The European Commission plans to approve the so-called migratory pact in the coming weeks, a project that aims to avoid the repetition of mobility crises like the one in 2015 and to restore the unity of the Schengen zone, which has been broken since then. The plan, drawn up by Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas and Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson, is based on an unprecedented tightening of external border surveillance and an escalation in the expulsion of irregular migrants. Brussels hopes that these measures will help to overcome the veto of Poland and Hungary of the fundamental objective of the pact: the commitment of the 27 member states to share the management of flows that the countries of the periphery now face almost alone.
The Commission's proposal will be the starting point for one of the most toxic and ideological negotiations in the European Union, as defined by community sources. Schinas and Johansson's contacts with all capitals, except during the stoppage caused by the pandemic, try to pave the way because the Commission only wants to make public the pact project, whose content this newspaper has been able to know, when it is guaranteed that no partner will reject it outright.
The pandemic has also disrupted the plans of Germany, a country that will preside over the club from July 1. German Chancellor Angela Merkel plans to leave the immigration debate for the last part of her presidential semester, once the Fund's negotiations to alleviate the economic damage of covid-19 have been settled. But not even the most powerful partner of the EU is in a position to close an agreement in the short term and only aspires to a possible political pact on the timetable to follow to reach a definitive agreement on a common asylum and immigration policy, which it may not arrive until the end of 2021.
The previous dialogue between partners is also intense. Berlin and Paris are coordinating in a case that in other times caused differences in the Franco-German axis. And this Wednesday, the Spanish Foreign Minister, Arancha González Laya, meets with her Hungarian counterpart. Spain and Hungary represent, in a way, the two extremes to be reconciled. In 2019, the rate of recognition of asylum applications in Spain was 820 per million inhabitants of the country; in Hungary, 5, according to Eurostat data.
ARMORING THE BORDERS
The first cornerstone of the pact is the European border agency (Frontex), which during the 2015 refugee crisis was little more than an administrative center for support to national authorities. The agency has now begun to recruit its own police force (which will number 10,000) and plans to stock up on abundant ground, sea and air surveillance equipment.
The training of the first 265 border guards, selected from more than 7,000 candidates, began this month. "And in September, we hope to award another 400 positions," said Frontex CEO Fabrice Leggeri, during a recent interview with EL PAÍS. In addition to the patrol cars it already has, the agency hopes to equip itself with surveillance planes soon. A boost that Leggeri trusts will be financially supported in the new EU budgetary framework (2021-2027), in full negotiation in these weeks.
The shielding of the borders is completed with rapid reaction equipment in the event of any cracks in the outer perimeter. The deployment of European forces may be at the request of the country that is overwhelmed by a sudden flow of migrants or as a result of the vulnerability analysis that Frontex periodically carries out. The Agency can ask States to mobilize human resources (up to 1,500 people) within five days and material within 10 days.
Shortly before the pandemic, the tension on Greece's border with Turkey served as a sample button for what aspires to become a model of reaction. Threats by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to encourage the exodus of migrants to Greek soil were immediately neutralized with the approval of a Frontex rapid intervention force that is still on the ground. The leaders of the community institutions also immediately moved towards the point of conflict, with a quasi-military set that sparked criticism from some government organizations but was intended to make it clear to Ankara that the EU would not accept blackmail. “This is not the border of Greece, but the border of the EU. And I thank Greece for being the shield of Europe ”, said the president of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, after arriving at the scene by helicopter.
IRREGULAR ROUND TRIP
Together with the shielding of the outer perimeter, the pact aims to speed up and improve the effectiveness of expulsion procedures for people who have entered the European Union irregularly. On average, in the EU only 36% of expulsion orders are executed, while tens of thousands of people remain irregularly on EU territory each year. Brussels wants to improve this ratio, an objective in which Frontex also plays a growing role. “Last year we organized 330 charter flights for the expulsion of migrants, that is to say, there is almost a daily flight,” says the Frontex executive director. And Leggeri adds: "we also use commercial flights, in which we can change the name of the passenger to expel another person if the one that was scheduled disappears at the last minute." The agency already participates in some 16,000 expulsions a year, 10% of the total.
For Frontex, the key to increasing the rate of repatriation lies in cutting the deadlines from the expulsion order and its execution. And in expanding the number of countries that accept returns. “Five years ago, Frontex could only make returns to 14 countries. We have multiplied these figures by almost six and we can now make returns to 82 countries outside the EU ”.
The Commission wants to use the increasing strength of Frontex to overcome the objections of Poland or Hungary to the migration pact. In exchange for a much tougher border policy, Brussels will ask all countries for a mandatory solidarity effort. The body chaired by Ursula von der Leyen rules out, however, recovering the mandatory refugee distribution quotas that so stirred spirits during the mandate of Jean-Claude Juncker. After five years of blockade, the Commission hopes to move towards a mandatory but more flexible solidarity model. The partners will be able to collaborate not only by accepting asylees but also with other formulas, such as the contribution of human or material resources, aid programs for third countries (especially in Africa), etc. Germany has even proposed that the number of people expelled could be counted as a contribution.