A European shipwreck

To declare war on the smugglers will simply divert migratory pressure to other areas.

This article was first published in Spanish by El Pais on 23 April. Translation by Carla Hobbs

Once again, migrant death in the Mediterranean has galvanised a fierce media reaction. Successfully awaking our consciences, this backlash has also whipped European politicians into a frenzy. Obliged by the dual pressure of media and public opinion they lavish statements of condemnation, convene summits in displays of unity, shirk responsibility for what has happened and scour the inventory for some kind of measure to give the impression they are acting, or will act, competently.

But it´s all a big political theatre in which agitation plays the following role: to prevent us thinking, especially in a critical fashion. Because if all the fuss died down for just one minute, and the comings and goings of foreign and interior ministers ceased, what we would actually see is unmistakable negligence, almost criminal, on the part of the EU. Because all the governments, grasping the size of immigration flows in that area of the Mediterranean, knew in advance that the suspension of the Mare Nostrum rescue mission and its substitution with Operation Triton, merely border control with far fewer resources, would cause the loss of many lives. To make matters worse, we know that they did not do it because they suspected that the Italian maritime rescue mechanism was having an incentivising effect on smugglers and immigrants.

The reality, however, is quite different. More than a pull factor, what we have is a series of communicating channels: the effectiveness of the Frontex Poseidon mission in sealing the EU’s eastern borders, particularly those of Greece and Bulgaria with Turkey, combined with the breakdown of Libya and the closure of the Atlantic or Spanish route, is provoking the convergence of all flows, i.e. the sub-Saharan, the Middle Eastern, and the Asian, in a single entry point: the Strait of Sicily. In light of this, it is incomprehensible that the heads of state should fail to understand that we are facing an emergency of global proportions and deal with it as such by establishing asylum points, humanitarian corridors, safe areas and refugee camps. Instead they attempt to solve the problem from a military and police perspective.

To declare war on the smugglers without understanding why people hire them and to design an anti-piracy mission like the one in Somalia can only have one effect: the diversion of migratory pressure to other areas and creation of further chaos in the transit countries. These days, many heads of state and government are calling for “more Europe”. But this is not the kind of Europe we need. The one we need should have a real immigration, refugee and asylum policy managed by the European Commission, not by 28 myopic, electioneering and incapable states. Who’s the shipwreck here?

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.


Head, ECFR Madrid
Senior Policy Fellow

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