Benedetto Antonelli January 28, 2023
“The Commission has always said that it will not finance the construction of walls, and that has not changed between yesterday and today.” With these words, the spokesman for the European executive, Eric Mamer, laid the gravestone at Austria’s request for a Build a wall between Bulgaria and Turkey. An attitude that falls in the same hours in which President Ursula von der Leyen wrote a letter to the 27 governments of the member states in view of the extraordinary European Council that will take place in Brussels on February 9th and 10th. A letter explaining the European immigration strategy.
On border management, again related to tensions between Bulgaria and Turkey, the Commission spokesman added: “It is up to Member States to decide how best to meet their border management obligations and the European Union is there to support them in this context.” Von der Leyen, on the other hand, defines immigration in his letter as “a European challenge to which we must give a European answer”. Also because, the Commission President recalls, the European Union saw a significant increase in irregular arrivals on routes last year across the Mediterranean and the Western Balkans recorded “the highest numbers since 2016”.
There are three points on which von der Leyen insists on an immediate response: “strengthening the external borders”, with the coordinated deployment of EU resources at strategic points and more focused cooperation with partners in the Mediterranean and the Western Balkans; “Speed up return procedures”, apply safe third country concepts more systematically and use EU cooperation to support EU countries’ efforts to promote returns. Finally, the President of the EU executive supports the need to “address the problem of secondary migration” by guaranteeing “effective solidarity”.
Against this background, she proposes to “fully implement the Dublin Regulation to prevent secondary movements of migrants” and step up support to the Member States most under pressure, using the voluntary solidarity mechanism for relocations, which is the precursor to the letter should be a permanent mechanism.
The “voluntary” nature of solidarity between countries has always proved to be an obstacle to effective migrant redistribution. A problem that particularly affects the countries of the “first port”, Italy at the top. Converting this mechanism from voluntary to automatic is one of the most difficult goals to achieve given the tradition of opposition in the northern European states. A real breakthrough cannot see the light of day without major funding. The money is there, assured von der Leyen, and it has already been increased.
As he recalls in the letter, “Border management and anti-smuggling projects in North Africa and the Western Balkans will exceed half a billion euros this year. Bringing together the different aspects of the EU relationship will allow us to use advances on migration as a central part of broader relationships with key partners.”
Finally, the President calls on states to cooperate with NGOs in search and rescue at sea and urges them to comply with applicable rules and standards.