Is Europe betraying its own values with its refugee policy?

, by Theresa Bachmann, Translated by David Reichmuth

All the versions of this article: [Deutsch] [English]

Is Europe betraying its own values with its refugee policy?
How many European values are actually reflected in the EU’s migration policy? Image: CC0

Flight and migration are important to people engaged in the discussion about Europe – as seen in the citizens’ dialogue of the Union of European Federalists Germany in Halle/Saale. Here, Theresa Bachman provides her perspective on the EU, its principles and migration.

“The EU is a community of values.” – This sentence cannot only be found throughout the European treaties, EU representatives also regularly emphasise it when interacting with other global actors, such as China. Freedom, rule of law, human rights, democracy, cooperation and subsidiarity are supposed to be both the foundation of contemporary Europe and, at the same time, the guiding principles of its policy efforts.

Regarding the EU’s approach to the issue of refugees, however, there seems to be cause for doubt. Considering the criminalisation of civilian sea rescue efforts in the Mediterranean sea, the abysmal conditions in some refugee facilities and some EU member states completely refusing to accept any refugees, are European values being left to fall by the wayside? Such questions, among others, were discussed at the citizens’ dialogue of the non-partisan Union of European Federalists Germany on 30 August 2018 in Halle (Saale) where interested citizens were given the opportunity to talk to representatives of the European Commission, the German Foreign Ministry, the European Parliament, and others.

The mantra of fighting the causes of flight

It is often claimed that it is necessary for the causes of flight and migration to be combatted actively in the home countries of those migrants. The thought may seem obvious: If the local political and economic situation can be improved – be it on the African continent, the Middle East or elsewhere – there should be less of an incentive for people to flee to Europe. On this matter, European as well as national politicians and governments repeat the goal of reducing migration towards Europe as if it were a mantra.

Without any doubt, an active approach to combat causes of flight would be more than desirable. But what is done in terms of actual implementation? The close cooperation with African dictators is questionable at the very least. Both Germany and the EU transfer hundreds of millions of euros to Niger’s government alone, so that they may improve their border police’s equipment – to name an example. But is there any criticism of increasingly authoritarian structures, violence against the population, and restriction of press freedom? Not at all. A similar argument holds for the situation in Turkey. On the one hand, there are complaints about drastic regressions in terms of democracy since the failed coup d’état; but on the other hand, Europe cannot, or will not, forego Turkey’s assistance when it comes to the issue of refugees.

Collaboration on developmental work is no universal remedy

The representative of the European Commission in Germany, Richard Kühnel, provides the following argument in Halle regarding development policy: “There is no entity on earth that is investing more in reconstruction aid, humanitarian aid and developmental work than the European Union.” MEP Arne Lietz (SPD) provides a counterpoint: “Yes, we are the biggest investor, but we are not nearly giving enough.” Indeed, only 4 of the 28 EU member states are currently meeting the goal of spending 0.7% of their GDP on developmental aid. Furthermore, lack of transparency allows countries like Germany, for instance, to redirect some of these funds to finance asylum seeking processes. Efficient collaboration on developmental work can undoubtedly contribute to the elimination of causes of flight, but it must first be implemented and complemented by a fair trade policy.

A call for more humanity

Currently, there are few topics better suited to lay bare the deep inner dichotomy within the European Union than migration and refugee policies – as was also discussed with intensity at the citizens’ dialogue in Halle. The surge of right-wing populism and xenophobia all over Europe is, in part, certainly related to the reactions of national and European policy-makers to the refugee crisis. The Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, is by far not the only one holding the view that his country should not accept any refugees, as he made clear once more during a state visit to Italy.

Europe is sealing itself off. To the extent that even sea rescue in the Mediterranean is being criminalised and ships carrying refugees are refused landing at European harbours. How can this be reconcilable with the often invoked European values? “It is scandalous that humanitarian law is being violated right in front of our eyes. Europe is failing pathetically when it comes to sea rescue”, as Lietz also criticised. But there seems to be no form of large outcry despite the fact that time is pressing. Not merely, because the challenge seems to be diminishing, but also, and primarily, because Europe is sacrificing its common values in favour of short-term action and seems to prefer digging its own grave in the long run.

Of course this only constitutes one of many possible opinions on the refugee policy of the EU. As advertised on our webpage before the citizens’ dialogue event in Halle, it is the explicit goal of and the Union of European Federalists Germany to encourage readers to comment and discuss about European issues.

So, let’s discuss: Is Europe betraying its own values with its refugee policy? We look forward to reading your contributions!

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