Tuesday, September 29, 2015

What to make of the Dutch referendum on the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement?

Published on Open Europe's blog

To the suprise of many, there is now likely to be a Dutch referendum on the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement thanks to a petition signed by over 450,000 people. But what is it really about?

A campaign for a non-binding Dutch referendum on the EU’s Association Agreement with Ukraine has garnered almost half a million signatures over six weeks, well above the threshold of 300,000 set for this newly created direct democracy tool for Dutch citizens which only entered into force at the beginning of July. The Dutch government had already signaled that if the threshold were met the referendum will take place in Spring 2016, which coincides with the Netherlands’ holding the EU’s rotating Presidency in the first half of the year.

Who is behind the referendum campaign?

The organisors of the referendum are the eurosceptic think-tank Forum for Democracy, the eurosceptic news website Geenstijl.nl (which gained notoriety for exposing the practice of MEPs signing in to claim their daily allowance before sodding off) and Burgercomité EU, the campaign for a full referendum on EU membership. Geert Wilders, the leader of the populist anti-EU and anti-immigration PVV party which is currently leading in the opinion polls has been an enthusiastic supporter of the campaign, although the organisers have done their best to keep their distance from him and party politics in general.

Is this a pro-Putin, anti-Ukrainian campaign?

The VVD, the main party in the Dutch coalition, has dubbed the organisers of the initiative as “friends of Putin”, a sensitive accusation in the wake of the shooting down of flight MH17 last year. The question of the EU’s relations with both Russia and Ukraine has been a factor in the campaign; the Association Agreement is unpopular some quarters as there are fears Ukraine will benefit from greater financial support from Dutch taxpayers and that the move to remove visa requirements for Ukrainians will lead to greater immigration from that country.  There are also concerns that the deal effectively commits the Netherlands to side with Ukraine in its conflict with Russia.
However, that said, this should first and foremost be seen as a proxy for many Dutch citizens’ desire for a broader debate about the EU and the direction it is heading in. Given that a full on referendum about EU membership is explicitly excluded in the legislation establishing the referendum mechanism, campaigners latched onto the EU-Ukrainian Association Agreement as the best option for forcing the debate. They needed a piece of EU legislation which was yet to come into force and upon which they could hang their broader concerns, this agreement seemed to fit the bill. Thierry Baudet, an author and academic who launched the Forum for Democracy has said that “We will put the question of the EU on the agenda with a broad focus on all aspects of the EU.” More generally, it is also reflective of the wider anti-establishment mood that is sweeping across much of Europe.

Will the result be respected, given that it’s non-binding?

The Dutch parliament has already approved the deal, but under the new law it will have to return to the issue and hold a second vote – assuming turnout exceeds 30%. Given that this is the first referendum of its kind its hard to predict the turnout, but logically if the idea that this is proxy vote for broader concerns around the EU takes hold then it seems entirely possible the threshold could be reached (equally if it doesn’t it is hard to imagine 30% turning out just to vote on the Association Agreement). Either way, the Association Agreement will not enter into force on January 1st 2016 as originally planned.

There has to date been no specific polling on the Association Agreement, but a recent poll found 73% of Dutch voters opposed full EU membership for Ukraine at this moment in time. A very different proposition, but it may provide some indication of concerns about deeper links with Ukriane. If voters reject the Agreement, the VVD has already declared that its “stance won’t change”. However, the other governing coalition party, the centre-left PvdA, has refused to specify how they would act in such circumstances. The situation also presents a big challenge for the liberal, pro-EU D66 party which has supported a greater role for direct democracy but which has opposed the referendum campaign. Indeed Geenstijl actively used D66 leader Alexander Pechtold’s claim that “Europe is too complex to discuss in a referendum” as a means of boosting support for the referendum.
Meanwhile, the centre-right CDA party which supports the Agreement has said that “if we’re overruled [by the people], we need to know our place.” There is a real risk therefore that if the voters reject the Agreement, Dutch MPs will feel compelled to do likewise with huge consequences for the EU’s policy towards the Ukraine and its relations with its neighbours more broadly. An EU diplomat told The Times: “If the Dutch vote No, it will be another nightmare.”

