High expectations were surrounding the European Union (EU) summit meeting , as leaders convened to deliberate about numerous issues, one of which was migration, a politically divisive and contentious topic that has led to the growing influence of far-right parties and soul-searching amongst Europeans.
Since the beginning of October, the world watched the drowning of young migrants seeking safety and security across the Mediterranean. The first boat capsized around early October due to an on-board fire, leaving hundreds dead in the shallow waters of the Mediterranean sea, which is slowly being dubbed the “new dead sea.” A week later, another boat suffered the same fate, this time due to Libyan authorities firing at it. Europeans are familiar with these relentless boat migration tragedies. In the past two decades, the region has witnessed 20,000 deaths at sea. According to Human Rights Watch, a renowned international organization pioneering efforts to protect the inviolable and sacred rights of peoples, for the past few years:
Arrivals by sea fluctuate from year to year, with a recorded high of over 60,000 in 2011, and between 1,500 and 1,800 deaths that year. Arrivals dropped in 2012, with around15,000 people making the crossing and at least 500 losing their lives in the attempt. But the numbers have increased significantly in 2013: over 35,000 people reached Italy and Malta in the first ten months of the year.
The Summit failed to do anything but create a debate in early December, followed by deeper talks in June 2014. The summit resulted in the creation of a “task force” which, according to the Wall Street Journal, comprised “of specialists from the European Commission, the EU’s executive, and the European External Action Service, the EU diplomatic agency, was ordered to deliver ‘concrete proposals for more-efficient use of existing funds’ in December on how to save lives along the EU’s southern and eastern sea borders, Mr. Van Rompuy said.” French President Francois Holland stated that “individual member states would dedicate more equipment like aircraft and boats to a collective effort to patrol the Mediterranean Sea.”
Of course, other major issues that were not discussed, such as implementing significant reforms to the current migration policy, quotas and burden-sharing, processing of migrants that have arrived, and cooperation with non-EU countries where migrants find their transit, were expected to be deliberated later this year.
Yet progress on any of these issues can easily face impediments as the EU has been known for its structural problems, especially when member states may not be too keen on cooperating on many of the issues on the agenda. When boat tragedies occur and shake the moral fabric of the EU, southern EU nations bear the brunt of the effects, as their desperate please for assistance from northern EU nations are ignored. The European Union for the most part attempted to unify in order to create regional peace, security and prosperity, yet despite their economic unity, they are greatly at odds in their political posturing. For example, when calling for migrant burden-sharing, Germany felt they were exempted as they have reportedly accepted large numbers of refugees from Africa and the Middle East than any other EU nation (see here); when it came to discussing the migration crises, it was Italy to lead the inclusion of such a topic in the summit, which was expected to be overwhelmed for by the recent revelations about the United States’ spying on its European Allies through its security apparatus, the NSA; and not to mention the overt disagreements between member states on the expanded role of EU’s border enforcement agency Frontex, as declared by the European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Cecilia Malmström.
The decision to delay a pertinent meeting that has had profound effects on the economic, political, and social dimensions of the EU is a profoundly asinine mistake. War in Syria has not ceased, the political instability in parts of northern Africa still persists, and economic hardship in the entire Mediterranean region continues unabated. The EU shouldn’t make it difficult for such a long-standing issue to land on its agenda, as happened in the past summit when Italy, along with fellow southern EU nation,s had to campaign hard for its inclusion. A creation of a common migration policy, with unity and cooperation at its core as well as respect for relevant human rights accords, is the necessary direction the EU must pursue, while also communicating with and ensuring that non-EU nations, which are the transit points for migrants, are likewise upholding and respecting the human rights of refugees and migrants that have been apprehended. This would amount to real progress.