The poor results of last week’s meeting of the 28 EU leaders are reflected in the triviality of the remarks by the Council President Donald Tusk, in summarizing the outcome of the 17 – 18 December gathering in Brussels. His most vivid comment was about the “hard work done and the extreme efficiency of the Luxembourg Presidency and personally of Prime Minister Xavier Bettel”.
Luxembourg passes now the rotating presidency of the Council to The Netherlands for the first half of 2016. Not a word about the immigration problem or the Brexit (exit of Britain from the EU) and the impasse, over the terms and conditions set by the British Premier David Cameron as a prerequisite of his support to the ‘yes’ campaign in the next in/out of the EU referendum in his country.
The stalemate between Britain and the EU unanswered
The Council found out that it is impossible to respond positively to what Cameron asks for and postponed the decision for next February. In reality, mainland Europeans comprehensively rejected the main British request about postponing the social security coverage for EU citizens immigrating to United Kingdom for four years. They told him that in order for the EU to satisfy the British demand the European Treaty has to change.
Obviously, a change in the Treaty may take years to arrange, with utterly unpredictable results in the national referendums which may be needed for the final approval. Let alone the Eurosceptic arguments that may be raised. Not to forget the resounding French and Dutch ‘no’ in the referendums which killed the EU Constitution in 2005. Despite knowing all that, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel didn’t hesitate to state: “if changes are needed in the EU Treaty, and I believe that this may be necessary, they cannot be realized right now but they can be brought about later on”. If this was not flagrant hypocrisy the words have lost their meaning. As a result, the Cameron referendum about Britain’s position in or out of the EU has to be postponed to 2017.
A Guard for immigrants
Concerning the other major issue in the agenda of the 28 EU leaders, which was the Commission proposal for the creation of a powerful “European Border and Coast Guard“, the only positive sign came from the country to be first besieged by such an authoritative body, Greece. The EU Commission has proposed that this new EU institution should be able to intervene in securing and managing the external borders of the Union without the consent of the member state involved. Last week the Commission first Vice-President Frans Timmermans boldly stated that this new Border and Coast Guard will be able to take action, “even against the will of member states” and he clarified that “this may not happen very often”.
France and Germany have officiously steered the Commission to such a strong proposal, in order to firstly and mainly place the Greek sea borders under Brussels management, and not without good reasons. During the past ten months the new Greek government under Alexis Tsipras did nothing to stop and even encouraged the immigrant and refugee inflows. The whole world watched the Greek island of Lesbos and other Aegean isles become a wide open gate of the EU, for hundreds of thousands of Middle Eastern, Asian and African refugees and immigrants to enter, in an unprecedented mass movement of people.
The Greek games
The human river then, through the ‘Balkan corridor’, reached the central EU countries and mainly Germany, thus creating burning political, social and economic problems to the entire continent. The whole affair has strengthened the right-wing political parties in the Old Continent and the European leaders hold Athens accountable for that. Actually, last July, in the middle of the negotiations for Greece’s position in or out of the Eurozone, the Athens government had threatened the other Europeans with something like what has actually happened. Panos Kamenos, the Greek right-wing minister for Defense, had stated that, if the Europeans throw Greece out of the Union, his country would retaliate by opening its borders for every possible immigrant or refugee and directing them to central and western Europe.
In last week’s Council then, the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was the only EU leader who clearly stated that he fully embraces the Commission proposal for the creation of the European Border and Coastal Guard. And this, despite the fact that his country, with its strong jingoistic convictions, will be the first member state to see this Guard managing its border and coastal areas without its consent. There are two reasons for that. Firstly it’s most certain that last week he must have felt the wrath of Berlin, Paris and many other European capitals, including the non EU member Balkan ones, about the complete Greek inability or unwillingness to effectively manage let alone stop the human river coming through Turkey.
What does Athens stand for?
The second reason is that now, after the Balkan and the central EU countries and Germany have closed their border to immigrants accepting only some refugees, Greece sees the full repercussions of her inability or unwillingness to control the human flow. A large part of the immigrants and some refugees are now trapped in Greece. Already thousands of Asians and Africans are flooding the major cities of the country. Germany accepts only a limited number of refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. The same tactics are followed by the Balkan countries. They allow passage only to those who will be accepted by Germany. All the rest are now cornered in Greece, after the Balkan corridor is closed for most of them. As a result, Athens can only hope for a pan-European initiative to save Greece from this stalemate.
Currently, the flow of people disembarking in Lesbos and the other Aegean islands seems unstoppable and only on days with very strong winds their numbers are somehow reduced. Then three ships, chartered with Brussels money, keep transporting them to mainland Greece. As usual, the authorities with their standard inefficiency are completely lost. Greece is the only country having agreed to build ‘hot posts’ and give shelter to at least 50.000 immigrants and refugees. It’s almost certain that at the end of the day this country is bound to pay the dearest cost. The other Europeans do not forget that Athens blackmailed them by threatening to direct the human flow from the Aegean islands to central and western Europe, through the Balkan corridor.
The powerful Guard to go ahead
As things turned out on 17 December, the European Council had nothing new to add on every account. It just “took stock of the implementation of the decisions already taken and agreed to speed up actions on: the operation of hotspots, the implementation of the relocation decisions and returns, the control of the EU’s external borders and the cooperation with countries of origin and transit”. Last but not least, the “EU leaders also asked the Council to rapidly examine the European Commission’s proposal of strengthening the EU’s external borders released on 15 December. In particular, the Council needs to adopt a position on the European Border and Coast Guard under the incoming Dutch presidency”.
All in all, last week’s EU Council left both hot issues unresolved. Britain’s position in or out the EU, the infamous Brexit and the migration problems were left at the same point as before the day the 28 leaders got together in Brussels. Actually, both questions may have become hotter and stickier since last Thursday, due to the inability of the Council to start a relevant debate.