What are the wider implications?

In many ways, the demand for another referendum on the EU is rooted in the failure of the Dutch and EU establishment to respond adequately to the rejection of the European Constitution in 2005 given that it was imposed via the backdoor in the form of the Lisbon Treaty. In fairness, the Dutch have done more than most governments to address public concerns about the extent of the EU’s powers but it is clear that this has not been sufficient for much of the Dutch public.

With the debate likely to stray well beyond the Association Agreement, given the proximity of the Dutch referendum to the upcoming UK referendum, this could also turn out to be an unexpected boon for the UK by demonstrating that it is far from the only member state in which much of the public has concerns over the direction the EU is heading in and by prompting wider public discourse on the EU in another major member state. This could in turn help to generate momentum for the kind of EU reform the UK is pushing for.

A functioning recipe for the EU to tackle Refugee and Migration crisis

Published by Vocal Europe

It would be unfair to criticize the European Union for its handling of the biggest refugee and migration crisis since the second World War, if the EU wasn’t making it all even worse by attempting to use the crisis to grab power. Digging up plans prepared long before, the European Commission is pushing  to harmonise asylum procedures, something still relatively innocent, while it also tries to force unwilling member states to welcome refugees.

On Tuesday, at the meeting of EU interior ministers, something unprecedented happened. At the instigation of the European Commission and Germany, a majority of member states decided to override opposition coming from four Central- and Eastern European countries (Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania) and to decide to “relocate” 160,000 refugees from Italy and Greece to the other member states, also to these opposed to it.

The result is threefold:

-          No redistribution of refugees: People will be told to move to a country which doesn’t want to welcome them and where they don’t necessarily want to go. More importantly, Slovakia and the Czech Republic are within the passport-free Schengen-zone, so there are almost no checks possible that people will actually stay there. It would be like telling people they can only reside in Manchester and cannot move to London. In short: this mechanism, which the EU Commission wants to make permanent, will not succeed in its purpose to “redistribute the burden”.

-          Anger among EU countries: What this measure has succeeded in already is to create resentment against the EU and against Germany, the driver of this idea. Jiří Pospíšil, a former Czech Justice Minister and MEP with the pro-EU TOP09 party described the result as “a great defeat for Europe” which would facilitate the rise of anti-EU sentiment. I was told by a French journalist that during the previous meeting of interior ministers, France’s Bernard Cazeneuve was able to stop German interior minister Thomas de Maizière from demanding a vote. At the next occasion, it wasn’t possible to stop Germany from damaging good relations with their Eastern neighbours.

-          Short term gains for certain politicians: One thing the decision may do is to prop up German Chancellor Merkel’s approval ratings, which for the first time this year have been hit, largely as a result of the refugee crisis and the decision to bail out Greece. She desperately needed something from deflecting attention from the backlash within Germany against her policy.

Even if she may be right that Eastern Europe could show a bit more solidarity, Angela Merkel should really do some deep soul searching whether it was wise to antagonize these countries and to enable anti-EU sentiment there only to push through a proposal which in effect won’t make any difference in reality anyway.

Many have criticized the UK, which enjoys a Treaty opt-out from having to participate in this EU scheme, for not doing enough to help Syrian refugees. This overlooks that the country has spent 40% more for refugee camps in the Middle East than Germany and much more than France, Italy and Spain.

Discussing how to redistribute refugees which already are in the – supposedly safe - EU really is about helping overburdened European countries. If one wants to help refugees, it’s better to do what the UK does: to welcome 20.000 people from refugee camps in the region. Rather than strengthening the EU’s powers, this episode should instead be a reminder why the attempts of the UK government to reform the EU are worth pursuing. This agenda may now perhaps receive a bit more sympathy in Eastern Europe.

