Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Europe's Porous Borders?

EU migration policy seem to be in a bit of a muddle right now. While some member states are positively "raining immigrants" like never before (Spain, the UK, Ireland, Greece) others are losing population at a more or less similar rate (Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Latvia, Lithuania) while yet others have more or less moderate flows (Italy, Portugal, Sweden, the Czech Republic) and others (France, Germany, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Estonia) are waking up to the fact that they might be missing out on something.

Over in Brussels EU justice and security commissioner Franco Frattini is aware that something is amiss, but the real issue is how to put together a policy which is acceptable to the differing needs and perspectives of 27 different member states (including, of course, Malta). When you have diversity and division on your hands, there is no simpler solution I suppose, then to look for the problem which unites everyone:

People smugglers are turning the European Union’s south-east frontiers into a hotspot for illegal migration, the EU’s security chief has warned. The Mediterranean is the most visible route for unlawful entry to the union, with thousands of Africans undertaking risky sea crossings each year in an attempt to reach southern Europe. But Mr Frattini warned that undocumented entry through the east was a further worry. “The illegal migrants coming from the east are very often victims of sexual exploitation, trafficking and forced labour,” he told the Financial Times. His comments highlight the challenge confronting the EU over migration, with a fractious debate about whether it can manage entry while also filling labour market gaps. About 500,000 undocumented migrants are thought to arrive each year.

Well, nearly everyone, there is, of course, as I have said, also Malta to think about:

The EU’s fledgling border control agency, Frontex, is running operations in southern coastal waters this summer as part of efforts to control migration from Africa. Mr Frattini said the patrols were having an effect, despite some member states failing to meet commitments to provide equipment. The operations were likely to become permanent there, he added. Since Frontex missions began in the Mediterranean in June, flows of illegal migrants had dropped by 40 per cent. People smugglers were worried about the agency’s patrols, he said. But critics question whether the operations simply push would-be entrants to try other routes. They also say that on the patrol near Malta, anyone rescued by Frontex would be taken to Europe for humanitarian reasons in any case.

And of course, what the FT fails to mention is that the part of Europe which Frontex would most likely have to take them would be Spain, since some other people seem to be so reluctant to accept their humanitarian responsibilities.

But as I say, this issue is reasonably easy to unite people on. All good people and true want to reduce the volume of migrant trafficing, and reduce to a minimum the human tragedy which is currently taking place almost daily off Europe's southernmost shores.

Yes, but how, that is the problem.

Two measures have been proposed. Firstly the Portuguese Presidency is proposing to hold an Africa-EU summit. This would be an initiative somewhat similar the the already existing EuroMed process (Although just one more time Nicolas Sarkozy seems to have his own idea about how to move this latter one forward).

Under the German presidency, efforts from 2006 were continued to strengthen economic development aid to African nations. By increasing the standard of living in Africa, most migrants will find incentive to remain. Many have stated that they do not particularly wish to come to Europe, but they see few other options.

Additionally, agreements have been made, with more on the way, between the European Union, individual EU nations and several African countries on a number of points. Portuguese Prime Minister, José Sócrates, who took over the rotating EU council presidency from Germany, inherits a number of these agreements and now must make further progress.

Fundamentally, in exchange for economic development aid, schools, security training, increased attention toward legal migration routes and job centers, African nations must agree to accept back their nationals who are deported from Europe, increase their own border security to reduce illegal travel, and take on the crime and corruption that is aiding the illegal migration trade.

A very significant step was made toward these goals last month by a delegation of Spanish business executives, with the cooperation and blessing of the Spanish government. They traveled to Senegal in a recruitment drive to establish training centers and to provide job contracts and visas for African nationals to work in Spain.

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