After a summer of chaos, leaders from across the EU finally met on Wednesday to attempt to bring an end to the bickering and squabbling of Member States and to make some progress on resolving the migration crisis.
During this fractious meeting, Donald Tusk, President of the European Council warned leaders that without a concrete action plan, agreed upon by all 28 countries, we would witness a continuation of the chaos of this summer and put the European Union at risk.
The loss of border control
I, and the chairs of justice and home affairs committees from across the EU, also met on Wednesday in the European Parliament for the interparliamentary committee meeting 'A Holistic Approach to Migration'. Claude Moraes MEP, Chair of the LIBE Committee should be commended for creating this rare opportunity for national parliaments to work together.
While the conference's fitting title highlighted the need to address all aspects of this crisis, the broad spectrum of strongly opposing views only highlighted why it has, as yet, been impossible to work as one union to agree on a solution.
A lack of consensus and action has resulted in individual countries taking desperate, and in some cases unacceptable, measures to secure their own individual borders. We have seen complete closures from Hungary with an overnight roll-out of razor wire fences and police use of rubber bullets, and others such as Austria and even Germany temporarily stopping many people entering their countries, as their border forces buckle under the strain of hundreds of thousands of new arrivals.
Frontex, in the meantime, while best placed to take on this task, has played a disappointing role. The time for reform has come. The EU's recent announcement that Frontex would be given 54 per cent more funding, and take on more staff to deal with shortages on Europe's external borders is welcome. However, it will fail to address the problem unless Frontex itself is given new purpose, new benchmarks and a new direction. Its role also needs to be clearly set out in collaboration and agreement with the Member States whose borders it protects.
The Home Affairs Select Committee has been calling for Frontex to be given new powers and more resources for years, when we first began to see an increase in the number of people stowing themselves away in lorries to reach the UK.
Frontex's role in this crisis is only now being truly defined. The leaders' summit announced the creation of EU guarded 'hot spots' (in EU speak) for processing refugees entering through Greece and Italy. At the interparliamentary committee meeting of justice and home affairs committee chairs, Frontex's Director of Operations Klaus Rösler was absolutely right to say that we need to resister 100 per cent of those who arrive in the EU, but this is often repeated and not put into action. Frontex could be the vehicle to make this a reality.
When I met with the Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos, I argued that Europol is the missing link in this crisis, and that, alongside Frontex, it could offer huge benefits to the EU if it had adequate funding for the enormous task expected of it. We can continue to increase the powers, funding, and number of projects under Europol's control, however the UK, which is probably the best intelligence gathering service in Europe, must simultaneously share data and information with this crucial law enforcement body and other EU countries. After all, there is only one issue on which EU leaders are in absolute agreement: the need to tackle the people smugglers.
European countries must each recognise their own responsibility in helping to pool information to be a stronger force to fight the traffickers. We all have common goals and are attempting to work in partnership. Ensuring greater information-sharing must be the top of the leaders' agenda. Failing to do so will mean that Europol's impact in this crisis will be minimal.
There is a dangerous trend developing of a Dutch auction (or perhaps, in this case, German). Leaders across Europe, starting with Angela Merkel, have made high bids to take on huge numbers of refugees, and have urged other countries to follow suit. In reality, many others simply do not have financial resources like those of Germany to be able to cope with so many new people. This has forced them to make comparatively minuscule pledges to take in refugees.
Many countries argue that this is due to an unwillingness of their people to integrate newcomers, as they are not accustomed to doing so. Some strongly dispute the motives of those arriving, as the Hungarian Chair of the Legislation Committee, Dr. Gergely Gulyás, informed me that 90% of those passing through Hungary are not refugees, but migrants are from countries such as Kosovo, taking advantage of an opportune moment to blend in and reach the EU illegally. A clear, and substantial, divide in opinion is evident between the countries across the east and the west of the EU.
I saw this for myself at the interparliamentary committee meeting when the comments of Mario Morcone, the Head of the Italian Department of Civil Liberties and Immigration, that the stories of every person who reaches our shores should be heard, regardless of nationality, were met with enthusiastic applause from some, and with grumbles of disapproval from others. It appeared that the greatest divisions are emerging between Old and New Europe. To be frank, the countries who most recently joined the EU have been very clear that this was not something they signed up for.
Challenges of integration
A great deal has been said about stemming the flow of refugees and migrants trying to reach the continent, and about the numbers of people who will settle here, but integration of the arrivals is a fundamental issue which has not received the attention it requires.
What happens when a country like Germany attempts to integrate nearly a million people in the course of a single year? Who is going to integrate these new arrivals? There does not appear to be an answer, but this needs urgent consideration. Failing to act and allowing divisions to form within societies between new arrivals and current inhabitants could have disastrous consequences for the stability of a country. Germany, despite its significant and open offer, needs to understand that this will happen, but its lack of history in this area means it will need to look to others for help.
The UK has the best brand on integration. Our culture has been enriched by a steady increase of people from all over the world over a period of many years. No one in Europe celebrates their melting-pot nature in the way that we do. We have a role to play in showing other countries how to do the same.
The importance of Turkey
There have been repeated warnings in the past that failing to include Turkey in the strategy regarding people fleeing war-torn countries would leave us powerless if we were faced with a refugee crisis. That crisis has now been at our doorsteps for over a year and EU leaders have only just began to acknowledge this country's critical importance in helping to resolve it.
Turkey is one of the main passages for Syrians attempting to reach mainland Europe. Its camps are home to millions of people desperate to reach the EU. Turkey must, therefore, be given a seat at the EU's negotiating table, and its views given the same weight as those of the 28 Member States. The same should be said of other North African countries, aside from broken Libya. Countries such as Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria are also affected by this crisis. We simply cannot resolve it without them.
The desperate need for unity
EU leaders must put aside their differences and bring an end to political point scoring. We need to think seriously about the practicalities of integration of a million new arrivals and to remember the values of humanity and unity upon which the EU was formed. Real and lasting solutions cannot be achieved if 28 EU countries continue adopting their own piecemeal approaches. It is also important that politicians do not use the refugee situation for their own political gain.
National governments have a duty to work closely with, and to strengthen, Europol and Frontex, the two bodies which have the power to bring order to chaos. The crisis is deepening, and it will least for at least a decade. More than this, mass migration may well be the challenge of our generation.