As I have made clear in another comment piece, the solution isn’t to abolish the passport-free Schengenzone either, given that most irregular migrants still arrive legally. Also abolishing the so-called Dublin Regulation on asylum, which requires people seeking refuge in Europe to do so in the first country where they set foot is a bad idea. It would actually mean the end of Schengen, given that France or Germany would demand the right to permanent border checks, if Italy would be allowed to provide all migrants free passage.
Migration is a massive challenge, which is now complicated by the wars in Syria and Iraq. The best thing the EU can do is not to divert some of the damage to itself by trying to grab more powers on the back of the crisis.

For extraordinary crises, one needs an extraordinary solution. I have proposed to create “free havens” outside of the EU, where refugees could go voluntarily and where officials from richer countries would safeguard law and order to allow an economy to develop. Multinationals may prefer to host their expensive production plants in these zones, run by officials of countries with a high level of rule of law, over unstable places like Ethiopia or Pakistan.

Unrealistic? Less than one would think. Here are three developments which show why:

-          Guarding the sea border will prove only realistic if there is a deal with a “third country”:

The only way to guard the EU’s external sea border is to pursue the Australian approach: drag any boat trying to enter illegally to a third country. To do this, Australia has closed a deal with Papua New Guinea . The EU has no such deal with any third country. It can choose between pushing back migrants to unsafe countries (or countries unwilling to take them back, like Turkey) or bringing them into the EU. It rightly has chosen to save the lives of thousands of vulnerable people, but as an unintended consequence, it thereby operates as a ferry for migrants keen to cross the Mediterranean , effectively serving the interests of human smugglers.

Since Australia’s policy was implemented, there has been criticism of the conditions in the refugee camps but only a limited number of boats have tried to make the journey to Australia and no deaths have been reported. This means the policy deserves to be considered. It’s possible to learn from Australia’s success in avoiding drownings while not repeating its mistake of providing bad conditions to live. 

-          Trying to offer a positive alternative for refugees will only work if it’s something resembling a developed country:

EU countries have just agreed to implement “a medium-term strategy … aimed at developing safe and sustainable reception capacities in the affected regions and providing lasting prospects and adequate procedures for refugees and their families until return to their country of origin is possible”, effectively taking over a proposal from the Dutch government. Dutch PM Mark Rutte  has specified that he wants “UNHCR-plus” refugee zones in the Middle East, which he thinks should also include access to education and employment for migrants. A document from his government outlines Dutch plans in more detail, stating that “staying in refugee camps without prospects (…) must be replaced by reception in important transit countries in safe and adequately equipped host communities of a more structural manner. To set up such semi-permanent facilities is necessary and at the same time sensitive and complex to execute in practice. Considerable efforts and cooperation of the third countries involved are therefore needed, but these are conditions which the EU and its member states can help create, through aid and direct economic investment in infrastructure and companies”.

The Dutch idea, which has been approved by EU countries in principle, isn’t so far off from establishing a free haven. It even mentions how companies should be attracted, which is key. The whole idea behind this is to make sure refugees have a positive incentive not to move to Europe, given that they can develop their lives somewhere else. The modest way – providing refugee camps with more funds - is likely to fail to convince people to stay away. In order to make sure that refugee camps in Turkey would turn into functioning cities, one needs proper rule of law and outside investment.  

EU countries have also decided to create so-called “hotspots” or “Migration Management Support Teams” in Italy and Greece, where refugees would be registered. Italy already opened one on the island of Lampedusa. Greek and Italian officials are now however concerned these would turn into sprawling refugee camps, indicating that large-scale refugee reception inside the EU’s border is a pipe dream.

