Emmanuel Macron hopes for the asylum breakthrough – and offers tougher limits. But in the face of calls for fences and walls not even Nancy Faeser trusts his optimism.
Lille – Interior Minister Nancy Faeser continues to work on a “coalition of the willing” to take in refugees in the EU. But the SPD politician encounters resistance. Both at a meeting with EU colleagues in Lille and with the opposition in the Bundestag.
At the appointment in northern France on Thursday, worlds apparently collided – at least at one crucial point, the “solidarity” in the reception of refugees. With French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron, Faeser and the Ampel government have an influential ally at their side. But they are opposed by a group of no fewer than 16 states whose core demand is for fences and walls at the EU’s external borders to be financed from Brussels. Macron expressed his optimism. But not even Faeser wanted to live up to his optimism.
Asylum dispute in the EU: “Coalition of the willing”? Austria counters with “Alliance of the Reasonable”
Austria, among others, positioned itself as an opponent of the Franco-German plans. “We need stronger, more robust external border protection. This is the alliance of the reasonable,” said Austria’s Interior Minister Gerhard Karner (ÖVP) on the sidelines of the meeting.
“It’s shameful. The richest continent in the world would build barbed wire around its borders, maybe set mines on the sea, so that no one would come to Europe anymore.”
Faeser set a different focus: “It’s not just about demarcation. Germany still stands for an open, humane Europe,” said the SPD politician. “We are concerned with legal escape routes so that people don’t drown in the Mediterranean.” One wants to advocate that there are humane and constitutional solutions. Luxembourg’s Minister Jean Asselborn found clear words: “It’s really shameful,” said Asselborn. “The richest continent in the world would build barbed wire around its borders, perhaps set mines at sea, so that no one would come to Europe.”
The Schengen area – and Emmanuel Macron’s reform ideas
The Schengen Agreement has guaranteed freedom of travel in Europe since 1995. It is named after the Luxembourg town of Schengen in the border triangle of Germany and France. The huge visa-free zone now includes 26 European countries, including non-EU countries such as Switzerland and Norway.
But the Schengen rules have come under pressure: due to terrorist attacks, high numbers of refugees and most recently the corona pandemic, Germany, France and other member countries have reintroduced controls at their borders. The EU Commission allows this for a limited time in special situations.
French President Emmanuel Macron is pushing for a reform of the Schengen rules because of these threats. Under his country’s EU presidency in the first half of the year, he wants to reach a resolution for better control of the external borders and introduce “political leadership” for the Schengen area. Macron named a “Schengen Council” and a “response team for crises” as concrete measures – the latter probably also with a view to the crisis on the border between Belarus and Poland.
The EU Commission also advocates increased controls. She wants to make sure “that terrorists or other criminals do not enter our area undetected,” as EU Interior Commissioner Ylva Johansson says. According to an estimate by the EU border agency Frontex, around 39 million people entered the Schengen area uncontrolled last year.
Macron does not contradict the critics at all on some points. He also relies on significantly better protection of the EU’s external borders and the systematic control of arriving migrants. In this way, possible criminals should also be fished out. He also wants to accelerate the repatriation of people without a residence permit to their home countries. Faeser said they supported the French proposal.
There is a twist in the government’s idea in Paris, which is intended to build a bridge to countries like Hungary and Poland – which could also become a problem at the same time. Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said they wanted to increase the number of countries “ready to show solidarity”. Darmanin made it clear that this solidarity does not necessarily have to be expressed by taking on refugees, but could take the form of “financial support”. Nevertheless, countries that are willing to accept would probably have to be found in order to actually relieve countries that are heavily affected by migration, such as Italy or Greece.
Migration in the EU: Macron meets critics – but calls for fences and walls are growing
Macron also knows that the big hit will probably not succeed at first. Although he is an optimist, he does not believe in miracles, he said on Wednesday evening at a dinner with the interior ministers. After years of dispute, the EU states must first find trust in one another. That is why France wants to advance the negotiations step by step and take all interests into account. For Macron, the issue of migration is particularly important because it is expected that there will be several hard-liners on the issue among his competitors in the French presidential election in April.
The EU countries have been arguing about their migration policy for years. In essence, it is about the question of whether and how people seeking protection are distributed in the EU. Because there is no progress, the countries have recently focused primarily on better border protection and cooperation with third countries. France, which currently has the rotating presidency of the EU states, is now making a new attempt to bring movement into migration policy.
Basically, fences, walls and barbed wire are currently growing along the European borders. Poland has just started building a barrier five and a half meters high along its land border with Belarus. Most recently, 16 EU countries demanded that fences and walls at the external borders have to be paid for from the EU budget – there were also corresponding demands from the Union side in Germany. The EU Commission firmly rejects these demands.
Nancy Faeser: Twelve states in the “coalition”? Interior Minister doubts – CSU criticizes
The evening before, Macron spoke of twelve states “that would be on our side,” said Faeser. This assessment is perhaps very optimistic. “But I would share this optimism that we are actually making progress with some states.” Faeser did not want to commit himself to the number twelve even when asked. Her predecessor Horst Seehofer (CSU) had already tried to forge a similar coalition. He failed.
The CSU sharply criticized Faeser’s plans – also with a view to Seehofer’s experiences. It is now clear that a “coalition of the willing” will only work “when the EU’s external borders are protected, rejected asylum seekers are returned and further migration within the EU is prevented,” said Andrea Lindholz, Vice President of the Union faction. The criticism from Austria was foreseeable. What’s more, Faeser suggests an “additional willingness to accept people in Germany and Europe” that the population doesn’t even have. (dpa / fn / AFP)
Also interesting: Asylum in Europe – Migration expert Gerald Knaus sees a “last chance” for Europe.