EU Watch: Encouraging debate about EU values and efficiency.

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Does the EU live up to its values?


Last month, EU Watch held its first policy conference in Brussels on the subject of Migration and integration: Does the EU live up to its values? 

This event was attended by more than 30 experts, EU policy-makers and guests from different countries and organisations across Europe. Around 200 people were following proceedings online.

The conference was also mentioned in the influential news website EU Observer.

Watch the conference now!

You can find the contributions of our speakers below:


As a practical follow-up to the policy conference, EU Watch will explore ways to set up:

  • a communication network between refugees and migrants already in Europe for some time that would help newcomers to better integrate.
  • mobile school project – in collaboration with another NGO to provide language and art education for young people currently living in refugee camps.
Marco Ricorda
Sophie Magennis
Vassilis Kerasiotis
Leo Brincat

Pro-migration campaigns focus on migrants lives while being in the host country, so their contribution to society. There is large data available that shows the positive contributions when it comes to tax issues, fiscal issues, pension contributions, that migrants are providing to European citizens.
So a tiny bit of work is done about this specific issue. Then out of these huge spectrum of migration campaigns, we could only identify 8 campaigns that are explicitly anti-immigration. Less than maybe 4-5 percent of campaigns overall in Europe are anti-immigration. We can discuss this, but this is a situation today based on research that covers over 10 years of migration-based campaigns.
The inventory of migration messaging campaigns that this study is based on included just eight and immigration campaigns. However, each and every one of them had a value basis. I will tell you more about that, so the majority spoke to values that are associated not only to anti-immigration sentiment but also to pro-immigration sentiment.
The main findings of the research available on migration campaigns today: Few pro migration campaigns contained value-based messaging. So they were most of the documentary, but there is very little messaging that appeals to values. Whereas all anti migration campaigns included value-based messaging. Similarly, very few pro migration campaigns included values outside of the two universalism, and benevolence (open borders, and everybody is welcome, and deserves a chance). Whereas anti-migration campaigns included value associated with both pro and anti-immigration.” 

“I’d like to come back to the we had this morning on the issue of values. This is fundamental to the values of the European Union in two aspects. One is the right to asylum as enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental rights. It’s a core value of the European Union. And why is that? The very essence of asylum law and refugee law came out of the experience of Europe during World War Two. So the idea that the right to asylum is an important value is fully enshrined within the Charter. The second important value is the rule of law. The rule of law is an important value that perhaps speaks to Schwarz’s framework of coherence, of security, of continuity of the rule of law underpins all those aspects. So, it’s very important that we understand that push backs, this denial of an individual procedure, fundamentally attacks the values at the heart of the European Union. When I come back to the value of the rule of law, the European Union law is quite clear that pushbacks must not happen.
There are two legal frameworks. The first one that comes into play is the Schengen border code, of which we have heard some words earlier. The Schengen border code contains an important clause which says that the border code is subject to respect for the principle of non-refoulement. That has primacy within this legal framework and that means the people cannot be pushed back without a legal procedure. There’s also another body of law in the European Union which is the Asylum Procedures Directive, or APD for short. That makes it clear that anybody who may have an intention to claim asylum must be given an individual procedure and cannot be pushed back. So I think for us that the law is clear as UNHCR, and what we need is European Union Member States and everybody involved to get behind that law and to respect it. “

We are based in Lesbos Island for 4 years now. I would like to share with you a brief update about the current situation in the island right now. 1 year ago, all of you heard about the fire that destroyed completely the notorious Moria refugee camp. At that time, due to inconsistent policies of the new government in Greece, almost 22 thousand refugees and asylum seekers stayed at the camp. It was a high record since the beginning of Moria’s hotspot. 22 000 people have been removed in the temporary shelter in the new camp Kara Tepe which was a former shooting range of the Greek army under dangerous conditions because the former shooting range has a poisonous soil. But this is considered temporary since the closed control access in Samos has become in operation recently. The new closed camp’s construction will begin.

