The debates this week in the EU have mainly centred over allocating 120,000 migrants to all the countries in the EU save the UK. This has been a futile debate. It is quite clear far more than 120,000 people are bursting through the EU’s external frontier this year, so the agreement will be overtaken by far larger numbers long before it can be implemented. It is bizarre, as the migrants the EU lets in will have views of their own on where they wish to settle. It will not be possible to make a certain number live in each country against their will.
It is causing more damage to a fractious EU. Several eastern countries have no wish to be part of this mismanaged invitation to migrants to come. Officials and some of the leading politicians have fallen prey to the “We must be seen to be doing something”, even if that something is unrealistic or unhelpful. The result has been to highlight again the conflict between central EU power and the wishes of some of the entrapped member states who disagree with the policy.
The non UK EU needs to make a simple binary decision. Is it going to restore full control, including choice of policy for borders and migration to each member state? Or is it going to set an EU wide migration policy and take responsibility for the external border of the unified zone? The EU largely has the powers it needs within the Shengen area to set a common policy on grounds for accepting inward migration. The issue is, does it have the good will and support of the member states to enforce this? Is the EU itself going to offer more resource to the weakest parts of its common border, in Greece, Italy and the Balkans? Can the EU enforce its extended borders?
If the EU now wishes to limit numbers to anything like the 120,000 it is talking about, it will need to send out a very different new message. It will have to announce that the non UK EU will impose strict limits on total inward migration. To do so it will define categories of people who can qualify through asylum or other claim to gain legal entry. All others will be turned back at the border. It then needs to get on with enforcing its external frontier. In recent weeks EU leaders have sent out a wide range of differing messages, from a welcome to all through to tighter controls. Sometimes migrants have been offered free transport and passage, other times they have had to break through defended borders. No wonder the EU ends up in the current mess. It is not good for either the EU nor for the migrants.It lacks certainty. It lacks principle. It lacks realism.