This week, four articles in particular caught my attention while reading newspapers. First, I came across an article on the European news portal “Euractiv” about Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer. In the first half of 2023, Sweden, now governed by conservative right-wing parties, will take over the rotating Presidency of the EU Council. The Austrian chancellor now wants to convince the Swedish government that the EU should build a fence against refugees along Bulgaria’s border with Turkey. Of course, the EU should pay for the fence. Two days after the Euractiv article, the German news magazine “Der Spiegel” reported that the German-born leader of the centre-right group of the European People’s Party (EPP) in the European Parliament, Manfred Weber, fully supports Austrian Chancellor Nehammer’s proposal.
Next, I read – also on the news portal “Euractiv” – that the new right-wing conservative Swedish government has organised a press conference on migration. The Swedish Minister of Migration, Maria Malmer Stenergard, had invited, among others, the deputy leader of the far-right party Sweden Democrats, Henrik Vinge. Although the Sweden Democrats are not part of the government. Most readers might expect that this press conference was not about good news for migrants and asylum seekers. On the contrary, the existing rights of migrants in Sweden are to be significantly curtailed. Even though the far-right alleged Sweden Democrats are not part of the government, they have been able to push through parts of their anti-democratic and anti-human rights demands. With this attitude, the Swedish government will be at the head of the governments of the EU member states from January to June 2023. Not only the Austrian Chancellor will be pleased.
A day later, I came across a very comprehensive article in the German green-left daily newspaper “taz”. In this article, the two journalists Christian Jakob and Bernd Kasparek took a close look at the EU border protection agency Frontex. Frontex has been criticised for several years. In April 2022, the former head of Frontex, Fabrice Leggeri, had to resign from his post due to a variety of criticisms. The central criticism of Frontex is that the EU agency disregards human rights – in particular the special protection rights of migrants and asylum seekers. Actually, people have the right to apply for asylum when they come to Europe. And they have a right to have their application carefully examined. During the time of examination, asylum seekers may not be deported. Under international and EU law, they have a right to decent accommodation and care during this time. Instead of enforcing these rights of asylum seekers and migrants, Frontex repeatedly participates in “push-backs” of people at the EU’s external borders. However, Frontex is not solely responsible for this. Some EU member states are far more brutal in their treatment of asylum seekers and migrants.
The red thread that runs through these four articles is the sealing-off of the EU, which has been increasingly pursued by right-wing conservative political forces since 2015. This isolationist policy is directed primarily against migrants from the Middle East and Africa. This development is extremely dangerous. Sealing off does not solve problems, it exacerbates them. This applies to the migrants’ regions of origin as well as to Europe.
Closing the EU’s external borders does not eliminate the causes of flight, although European politicians like to favour fighting the causes of flight as an alternative to migration. In practice, however, they do nothing to combat them. People who no longer see any perspective for themselves in their countries will either continue to seek ways to Europe or they will become radicalised.
Meanwhile, according to European media reports, tension towards refugees is rising in Turkey. That is why Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan wants to resettle them: To the areas of northern Syria controlled by Turkey. To the detriment of the Kurds living there.
Another critical point is the consequences of the European energy transition. It will bring enormous economic and thus also social changes in the oil-producing countries of the Middle East. Tensions in the region will therefore not decrease in the future, but increase.
But isolation is also a problem in Europe. In Germany, for example, companies are now complaining that they can no longer fill jobs and that orders are being lost as a result. According to representatives of the German economy, tens of thousands of workers are missing. In Great Britain, tens of thousands of workers are also missing. After Brexit, the British government closed the borders to migrant workers and asylum seekers, with the result that British society is now suffering from a massive shortage of workers.
Obviously, the closure policy has only negative consequences for all sides. Only a radical change in the European Union’s migration and asylum policy can change the situation. There are not only ethical reasons for this, but also quite pragmatic ones. A radical change in the EU’s migration policy would first stop illegal migration. This would deprive the smuggling gangs of their business basis and the deaths on the Mediterranean and on the refugee routes could end.
Regulated migration that grants people legal access to the EU gives migrants legal certainty and protection. The European Parliament has therefore called for regulated migration several times in recent years. The Council of the European Union, on the other hand, in which the governments of the member states sit, rejects this.
Legal immigration would give people from the migration countries the prospect of work in Europe. On the one hand, this would be in the interest of the European countries. On the other hand, labour migrants send part of their income to their families in their countries of origin. This money benefits the economy in the countries of origin. In addition, migration promotes cultural and economic exchange between societies. Although this does not automatically lead to a stabilisation of the situation in the Middle East, it would be an important component for stabilisation. The Kurdish self-administration in northern Syria shows what stabilising developments are possible if the political framework conditions allow them. At present, the EU is ignoring these positive developments and is standing idly by as they come under increasing pressure from the Turkish attacks in northern Syria. Stabilising the situation in the Middle East is also in the EU’s interest. At the same time, the EU shares responsibility for managing the economic consequences of the European energy transition in the Middle East, which is necessary from a climate policy perspective. The isolationist policy that has been pursued for several years by right-wing conservative European politicians and governments of some EU member states only leads further into an impasse from which there will eventually be no way out.
Jürgen Klute became a member of the European Parliament (DIE LINKE/The Left) and spokesman for the Kurdish Friendship Group in the EP from 2009 to 2014. Since December 2016, he has been editing the Europa.blog.