultimate demonstration of political weakness, devaluing both our economy and our hard won European liberties.
Closing the borders and other deterrent tactics, like national quotas or taking away jewellery will not prevent refugees from fleeing war and destruction. The situation is only spiralling further out of control. During the first 21 days of January, 37.000 people arrived in Italy and Greece: ten times more than the same period in 2014. This state of emergency can only be solved with a comprehensive European plan: one that safeguards our common achievements and values, instead of giving them up.
First things first; we need to secure the most critical border and that is the one between Greece and Turkey. At least 2.000 European and national officers should be sent to fingerprint, screen and register the refugees. This rapid response force will also decide which refugees can travel on to a destination in Europe and which ones will have to travel back to their country of origin. At the same time, we need to improve the living conditions of the refugee centres in Turkey and Europe. Instead of pouring billions into a bad deal with Erdogan, we should give targeted, direct financial assistance to refugees, to empower them and give them more control over their situation.
But we should look beyond the emergency situation and tackle its root causes. We need to transform the mini-agency that is Frontex into a full-fledged European Border and Coast Guard. The proposal of the Commission is ready, we just need to fast-track it in the European Parliament and the Council to make it happen. The next mid-term review of the European budget is the right moment to substantially increase the funding of Frontex. A European Border and Coast Guard, paid for by all member states, will not only keep our Union safe, it is the best guarantee of securing an orderly and dignified reception for refugees.
The establishment of a European Border and Coast Guard means of course we will need one set of rules upon which it acts. The current Dublin asylum regulation has failed us. It has induced a race to the bottom, whereby member states compete to become the least attractive for migrants. This does not solve the problem; it just turns the refugees into bouncing balls within the Union. The European Council needs to agree on one set of asylum rules that are applied across the board and with a mandatory quota scheme that distributes the refugees over all 28 member states. In parallel, we need a single, European set of migration rules so that non-Europeans, who want to work here, no longer have to abuse the asylum system but can apply for a European Blue Card, just as they can for a Green Card in America. It is nonsensical to have a single labour market and still hold on to 28 national work permits, each of them a little bit different than the other one, slowing down labour mobility instead of fuelling it.
Europeans are desperately waiting for concrete, feasible measures that will win back control of the situation. Up until now, with the closing of borders, the anti-European answer has the upper-hand. But what the euro sceptics do not tell people is that retreating behind our national borders will harm the economy, our prosperity and free movement for all of us. We need pro-European reforms that safeguard, protect and secure Europe´s central achievements.
The full plan to get a grip on the refugee crisis is published here: ALDE roadmap Refugee Crisis
Guy Verhofstadt, ehemaliger Premierminister Belgiens und aktueller Vorsitzender der liberalen ALDE-Fraktion im Europäischen Parlament