Speech by Brian Hayes MEP to the Institute of International and European Affairs, Dublin 16th October.
The failure of Europe to find agreements and to act decisively on the question of refugees attempting to come to Europe has the potential to dismantle the EU from within.
It is the toxic issue that could within 5 years bring the European Union to its knees. It challenges the basic principal of Europe – the free movement of people. If Schengen were to go it would bring about the end of the European Union. If Europe cannot resolve its differences on this question, if the EU cannot act as one, there is little hope that it can act on any other major international issue. Be under no illusion that the European sceptics see migration as their chance to blow up the EU from within. By prevaricating and constantly being behind the political curve, we play into their hands directly.
I believe that on the question of migration, this issue is literally going to change the world. Europe either tries to manage the issue or it will manage Europe.
The debate so far in Europe is characterised by a failure of leadership. By a failure to act together. By a failure to properly engage with the realities of the world. Chancellor Angela Merkel has shown extraordinary leadership in attempting to confront the challenge of migration. She has been in the minority of European leaders when it comes to this issue.
In my view the EU Council’s response so far has been flat footed. They have responded to events and have failed to get ahead of events. In May and June both the EU Commission and the Parliament agreed the measures that were necessary. It took the Council until September to come up with a response and even then the response was lacking in coordination.
I welcome last night’s agreement in principal concerning the role of Turkey in trying to stem the flow of migrants coming to Europe. Here again the Council can only be judged on action. Turkey is a key state in the region in that so many displaced people use Turkey as a way in to Europe. Turkey needs the support of Europe and that support should be wholeheartedly given.
This issue will not go away just because the waters of the Mediterranean turn cold from the onset of winter. People will still come to Europe. They will find new routes and even more dangerous journeys to take.
Angela Merkel gave a stark message to the European Parliament in Strasbourg last week. She said in forthright terms that Fortress Europe will not work. As someone born from behind the Iron Curtain, she said that building walls and fences will resolve nothing. People will simply go around them to find a new route into Europe. And isn’t it something of the ridiculous that the very leaders who challenged communism in Eastern Europe 25 years ago and tore down the walls and fences of oppression now want those walls erected again to stop people entering free Europe.
The EU represents 7% of the world’s population. We are 500 million people and outside of our borders some 6.5 billion people live in other parts of the world. The EU represents 20% of the world’s GDP and 50% of all social spending in the world occurs in the EU. This year, 2015, 90% of the world’s growth is occurring outside of the EU. The numbers speak for themselves. The current model of Europe is not sustainable in the long run unless the issue of migration is confronted.
Europe is getting older, less competitive and emerging from the financial crisis at a much slower pace in comparison to the USA.
In any understanding of the real problems that confront Europe, from slowing growth to demographic pressures, it is obvious that the EU needs to attract people from outside of Europe to Europe. That’s either going to done in a planned way or in a chaotic way, as is happening now.
The EU has not only international responsibilities to help refugees fleeing wars in Syria or Iraq, but it has a real economic interest in adding to our existing population. The problem is that European citizens are not hearing these arguments. And that’s where real leadership across the EU is badly required.
Ireland is a case in point. Twenty years ago we had a labour force of 1.1 million people. That nearly doubled as the economy grew to 2 million people at work. The amazing turn around in Ireland’s economic performance, even with the economic crises, could not have happened without inward migration. If Europe wants the very social market economy continuing for future generations, then increasing our population is a crucial requirement.
I’m not suggesting for a moment that we have an open door policy. That would be as irresponsible as doing nothing. We have to recognise that population growth in Africa over the next 30 years will see an additional 1 billion people being born in that continent. That’s twice the size of Europe! The population of Nigeria is expected to exceed 400 million by 2050 – nearly the size of Europe. The pressures of population growth in other parts of the world will inevitably bring more people to Europe. We need to turn it to our advantage.
We have no reason to be smug in Ireland on this question. While the problems in the Mediterranean this year are many miles away from Ireland, we have to do much more. We need a big national debate on migration and an honest discussion on our responsibilities as a rich country that has benefitted from EU membership.
The truth is that the level of non-EU citizens, as either refugees or economic migrants, being given the right to stay in Ireland has been very small. The truth is that our asylum procedures are very conservative and very slow. The truth is that keeping people in reception centres for years and preventing people from working is no solution. While I welcome the government’s commitment, which I know to be genuine, to take an additional 4,000 people as part of the wider EU plan on resettlement, we should be prepared to review this number as the situation develops.
There is no doubt that in the months and years ahead Ireland will be asked to take several thousand refugees. We must now start planning for that reality. Providing for the immediate needs of refugees is best done at local level. Direct provision in large centers is bureaucratic, expensive and does not result in good outcomes. Provision for refugees is best provided at local level.
I believe that each local authority in the country should now be tasked with establishing a refugee settlement committee. Under the direction of the local authority the resources of local communities, Church groups, voluntary organisations and individuals willing to help could be more effectively mobilised than some centralised scheme.
While funding will be needed from central government, local effort and local engagement may result in better outcomes for all. Housing refugees across the whole country with more prosperous communities being asked to contribute more is a fair approach to the situation.
But we should also be prepared to lead with others within the EU. Yes Ireland is small but we carry significant influence because of our recent history. We have to work with other likeminded countries – lead rather than follow.
Europe needs to do a lot quickly on this issue.
-There can be no back tracking on the commitment to take 160,000 people under the existing plan. No backtracking on the new funding from either the EU budget or from member states.
-The move towards binding quotas for the resettlement programme must happen.
– We need agreement on what countries constitute a safe returns policy for those who are not fleeing from wars or persecution. That safe return policy has to be coordinated and paid for at a European level.
– More naval vessels are required and more support for Frontex is badly needed.
– We need to find a workable replacement to the Dublin convention which is no longer fit for purpose.
– Europe should work towards a common green card for migrant workers which would apply across the 28 member states.
– The EU must provide extra funding for the UN Refugee Agency so that support can be given in need of humanitarian aid.
– Plans to establish an EU border guard should also be advanced.
The EU is good at many things. That’s especially the case when it comes to development aid and humanitarian relief. Europe leads where others follow. But on providing a pathway to new citizenship of non-Europeans, we have failed miserably.
It took a 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi’s lifeless body washed up on Turkish shoreline to eventually provoke some action. That image led to a change of heart across Europe.
Europe badly needs a common approach and a plan that is built on solidarity, inside and outside of the EU. The blame game must come to an end. From a continent that witnessed the displacement of millions of people as a consequence of two world wars, Europeans cannot be allowed to forget their past. The same values that brought Europe together after World War Two, tolerance, respect for diversity, freedom and multilateral action, are the values that Europe needs to show now.
The EU can move at a snail’s pace at times. It’s an outcome of the system where 28 member states are involved. But when it moves the effects can be dramatic. For many Germans, their decision to take so many refugees is a way of Germany highlighting its history but also its new place in the world. There are also economic reasons given Germany’s demography. But one thing is certain, its willingness to offer a home to the refugees of Africa and the Middle East, is in stark contrast to the fortress attitude of many in Europe. We could learn a lot from their example.