In an attempt to better manage the migration wave to, and through, borderless Europe, the EU Commission is proposing policies on three fronts. The negotiations in the EU Council will not be easy: they involve some very reluctant governments, especially those from Eastern Europe.
The first and most imperative task is to find a better way of receiving and distributing migrants throughout the continent. There is an emerging consensus that major centers for humanitarian reception and administrative registration will need to be created in the primary 'front-line' states in South and East Europe. These will have to be run, or at least tightly supervised, by the EU Commission, because Brussels will finance them and will want to enforce minimum standards.
More controversial has been the question of fair distribution of migrants according to EU-wide criteria. So far, Eastern Europe has refused to accept any quotas. This will probably change, because it remains very much dependent on net contributions to the EU from Northern and Western Europe. Similarly, the stance in the UK has softened, with public opinion swinging towards more compassion and away from UKIP-style isolationism.
The second front is the fight against human trafficking. Large scale trafficking has generated the present, never-ending migration stream to Europe. It will be anything but easy to find effective measures against such sophisticated and entrenched schemes originating in the source countries and continuing through Northern Europe.
In Eritrea, the rot starts at the highest civil and military level of a country run by a totalitarian strongman. Whole contingents of would-be Eritrean migrants are sold over borders to international people smugglers based in Libya, a failed state. These ancestors of the Arab slave traders then sell places in boats which are pushed out into the Mediterranean with often disastrous consequences for desperate refugees.
Such criminal activity, protected by internationally-recognised governments as well as heavily armed and well-connected war lords, can only be interrupted by a mix of international sanctions and targeted military action. As yet, the EU has developed neither the required political will, nor the necessary military means. However, the need for action on this front has dramatically increased over the last weeks, and in typical EU fashion, European Governments might again surprise everybody, including themselves, with a more muscular response.
The third front, and the root of the whole problem, lies in the migrants' countries of origin. There is nothing new about migration. However, crises, whether man-made (war, oppression, inequality) or to a lesser degree, natural crises, can accelerate the 'normal' migration process to breaking point, as in the case of the violent implosion of Syria. With Syria literally at Europe's doorstep, very difficult decisions can no longer be avoided. These include entering into discussions with the Assad regime and trying to force Turkey, a NATO-member, to do more against ISIS.
In the present migrant influx to Europe, the great majority of Syrians are political refugees. However, the African migrants are mostly economic refugees, so measures in their country of origin will need to be long-term. An exception would be intergovernmental agreements in which source countries make it harder for citizens to leave, in return for sustainable development aid at a grass-roots level.
The ugly truth of course is that many African governments do nothing to prevent their best and brightest from leaving, and actually often push them out, either actively or through a deeply corrupt system in which connections invariably trump merit. In an address at a major book-fair in Germany, Senegalese writer Abasse Ndione eloquently accused his Government and continent: 'Only the sons of ministers stay' (my translation).
One bright spot in Europe's seemingly intractable migration mess was Angela Merkel's hopeful mid-August statement: 'the asylum issue could be the next big project where we show whether we're capable of working together'. Even Peter Sutherland (who's morphed from coolly calculating WTO head to morally hard-hitting Special Representative for international migration for the UN Secretary General) sees a 'the brief chance for Europe to rescue its integrity'. Moral rectitude may not be the first recourse for politicians, but in the context of refugee and asylum crises it's the ultimate yardstick for our type of democracy.
Other countries, harshly judged on their refugee policy in the court of Western public opinion, might want to reflect on this.
Photo courtesy of Facebook user European Commission.