Yesterday, France's President, Francois Hollande and Germany's Chancellor, Angela Merkel delivered passionate pleas for greater European Unity in tackling the continent's many challenges on Wednesday in a landmark joint addresses to the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
Speaking in turns, Hollande and Merkel delivered a strong defence of the Franco-German partnership and its role in driving EU integration and tackling the many challenges the continent faces today. They singled out Europe's migrant crisis, the Ukraine conflict and Greece's debt woes as examples of the two countries'ability to overcome disagreements for the benefit of the 28-member bloc.
Striking an ominous tone, Hollande warned against nationalist reactions on refugees, the euro and other crises, arguing that failure to find a united response would spell ''the end of Europe. He stressed that it would be ''tragic error'' to call into question Europe's open borders. Instead, he advocated the need for member states to come up with a coherent asylum policy. I could not agree more with him.
Merkel, whose governmentt has pledged to take in up to 800,000 refugees this year, urged EU members to reform the bloc's obsolete rules on asylum. ''In the refugee crisis, we must not succumb to the temptation of falling back into national action'', said the German Chancellor, who has struggled to persuade her EU partners to share the burden of hosting refugees.
The EU needs a comprehensive plan to respond to the crisis, one that reasserts effective governance over the flows of asylum seekers so that they take place in a safe, orderly way, and at a pace that reflects Europe's capacity to absorb them.
To be comprehensive, the plan, has to extend beyond the borders of Europe, less disruptive and much less expensive to maintain potential asylum-seekers in or close to their present location. As the origin of the current crisis is Syria, the fate of the Syrian population has to be the first priority. But other asylum-seekers and migrants must not be forgotten.
Similarly, a European plan must be accompanied by a global response, under the authority of the United Nations and involving its member states. This would distribute the burden of the Syrian crisis over a large number states, while also establishing global standards for dealing with the problem of forced migration more generally.
A comprehensive plan should have these components:
First, the EU has to accept at least a million of asylum-seekers annually for the foreseeable future. And, to do that, it must share the burden fairly; Germany should not be left with all the burden of asylum-seekers. This principle was clearly established in Hollande and Merkel robust interventions at European parliament, yesterday.
Adequate financing is critical. The EU should provide €15.000 per asylum-seeker fro each of the first two years to help cover housing, health care, and education costs- and to make accepting refugees more appealing to member states. It can raise these funds by issuing long-term bonds using its largest untapped AAA borrowing capacity, which will have the added benefit of providing a justified fiscal stimulus to the European economy.
It is equally important to allow both states and asylum seekers to express their preferences, using the least possible coercion. Placing refugees where they want to go-and where they are wanted is a ''Sine qua non'' of success.
Second, the EU must lead the global effort to provide adequate funding to Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey to support the four million refugees currently living in those countries. Thus far, only a fraction of the funding needed for even basic care has been raised. If education, training, and other essential needs are included, the annual costs are at least €5,000 per refugee, or €20 billion. EU aid today to Turkey, though doubled last week, still amounts to just €1 billion.
In addition, the EU also should help create special economic zones with preferred trade status in the region, including in Tunisia, Morocco, to attract investment and generate jobs for both local and refugees. The EU would need to make an annual commitment to frontline countries of at least €8-10 billion, with the balance coming from the United States and the rest of the world. This could be added to the amount of long term bonds issued to support asylum-seekers in Europe.
Third, the EU must immediately start building a single EU asylum and Migration Agency and eventually a single EU Border Guard, The current patchwork of 28 separate asylum systems does not work. It is expensive, inefficient, and produces wildly inconsistent results in determining who qualifies for asylum.
The new agency would gradually streamline procedures, establish common rules for employment and entrepreneurship, as well as consistent benefits and develop an effective rights-respecting return policy for migrants who do not qualify for asylum.
Fourth, safe channels must be established for asylum-seekers, starting with getting them from Greece and Italy to their destinations countries. This is very urgent in order to calm the panic.The next logical step is to extend safe avenues to the frontline region, thereby reducing the number of migrants who make dangerous Mediterranean crossing.
If asylum-seekers have a reasonable chance of ultimately reaching Europe, they are far more likely to stay where they are. This will require negotiating with frontline countries, in cooperation with UN-Refugee Agency, to establish processing centers there-
The operational and financial arrangements developed by the EU should be used to establish global standards for the treatment of asylum-seekers and migrants. This is the fifth piece of the comprehensive plan.
Finally, to absorb and integrate more than a million asylum seekers and migrants a year, the EU meeds to mobilize the private sector-NGOs, Church groups, and businesses-to act as sponsors. This will require not only sufficient funding, but also the human and IT capacity to match migrants and sponsors.
The exodus from war-torn Syria should never have become a crisis. It was long in the making, easy to foresee, and eminently manageable by Europe and the international community. Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán has now also produced a six-point plan to address the crisis. But his plan, which subordinates human rights of asylum-seekers and migrants to the security of borders, threatens to divide and destroy the EU by renouncing the values on which it was built and violating the laws that are supposed to govern it.
The EU must respond with a genuinely European asylum policy that will put an end to the panic and the unnecessary human suffering.
By Guylain Gustave Moke
World Affairs/Political Expert