The European Council meeting in Brussels dedicated only ten minutes to the immigration file, a topic that Mario Draghi and the Spaniard Pedro Sanchez wanted to include on the agenda of this last summit before the summer break. Ten minutes, enough to adopt the draft conclusions without changes and above all without debate among the 27 leaders. At the beginning of the discussion, which then, did not take place, the President of the European Council Charles Michel asked Draghi if he would like to intervene. The Italian Prime Minister said that he has nothing to add to the draft conclusions prepared before the summit, following the bilateral agreement with Angela Merkel in Berlin last Monday and the contacts made with Brussels. And so, at the Europa building, the immigration dossier becomes a sort of parenthesis between the long discussion on the covid-19, which opens the proceedings, and the talks on the Hungarian anti-LGBTQ law, with a sort of trial to Viktor Orban still ongoing.
The EU Council conclusions focus on the need to intensify partnerships and cooperation with countries of origin and transit as an integral part of the European Union’s external action. The text promises a pragmatic, flexible approach and tailor-made, and invites the European Commission to present action plans for priority countries of origin and transit in autumn 2021, with clear objectives, further support measures, and concrete timelines. As expected, the text does not mention the redistribution of arrivals from North Africa to other European countries. As expected, the Turkey chapter, namely the renewal of the agreement with Erdogan to curb flows from the Balkans directed mainly to Germany, is dealt with as a separate topic, at dinner, with the invitation to the Commission to present a concrete proposal immediately within a few weeks.
Two weights, two measures. Also, dictated by the fact that the agreement with Erdogan, desired by Angela Merkel after the migrant emergency of 2015, rests on more solid foundations: the Ankara stability and the fact that it is a pact already made, only to renew. It is also for the German pressing that the dossier will follow a faster track: the European Parliament could approve it t by July. The Commission has already prepared a document with the figures for the new pact on immigration from the East. There is a total of 5.7 billion euros which will be divided as follows: 3.5 to Turkey, 2.2 between Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan.
The final text adopted by the European summit stresses that all routes should be addressed and based on a global approach, addressing root causes, supporting refugees and displaced persons in the region, developing migration management capacities, eradicating the smuggling and trafficking, strengthening border control, cooperating on search and rescue, tackling legal migration in compliance with national competences and guaranteeing repatriation and readmission.
But the routes from Africa, as we know, are more complicated to manage. Even this summit does not find a solution but postpones the dossier to the autumn when Ursula von der Leyen will present her proposal which should reserve 10 percent of the resources of the new Neighborhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDCI) fund to the immigration. There is talk of almost 8 billion euros (the fund is based on a total of about 80 billion). The approximately 6 billion euro for immigration from the east will not all be taken from here: the Commission plans to reorganize the entire budget dedicated to the issue, which is why we do not yet know exactly the figures that will be dedicated to Africa and would be few the 2 billion that would remain from the NDCI if the resources for the eastern routes were drawn only from this fund. They also realize this in the Commission, we learn.
Pending the von der Leyen proposal, the leaders have not yet set a date for a new discussion on immigration in the next six months. Today’s tasting served to bring the dossier back to the menu of the European Council, something that hadn’t happened since 2018. But it only opened a path, without touching the issue of relocations of those arriving on the Mediterranean coasts. “Still divisive” theme, also acknowledges Draghi.
“Although the measures taken by the EU and the Member States have reduced overall irregular flows in recent years, developments on some routes raise serious concerns and require continued vigilance and urgent action,” is the maximum allowed by the text adopted by the 27. None of the leaders took the floor to speak.Dissatisfied the President of the European Parliament David Sassoli, although he recognizes that “the renewal of the agreement with Erdogan on Syrian refugees is a priority.” “Parliament does not want to be satisfied – Sassoli said at a press conference after the traditional speech to the leaders – Parliament is working on the measures of the new Pact on immigration”, presented by the European Commission in June but neverdiscussed in the European Council, not even today. It is a plan that asks member countries to show solidarity with border states in welcoming refugees, alternatively, they must deal with repatriation: it is not a mandatory mechanism but it is already something. “We are ready to negotiate, the matter is sensitive and we understand the reasons, but it is not morally acceptable that the dossier is linked to the electoral events of the Member States. We are always reminded that this is not the time because it has an impact on the electoral campaign, how long have we been hearing it? I think it is no longer acceptable.”
But it is the reality. The German electoral campaign ahead of the September elections blocks the discussion not only on African immigration routes but also on the banking union, for example, this issue too is postponed to autumn. And in the spring of 2022, there are the presidential elections in France. In the meantime, however, the dossier becomes more complicated, new emergencies are growing.
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda arrives at the Council with fiery declarations against Belarus. “We know that Minsk is full of Iranians, Iraqis, Syrians waiting for Lukashenko to open the borders to send them to Europe – he says – We have proposed sanctions against Belarus to stop a regime that is becoming more and more cynical and brutal”. In other words, Nausėda speaks of blackmail by a third state towards Europe. A bit of what happened between Morocco and Spain in the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in May, with the move by the Rabat government to open the borders in retaliation against Madrid. A bit like what happens with Erdogan and the Balkan routes and maybe even with the Libyans, only in these cases the blackmail is less declared.
Complications are intertwined with the debate on relations with Russia, both for its presence in Libya and for Putin’s relations with Lukashenko. But the will of France and Germany to organize an EU-Russia summit in the autumn remains firm. “Because we cannot watch helplessly in the dialogue between the US and Moscow”, explains Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, in agreement with Merkel and Macron. Draghi is also on the same line. “The European position must remain united and firm towards Russia”, says the premier. There is a need to cooperate where possible, but to maintain extreme frankness on issues such as the violation of rights, limitations of freedoms, and interference in the functioning of democratic institutions, without cutting off all communication channels with Moscow. Draghi, therefore, communicates Italian readiness to support the Franco-German proposal to revise the meeting formats with Moscow. The Eastern countries and Dutch Mark Rutte are against: “Okay if the two EU presidents Meet Putin, but I will not participate in an EU summit with Russia.”