Question: The migration crisis in the EU has become Europe’s main problem overshadowing even the problems of Greece and the Ukraine crisis, which has been a constant talking point over the past year and a half. What is your take on the causes of and possibilities for resolving this problem?
Answer: For the EU, this is indeed a complicated situation, but it did not come as much of a surprise.
Over the past two decades, the EU has been implementing two major, serious and complicated projects — the single currency (the euro) and the common space without borders (Schengen). Clearly, not all countries were ready for the former and not all were ready for the latter. Today, not all of them are members of the euro zone and not all of them are members of the Schengen zone.
Both projects had systemic flaws. As regards the euro, in introducing the single currency, the EU failed to develop a common fiscal policy. It remained within the competence of the member countries. The current situation in Greece is a vivid manifestation of this inherent flaw.
Something similar happened to the second project, Schengen. The Europeans had everything neatly planned — how to issue visas to those who live “on the other side of the fence,” how to take fingerprints and even how many hours a day a truck driver in the EU should spend at the wheel.
However, they hadn’t thought up anything concerning the issue of granting asylum. The asylum policy remained within the national competence. Owing to a number of objective and subjective reasons, this policy differs considerably from one EU country to another.
Such were the systemic shortcomings, but everything worked more or less until crises broke out, one with Greece and the other with refugees.
Question: But the refugee crisis did not happen all by itself, it was preceded by the Arab Spring so much touted by the EU.
Answer: One should look at the underlying causes – who turned Libya into what and who turned Syria into what. EU countries were bombing Libya with misplaced persistence in violation of the UN Security Council resolution. OK. They flattened Libya, made short shrift of Qaddafi, and what do we see in Libya today? The country is practically without a government, or rather, with two governments. As for migration, Libya became the staging post for the mass departure of refugees to Europe by sea. The people who go are not Libyans who can be counted on the fingers of one’s hands. The people who go are mostly migrants from Africa and the Southern Sahara for whom Libya is a convenient route.
Now for Syria. How was everything presented and perceived at the dawn of the crisis? Allegedly what is happening in Syria is the consequence of the Arab Spring. But today even the most biased observers, not to speak of impartial ones, can see that this has nothing to do with any Arab Spring; it is rather a confrontation with militant extremism and terrorism represented by the so-called “Islamic State.” Today everybody knows what ISIS is, but the EU and the US, instead of interacting with the country’s legitimate authorities to fight international terrorism, are trying to back and keep afloat who they call the moderate opposition. These forces are dwindling, and not even because Damascus is fighting them all that effectively, but because they are lured by the Islamic State to join it.
Let's face it. Why has ISIS turned into such a rich and economically and militarily effective organisation? Yes, they steal oil and sell it. But who buys the oil? And how does it reach buyers? That’s where one should have started.
As for military successes, let's ask ourselves, what happened to the officers of the Iraqi army under Saddam Hussein after they were thrown out into the street? Haven’t they joined the ranks of ISIS? And who bears the historical responsibility for this?
Then what happens is what European Council Chairman Donald Tusk candidly described as “a watershed between the West and East of the EU.”
Incidentally, it is interesting that while the division among EU countries over the Greece crisis was along the North-South parallel, in the case of migrants the division goes along “the meridian” between West and East.
This makes one think of yet another systemic European miscalculation; I mean the “explosive” enlargement of the EU in 2004 when 10 East European countries were admitted simultaneously, followed by Bulgaria and Romania in 2007 and Croatia in 2013. As a result, the EU today consists of countries and societies that have very different mentalities. As a consequence, all attempts to evenly distribute over the EU territory a mere 40,000 of the half a million migrants who arrived since the start of the year have failed. Each EU state proceeds from its own perception that may be reversed in a matter of days. The borders are now opened and now closed, people are taken off trains only to be put on buses.
As regards Russia, of course, we cannot but see this situation and be concerned about it because all of this destabilises the situation in EU countries, which is certainly not in Russia’s interests.
Question: Do we have any ideas or recommendations for the EU in terms of this problem?
Answer: What we propose to the EU is an engaged dialogue. Russia, because of its geography and historical experience, is no stranger to migration problems in all three capacities, as the country of origin, transit and destination of migrants.
We have long regarded illegal migration as one of the new 21st-century challenges. But the discourse in Europe has shifted today. The word combination “illegal migration” is fast being replaced with the term “refugees.”
Federica Mogherini, summing up the discussion of the problem at an informal meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxemburg on 4-5 September, named as one of the EU’s main tasks the need to separate economic migrants and refugees. Good luck to the EU in this work, as the mission is hardly possible. Try to tell refugees without papers from economic migrants without papers.
Question: To this end, the EU is going to make lists of “safe” countries.