“The time is long overdue for a robust, coordinated and united response in the EU to counter illegal immigration. I will not go into the whole issue as to whether there is collusion between A and B on illegal immigration, or illegalities, or trafficking, or whatever.
But definitely, I think that as the Court of Auditors, based on the EU’s basic principles, I can never tolerate or justify anything that has to do with smuggling, collusion and illegalities.
We believe, as the Court of Auditors, on the basis of our findings, that we should not wait for people to arrive at the external borders of the EU for us to act. That is not the solution. EU external borders must be always safeguarded and respected on either side of the EU we are talking about.
I will refer to an official statement by the Council. As I said, we are not policy makers so I can only comment on what is issued as a policy. The EU Council Presidency recently issued a statement. In my opinion, primarily triggered by the Belarus issue, which I believe was more embracing. It made it clear that member states must recognize the need to strengthen the entire external border of the EU to prevent illegal border crossings in the future. With this in mind, I think that this should apply to all borders whether we are talking about Eastern Europe, Central Europe, Northern Europe or even Southern Europe. If we want to avoid emergency situations, we must ensure that those who need protection most must receive it as close as possible to the country of origin.”

Fabrice Leggeri
Marie Naaß
Sinem Yilmaz
Mikolaj Ciechanowicz

“Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, is expected to have 10,000 members by 2027, is to create a European tool that can support the Member States which are in need of support and make other abilities in the functioning of the external borders.
I will simply define what we mean by external border that functions correctly. It is an external border where it is possible to know who is entering and who is leaving the European Union. That means that we can carry out border checks, that we can carry out identity checks, security checks, having an information system for when people are entering. This applies again not only to foreigners, but also to EU citizens, for different reasons. The first one is that irregular migration should be controlled in order to avoid secondary movements. It is in order to avoid people from absconding illegally across the border and then not being registered or fingerprinted, and finally can hardly have access to asylum procedures, if they are in need of international protection.
One component of our mandate is related to a better management of migration, but in particular irregular migration, which also includes return in our mandate. Another area of management is about security. It’s about finding or fighting against criminal networks and not necessarily only criminal networks which are related to migration. We also have terrorists, we also have stolen cars, we have drugs trafficking, we have weapons trafficking. So there are a lot of criminal activities that can put at risk the internal security of the Schengen area. “

“The European Coast Guards, especially in Malta but also in Italy, refuse to coordinate search and rescue activities. They refuse to actively engage in rescue situations. Although it is their legal right and obligation to do so. At the same time we have the external policy of the European Union which is very much responsible for this situation we have now. Since now more than 18,000 people have drowned in the Mediterranean. This year, and we are still in October, it is already over 1000 people this year alone. And what is also very concerning to see is that in 2021, the death rates are rising again, and there’s a set record of pushbacks. In 2020, about 12 thousand people were brought back to Libya by coast guards in close collaborations with European authorities. And this year we are already at the number of 26,000 people who were brought to Libya against their will. And we all know that they say severe torture and inhuman treatment in detention centres of the Libyan territory. This is the direct consequence of the European policy and closure which finds its practical implementation with the European Border Management agency Frontex. It is obvious and just shocking that this has to be repeated after eight years that the Mediterranean has become the world’s deadliest migration route. Although policy makers tried to somehow incentivise people not to flee. But without success. The EU was trying maintain status quo by constantly increasing its budget for border management agency.”

“We had a standard set by the EU and international law but when you look at these 14 countries, we see a high variation in terms of their efforts in creating and implementing refugee integration policies. Some countries are doing better, some countries are not even providing basic services to refugees. Even countries who are doing better could still do better. For example, we have a scoring system from zero to 100 but if a country is being 80 and compared to other countries which is the better but still there is a way to do like very better in terms of policies for all the countries that we assess. Among these countries, when you look at geographical distribution, the countries in northern and Western Europe, Sweden overall is the best and provides the most favourable conditions for refugees in all the dimensions. This is better than France and the Netherlands in that area. among the southern European countries Greece provides the least favourable conditions an Hungary has the same position in East Central European countries. but interestingly when we look at the countries which have a long history of taking refugees so there is not a big difference between countries who are taking refugees for a long time for many years and the countries who experienced refugee integration maybe for a few years so there is not a big difference among these two countries types.”

