The dispute over migrants: the outer walls of the Union divide the community internally

  • EU diplomats are not even able to determine what exactly is at stake
  • Should the Union finance border barriers? Are the barriers effective in controlling Europe’s borders? Is Europe to present itself as an open or closed continent?
  • Building walls that their opponents denounce as “Fortress Europe” – a term used by the Nazis – is no longer a political anathema, writes the author
  • 12 countries called on Brussels to finance border walls and not punish push back, but European Commission is against
  • And he will probably not change his position when he will present a review of the regulations governing the borders of the Schengen area, the EU passport-free area at the beginning of next month

Original article on POLITICO.eu website

The EU’s attitude towards border walls is changing.

The border debate has flared up in earnest, fueled both by memories of the sharp clashes that broke out as more than a million asylum seekers arrived on the shores of Europe, and the growing nationalism and, more recently, the passionate actions of Belarus, which brought several thousand migrants to its eastern end Union.

The debate is so divisive that EU diplomats cannot even figure out what exactly is at stake. For many, the question is whether the Union should finance border barriers. For others, the question is whether barriers are the most effective means of controlling Europe’s borders, which is a key question as the Union seeks to be seen as a mainstay of security. And for others it is an existential question: will Europe present itself as an open or closed continent in the future?

These questions need answers. Border barriers are rising and the European Commission is under increasing pressure to help. In October, 12 EU countries called on the Commission to fund barriers “as a priority issue”. This coalition included a rather strange company – from socialist Denmark to conservative Poland – which shows the changing dynamics on the continent.

Simply put, building walls that NGOs and their opponents have denounced as “Fortress Europe” – a term also used by Nazi propagandists – is no longer such a political anathema.

This expression, in the words of one EU diplomat, “is becoming less and less negative”.

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Hungary is gaining allies

The number of countries pushing the Union to finance fences has grown in recent years.

Following the surge of Syrian refugees in 2015, Hungary and its prime minister Viktor Orbán, champion of hard-line migration advocates, waged an almost lonely campaign to obtain funds from Brussels to fence the country’s southern border with Serbia and Croatia.

Currently, Hungary is only one of many, even joined by countries hitherto unknown to their strict migration policy.

Lithuania, which led a group of 12 in a letter to the Commission, is building the barrier on 502 out of 678 km. its border with Belarus. He wants the EU to pay a bill of EUR 152 million.

Other countries in the group have united on funding, even though they differ on other migration-related issues. Greece, for example, signed the letter despite supporting the mandatory redistribution of asylum seekers across the community – an approach to which Hungary strongly opposes.

Several diplomats said the rise was part of a broader shift in attitudes to migration, which could also force the community to review international rules that prohibit pushback, the illegal practice of returning asylum seekers if it endangers their lives and denying them their rights to apply for protection.

In its letter, a coalition of 12 states emphasizes the need to “adapt the existing legal framework to the new reality”.

So far, however, the Commission is not inferior to the European Parliament. One EU official said there was an “agreement in principle” between the two institutions to avoid funding barriers.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was adamant last month on this issue: “There will be no financing for barbed wire and walls,” she said after the European Council summit. Commission officials underline that a large amount of funding has already been allocated to support border management, as well as to high-tech management tools such as surveillance cameras.

But the mood in Parliament may change.

The largest group in the house, the center-right European People’s Party (EPP), has spoken in favor of funding the EU’s border barriers.

– We, as the EPP, demand that EU funds be available to finance such activities in an emergency, said EPP president Manfred Weber.

However, the second-largest group in Parliament, the Socialists and Democrats, opposes the practice.

EU seal of approval?

The most difficult problem is not the money, but the international seal of approval it requires.

“They only want the Union flags on their fences,” one official said, arguing that such barriers “are usually just useless” because they can be climbed or circumvented.

The Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Gabrielius Landsbergis, did not agree with this. On Monday, he called the country’s fence “a heavy burden on our budget and we would definitely prefer to use this money for another purpose.”

