With the situation in Afghanistan unravelling at breathtaking pace, EU policymakers have appealed to Member State governments to accept those Afghans who are particularly at risk of reprisal from the victorious Taliban.
Of these, first in line from an EU perspective would be the local employees and contractors of the European agencies and European Commission departments active in the country. These include the European Police Mission (EUPOL), the EU delegation in Kabul and the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO).
German Greens/EFA Group MEP Sven Giegold demanded swift action in a statement issued on Monday morning; he estimated their number - including their immediate family -at “at least 600”.
He added, “Europe has to live up to its responsibilities to the local workers at the EU missions. But instead of acting quickly, the European Commission and Member States are arguing over competences. It is pathetic how they are trying to pass the buck”.
He argued that an airlift for local employees and contractors was urgently needed, and appealed to the German government in particular to revise its narrow definition of local workers eligible for assistance from the State.
Until Monday, these were restricted to direct employees - thus excluding contract agents - who had worked for the EU missions for two years. Giegold observed that “the Taliban is not interested in German employment laws”.
“Europe has to live up to its responsibilities to the local workers at the EU missions. But instead of acting quickly, the European Commission and Member States are arguing over competences. It is pathetic how they are trying to pass the buck” German Greens/EFA Group MEP Sven Giegold
A spokesperson for the European Commission confirmed at Tuesday’s midday press briefing that efforts to bring all local EU workers to safety are ongoing, but he refused to give details about numbers and timelines on security grounds.
Initial reactions to the sudden fall of the Afghan capital Kabul on Sunday were few and far between, leading Artis Pabriks, Latvian Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Defence and former MEP to tweet: “What is happening in Afghanistan in these hours will determine the future position of the West in the World. I am sad to see silence of EU leaders. Summer break seems more important too far for too many.”
However, by late Monday, most governments seemed to have woken up to the challenge. Germany’s Armin Laschet, the ‘Spitzenkandidat’ for the ruling CDU party in the upcoming elections, called for a strong mandate for the German armed forces to airlift vulnerable Afghans to safety.
He added that the mission was "one of the more dangerous" the Bundeswehr have had to undertake, and urged parliament to back the mandate that the government is expected to adopt on Wednesday.
Chancellor Angela Merkel is reported to have earlier told party colleagues that Germany must evacuate up to 10,000 people - including local support staff for its discontinued military presence, rights activists, lawyers and others at risk.
German EPP Group MEPs Daniel Caspary and David McAllister - the chairs of the European Parliament’s CDU delegation and the assembly’s Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET), respectively - welcomed Latchet’s initiative in a press statement, saying, “Apart from the local Afghans working for the Bundeswehr, it has also been female teachers, doctors, mayors and women’s rights activists, for example, who held the torch for peace, freedom democracy and human rights in Afghanistan aloft”.
“They are now at extreme risk and must under no circumstances be allowed to fall into the hands of the inhuman Taliban regime.”
“Afghanistan's descent into darkness will have consequences that must be discussed urgently by the European Council and the European Parliament. We need a unified EU humanitarian and diplomatic response. The international community must come together to protect those fleeing persecution” Dacian Cioloş, chair of the liberal Renew Group in the European Parliament
The first European countries to step forward with concrete offers of help and were non-EU members Albania, Kosovo and North Macedonia, who approved a US request to temporarily host Afghans waiting for special immigrant visas for the US.
Other European countries, including Italy and Spain, have announced they will admit Afghans who worked for their respective armed forces; however, reports suggest that this does not include Afghans working for the US.
Toby Vogel, a senior associate of the Democratisation Policy Council, a think tank on democracy promotion, told the Parliament Magazine, “By filling this gap, the three Balkan countries are showing basic human decency at a moment when the importance the Biden administration attaches to alliances has been called into question.”
EU leaders have yet to comment substantively. In the meantime, former European Commissioner and chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier called for an extraordinary meeting of the European Council, adding that “all European leaders must learn together from the current tragedy in Afghanistan. This is not just an American failure. Security, terrorism, Islamism, migration, regional stability: these are also our challenges”.
This sentiment was shared by Dacian Cioloş, chair of the liberal Renew Group in the European Parliament, who said, “Afghanistan's descent into darkness will have consequences that must be discussed urgently by the European Council and the European Parliament. We need a unified EU humanitarian and diplomatic response. The international community must come together to protect those fleeing persecution.”
The chair of parliament’s Socialists and Democrats Group, Iratxe Garcia Perez, tweeted:”The international community and the EU cannot turn a blind eye to the Taliban’s military offensive. It is urgent to protect those fleeing in search of refuge, preserve the rights gained by women and girls and to resume the peace talks for a comprehensive solution.”
However it was the EPP’s vice chair and leading member of the Subcommittee on Security and Defence (SEDE) Arnaud Danjean, who injected some critical thinking to the debate. In a Twitter thread, he argued that: “If the Afghan issue is so important and affects our own security and even the fate of our civilization so much, why, have we, the French, left Afghanistan already a decade ago?”
He continued, “We have to believe that, already in 2012, beyond the emotions, the seeds of failure had already been sown. The fiasco does not date from the last few weeks. In the face of the diversion of the original objectives, an over-militarisation of Western involvement, uncontrollable internal dynamics, corruption, abysmal cultural fractures, regional interference… What were the prospects?”
Many of those who now criticize the American withdrawal - even if its terms are, indeed, eminently shocking and open to criticism - only yesterday quipped about an artificial, useless or even counter-productive Western presence in the ‘graveyard of empires’.”