EU expert gives his opinion on the migration crisis



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European nations may well be on the brink of a new migration crisis that will eclipse even that of 2015-16, writes Martin Banks.

This is one of the many clear messages that emerge from a comprehensive new book on migration – People Power – why we need more migrants – by the highly respected commentator on European affairs, Giles Merritt (on the picture).

The thorny issue of migration, of course, has rarely been far from the headlines in years, being sidelined, and only temporarily, only by Brexit and the health pandemic.

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Desperate images of yet more migrants attempting to cross the Channel recently, with varying degrees of success, have once again put the subject back on the agenda and in the public mind.

Yes, the fight against the exploitation and smuggling of migrants and “illegal” immigration continue to exercise the spirit of the “great and good”.

Even the EU’s own coastguard agency, Frontex, has been at the center of worrying allegations of violations of the human rights of migrants at the European Union’s external borders.

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In an effort to inject much needed new and innovative thinking into all of this, Merritt has authored a particularly detailed review of migration in all its forms.

It is generally accepted that migrant smuggling has been a major humanitarian and security challenge for the EU in recent years. For example, it is estimated that migrant smugglers facilitated the journeys of the majority of the over 1 million people who entered the EU illegally in 2015 and 2016.

Some argue that by reducing the number of “irregular” migrants, the West will ensure long-term asylum and migration management to deal with future crises.

Merritt, former head of the Brussels bureau of the Financial Times, talks about the urgent need to reform European migration laws, in particular to prevent irregular migration and fight against human trafficking.

He begins what is a very impressive job by “exploding” what he calls the “ten most misleading myths” about migration, including the claim that Europe does not need migrants

He seeks to dispel other common ‘myths’, ranging from the claim that migrants ‘take jobs’ from ethnic Europeans, that they increase the risk of jihadist terrorism and that they ‘mop up’ the good. being social of Europeans.

Completely wrong and dangerously wrong, Merritt said.

Initially, the heartbreaking images of people drowned in the Mediterranean or rescued by the coast guard and independent operations of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) suggested a new humanitarian climate in Europe, he notes.

“But,” he continues, “emotional responses like this have proven to be less reliable and lasting than they initially appeared.”

For now, the ‘game-changing’ effects of the coronavirus must be added to the migration debate, he warns, and like Covid-19, migration is a ‘global earthquake’.

This means that, “fueled” by the troubled consequences of Covid-19, migration will affect many of Europe’s “most fundamental” socio-economic structures, and therefore “will likely disrupt broadly consensual national political systems.”

He writes: “Immigration prospects were bad enough before the coronavirus, and now they are more toxic than ever politically. “

There are, he suggests, four key elements:

1. Despite the lengthening of the unemployment queues for Covid-19, long-term economic forces mean that Europe needs more migrants, not fewer.

2. The pressures generated by Covid-19 are pushing refugees and economic migrants to Europe in unprecedented numbers.

3. Post-coronavirus economic recovery policies make the integration of migrants more difficult and more politically explosive and

4. Post-coronavirus geopolitics is reshaping Europe’s neighborhood.

Europeans, he laments, rarely display the same positive attitude towards migration as Americans. Although the 2015-2016 migrant crisis briefly aroused public sympathy for refugees “it quickly turned into bitter disputes between EU governments over burden sharing”.

He adds: “These have been simmering since then and now threaten to boil furiously.”

Whatever the state of public opinion, European governments know they must learn to deal with larger flows of newcomers, says Merritt, whose impressive resume includes his many years with the famous Friends of think tank. Europe he founded.

“Politicians’ rhetoric, especially but not exclusively populist, will remain hostile, fueled by the recession and lingering fears of new coronavirus outbreaks, but planners and officials know they must adapt to the demographic pressures shaping the future, ”he predicts. .

It also stresses the need to distinguish, which is rarely done, between refugees and economic migrants.

As for the EU, there is not only the pressure from the European Commission for member countries to accept more refugees, there is also the pressure from beyond the Brussels bubble to “rethink” policy. existing EU policy on immigration and asylum.

Merritt says: “The economics of migration has little to do with its politics, as was illustrated when European national leaders met in Salzburg in September 2018 to discuss a very clear deal on immigration.

“Finger pointing and political demagoguery were the uninspiring features of this special summit. “

Angela Merkel, the outgoing German Chancellor, has not escaped criticism with Merritt saying her “windy response to the influx, wir schaff en das! (We can do it), has come back to haunt her. The relocation of so many has created serious upheavals and unleashed new political volatility. ”

But his home country, the United Kingdom, is not without reproach either.

“In the UK, before Brexit cast its shadow, foreign students were earning more than 12 billion yen per year in foreign currency. A significant number of them, perhaps as many as 15-20%, had stayed after graduation to make a living in Britain. But now the tighter visa controls, designed to discourage migrant workers from Europe and beyond, are changing that. “

The Commission, he argues, should work to persuade member governments to significantly increase their budgetary contributions for migration, even if this task is made more difficult by Brexit and the UK’s shortfall in financial contributions. .

His message?

“Europe must stop pretending that immigration is a fleeting phenomenon. It’s not temporary, and rather should be recognized as a long-term game changer.

The exceptionally well-connected Merritt is a well-respected and seasoned veteran of European affairs and whether you agree with him or not, this is extremely impressive work and his opinions certainly deserve special attention, especially in the corridors of power. .

The book is on sale at the Filigranes bookstore at 39-42 Avenue des Arts in Brussels, on the Filigranes E-shop (+322 504 7839) or on Amazon in paper and Kindle version.

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