The Lithuanian barrier is not only for Lithuanians, he emphasized, but protects the entire community against Belarus. The EU accused Belarus of luring migrants from the Middle East to Minsk and then pushing them to the EU border – in the opinion of the community this is a “hybrid attack” that uses migrants as a weapon in retaliation for EU sanctions.

“We are building a barrier between the European Union and a regime that is ready to put pressure on the Union,” Landsbergis said.

The country should not bear the burden on its own, say its supporters, as the migrants will eventually make their way to Germany, the Netherlands or Belgium.

When EU leaders met last month, it was a topic that featured prominently in their discussions on migration. It was also on the agenda of the EU ambassadors’ meeting earlier this week.

But while the coalition is building support, the EU’s biggest powers remain hostile to EU-funded walls – and in some cases, to wall-building itself.

“I am for a Europe that protects its borders, but not for a Europe that puts up barbed wire or walls,” French Minister for European Affairs Clément Beaune said in a TV interview earlier this week, in response to Poland’s plans for border barriers.

In Germany, only the outgoing Interior Minister Horst Lorenz Seehofer seems open to the idea of ​​border barriers. Diplomats do not expect the new German government, led by the center-left in a coalition with the Greens, to support EU funds for the construction of the wall.

The discussion has reached an impasse, say diplomats. Despite pressure from member states, they do not expect the Commission to change its position when it presents a review of the rules governing the borders of the Schengen area, the EU passport-free area early next month.

Six Berlin Walls

Regardless of EU funding, Europe continues to build walls.

A recent report showed that, since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, European countries have erected some 1,000 km of land barriers, which is equivalent to six Berlin Walls.

As their construction accelerated, the Commission softened its rhetoric. In fact, she even endorsed this practice on certain occasions.

When Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson visited Lithuania in August, she called the country’s border barrier “a good idea”. A year earlier, von der Leyen praised Greece for being “Europe’s shield” as it expanded the fence along the border with Turkey.

This is a complete shift from just five years ago, when von der Leyen’s predecessor, Jean-Claude Juncker, condemned the building of the wall by Greece.

“No fence or wall is high enough to deter these people from coming to Europe,” Juncker said about the fence between Greece and Macedonia.

There is still a law

Political rhetoric aside, border barriers also have a controversial legal aspect.

Last week the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, drew attention to himself, saying that an advisor to the Council’s Legal Service said it was “legally possible” for the Union to finance border barriers as long as fences are managed in line with EU law.

Respect for the law is a source of friction in many countries on the EU’s periphery, from Croatia to Greece.

The latter are one of the few EU border countries accused of carrying out push back operations, which are illegal under international codes such as the Geneva Convention. Faced with similar allegations, Poland simply passed a law that makes this practice lawful. Warsaw has also denied the EU’s Frontex agency access to the Belarus border, where Polish authorities are using water cannons and tear gas to repel migrants.

Despite criticism of alleged push backs from other EU members, one official announced that if forced to choose between protecting the Geneva Convention or the borders of the EU free travel zone, we would “abandon Geneva”.

This means that the entire debate about EU-funded fencing “is the wrong debate,” said Gerald Knaus, chairman of the European Stability Initiative think tank.

– The problem is not the wall, the problem is the EU law applied at the borders – he said. – And what I think would be a constructive turn in this debate is to say that the European Commission can finance all types of border surveillance that are legal, but only if it is verifiable that EU law is applied at the border.

As another official put it: “If this is a Fortress Europe, it must have windows and bridges.”

Editing: Michał Broniatowski

About Banner Leon

Videogames entered his life in the late '80s, at the time of the first meeting with Super Mario Bros, and even today they make it a permanent part, after almost 30 years. Pros and defects: he manages to finish Super Mario Bros in less than 5 minutes but he has never finished Final Fight with a credit ... he's still trying.

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