The EU’s (in)consistency and (in)coherence

Over the last two weeks Social Platform has focused on mobilising a joint response to the humanitarian crisis, bringing together European civil society actors across different sectors, including migration & asylum, environment and development.

Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security wisely reminded the European Parliament on 15 September that the EU needs to be substantive, consistent and coherent in promoting human rights internally and externally – because these actions are two sides of the same coin. This is why we are convinced (despite Vice-President Timmermans’s obstruction) that the EU needs an EU Internal Strategy to Promote Human Rights, so as to not lag behind the EU’s external work. This is also why we believe it is crucial that we, as European civil society, “walk the talk” by demonstrating that we are united – just as we expect Member States to be.

Therefore, ahead of European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s State of the Union speech on 9 September we disseminated an open letter to people fleeing war, persecution and poverty. #WeApologise on behalf of our leaders for not coordinating the humanitarian aid needed, not fulfilling their humanitarian obligation to ensure provision of services and not providing enough safe and regular channels to the EU. This was followed by a joint letter ahead of the Justice and Home Affairs Council on 14 September, in which we urged for immediate relocation, improved reception conditions, addressing root causes of humanitarian crises, and concrete proposals for regular channels. Disappointingly, ministers could only agree on issues of border management and measures that encourage return, such as a list of safe countries. On relocation they agreed “in principle”, but postponed the real decision until October. Dimitris Avramopoulos, European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship expressed his frustration at the outcome, as did many Members of the European Parliament as well as civil society organisations.

The European Parliament invited Fatima Kurdi to its hearing on 15 September. While we recognise her face as the women whose three-year-old nephew Aylan drowned and was found dead on a Turkish beach, she is not the only one to have experienced such tragedy. As High Representative Mogherini said, “the children we never see on pictures still exist”.

The Guardian recently portrayed eight refugees in Budapest. Their stories tell about the high price they have to pay to come to Europe and how much they leave behind, but it also tells another story, about the vast human capital they bring with them; their experience and knowledge, and their aspirations and ambitions. One man said, “I want to be a professor, I want to come back to my country and teach people, and I want to be a reformer, help people to be educated.” It’s worthwhile to remind oneself that these are people who simply lack the privilege of originating from safe and prosperous countries, as Antonio Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees put it.

Often those who do not want to welcome refugees and migrants to Europe argue that we should care for and help “our own people” first. If this is the case it must be in “our own” interest to invite refugees to our discussions; I am sure that many refugees and migrants would like to be a part of – and contribute to –  the solutions that could end wars, ensure “their” dignity, and in the long-run (when safe) provide the opportunity for them to return to their country of origin.

On the same day that JHA ministers discussed their actions, civil society met with the European Economic and Social Committee to discuss the content of the next European Migration Forum that will take place in April 2016. Online consultation with NGOs has resulted in key topics being identified: legal/economic migration, labour exploitation and undeclared work and a different narrative/ discourse on migration. Other topics identified were integration, better dialogue with employers, the private sector and social partners, skills and qualifications and the Blue Card Directive. Additionally the Bureau, which includes civil society representatives from our members ENAR and PICUM, works to make the Forum more relevant for decision-makers. One proposal is to have the chance to present our conclusions to the Council and the Parliament.

Going forwards we will continue to share our #WeApologise campaign online in several language (including Arabic), and we will monitor developments up until the next JHA Council meeting.