-          The direct cost of welcoming refugees in Europe is on the rise:

Refugees may well contribute to the economy on the longer term, but on the short term there is  a cost. The cost to Germany of accepting up to 1 million refugees is estimated at 25 billion euros over two years only, eating away part of its current 21 billion euros budget surplus. The German government has already announced to drop plans to cut the income tax as a result of the cost of the refugee crisis. Some want EU countries to pay billions to African countries to take back migrants, while European Parliament president Martin Schulz has called for 7 billion euro to provide to countries in the Middle East to cope with refugee reception.

The point here is that large-scale investments are being made anyway, so why waste them on imperfect border control which encourages migrants to take bigger risks and on refugee camps which have no hope of ever turning self-reliant and where people will only grow more frustrated? The Belgian police and justice system costs around 3 billion euro per year, to serve 11 million people. No extra taxes need to be raised for an investment-friendly “free haven” for refugees outside of Europe with the rule of law. The EU’s 130 billion euro budget offers a lot of opportunities. More than 270 billion euros are still being sent to agricultural land owners, including the Queen of England, between 2014 and 2020. I doubt whether European tax payers would mind using some of this cash to create a city outside of Europe for refugees… 

In any case, Turkey is unlikely to agree to allow people to stay semi-permanently. It has already proposed that some of its almost 2 million refugees could go back to Syria, after a no-fly zone would have secured a safe area for them, something not very realistic either, sadly.

Events are pushing policy makers to providing permanent settlement for the millions on the run. If you want to help refugees, but you can’t or don’t want to help them within Europe, you need to help them outside of Europe.

Proposals similar to “free havens” have been made by US business man Jason Buzi, who wants to give refugees their own “Refugee Nation” and Egyptian businessman Naguib Sawiris, the 10th richest man in Africa, who  has offered to buy an island off Italy or Greece in order to rehouse hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing Syria and other conflicts.

Turkey may not be keen, but the EU already had some success convincing Niger to host a number of “temporary” reception centers in Niger. These will be launched this year as a pilot project. France and Germany support opening similar centres in Egypt, Turkey or Lebanon, so perhaps they may consider more ambitious proposals later. Even if at first instance a refugee zone would be created in, say, Morocco, which may be happy to receive compensation, the EU could as well send police and justice personnel there, similar to what it has already done in Kosovo.


 The EU’s attempts to grab power on the back of the crisis and to disrespect the outcome of national democracy in Eastern Europe must be condemned, but its embryonic decision to try to provide better conditions for refugees in the region where they come from must be applauded. If the refugee and migrant crisis escalates, perhaps more ambitious solutions similar to the one I described may be attempted.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The EU needs to start breaking down the ‘migration crisis’ to find an effective policy response

Co-written with my colleague Nina Schick for the Open Europe blog 

As the EU struggles to grapple with the largest movement of people since the Second World War, we unpick figures from Germany, which demonstrate there cannot be an EU one-size-fits all solution to this crisis. Encompassing multiple layers, and with competing national asylum policies to consider, the EU and its member states must begin to distinguish the component parts of the crisis in order to formulate more effective policy-strategies to address distinct challenges.

With little coordination on asylum policy at the EU level on one hand, but with 22 countries in a passport-free travel area on the other, even beginning to solve the ‘migration problem’ becomes a typically European quagmire. This is one a characterized by the different national approaches to asylum policy, the push-and-pull between Brussels and the national capitals – or that between the strongest members and opposing blocs.  What’s more, the current movement of people to Europe, is not comprised of one uniform group: it includes refugees and economic migrants – diverse peoples  from Africa, to the Middle East and the Western Balkans. In order to even begin to deal with these challenges, the EU and its member states must begin to distill the various elements of the so-called “migrant crisis” into digestible sections, and address the unique components accordingly.

Policy failings at the national and EU levels

There’s a strong case that the asylum system was not working at the national level even before the Syrian crisis reached its current climax. Consider, for example, the case of Germany. It has been much lauded recently for its humanitarian response to the refugee crisis – with the Interior Ministry estimating that it would accept 800,000 asylum seekers in 2015 alone. The Vice Chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, recently said it would more likely be closer to one million –  that’s over 1% of the German population.

