An oasis in the desert
Welcome to EU Politics Decoded where Benjamin Fox and Eleonora Vasques bring you a round-up of the latest political news in Europe and beyond every Thursday. In this edition, we explain how the uses of the Temporary Protection Directive expose the EU’s double standards on migration policy.
Editor’s Take: An oasis in a huge desert
Europe has different souls, and sometimes they contradict each other. A case in point is migration.
On one hand, we have the welcome and inclusive EU opening its arms to the millions fleeing Ukraine, and promising food, work and shelter to those refugees as long as it is needed.
On the other, we have an EU that seems hellbent on closing its borders towards those coming from Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia.
The evidence of this contradictory approach lies in the Temporary Protection Directive, invoked following Russia’s invasion by the European Commission for the first time since it was passed, 20 years ago.
The extension of the directive was announced on Wednesday (8 March), four days after the anniversary of the triggering of the Directive. The Commission also said that if needed, the protection will be renewed again next year.
Under the directive, Ukrainians have a wide range of access to primary and secondary needs, such as health, housing, and jobs.
The directive has no connection with asylum applications, the management of which lies exclusively in the hands of member states.
Generally speaking, the EU showed what can be done when an ambitious response is given to a crisis, or “not even a crisis”, as EU migration Commissioner Ylva Johansson told Euronews.
However, the Commission has explained on more than one occasion that the Directive will not be applied to other cases of mass displacement. In late November, when Johansson announced the Commission Action Plan for the central Mediterranean, the EU executive said that it was “unlikely” that the Directive would be triggered for people escaping from Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia.
“It has never been used until now. So, it is of course for very special situations like the one that we have right now in Ukraine. I cannot really see that this is used for all different kinds of situations,” the Commissioner said.
Also in November, Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar, who chairs the European Parliament’s civil liberties committee, told EURACTIV that the Parliament had called for the Directive to be applied for other occasions.
“We called consistently at the European Parliament to activate the Temporary Protection Directive in 2015, during the refugee crisis. We did it when the Taliban made it back to power against defenceless women fleeing to Europe. And we did it again in the Ukrainian situation. And for the first time, the Council decided in early March ,” he told EURACTIV.
These humanitarian crises met the criteria needed to trigger the Directive but there was no political will among EU governments to do so. Such double standards weaken both the law and the EU’s credibility.
They are creating support for those affected by the Russian invasion, which is great, and shows the noble soul of Europe. But this is an oasis. An oasis in the middle of a huge desert, enlarging, with no sign of change on the horizon.
Chart of the week
The maps below show the distribution of people in the EU territory who obtained the EU Temporary Protection and the population density in each member state.
Who is electioneering
Estonians stick with the centre-right. Estonians have given centre-right leader Kaja Kallas another term in government, following elections that saw Kallas receive more personal votes than any politician in the country’s history.
Frontex-Italy sequence of events before shipwreck remains unclear. Many shadows persist in the sequence of events between the Frontex interception of the migrant boat on 25 February, which eventually sank close to the Italian coast.
During the interception, Frontex said that it told Italian authorities that the boat “might be carrying a large number of people” due to different signals detected.
However, Italian authorities started a law-enforcement operation by sending two patrol boats – and not a search-and-rescue one. The Italian government kept insisting that “no distress signal arrived from Frontex”, while Frontex is saying that the distress assessment is a government competence.
UK bids to halt small boat crossings. The UK has set out plans in a new Illegal Migration Bill to prevent small boats carrying potential migrants and asylum seekers and forcibly returning them in a new bill denounced as ‘illegal and inhumane’ by advocacy groups.
PM bids to shake up politics with new party. Slovakia’s interim Prime Minister Eduard Heger has announced that he and a group of senior ministers will form a new Democrats party to contest September’s general elections.
Heger announced his departure from the Ordinary People and Independent Personalities on Monday (6 March), and announced his new party for the following day, bringing Environment Minister Ján Budaj, Defence Minister Jaroslav Naď, Economy Minister Karel Hirman and Foreign Minister Rastislav Káčer with him.
Hungarian MPs back Nordic NATO bids, but timeline remains vague. A delegation of Hungarian lawmakers has made it clear that they support NATO accession for Sweden and Finland, but have refused to confirm when a parliamentary vote will be held.
Inside the institutions
Rule of law in Greece on edge, say MEPs. The rule of law situation in Greece is on the edge, with an increase in threats against journalists, and severe shortcomings in the justice sector, a European Parliament delegation, led by Dutch liberal Sophie in ’t Veld, has concluded.
Von der Leyen outlines EU migration priorities. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has set out details of the EU’s plans for a series of ‘cash for migrant control’ partnerships with North African countries in a letter which praised Italy’s response to the irregular migration crisis to Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.
EU debt and deficit policing to return in 2024. The Commission has scrapped the general escape clause that has suspended the use of the EU’s fiscal rules on debt and deficits since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, announcing that it will launch ‘Excessive Deficit Procedures’ against states in breach from spring 2024.
Hungary to go to EU court over education bill. Hungary’s justice minister has announced plans to take a case to the European Court of Justice to defend a controversial education law that the EU says discriminates against people on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
What we are reading
The Guardian urges UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak not to embrace ‘shabby populism’ with his new immigration law.
Tim Ogden asks whether Georgia is having its own euromaidan moment in Unherd.
The Economist reckons that French President Emmanuel Macron’s vision of a more muscular Europe is becoming reality.
The next week in politics
MEPs will decamp for their monthly Strasbourg plenary session with legislation on carbon emissions and land use on the menu.
Meanwhile, EU leaders will prepare for the next summit in Brussels on 24 March, while European Council President Charles Michel will address MEPs in a debate ahead of the summit on Thursday (16 March).