quarta-feira, 16 de dezembro de 2015
Leaders scramble to salvage EU solidarity / Juncker: ‘Schengen is here to stay’
Leaders scramble to salvage EU solidarity
Refugee crisis exposes continental divisions, which the summit won’t resolve.
By MATTHEW KARNITSCHNIG 12/16/15, 8:20 PM CET
BERLIN — European leaders converge in Brussels Thursday for an end-of-year summit meant to reinforce a union cracking under a refugee crisis that has laid bare the limits of the bloc’s solidarity.
Instead of achieving reconciliation, however, the summit is more likely to expose the depths of the Continent’s divisions, as a growing faction of leaders resists sacrificing national sovereignty in the name of EU unity.
When leaders gather for their traditional Thursday evening supper, they are expected to discuss everything from Britain’s reform proposals for the EU to the region’s planned energy union.
Yet the refugee crisis, which has forced members to confront uncomfortable questions about their commitment to European principles, will dominate the agenda.
“We have arrived at the end of a turbulent and very difficult year for Europe,” Angela Merkel said in a speech to the German parliament Wednesday afternoon.
“We’ve been forced to witness Europe’s solidarity repeatedly being put to the test.”
While Merkel may be regarded as the EU’s dominant political figure, Europe has become increasingly treacherous terrain for the German chancellor. If the Greek crisis illustrated the extent of Germany’s economic dominance of Europe under Merkel, the refugee crisis has shown the limits of its political sway.
“Clearly the Council is not going to achieve a breakthrough”
Time and again, Merkel, who has staked her legacy on resolving the cascade of challenges presented by the refugee crisis, has repeated the imperative that other countries share the burden. For the most part, her calls have been ignored.
In recent days Merkel has managed to win back confidence for her refugee strategy in Germany. By pursuing a range of initiatives, from new ID cards for refugees to plans for an EU border patrol, she has restored some confidence in her government’s ability to manage the crisis. Still, if Germany’s European allies don’t offer Berlin more help soon, Merkel will find herself under renewed pressure.
Unlike European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Parliament President Martin Schulz, Merkel has refrained from warning of Europe’s demise, emphasizing instead the importance of Europe to Germany.
Her allies say it is not that she isn’t worried about Europe’s future, but that she doesn’t want to be blamed if it falls apart.
After months of trying to prod the rest of Europe into action, Merkel appears to have recognized that her colleagues are unlikely to offer little more than lip service to tackle the refugee crisis.
“Clearly the Council is not going to achieve a breakthrough,” Merkel said, using the formal term for the leaders’ gathering.
The European Commission estimates that about 1.5 million refugees have arrived in Europe so far this year. Germany has taken in about 1 million.
Berlin led a push earlier in the fall to allocate about 160,000 of the arrivals across the EU. While that number represents only a fraction of the refugees Germany has taken in, Berlin was keen to show the German public that other countries were willing to share the responsibility.
Even though other EU members eventually agreed to participate, they have since accepted only a fraction of their contingents.
All told, less than 200 refugees have been relocated under the program.
Europe’s only common response to the refugee crisis has been to reinforce border controls, raising questions about the viability of the Schengen treaty, which allows for borderless travel across most of the region.
The moves have spooked those countries that have gained most from the open frontiers, in particular those in Eastern Europe. Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka wrote to fellow EU leaders this week urging them to take steps to save the Schengen agreement.
Even as they push to preserve the EU’s open borders, the Czech Republic and other eastern member countries have been the most vociferous in resisting refugees, citing cultural differences and fears of terrorism.
On Tuesday, the Commission presented a proposal for a 1,500-strong rapid reaction force to secure the EU’s external borders.
Germany and France both endorse the idea.
“The reality is that this isn’t a European border patrol and coast guard but a paper tiger.”
Manfred Weber, who heads the center-right European People’s Party in the European Parliament, called on EU states to embrace a joint border patrol.
“That means EU officials will be posted on the external borders with the European flag on their arm, patrolling in the name of Europe,” he told German radio. “National sovereignty is no longer being defended on any external border, rather Europe is being protected.”