Unpick the figures for the first half of this year (see the table below), however, and it becomes evident that there is more than one layer to this story. 40% of asylum applications in Germany between January to August this year came from the Western Balkans: Albania, Kosovo, Serbia and Macedonia.  (Note: there may be discrepancies between the figures below and the statistics on official asylum requests as the German Interior Ministry has decided it will only use the number of refugees arriving in Germany who register with the police, rather than the number of overall asylum applications. The figures vary considerably, given that not every arriving refugee applies for asylum directly, and many refugees disappear or continue their travel.)
Germany Aslyum Requests Jan To Aug 2015 1 itemprop= Source: The German Asylum Office; Figures compiled by Belgian sociologist Jan Hertogen 

Though the asylum success-rate for applicants from the Western Balkans is only 0.25% (as compared to the 88.5% for those coming from Syria), it still raises the issue that Germany, unlike other member states, did not (until last week), classify some countries of the Western Balkans (candidates for EU membership, and recipients of huge amounts of EU aid), as ‘safe countries of origin’ – which would allow migrants to be deported back as they would not face the risk of persecution in their home states. As such, Germany has been criticised by Serbian and Kosovar politicians for endorsing an asylum policy that catalyzed a ‘brain drain,’ from their countries.
The spike in recent arrivals of Syrian refugees to Europe as the situation has further deteriorated in the Middle East, has undoubtedly sparked the current crisis (evident in how the frontline countries are struggling to cope with the daily new arrivals.) Clearly then, Europe needs to start distinguishing between the groups of people who are arriving, what their motivations are, and who is in most urgent need of help.  The policy-response to each group should be tailored.


This crisis has not only been complicated by national approaches to asylum policy, which lump together economic migrants and refugees under one heading, but it has also been further exacerbated by the fact that those who are denied asylum, often do not leave the EU (less than 40% in 2014.) Moreover, there is no easy way to facilitate deportation as the European countries aren’t police states, and it’s very hard to stop people from entering a country or to prevent them from staying there.
Consider Germany again: in the first six months of 2015, 175,000 asylum applications were rejected (most of them from the Western Balkans.) Yet only about 8,000 of those people were actually returned. Of the 41,044 asylum seekers who were refused stay in Germany in 2014, 62.6% were still on German soil at the end of February 2015. Failings in national asylum policy have, therefore, served as double blow: not only have they facilitated a backdoor route for illegal economic migration – but they have also has taken away space and resources from refugees who are desperately in need of protection.

Steps are now being taken to remedy this at the EU level. In an emergency meeting of EU ministers on Monday, there was an agreement that all the countries of the Western Balkans should be added to an EU ‘safe countries of origin’ list. However, the manner in which migrants from said countries are deported will still vary from member state to member state.  Ministers also agreed that that they will take steps to expedite the deportation of illegal immigrants from the Europe, yet it is unclear how Brussel will help to enforce or coordinate this.

Tailor policy responses

Given the sensitivity of migration and asylum policy in virtually every EU country, it is a domain that is at the heart of national democracy. Any forced Brussels intervention here may backfire badly .(Note, for example, the current animosity from the Central and Eastern European countries to the Commission’s plan for mandatory binding quotas to allocate refugees.)


The scale of this crisis cannot be denied, and yet the lumping together of such a huge and diverse movement of people into one ‘migrant crisis,’ has exposed failings at both the national and EU levels. Add to the confusion the different (and sometimes opposed) asylum policies of the member states, and we start looking at one very typically-European mess. But until the EU starts breaking down and identifying all the component parts of this crisis, and developing tailored policy measures to respond to each one, it is unlikely to find a long-term and sustainable solution.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Five myths regarding the current refugee and migration crisis

Published on CapX

During the current refugee and migration crisis, a number of myths, often propagated to serve all kind of agendas, continue to hinder the search for solutions. Here is an attempt to debunk five of them.

