April 18. 2024. 12:58

The Daily

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Populist rhetoric risks undermining progress on migration and asylum

We cannot risk another summer of infighting over Europe’s borders. That is why we need, first and foremost, European solutions to tackle the evident migration and asylum challenges faced by Europe, and not ‘Trumpist’ strategies, writes Stéphane Séjourné.

Renew Europe led the negotiation last year for a Joint Roadmap between the European Parliament and the Council, to undo the blockage and implement the Migration and Asylum Pact before the end of the parliamentary mandate. This is rightly a priority topic for EU leaders at the European Council this week.

Our message to voters is clear: We hear your concerns about migration and we are acting on them. Responsibility and Solidarity must go hand in hand. With the war raging in Ukraine that deserves our constant attention, we cannot risk another summer of infighting over Europe’s borders.

Yes to sustainable and efficient returns, yes to a well-managed border, yes to a European asylum policy that works. But let’s also remember that when addressing migration and asylum challenges, politicians have a responsibility to campaign on this issue with political maturity, respectfulness and seriousness.

In the past few days, there has been only one phrase on the lips of MEPs from the left and the right in Brussels: ”Build a wall”.

A strategy with ‘Trumpist’ overtones that looks very much like electoral opportunism risks blocking everything until the European elections of 2024, and it is also ineffective in reality. Brexit showed us that populist approaches can have unintended consequences.

The EPP, driven by the desire to secure political allegiances on the hard right, has decided to demand that the European Union finance the construction of walls on its external borders to fight illegal immigration.

Suddenly, gone are the serious and fundamental debates on mutualised databases. No more discussions on common asylum criteria! Build a wall, or not.

If this is the standard of debate, then one wonders whether these two major European political forces have no desire to find common ground between themselves and between the countries of the North and the South, after all.

The search for a compromise on reform risks being overshadowed by the big phrases and the shocking formulas. The Renew Europe group was alone in defending a transparent approach that combined greater control of external borders with better reception of refugees.

But why did Manfred Weber, leader of the European right, trigger such a clash?

He, who a few years ago mocked Trump’s wall, knows very well that the idea of such a wall is a blocking element in many capitals. But the smell of electoral fuel is too attractive.

In other words: to demand such a wall is to ensure that the asylum and migration system will never be reformed at the European level. To speak only of the wall is therefore to maintain a drama, which suits the electoral strategy of the right.

They are convinced that the European elections will be played out on migration issues. Why solve a problem that is electoral fuel?

Let’s be clear: although we will always favour European rather than national solutions, we do not wish to prohibit a country from building a wall or a fence on its border with a third country. But should such initiatives be financed by the European budget? Absolutely not.

The European project should primarily be about tearing down walls and creating efficient and legal pathways, not building new ones.

Of course, Europe must help financially and humanely those states on the front line, but the collective budget makes sense to send more border guards through Frontex, to provide countries with proper reception centres and databases to monitor people arriving on the territory.

This is not the first subject on which we have deep disagreements across the hemicycle. But our strength as European parliamentarians is that, in the end, we almost always find a way forward. Without reform, illegal flows increase and human dramas multiply.

It is time for the right-wing strategy to be exposed for what it is: a political manoeuvre.

Perhaps then, faced with a wall of consternation, its leaders will return to the negotiating table with a desire to build bridges. Instead of rhetoric and fairy tales, Renew Europe will focus on concrete delivery.