While few in Europe question the importance of securing the EU’s borders, a number of countries, including Poland and Greece, have raised concerns about the implications of the plan on national sovereignty.
Skeptics say the plan is likely unworkable for both legal and political reasons. The Commission has suggested the force could be even deployed against the objections of a member country.
“The reality is that this isn’t a European border patrol and coast guard but a paper tiger,” said Jacob Kirkegaard, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute in Washington. “It doesn’t have a realistic chance of working in the real world.”
Kirkegaard points out that previous EU plans to beef up Frontex, its border service, have fallen short.
One prominent initiative involves so-called “hotspots,” registration centers for refugees in Greece and Italy. The plan is for the centers, once they are up and running, to register refugees and allocate them across the EU.
Greece, the entry point for the vast majority of Syrian refugees, agreed to set up five hotspots but so far only has one.
The project has suffered from inadequate funding and a refusal by other EU countries to take in the arrivals. Instead, Greece simply points the refugees toward Germany.
Such failures help explain why Merkel has pursued other solutions. She spearheaded Europe’s deal with Turkey, for example. Most refugees pass through Turkey en route to Europe. In exchange for helping stem the flow, Turkey will receive about €3 billion in EU aid.
Early indications suggest that agreement has paid off. Illegal border crossings fell to just over 9,000 last week from over 52,000 in late October. Whether the decline is the result of inclement weather, Turkish enforcement of its border, or a combination is unclear. Whatever the case, the slowdown takes some pressure off European leaders to act.
Juncker, ruminating on the crisis during a speech to the European Parliament on Wednesday, expressed confidence that members would eventually rise to the occasion.
“Always when we’ve faced problems, men and women stood up who wanted to shape history instead of just letting history happen,” he said.
Juncker: ‘Schengen is here to stay’
Commission president says new border plan is crucial to defend passport-free zone.
By EMMET LIVINGSTONE 12/16/15, 2:12 PM CET Updated 12/16/15, 5:15 PM CET
STRASBOURG — European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told the Parliament Wednesday that the Schengen area will be protected, tying his new proposal for a European Border and Coast Guard to the survival of the passport-free zone.
Juncker addressed the Parliament ahead of a summit of EU leaders this week, at which national governments will discuss the plans for beefed-up border controls, which are already proving controversial.
“We want to defend everything that Schengen represents,” Juncker said. “As we prepare for a new year, our determination is stronger than ever. Let me tell you, Schengen is here to stay.”
The Commission unveiled its plan Tuesday, with measures to create a revamped border control agency and mandate systematic checks on everyone entering the EU through an external frontier. It is also proposing “targeted revisions” of the Schengen Border Code so that EU nationals will be subject to the same checks.
“These are the costs of a riskier world and we cannot avoid them,” said Juncker of the proposed rules.
Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe group in the Parliament, defended the border plan. “Without it, Schengen is finished,” he said, adding that EU countries that rejected the plan should be ejected from Schengen.
The Commission’s border proposal has already drawn criticism from some national governments and skeptical MEPs who worry about infringements on national sovereignty. If the proposal goes ahead, the Commission will be able to deploy the European Border and Coast Guard in emergencies without a country’s explicit request.
“Another European summit, another European power grab,” said UKIP MEP Nigel Farage.
Others were more positive. Portuguese European People’s Party MEP Paulo Rangel said Juncker’s position on defending Schengen with new border rules was “as important as when [European Central Bank President Mario] Draghi said he wouldn’t let the euro disappear.”
Some MEPs agreed with the proposal in principle but questioned the merits of proposing it in the face of likely opposition from some countries in the Council.
Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans said bickering over narrow national interests was a step back in time, and said integration in times of crisis was especially crucial given the history of devastating wars in Europe.
“That is the spirit with which the Commission has made these proposals,” Timmermans said. “Are these proposals perfect? I’m not saying they are.”
Added Juncker, “The impossible seems impossible until it has been done.”