First myth: “The solution is to force countries to take in refugees and spread them across Europe”

Germany and France want “binding quotas [for refugees] within the EU to share the burden”, according to German Chancellor Merkel. The idea of quotas was proposed by the European Commission as part of its European agenda on migration”. Only in May, French PM Valls called the idea "a moral and ethical mistake". A number of member states, primarily from Eastern Europe, but also Spain still reject the idea to make this binding, which is why the EU Commission plans to make the “relocation” of 120,000 refugees across the EU voluntary.

This is a complete sideshow.

First of all, these 120,000 refugees would be coming from Greece, Italy and Hungary, so they are already within the EU, which is supposedly safe.

Secondly, this plan is being developed after the failure to reach the target to relocate 40.000 refugees from Italy and Greece, following the trusted European Commission practice “When in trouble, double”.

Thirdly, if Poland would have to take in an estimated 9.000 refugees and Spain 15.000, these people can easily travel to where the jobs are: Germany, given that Poland and Spain are members of the passport-free Schengen zone.

Fourthly, if Merkel is really keen on damaging the EU’s brand, boosting support for anti-migration populists while pitting EU member states against each other, all without helping a single refugee, forcing countries to take in refugees who’re already in safety anyway is the way to do it.

The blame game just isn’t healthy. Germany is willing to welcome up to 800.000 people this year, almost quadrupling the amount, but it only welcomed a very average number of refugees - per capita - last year. Switzerland welcomed four times as many refugees per capita last year and the Netherlands welcomed 50% more than Germany. Did any Swiss or Dutch politician lambast Germany last year?

Migration is a sensitive issue everywhere in the world. It’s possible to convince people to allow more migrants in, but it’s a bad idea to impose it. Spreading of refugees has little do with helping refugees.
Last but not least, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker apparently wants that fines are being imposed on member states that opt out of his proposed relocation mechanism. These sanctions would be paid into a special fund that would be used to subsidise the countries that take part in the scheme. More than 1.5 billion euro would also be used “for the regions from where most of the migrants originate”, ignoring how EU funds amounting to 13.3 billion euro have often served to strengthen corrupt cronies in the EU’s Southern neighborhood between 1995 and 2013. We can only wonder if Juncker hasn’t secretly become a paid agent of one of Europe’s populist anti-migration parties, given that these kind of ideas are likely to boost support for them.

Second myth: “The solution is to end Schengen or increase EU border controls”

The passport-free Schengen-zone, which includes 26 countries and is now incorporated into the EU Treaty, is coming under severe fire. Last month, the Saxon branch of Angela Merkel’s party called for a discussion on suspending Schengen. Theo Francken, the Belgian State Secretary for Migration has expressed what many people think, when stating: “When I see that in some places there almost aren’t any controls at the borders [of the EU], then internal controls will be needed.” Also Hungarian PM Orban has called border control “the real issue”.

Would ending Schengen, which already offers a lot of room for border controls, solve much, however?

