the-brief,-powered-by-the-martens-centre-—-weaponised-refugees-are-the-casualty-of-division

Being shouted at by politicians is part of being a journalist and some reporters even claim to like it. Either way, on Tuesday, Dutch reporter Ingeborg Beugel became the latest to feel the wrath of an angry leader.

Riled by Beugel’s urging that he “finally stop lying about pushbacks” to stop migrants entering Greece, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis lost his temper at a press conference with Dutch counterpart Mark Rutte and gave her a piece of his mind.

It must have been fun to watch it live.

Embarrassing, maybe, but the row probably won’t damage the Greek leader at home. Apart from one big strategic mistake – asking Beugel if she had visited Greece’s new migrant camp and then calling her a liar when she said that she had – Mitsotakis defended himself effectively and with passion.

More important is how the incident underscores both how emotive migration policy and control is and how Europe’s leaders (some more than others though) are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Since 2015, the EU has paid Turkey billions of euros to accommodate refugees and would-be migrants. Yet, President  Recep Erdogan’s government continues to allow thousands of people to attempt crossing the Aegean Sea.

Patrolling its waters for boats of migrants is an expensive and thankless task, as is accommodating those who do arrive, and the EU’s border control agency, Frontex, is ill-equipped to give Greece, and other states, the support they need.

The tragedy for the refugees making this perilous journey is that they are as unwanted in the EU as in Turkey or the home from which they fled.

A similar story is being played out a couple of thousand kilometres to the north, where Belarus is accused of directing thousands of refugees to cross the border into Poland. Polish ministers say the move is being ‘masterminded’ by the Kremlin.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has accused the EU of presiding over a new migration ‘catastrophe’ and hinted that the EU should pay Minsk to keep refugees from crossing into the EU. In the meantime, ever helpful Russia has dispatched military aircraft to patrol the border area.

In both cases, the EU’s foes: Turkey, Belarus, and Russia, are responsible for weaponising refugees. Yet, the EU and its national governments get the blame for the resulting humanitarian crisis and are asked to pay the bill.

What can the EU do?

The bloc’s divisions on migration policy, and the lack of a common approach to burden sharing, allow hostile neighbouring countries to isolate vulnerable member states and play them off against each other.

One irony is that after weeks of threatening the European Commission over its rule of law dispute with Brussels, the consequences of political isolation are being spelt out in technicolour to the Eurosceptic Law and Justice government in Warsaw.

In one of her last acts as German chancellor, Angela Merkel is attempting to mediate on Poland’s behalf.

Until the EU and national capitals reach even the semblance of unity over migration, its enemies will continue to see refugees as a weapon to be used at will.


A message from The Martens Centre for European Studies: Thinking Together for the Future of Europe

The Conference on the #FutureOfEurope demands work from all of us to further improve our Union; read our Future of Europe publications on all topics from migration to the Eurozone and join the conversation online at #ThinkingTogether!
Read Our Publications >>


The Roundup

“Europe has to be a security provider because that’s what European citizens want – to be protected by the Union,” EU chief diplomat Josep Borrell told several European media outlets, including EURACTIV, in an interview. Borrell emphasised the importance of EU strategic autonomy and “a common strategic culture.”

European cities are increasingly giving their inhabitants a voice on local matters by asking urbanites how to spend municipal budgets and engaging them on innovative platforms. But critics of the strategy say it is not enough to stop populism. Check out EURACTIV’S special report for more.

And urban Europeans place environmental transition, sustainable infrastructure, and green public spaces high on their local agendas. “Most citizens are calling for projects that have an impact on their quality of life, on the built environment and their immediate surroundings,” a Eurocities official said.

A new draft of the COP26 negotiations calls on all countries to ramp up their short-term commitments for 2022 emissions reduction, in a recognition of the widening gap between current pledges and the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement. The draft, released before dawn on Wednesday and to be negotiated by countries over the final three days, is likely to form the basis for the main outcome at the summit.

The new Global Methane Pledge was announced during the very first days of the COP26, and will directly impact practices in the agricultural sector. The pledge focuses on technical measures such as animal feed supplements which, according to the UN, can cut emissions in the sector by 20% per year until 2030. 

And as COP26 continues, policymakers are looking at efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of the food and drink industry, a sometimes overlooked sector in emissions reduction policies. Food and drink emissions make up roughly 30% of total carbon emissions in the EU, and sustainability experts say there is an “absolutely massive” amount of work to be done going forward.

A COP26 pledge to stop the sale of polluting vehicles by 2040 has been called insufficient by climate campaigners, who criticised the absence of major economies, including the US, Germany, and France, as well as leading car manufacturers, such as Volkswagen and Toyota.

Russia blames the EU for the ongoing ​​migrant ‘catastrophe’ on the Belarus-Poland border, accusing EU leaders of trying to “strangle” Belarus with plans to close part of the frontier. Overnight, Moscow sent a further signal of support for its ally Belarus by dispatching two strategic bomber planes to patrol Belarusian airspace.

North Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, who announced his resignation over poor results in a local vote last month, has revealed that he will stay on in the job until the political situation stabilises. “I expect the democratic majority to stabilise, especially the majority that is for the EU, for a multiethnic society,” Zaev said.

Seasonal agriculture workers are exposed to numerous labour rights violations in Germany, according to a new report. Trade unionists are asking the next government to implement the social dimension of EU agricultural subsidies as early as 2023 and not take advantage of the transition period granted by the Commission.

People with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), a rare genetic neuromuscular disease, must receive more social rights and better inclusion in society, according to ​​Greek lawmaker Stelios Kympouropoulos. “Having good health is important but if someone is being excluded from society, that person’s living conditions would be terrible,” the Christian Democrat lawmaker said.

Look out for…

  • Finance Commissioner Mairead McGuinness meets with officials in Finald to discuss sustainable finance.
  • Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius travels to Greece to discuss the European Green Deal and visit areas damaged by this summer’s wildfires.
  • European Parliament plenary session continues on Thursday.
  • European trade ministers discuss World Trade Organisation (WTO) reform at Foreign Affairs Council.

Views are the author’s.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

Leave a Reply