Abir Haddad
Dilek Gürsoy
Rania Aro
Tarafa Baghajati
Paul Collier
Gerald Knaus
Gunjan Bhardwaj
Arnoldas Pranckevicius

Here, I come to the issue of whether we, in some sense, need migrants. What is the relationship between the incomes of people in Europe and the number of migrants. This is being really carefully studied and the honest answer is there isn’t a relationship, specifically 0. So it’s a very polarised debate. Some people want to say immigrants are lowering real wages, real incomes. Others want to say immigrants are raising living standards and meeting incomes and we need immigrants. The honest reality is, we started this very hard at, this is zero. There is no relationship. As far as we can see, there is no effect, either positive or negative. There is an effect on composition, some evidence that at the lowest end of the labour market, immigration lowers wages. But that’s basically just relative earning within the population. It doesn’t affect the overall level of the population. Almost nobody wants to say that truth, we neither need immigrants nor are they a threat.

The real question for us today is how do we protect our borders? Are we prepared to give up on the refugee convention? Are we prepared to push people back into situations where they were tortured as in Libya today or cooperating with those who take them there? Are we prepared to forgo the right to asylum? Let people freeze to death at borders as is happening at the moment between Belarus and Poland in the European Union. It is very clear Lukashenko is a cruel dictator. He is torturing his own people. He has no compulsions and no inhibitions to push people to the border to put pressure on European Union. He tries to blackmail us. That is clear. Our only response cannot be to say we will not be blackmailed and then let people be trapped between his horses and our horses until they die. Which I fear Lukashenko is prepared to do. So, unless we find a better way to control the border, and this gets me to the issue of strategy, it does not allow people to blackmail us. But it also doesn’t force the European Union to give up all these conventions and rights including the basic right to life and compete for cruelty with a dictator. We’re going to see core European values being destroyed at our borders. Is this possible? It is possible only one way, when we find allies.

To be clear, there is no human right to migration, but we’ve given ourselves conventions. It means that we should not push those in danger back into danger and that requires effort. That requires diplomacy. In the case of Lukashenko, I would propose very heavy diplomacy with other democracies in Europe. Perhaps these other countries cooperate with us to destroy the attempted blackmail by saying: from a certain date, we take the people crossing from Belarus to Poland. To show that this is not a way to get into Europe, but not to let people freeze to death. And that will require offering this country something. We work with turkey. We offer Turkey something in 2016. Turkey has 3 times the number of Syrians that all of Europe had and they agreed to take people back. That stopped the flow of irregular migration from 1,000,000 in 12 months to 26,000. It is possible without human rights violations. With strategic returns, with partnerships. But what we are seeing at the moment is not this effort of diplomacy. We don’t see more resettlement. What we see is pushbacks and Europe’s borders increasingly turning into the borders that we have criticized in the case of the former Eastern Block borders that killed.

 The first thing is we are not welcoming to immigrants and that you see, as an auslander it’s a bit harder in Germany. Doesn’t matter you come from an elite school and we are recruiting colleagues who have masters and PhDs from the Ivy leagues. They have to stand in the line and they are interviewed or interrogated, I would say, in a manner which is at times not really welcoming. No wonder many of the potential colleagues that we have, candidates, they rather prefer to go to the US or do any other country. Switzerland is a shining example of how cosmopolitan and open a society could be. People say different things but in terms of getting the best talent, they are doing a wonderful job. In Germany, unless you speak German, you can’t integrate. Well you know if someone doesn’t speak German, it doesn’t mean he or she is dumb. We have people from Syria who are engineers who can quote better than anyone else. We have medical doctors coming in from different countries. But the mindset is always that if someone comes from outside and doesn’t speak our language, that person is somehow inferior. That’s the problem and you can’t fix that problem by teaching someone German. You need to get rid of that mindset.

Erik Marquardt
Helga Trüpel
Steven Goldstein