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European Council: Tusk certifies populism and fears. Migrations: EU leaders have the last word

The meeting of EU heads of Government and State of June 28-29 is called to address delicate, urgent issues ranging from migratory inflows to economic governance, from Brexit to common defence. But the issue of migrant boats and ships arriving from Africa sparks off controversies among Member countries, with debates marked by closures and national interests (i.e. egoisms). Citizens await answers that can be delayed no more

The European Council taking place next June 28-29 in Brussels revolves around fear. On the one side, there are objective concerns of European citizens with respect to the migration issue. By dint of fanning the flames, fuelling emotional response and phobia (also for electoral purposes) without providing concrete answers to the problem, the perception of migratory flows has become a major problem of Italians and Germans, Brits and Poles, Greeks and even of the Swedish and Irish population. It overshadows all other real and incumbent problems, including unemployment and terrorism, while migrant arrivals into Europe have starkly decreased over the last period – as attested by all official sources. Moreover, fears are gnawing the same political leaders, faced by the inability to address the tragedy of peoples fleeing from war or poverty they are divided, they dodge their own responsibilities (buck-passing, in technical terms), putting the blame on each other…while sitting on laurels.

On these grounds, it is unlikely that the ongoing summit will deliver concrete proposals. Or rather, sketched-out buffer-solutions could emerge, were it only to allow each of the Heads of Government and State and government to flaunt some kind of result upon their return home. But once again, modest political and electoral interests are likely to prevail, failing to address the origins of the flows and their control, without providing a dignified response to people who risk being swallowed up by the sea, without laying the foundations for shared solidarity and joint responsibility of migratory pressures in European headquarters. It was reiterated by the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, who on June 27 sent an invitation letter to EU28 leaders ahead of the summit. Far from being a formal letter, it states, inter alia: “More and more people are starting to believe that only strong-handed authority, anti-European and anti-liberal in spirit, with a tendency towards overt authoritarianism, is capable of stopping the wave of illegal migration. If people believe them, that only they can offer an effective solution to the migration crisis, they will also believe anything else they say.” Tusk added: “There are voices in Europe and around the world claiming that our inefficiency in maintaining the external border is an inherent feature of the European Union, or – more broadly – of liberal democracy”.  He went on: “We have seen the creation of new political movements, which offer simple answers to the most complicated questions” and “the migration crisis provides them with a growing number of arguments.”

Moreover, Tusk certified that populism – which several leaders present in Brussels foment and willingly fuel – is a reality, a widespread malaise that invades the summit, compelling those present to sketch out some kind of solution to migration. Such solutions have not been found for the past ten years. “The stakes are very high. And time is short”, Tusk underlined. In the attempt to indicate a way to overcome the deadlock, he proposed three draft-solutions, namely, disembarkation centres (“regional platforms”) outside Europe; increased cooperation with Countries of origin (with a focus on the Libyan Coastguard to patrol the Mediterranean sea); creation of a dedicated financial facility in the next multiannual EU budget geared towards combating illegal immigration. Thus, proposals that included a 40-billion “Marshall Plan” for Africa’s development, a consistent asylum-system reform (thereby overcoming the principle of the First Country of Arrival), the mandatory redistribution of migrants, legal migration corridors, are now off the table…

Thus the appeals and the efforts of EU Commission and Parliament to resolve the migration phenomenon fell by the wayside. EU28 solidarity, in support of the more exposed Countries such as Italy, is buried in the folds of diplomacy. The gaze on the future of a Europe that has no children and that needs young generations, talents and energies from other continents is sacrificed in the name of politicians’ fear of losing consensus. Those are somewhat the fears brought to Brussels by Angela Merkel (who is risking a government crisis over migration policy), Giuseppe Conte (pressed by his Interior Minister to take hard line with the other EU27 leaders), Emmanuel Macron, Pedro Sanchez and all the others. Each claim their own reasons, raise walls, (the Central-Eastern Prime Ministers have become the emblem), reassuring their constituents that “refugees will not set foot here.”

But if the only purpose of the summit is to shift the “burden” of migrants on others, what will be the outcome of the summit re the other items on the agenda? The latter include defence and common security, economic governance (reforming EMU, strengthening, the European stability mechanism, Banking Union), Multiannual Financial Budget, Brexit. Modest results or strategic delays are to be expected, only to hear each leader put the blame on “Europe who fails to act or take decisions.” Finding a scapegoat to get a clear conscience is a vice of humanity from the dawn of time: but this does not solve the problems on the ground, it does not deliver the results that citizens anxiously expect, it does not pave the way to reform and revive the EU, which all Member States, whether or not they admit it, need in the global era. Negative forecasts? There remains the strong hope to be proven wrong.

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