The European Council on Migration: an opportunity to build a new Europe
The European Union, a place where until a few years ago it was almost impossible to freely discuss the migratory drama, has decided to change course. If we can rise to this challenge, if we can truly show that ‘there’s strength in unity’, then there’s still hope for a greater future for the EU.
For the first time in too many years, we hope to see a new European policy on the dramatic issue of migration in our continent. The conclusions of the European Council of 9 and 10 February offer some interesting glimpses of how to tackle the migration crisis.
As Italian members of the Conservative political family, we have always pointed out that such an issue cannot be tackled by a nation state alone and that the Mediterranean migration crisis is a huge problem not only for our country but indeed for the whole of the Union.
It has taken years and years of work to show the left that caring for those who want to leave their countries in Africa doesn’t mean that we can welcome everyone into our countries and condemning most of them to a life of hardship.
We have to face the problem together at EU level and it’s absolutely remarkable that, thanks to the extraordinary efforts of the Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, the Council conclusions state that migration is a European challenge that requires a European response and that external borders must be managed to prevent irregular migration. To achieve this, the heads of States and Governments expressed their commitment to strengthening Frontex in its authentic mandate. But there is more: the Council stated that if a return decision is taken in one Member State, it must be fully recognised by the 27.
In essence, the European Council rightly decided to base its work, and consequently its conclusions, on three fundamental pillars: the need to focus on the protecting the borders against the illegal arrivals (primary movements) before dealing with the secondary movements, in order to avoid condemning the countries of first arrival to keeping all migrants, legal or illegal. In addition, the Council has managed to recognise the specificity of maritime borders, which clearly require greater commitment and coordination in order to be protected.
The second fundamental issue highlighted by the Council is the so-called “external dimension”, i.e. the need to develop a new model of cooperation with the third countries from which the vast majority of migrants originate and those through which they pass. The declared objective is, of course, to fight against human traffickers and to manage the migratory phenomenon by guaranteeing certain quotas and safe methods for those who have the right to be received in Europe, as well as strengthening the repatriation mechanism. However, we can’t be satisfied with this: to regain the important geopolitical dimension it deserves, the European Union has a duty to try to be an exceptional partner for the African countries, freeing them from the grip of major powers such as China.
The third and final issue is the regulation of the activities of NGOs, which must not be allowed neither to act outside the framework of national and Community law of to blackmail sovereign nations.
A few months ago, it would have been unthinkable to read this in an EU document. A certain narrative, which for years has pointed the finger at those who only wanted to play by the rules, has been swept away by the belated awareness of Europe’s highest institutions. The wind is changing across Europe: people and governments, from the right to the left, have opened their eyes and realised that the EU can only survive if we work together on the crucial issues of our time.
It’s true that these are just words for now. The work is not done, in fact, it begins now: as MEPs who care about secure borders and legal migration channels, we must continue to monitor and stimulate the Commission, even if we’re not part of the majority that runs the European institutions. And we must continue to strengthen the links between the different souls of the centre-right political spectrum, which is the natural beacon of a coalition that, as it happened in Italy with the birth of the government led by Giorgia Meloni, can also aim to lead the European Union.
But even today, in the face of what are for the moment only words, the political fact is undeniable: The European Union, a place where until a few years ago it was almost impossible to freely discuss the migratory drama in these terms, has probably decided to change its course. As Italians we can only be proud that we have shown that our line, presented with seriousness and common sense to the Council and the Commission, has achieved an important success which, at least in recent years, was certainly unknown.
And it is precisely on this type of dynamic that the work of our government and, looking at the continent, of all those governments that share a common vision and objectives on the issues that will characterise this decade will have to focus. In a geopolitical scenario in which the balance of power between the United States, Russia and China is becoming increasingly clear, the role of the European Union still makes sense, and perhaps it does more than ever. But to make the most of it to protect our people, we need to stop the usual bureaucratic folly that has bedevilled the EU for years and start developing a common vision on the big issues, including immigration as a priority.
If we can meet this challenge, if we can truly show that there is “strength in unity”, then, there’s still hope for a greater future for the EU. if not, if the ideologies that have so far marked the slow decline of our nations prevail, we’ll have lost yet another opportunity to build the Europe that our founding fathers dreamed of: a Europe united in diversity, capable of tackling the most problematic issues and representing a real opportunity for development for each Member State. This is a train we must not miss.