Another tragedy in the Sicilian Channel, which has cost the lives of 700 refugees from Libya, pushed Europe to meet the phenomenon of illegal immigration at community level. Greek EU Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos, presented the European action plan to the summit of the EU Interior ministers joined the ministers of Foreign Affairs, which was held in Luxembourg in April, with the aim of reducing the responsibility of States bordering the Mediterranean Sea and involved in the front line.

Then, the program was submitted to the UN Security Council by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, for approval. The UN Resolution should guarantee the legal cover of the plan subject to the consent of the non-European States, such as Libya, which did not approve EU operation against traffickers, although some points of the operation have already divided Europe.

In detail, the plan of Juncker, the President of the European executive who wants to overcome resistances and launch a single EU immigration policy, is based on four pillars: the assistance to countries of origin and transit of refugees; the borders’ control in southern Libya and neighbouring countries, creating structures designed to provide international protection; the mission of security and defence against the smugglers and traffickers of humans and the strengthening of Triton mission. As a matter of fact, the European Union aims to increase the resources and means for joint operations Frontex, Triton and Poseidon, and the new Triton plan should be submitted within May. It is one of the more debated points, especially after the operation Mare Nostrum. In a year, the cost of € 9 million per month of Mare Nostrum allowed to deploy a ship and two corvettes of the Navy, two patrol boats, six helicopters, two aircraft drones and about 700 soldiers who have operated within 100 miles from the Italian coast. The funds available to Triton, whose maxim is “search and rescue”, are of 2.9 million Euros per month and the area of action has been reduced to 30 miles off the Italian coast.

The first phase of the European plan for immigration provides that the Member States should work together to create an information system – satellite photos and data from sources not yet specified – shared for a greater surveillance, probably extended to the coast of Libya. A strengthening of links between the EU agencies Europol (the European Police Office), Frontex (European Agency for the management of external borders), Easo (the agency for the European asylum system) and Eurojust (the European judicial cooperation Unit), to study and hit the modus operandi of traffickers and intensify investigations. The Easo ensures more assistance to Italy and Greece in the approval process and control of asylum applications as well. Interception follows the second phase, the capture of the barges, as well as smugglers, and the safety of the refugees. This purpose limited to the Libyan coast, however, could not be decisive because the migrant flow would shift and the boats would go out from other ports. Thus, this phase should be implemented in total synergy with the Triton mission to dismantle the organization of smugglers and then proceed to the second phase: the destruction of boats in ports or at anchor, the reduction of fuel depots and embarkation areas. In the latter case, however, it requires the use of the deployment of Special Forces, including the Italian raiders, although the High Representative Mogherini has repeatedly stated that it is not a military intervention in Libya. The summit of Foreign Ministers and Defence recently asked Italy to lead the mission called Eunavfor Med. With the operating base in Rome, the Eunavfor Med should be commanded by the Italian Admiral Enrico Credendino. The naval mission includes all the steps illustrated in the document called Crisis Management Concept (CMC, the draft mission), whereas the next phases, such as the activities in international waters or the collection of information need further consideration. Conditio sine qua non of the mission is the approval of the UN Resolution. Following the principles of Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which governs actions against threats to peace and against aggressions, the UN should authorize the use of force and the management of activities in international waters and, if Libya wants, in Libyan waters too.

The third phase is the slowdown of these activities, because the implementation of the previous steps in coordination with an effective control, will hopefully lead to a significant reduction in traffic of immigrants, through the demolishing of networks and business. For these interventions, Europe has 20 billion available, economic resources assigned to cooperation and development. Much more complex is the last phase of the plan. The mandatory distribution of refugees according to the discussed mechanism of quotas applies considering factors that relate to population and wealth in terms of GDP of the country, the unemployment rate, the requests for asylum and the number of refugees resettled. According to these parameters, the European Commission would have provided the following partition:

  • Austria 2.62%
  • Belgium 2.91%
  • Bulgaria 1.25%
  • Croatia 1.73%
  • Cyprus 0.39%
  • Estonia 1.76%
  • Finland 1.72%
  • France 14.17%
  • Germany 18.42%
  • Greece 1.90%
  • Italy 11.84%
  • Latvia 1.21%
  • Lithuania 1.16%
  • Luxembourg 0.85%
  • Malta 0.69%
  • Netherlands 4.35%
  • Poland 5.64%
  • Portugal 3.89%
  • Czech Republic 2.98%
  • Romania 3.75%
  • Slovakia 1.78%
  • Slovenia 1.15%
  • Spain 9.10%
  • Sweden 2.92%
  • Hungary 1.79%

A mechanism for sharing migrants that makes turning up someone’s nose, such as the UK, Hungary, Poland, France, Spain and Lithuania. The Commission has focused on relocating the refugees who are already in the Community and, in 2015-2016, to launch a program for the resettlement of about 20,000 migrants arriving in Europe, funded with 50 million Euros. A project that aims to transfer from third countries migrants in need of international protection, who have requested political asylum to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, in agreement with the countries of destination. Also this number of refugees should be allocated to each Member State of the EU on the basis of the calculation of the quotas, although this mechanism keeps out Britain, Ireland and Denmark. As a matter of fact, the community policy about migration is based on the Title V of the Treaties and according to it the government of London and Dublin have the right to opt-in, that is they are excluded and can decide independently whether or not to be part of it, whereas Copenhagen has the right to opt-out, to lift out completely.

The amending budget for 2015 provides the necessary funds for the European plan for immigration. A total of 89 million Euro, whose 57 million for the asylum, migration and integration, and 5 million to the Internal Security Fund in emergency funding to the Member States involved in this phenomena, but the political goal of Mogherini and of the European Union is for this program to take form in a UN Resolution as soon as possible, which includes disapproving European States that avoid the process of solidarity. In this case, to reject any internal opposition, the European Commission invoked the Article 78.3 of the Lisbon Treaty which states: “In the event of one or more Member States being confronted by an emergency situation characterised by a sudden inflow of nationals of third countries, the Council, on a proposal from the Commission, may adopt provisional measures for the benefit of the Member State(s) concerned.” Applied for the first time, the article would allow the Commission to declare the need and urgency of defining the mechanism of quotas and start a procedure of voting in the European Council that provides the majority and excludes the veto, alias the possibility that someone blocks the measure.

Some points will be surely discussed. First, the issue of political asylums: he Treaty of Dublin, the main document adopted by the European Union in matters of asylum, signed also by non-European States, affirms that refugees can apply for asylum only in the State in which they arrived. It is plausible that few States cannot deal with a lot of requests. Thus, the European Commission expressed itself in favour of a revision of the Treaty in 2016. Another important aspect concerns integration. It deems the plan should be followed by a political settlement of immigrants into the hosting societies, because they recognize their rights and duties and, above all, to avoid consequences in terms of opposition to immigrants up to and beyond the limits of a xenophobia.

Federica Fanuli

Master’s degree in Political Science, European Studies and International Relations (University of Salento)