Answer: Yes, exactly. By the way, last year saw a spike in immigration to Schengen countries from Kosovo — this after many years of trying to build European democracy there. I do not hear that any of them have returned. Now they feel that there is no more room for them in Europe and it remains to be seen how all of this will play out.
For example, Greece – one of the transit countries – has already seen clashes between Syrians and Pakistanis. The Syrians were treated as war refugees while the Pakistanis were turned down — what are you doing here? There’s no war in your country.
The top candidates for the list of “safe” countries are candidates to join the EU, all of the Balkan countries and Turkey, and indeed Kosovo, though it does not yet have candidate status. This may lead to other flare-ups of tension as the people in these countries, for example, would think that refugees from Africa or the Middle East are blocking their pathway to Europe.
It remains to be seen how the EU will handle the problem. Let me repeat, we are not feeling any glee over this. On the contrary, we are open to mutually respectful dialogue with the EU.
Question: Meanwhile, the European Commission has called for urgently settling a further 120,000 people.
Answer: The European Commission, thanks to the firm stand taken by its Chairman Jean-Claude Junker, has worked out a fairly clear-cut scheme, which is fine except that some EU countries reject it. One of the pet topics in the EU today is to criticise Hungary and its prime minister. Everyone wants to kick Viktor Orban, shaming him for putting barbed wire on the border, even recalling 1989, the fall of the Berlin Wall and arguing that walls are bad for Europe.
Meanwhile, those who are doing the criticising have already built four barbed wire barriers around the entrance to the Calais tunnel. And that is seen as normal. And two or three years ago, the Greeks, at the height of the economic crisis, built a wall on the border with Turkey – they found 200 million euros for the project even though their treasury was empty.
In any case, Viktor Orban has a clear position that you may or may not agree with, but it has been set forth firmly. Some other countries are also trying to take a position. In Estonia, for example, they have been saying that the Libyans and Syrians are alien to them and if they have to give refuge to anyone they should be like them and they should speak Russian – and they are saying this after 20 years of trying to root out the Russian language. They are referring, of course, to refugees from Ukraine who, however, prefer to go to Russia rather than the Baltic countries.
Question: How do you think this situation will develop?
Answer: In the foreseeable future, it will be very tough for the EU countries to reach an agreement on the problem and the more people that arrive by boat, the more difficult it will be to agree. So, various ideas have already been floated, for example, paying compensation. If you refuse to take migrants, you have to pay. The figure suggested looks quite innocuous, 7.5 euros per refugee turned down – per day.
Question: So there is no way out in sight?
Answer: Alas, no. Here is an example. In late August, the three European heavyweight nations – Germany, France and Great Britain – suggested increasing quotas. Several days later, the Visegrad Four (Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary) had a summit meeting. A lot was said on the same topic, but there was no mention of quotas or the above initiative. The next stage in decision-making is the Council of Justice and Internal Affairs Ministers on 14 December, which I think will be followed by an extraordinary EU summit because it is hard to make a decision at the ministerial level.
Question: Meanwhile, the EU is preparing to take its operation in the Mediterranean to a new stage and start preparing to arrest ships belonging to those who transport migrants, for which the EU must get a UN Security Council resolution.
Answer: I think that the introduction of a new phase in the EU operation in the Mediterranean will be discussed on the fringes of the forthcoming UN General Assembly session in New York.
At their last informal meeting in Luxemburg (September 2-3), EU defence ministers decided that it is high time to pass from the first phase of the operation, which was mainly about planning, to the second phase, i.e. deploying ships and tracking downboats with migrants. The third phase theoretically should see the migrants caught in international waters and the fourth actions against migrant smugglers in Libyan waters.
Statistics show that 90% of boats with migrants sink and capsize in Libyan territorial waters. The bandits who put people into these flimsy boats have no intention of escorting them to Europe. They get their money and that’s it. Those who make it on their own make it. Often they are not even provided with enough fuel – why bother?
In short, Europeans already rescue migrants in Libya’s territorial waters. Rescuing is OK, but they can detain, let alone destroy vessels in territorial waters, only with the sanction of that country’s government. The result is a vicious circle, as what is Libya and where is its government.
So the EU is aware that to make the plan legitimate a UN Security Council resolution is needed. Such a resolution can be passed with regard to territorial waters even without Libya’s consent. It would sanction the detention and inspection of vessels without a flag or under the flag of countries that have backed the UN Security Council resolution. That is, in this way, governments agree to inspection and the detention of suspicious vessels that fly their flags.
For example, ships under the Tunisian flag (according to statistics, many of the migrant smugglers are Tunisian citizens). This is a smooth-running business. By the way, reportedly for $10,000-20,000 one can “comfortably” make the journey in the hull of a normal bulk carrier without any rubber dinghies.