According to EU border agency Frontex, most of those who currently reside in the EU illegally, originally entered in possession of valid travel documents and a visa whose validity period they have since overstayed”, while adding that “one of the biggest entry route for migrants into the EU is via international airports”, estimating that as many as 1.2 million irregular migrants may be entering the EU every year in this way. Obviously, the increased number of refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean is altering the balance, but this is just to say that even if Europe would manage to stop everyone at its external border, it would only deal with part of the pressure. Again Belgian migration secretary Francken pointed out that “my external borders are [the international airport of] Zaventem and [the port of] Zeebrugge”, who’re both located in Belgium. So abolishing Schengen – or kicking countries that fail to guard their borders out of Schengen - wouldn’t change that much, apart from destroying the great personal and economic benefits of passport-free travel for citizens and companies operating within the Schengen-zone.
It’s estimated that in the last 15 years, more than 23,000 people have lost their lives while attempting to reach Europe, while the flow hasn’t stopped. Also the brand new Hungarian fence on the border with Serbia proves disfunctional. To be fair, it’s probably possible to try alternative solutions to guard the Mediterranean border. One could try the Australian approach of returning refugees to where the boats embarked or to external centres where their asylum claims can be assessed. Since this policy was implemented, there has been criticism of the external centres but only a limited number of boats have tried to make the journey to Australia and no deaths have been reported, which means the policy deserves to be considered. This would also likely hit human smugglers hard. Furthermore, also posting European liaison officers at airports all over the world to control whether people aren’t trying to travel with false visa may help a bit, but all these controls would still leave the challenge of those overstaying their visas. At the end of the day, external protection or reinstating permanent border controls won’t make up for domestic shortcomings but would impose a high cost while only dealing with a part of the challenge at best.
Third myth: “The solution is to get rid of the “Dublin”- arrangement”
Italy’s Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni is only one of many, along with Dutch social democrat leader Diederik Samsom, to demand changes to the so-called Dublin Regulation on asylum, which requires people seeking refuge in Europe to do so in the first country where they set foot. He stated: "If we don't renegotiate the Dublin rules, first of all the fact that one enters Europe and not a specific country, we'll end up having to renegotiate Schengen and free movement rules, which would be a defeat for Europe's politicians."

It’s of course the other way around. If “Dublin” is aborted, “Schengen” is finished. If Italy would be allowed to provide all migrants free passage to France, there is no way that France would want to continue to be a part of the Schengen area, with its minimal border controls.

It’s also bizarre to see politicians calling for an end to an arrangement which is partially suspended – although not completely. Angela Merkel already admitted that “the Dublin approach is not working anymore, because so many refugees are arriving at our external borders, that we can't leave Italy or Greece alone to deal with this task”. Germany has now suspended Dublin for Syrian refugees, while countries haven’t send back migrants to Greece since 2011 already after a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg which considered this a violation of human rights. Merkel now doesn’t want to throw Dublin completely out of the window and instead aims to deal with this through spreading refugees, a solution which is also likely to fail, as mentioned before.

Fourth myth: “The solution is to harmonize EU asylum policy”
If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail. The only hammer eurocrats have at their disposal is ever more concentration of power at the EU level, so this is what they have in mind as a response to the refugee and migrant crisis. Plans prepared long ago were quickly taken from the shelf when the crisis erupted and are now being pushed forward.

Proposals made  by the European Commission, the leaders of France and Germany, and Luxembourg, which currently holds the EU’s Presidency, include turning the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) into a fully-fledged European Refugee Agency – which would then be given the power to investigate whether the same standards for granting asylum are applied everywhere in the EU. The idea is that this may discourage refugees from making it to Germany, which last year reduced the time for asylum-seekers to access its labour market to three months.

In practice however, centralizing these kind of regulations, which are often issued with a look on unemployment figures, may lead to a mismatch between supply and demand. Spanish and German authorities are in a better position to decide on this than an EU agency based in Malta. The EU Treaty reserves the competence to fix numbers of immigrants from third countries entirely to member states, but it shouldn’t be a surprise to see the Commission trying to undermine this through the back-door by imposing which standards member states employ to fix the numbers.

Also other proposals come down to forcing countries into an EU straightjacket, while it’s not clear what the benefits are. The EU Commission will draw up a common list of "safe countries of origin”, as if EU member states aren’t already able to make these decisions themselves. If the idea behind this is insufficient trust into fellow Schengen-states, it probably makes more sense to force the “untrustworthy” members out of Schengen, rather than to end Schengen or attempting to micromanage decisions on who should be allowed residence.

