Left to right: Renzi, Juncker, Hollande, Trudeau, Merkel et al at the G7 summit in Japan, May, 2016. Carolyn Kaster / Press Association. All rights reserved.The European Institutions and the Governments of the Member States pretend to be deeply concerned by the rise of far-rights movements in the Union: but this is only posturing and opportunism. Declaring themselves appalled by their xenophobia and their hostility against migrants and refugees, the truth is quite different. No special acumen is needed to understand this. Since last year, European and national policies on immigration are incorporating and emulating the positions of the far-right, without any noticeable reservations.
The slogans of Marine Le Pen and Matteo Salvini – “help the refugees in their own homes”, “expulse them all together” – uttered without once considering the reasons that lead migrants to flee – do not any more boast their exclusive hallmark. They have become the foundation-stone of European policies in this field. The Austrian government, when it decided to close its borders – again today proposing relegation of refugees to the Greek or Italian islands, following the Australian model – have already signed up to the slogans of Norbert Hofer’s party.
“Migration compact 2.0” as proposed by Prime Minister Renzi, and broadly approved by the European institutions and by the Commission who proposed a similar plan on June 7, expresses precisely the same views: let’s help them in their own homes, mostly in Africa but also in Afghanistan, Pakistan or Iran, since the majority of asylum seekers and migrants originate from there. The EU-Turkey deal, agreed on March 7, represents the role model. It provides for a disbursement of funds for six billion euros to be paid in two tranches.
The Agreement (called in a meanly calculating manner “statement”, in order to bypass the approval of the European Parliament, always required when international treaties are at stake) is considered dangerous and potentially illegitimate by the UNHCR, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch: because its forced and collective returns towards Turkey violate the Geneva Convention and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (principle of non-refoulement)) according to which any asylum application has to be examined individually and not on the basis of belonging to a specific ethnic group or nation; because Turkey itself returns a considerable number of the migrants to the same war zones from whence (Syria) they had fled, without hesitating to shoot at Syrian fugitives who wish to reach Turkey.
Because Turkey has ratified the 1951 Geneva Convention on refugees, but with specific geographical limitations, so that Ankara is not committed to the protection of non-European refugees. In fact, Turkey has not ratified the Protocol of New York of 1967 which removed the previous restrictions to the recognition of refugee status, reserved until that date only for those who sought protection and asylum following events occurring before 1 January 1951. In other words, the state led by Erdoğan is not a “safe country”.
Anyway, the deal could collapse since, in exchange, Ankara has not yet obtained visa liberalisation for its citizens. It's Ankara who dictates the terms of the deal, not the European Union who badly needs the deal with Turkey.
This is the reason why the “statement” is deemed excellent by Italy and by the EU institutions. Indeed, following the suggestions made in “Migration Compact 2.0”, it is becoming the prototype for further agreements with a series of African states, as the best solution for dealing with the refugees’ issue.
Here are the four main objectives of the plan:
1) Development aid policies and economic cooperation shall be vigorously recommenced, but in strict – and extremely questionable – relation to borders and migrants’ management and in connection with generically identified security issues. Putting all these issues together is profoundly controversial from the point of view of international law.
2) Priority shall be given to 16 “strategic partners”: Algeria, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Libya, Mali, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan and Tunisia. Here comes the outrageous part of the proposal: the drafters of the “Migration compact” do not raise any concerns about the infringements of fundamental rights and the principle of non-refoulement that are taking place in some of those countries, such as Eritrea, Sudan, Libya, and even Mali, Ethiopia, Somalia.
3) Already, as of the European Council of 28-29 June, it is expected that an “extraordinary plan” will be adopted, also as suggested by the Italian government, which envisages agreements with seven “pilot-countries”: four countries of origin (Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal), two transit countries (Niger, Sudan) and one country of origin and transit (Ethiopia). This will represent the springboard for the new idea of development aid, providing for investments in social projects and infrastructures while making them subject to very stringent and “specific obligations” in the fields of military-police cooperation and the control of migratory flows, regardless of their nature, whether economic, political or environmental.
4) Finally, the issue of financing. The text refers to a sort of Juncker plan for Africa, on the basis that it has worked well for the EU (which it has not): the Union would make available 4.5 billion euros from its own budget as an incentive to private and public investments amounting to 60 billion euros.
These are the key elements of a plan that the Italian Government has been backing for a long time and that the Commission and the European partners (with Hungary leading the way) seem to appreciate. It's a development which actually has quite a long backstory. The turning point was the press conference held by the Commissioner for Migration, Dimitris Avramopoulos, during which he, breaking a taboo, affirmed: “[...] the fact that we cooperate in the framework of the Khartoum and Rabat process with dictatorial regimes, does not mean we do not legalise them. [...] We do not give them legitimacy, democratic and political legitimacy. But we have to cooperate in the field where we have decided to combat smuggling and trafficking [...]”.
This declaration has been followed by an escalation of “moments of truth” regarding European governance. The peak was reached on 25 January 2016 during an informal Council meeting of the Ministers of Justice and Home Affairs held in Amsterdam. Théo Francken, Belgian Secretary of State for migration, responding to a declaration made by his Greek counterpart Ioannis Mouzalas the day after to the BBC, would have suggested the following: “Push back migrants, even if that means drowning them”. The Belgian Minister has denied the statement. Mouzalas has repeatedly confirmed it.
Moreover, it is worth mentioning the declarations made by the highest representative of the European Council, the President Donald Tusk. I will quote some of them:
- 13 October 2015, letter to the colleagues of the European Council. He expressed openness towards Turkey (including support for the establishment of “safe zones” in Syria) and concern about open borders: “The exceptionally easy access to Europe is one of the main pull factors (for the influx of refugees)”. He made no reference to other reasons that can prompt the flight of refugees: wars caused or intensified by western countries, fierce dictatorship, mass expulsions of Eritreans by Sudan, environmental disasters and hunger provoked by the investments and extensive land-grabbing made by western enterprises.
- 22 October 2015, speech made during the Convention of the European People’s Party in Madrid: “We cannot pretend any longer that the great tide of migrants is something that we want, and that we are conducting a well thought-out policy of open borders”.
- 3 March 2016, appeal to all potential illegal economic migrants: “Do not come to Europe. Do not believe the smugglers. Do not risk your lives and your money. It's all for nothing”. I recall that the same phrase (It is all for nothing) was used in 2014 by the Australian government, one of the most criticised and cruel states as far as the migration and asylum policy is concerned.
“Migration compact 2.0”, together with similar proposals coming from Hungarian Prime Minister Orbán, represents a further stage in this steady escalation. Some days ago, on the eve of the G7 summit, Martin Selmayr, Head of Juncker’s cabinet, twitted: “#G7 2017 with Trump, Le Pen, Boris Johnson, Beppe Grillo? A horror scenario that shows well why it is worth fighting populism. #withJuncker.
Equating those names is a scam which was assuredly very much appreciated by Renzi, in light of the upcoming administrative elections in Italy and of the constitutional referendum which will take place in five months' time.
Above all, a fundamental question still remains: if it is important to fight against Le Pen and the far-right, why are we pursuing exactly their policies through EU-directives, agreements, statements, and the Migration Compact of Mr. Renzi?
This article originally appeared in Italian in il Fatto Quotidiano on June 6, 2016