When German Chancellor Angela Merkel publicly stated that she hopes Emmanuel Macron will win the French presidential elections, few were surprised. Not only have both sides been in regular contact over the past months, but it also seemed unlikely that Merkel would refuse to back the only person still able to prevent a Marine Le Pen presidency.
Nevertheless, if Macron wins on Sunday, which current polls suggest is likely, this will not only be a relief for Merkel, but will also put her in a difficult position. Macron, who has run on a decisively pro-European platform, will need to prove his ability to achieve reforms once elected. For his planned reforms on the EU-level however –– which most prominently feature a common eurozone budget and parliament –– he will rely on German cooperation. The problem? Until now, the appetite of Germany’s current government for Macron’s reforms has been rather low.
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Migration issues will dominate a meeting of Europe’s leaders this weekend in Malta. With spring around the corner, and refugee numbers in the Mediterranean bound to rise once more, they are looking for a way to prevent the drama of 2015 and 2016 — for a way to keep numbers low.
The current Maltese EU Presidency brought forward the latest proposal, which sees the solution in a deal with Libya — or rather what is left of it — oriented on the previous agreement with Turkey. This idea is not only dangerous in itself, however, it is also a symptom of the EU’s general incapability to solve its overarching migration dilemma.
Since Gaddafi’s fall in 2011, Libya has failed to recover, and is still de facto at civil war. Proposing the employment of its conflicting militias as migration controllers, hence takes a special kind of chutzpah — something apparently possessed by Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. Whereas critics immediately pointed out the humanitarian price for such a deal, the final verdict came with a report from the German foreign ministry this week. The report stated that conditions in Libyan refugee camps were worse than concentration camps, with execution, rape and torture being common occurrences.
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Although the EU-Turkey deal caused seemingly endless troubles, everyone seems to agree on one thing: the deal worked. It managed to drastically bring down refugee numbers. For the new Maltese EU presidency, this seems justification enough to replicate it, just that this time the chosen partner is Libya.
With his new proposal, up for debate at the EU Council on 3 February, Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat is trying to tie up a deal that would make Libya one of the EU’s closest partners in migration control. However, the price of this partnership would be high. It would not only mean a final goodbye to Europe’s commitment to human rights, but it would create further tensions both inside and outside Europe.
The timing of the proposal makes sense, with Malta just assuming the rotating EU presidency, and the migration influx expected to start in the spring. In order to prevent what he calls a “new migration crisis”, Muscat claims Europe has to act quickly and decisively, with pragmatism taking precedence over idealism. In concrete terms, this means negotiating and funding a deal with Libya in which the Libyan coastguard, de facto dependent on whichever warring faction rules the coastline, would be responsible for turning around boats before they reach international waters. This is supposed to drive down numbers, and disrupt the business of smugglers. In return, reception centers would be opened in Libya, allowing asylum seekers to apply on the spot, with the lucky ones accepted receiving safe passage over the sea. Yet, what sounds reasonable in the beginning, is ultimately heavily flawed.
Continue reading at Vocal Europe.