Merkel and Hollande have furthermore also called to establish so-called “hotspot” reception centresin Italy and Greece to identify migrants arriving from outside the EU and separate those entitled to asylum from illegal ‘economic’ migrants. This could be attractive for certain refugees and may take some of the burden off Northern Europe. However, Italy isn’t keen to agree with this, as it would face the prospect of large refugee camps within its territory, and has made this plan dependent on revising the EU’s Dublin-rules. Even if Italy and Greece would agree to this, this may not be the way to dramatically reduce the number of people obtaining residence status, if that’s the purpose. 62% of boat refugees are from Syria, Iraq and Eritra and 75% of people coming from these countries receive a positive decision, regardless of the fact that they may have been in safety in Turkey already before or not. In other words: most “boat people” are refugees or what national authorities consider to be  refugees at the moment.

Fifth myth: “Welcoming more immigrants is a necessary tool to save Europe’s struggling welfare states”

There is little doubt that migration and opening borders to trade and people benefits the economy. A mere look at any given product or service in today’s globalized economy makes clear that closing borders or raising barriers for people to work together across borders can only stop progress.
Does that mean that allowing a lot of refugees in will bail out Europe’s welfare states? Those are heading to bankruptcy, having to deal with a lot of so-called implicit debt, all kinds of unrealistic promises made to citizens in terms of pension provision, health care and elderly care. Unfortunately, the answer is: only very partially.

A few years ago, the European Commission has estimated that the so-called "sustainability gap" - the future shortage of cash that the average EU member state is facing - would only be around 8% smaller if the EU pursued a policy of keeping the net immigration ratio in the coming decades at the 2008 level of 0.34% of total population. One can surely argue it may help close perhaps 20% or 30% of the gap, but what it shows is that as much as increased migration may be one factor in helping economic growth and tax income, it would be false to claim that this is a panacea to prop up Europe’s welfare model. For that, a combination is needed of working longer, a default on promises made and/or liberalising the economy to boost competitiveness and create economic growth.

So what’s the alternative?

Few would disagree with Irish rock star Bono, who said: “Aid is just a stopgap (…) Commerce [and] entrepreneurial capitalism take more people out of poverty than aid. We need Africa to become an economic powerhouse.” Also, closer cooperation with non-EU countries and perhaps the Australian approach can be part of the solution, as we have argued with Open Europe.
The question is whether we really should wait for such long term solutions to take effect. In the years to come, many will still trying to make it to Europe, and should we blame them? Who would like to live in Syria, these days? It’s equally wrong to plainly dismiss concerns of European voters, who have witnessed on the ground that integrating large groups of people with a different cultural background is not without problems.

I have suggested myself to welcome refugees voluntarily in a “free haven” outside of the EU, where officials from richer countries would safeguard law and order to allow an economy to develop. Multinationals may prefer to host expensive production plants in these zones run by officials of countries with a high level of rule of law, rather than in unstable places like Ethiopia or Pakistan. Similar proposals have been made by US business man Jason Buzi, who wants to give refugees their own “Refugee Nation” and Egyptian businessman Naguib Sawiris, the 10th richest man in Africa, who  has offered to buy an island off Italy or Greece in order to rehouse hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing Syria and other conflicts.

If you want to help refugees, but you can’t or don’t want to help them within Europe, you need to help them outside of Europe. An agreement with third countries would be necessary for this. Unrealistic? The EU is this year launching a pilot project to develop a number of “temporary” reception centers in Niger, while France and Germany support opening similar centres in Egypt, Turkey or Lebanon. Given that nothing is so permanent as a temporary government programme, the EU may as well send police and justice personnel to these nascent EU refugee camps, similar to what it did in Kosovo.

I don’t want to simply blame politicians for not coming up with more ambitious and effective solutions, given that this isn’t an ordinary crisis which is easy to solve. But precisely because of that, we need solutions which go beyond ordinary management and more of the same. At least Belgian centre-left daily De Morgen supports my proposal, writing that it “is an unexpected, unheard proposal. But awaiting peace and prosperity in the Middle East, this looks like it’s going to be a crisis which can only be dealt with in an unexpected, unheard-of manner.”