By Styliani Kampani. Originally published on 2012/08/01
Since December 2010, hardly a day goes by without news of the Arab uprisings. No wonder – such radical changes cannot be achieved in a couple of days or months. Despite the countless innocent victims, the international community and the UN find it hard to dissolve the problematic situation, which now climaxes in Syria.
The EU, as a neighbour, could not remain uninvolved in this, on the ground that it also “endangers” its interests and coherent policies. Many divulge that the Arabian revolution could probably bring an uncontrolled massive influx of immigrants, which would fluster and create additional problems to the Old Continent. Exaggerated alarmist thoughts or maybe just an excuse to change the migration policy and all of what it entails: border controls, asylum granting, visas, permits for educational or employment reasons and many others. The strongest slap came from the statements of many EU officials who wish to bring back to the table of discussion the revision of the Schengen agreement and the possible re-imposition of internal borders control – often viewed as pretext for promotion of right-wing parties’ agendas. It is worth mentioning here that after the regime fall in Libya, approximately 1,5 million people , mostly from African States, resorted to their home countries instead of moving into Europe.
What the Migration Policy brought
During 2011 the EU did take significant decisions towards a more integrated migration policy. Basically the Common Migration Policy is supposed to be aiming at making emigration an opportunity rather than a necessity for foreigners. In other words, the Immigration Portal is thought to be the precursor of the EU’s Common Migration Policy, whereas the Europe 2020 Strategy, proposed by the Commission targets the integration of non-EU migrants. Additionally the final adoption of Single Permit creates a set of rights for non-EU workers residing in an EU state, while further directives on the conditions of entry and residence for seasonal and intra-corporate transferees are under discussion. Moreover, the Long Term Residence Directive has created a single status for non-EU nationals who have been lawfully residing in an EU country for at least five years, thus establishing a legal basis for equal treatment in all the EU countries. Other EU initiatives include the European Integration Forum, the European website on Integration, the Handbook of Integration and the European Integration Fund. All of these new plans are pretty innovative and promising, though an experiment under testing, that hopefully will not end like the non-functional Dublin Convention.
Handling legal migration is a critically controversial issue for the politicians. Handling irregular migration makes them act like ostriches. EU’s southern marine borders are by far the most difficult to control and amplifying the clandestine immigration. Italy, Greece and Spain receive a great load of “boat people” coming from North Africa, Middle East and Turkey. The majority of those people are undocumented and often victims of trafficking networks or smugglers. As such the national authorities face difficulties in relocation, repartition or granting them asylum. Stuck in the states, they are either hired, undeclared, by native employers or work for the black market, always under the threat of being arrested or prosecuted.
Speaking of granting asylum, it is extremely dysfunctional within the EU. For instance, an Afghan seeking security among the EU States has chances ranging from 8% to 91%! The Arab Spring can be a unique opportunity for the Europeans, in order to improve the Neighborhood Policy. With all these clashes and the outstretched situation, the humanitarian space shrinks, hence more casualties, more abuses more fear. Contrary to the Cold War era, when the USA and USSR were moving the yarns, now the international community expects from the United Nations to halt the escalating spiral of violence. Quite impossible.
Taking into account the EU’s aging population, dependence on immigrant labour will become a necessity, as the baby-boomers retire. According to statistics, by 2060 Europe will have 50 million fewer workers if the current immigration levels are maintained. If not then there will be 110 million fewer workers than today to contribute in funding levels of welfare spending, especially pensions. In the near future, namely by 2020, it is estimated that the health sector will lack about one million professionals! The European Community is transforming into a multinational and multicultural space and this cannot be avoided, even though some disapprove it.
From words to action
The EU has and is still elaborating a considerable number of policies and mechanisms to counter illegal migration and cross-border crime. However, the EU should work to seriously engage its Southern partners in similar initiatives, aiming at ensuring regular migration, and cross-border and maritime security. According to Commission statements the EU should enter a dialogue in which a balance between short-term and long-term policies should be carefully considered. While cooperation in maritime security, border surveillance, and information sharing would be effective on the short term, there is a need to consider the root causes of illegal migration and human trafficking. Moreover, the EU could work with regional organizations like the Arab League, African Union, or Islamic Conference, which are willing to take part in a collaborative strategic approach towards region’s stabilization.
The EU, as well as most member states, has responded loudly in support of Arab revolutions and against violations of human rights during public revolts. This took mainly the form of political statements condemning the use of violence against peaceful protesters and imposing sanctions on autocratic regimes suppressing public revolts. In this regard, the EU has adopted a number of important restrictive measures in support of the Arab Spring in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Syria. While the EU is still politically loud in the case of Syria, it should also continue to be politically strident in transitional countries.
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