A Roadmap to Fix Immigration and Strengthen the European Union
Immigration is today the most important issue facing the European Union for 38 percent of its people, according to Reuters and the European Commission. Finding a common solution, by the EU and for the EU, will not just reassure European populations, it will also put the European ideal on more solid grounds. The plan proposed here would significantly increase the sovereignty of member states in immigration matters, yet at the same time, make the European Union more efficient at executing the overall vision of its nations, under new and more democratic institutions. No small fix will do, we will need a new treaty, but one that should have popular support and therefore should be ratified relatively easily.
Currently, under the Lisbon Treaty that came into force in December 2009, immigration policies are governed by the principle of solidarity (Article 80 TFEU). Decisions can be made by qualified majority voting, and the European Parliament is a co-legislator with the Council for policies on both regular and irregular (typically asylum) immigration. Introducing systematic veto rights for member states would yield to paralysis. The current quotas proposed by the European Commission are based on criteria “such as GDP, size of population, unemployment rate and past numbers of asylum seekers and of resettled refugees, taking into consideration the efforts already made on a voluntary basis by Member States.”
Indeed, as of September 1, 2017, the quotas were 1,294 refugees for Hungary vs. 27,536 for Germany, which means that Germany would absorb roughly three times more refugees relative to the overall population. Yet, relative to GDP, Hungary would end up making an effort 30 percent bigger than Germany. And of course, reaching a “fair consensus” on a pure economic basis, while so many cultural dynamics are at play, and while national politics have a stronger voice than European politics is proving a very difficult conundrum.
In the Photo: A Serbian border policeman patrols, July 17, 2013. Photo Credit: Reuters
Instead, we should give back control to member states, but leave the execution to the European Union, that would manage a pluriannual immigration plan by aggregating national preferences. Goals for the upcoming year would have to be firm, indicative for the following years, and each member state would determine freely the total number of immigrants, both for regular and humanitarian immigration. There will be two sorts of challenges: one is timing, the other has to do with logistics.
Indeed, there can be emergency situations and advanced planning, by definition, cannot anticipate them. So the EU will have the discretion to take in a fixed percentage, say 20 percent, of the annual goal of immigrants set by the member states. This is where the logistics question is critical: this additional intake cannot become the burden of a few peripheral countries, it has to be managed securely and financed unconditionally by the EU; those immigrants will be hosted in European Immigration Centers (EICs) and will stay there until some member states are willing to accept them. EICs will be created by the EU, which will fully support their cost and organization. During the next annual plan review, any contingent still hosted in EICs will be allocated in priority to member states that committed new annual intakes.
To oversee the overall European immigration process, we need a strong European enforcement agency, similar to the FBI in the United States, an agency that can quickly identify and prosecute cheaters or trouble makers, but should also over time handle all international criminal matters at a European level, to the extent economies of scale and increased efficiency can be achieved.
In fact, all immigrants to the European Union should transition through the EICs: European ID cards with state of the art biometrics features should be delivered, even to those that are ultimately rejected from the EU, so that a comprehensive database can be built. An EIC is not unlike, say, a NATO base, that resides in a particular country, but operates under unified command and budget. This is in contrast to the German proposal of making access to Structural Funds conditional on accepting immigrants: our plan is to mutualize the increased costs (social transfers, education, health, housing, transportation, public order) associated with migrant inflows, but within the intake numbers formally agreed by the member states via the pluriannual plan. To oversee the overall European immigration process, we need a strong European enforcement agency, similar to the FBI in the United States, an agency that can quickly identify and prosecute cheaters or trouble makers, but should also over time handle all international criminal matters at a European level, to the extent economies of scale and increased efficiency can be achieved.
In the Photo: A migrant has his fingerprints taken inside a police station, after being apprehended by the Serbian border police, having illegally entered the country from Macedonia, near the town of Presevo July 17, 2013. Photo Credit: Reuters
One could argue that this proposal is not fundamentally different from the current EU plan, but the big difference is governance: “The Commission will set up a new ‘Hotspot’ approach, where the European Asylum Support Office, Frontex and Europol will work on the ground with frontline Member States to swiftly identify, register and fingerprint incoming migrants,” claims the European Commission, but without clearly defining the coordination, “the work of the agencies will be complementary to one another,” and adds that, “Europol and Eurojust will assist the host Member State with investigations to dismantle the smuggling and trafficking networks.” Questions like How and Who decides in last resort are not answered, and because they would have to be addressed during a crisis, any loose organization will probably fall apart.
To truly control Immigration and security issues throughout the Union, it is better to have a chief executive who is elected directly by the people, or indirectly by a combination of European Parliament and national parliaments, in order to have the legitimacy to implement complex and sensitive policies, and to have a time horizon far greater than the average time lapse between two national general elections. This elected executive power would have its own budget voted by the European Parliament and financed by a withholding tax on all incomes throughout the Union. The role of this office will change over time, and will hopefully expand, as it provides more direct political accountability; depending on the will of the European people, it could become the embryo of a future democratically elected European Presidency, that could replace the European Commission.
by Jonas Gjersø
Public opinions started to realize that we were stronger together during the terrorist attacks against France, Belgium, Germany, the UK and Spain. At the time, the furor was all about how ineffective the European Union was. But slowly, the truth emerged: the Union is not ineffective, it is simply powerless in these matters, and by design. Our plan would create an efficient, united and truly democratic Europe that will thrive not just economically but will be strong in its frontiers and influence the world again, a Europe that other countries such as Switzerland and Norway will want to join, not leave.
In the Photo: Clothes are hung up to dry on a fence at an asylum center in the village of Bogovadja, some 70 km (43 miles) from Serbia’s capital Belgrade July 23, 2013. Photo Credit: Reuters
What about Austria, Hungary, Poland and Italy? Like all other countries they will feel they have regained an important part of their sovereignty, and public opinions that were never anti-Europe are likely to be supportive and embrace a platform that respects their preferences. The European Union will also need to evolve economically, especially in the Eurozone, but this plan can be the foundation for further economic change under greater democratic control.