When we warned in January that Europe was sleepwalking into a new migration crisis, social democrats and liberals accused us of feeding the flames of populism. Instead of looking for solutions to stop the irregular flow of migrants into Europe, they ignored it.
While local leaders from all parties are sounding the alarm that they have reached their limit when it comes to helping people in the field, the left and liberals are impeding asylum and migration reform and obstructing efforts to co-operate with North African nations to reduce irregular boat arrivals. The responsibility for failing to protect Europe’s borders falls on the social democrats and liberals.
Now, Europe is again confronted with a migration crisis. Take the example of Lampedusa, a small Italian island with around 6,000 inhabitants. Between 12 and 14 September, more than 7,000 people arrived in around 120 small boats, mostly from nearby Tunisia, taking the number of arrivals up to 10,000 people by the middle of the month. This rapid influx has overwhelmed the island, causing problems for migrants, authorities and residents alike.
Lampedusa is not just an Italian island; it is a European island. Rather than look away, Europe must come together to deliver solutions.
The French and the German governments have been slow and vague on their support for the Tunisia deal which could reduce the number of irregular arrivals. We are not naive about who we are dealing with in Tunis, but building good relations with North African countries is necessary to deter people from risking their lives crossing the Mediterranean. The absence of clear messages of support from Europe’s capitals do not help with building trust between Tunisia and Europe.
To make matters worse, the only proposal we got from the left involved search-and-rescue missions, which we support, but they must go beyond automatically transporting rescued individuals to European ports. We need a new European naval mission in the Mediterranean, but it needs to be able to bring back migrants to the North African coast. This is the only way to disrupt the business model of criminal gangs profiting from human smuggling.
The responsibility for failing to protect Europe’s borders falls on the social democrats and liberals
The reality is that the majority of people making the crossing are economic migrants with limited prospects for international protection in Europe. But the human traffickers also know that Europe’s return policy is not working. The most recent example of the Brussels-based terrorist who killed two Swedish nationals is a painful reminder of what can go wrong. Despite this, the European left aims to modify the legislation in a way that makes it even more difficult to return people.
The fundamental right of asylum is a defining principle in our relationship with the rest of the world, and its effectiveness has been proudly demonstrated through the hospitality shown by European countries towards Ukrainian refugees.
At the same time, the longer we wait to implement a more realistic and less idealistic migration approach, the more it will undermine citizens’ trust in their governments. It is not an inevitability. We know what to do. We are closer than ever to achieving a European agreement on the migration pact. In years to come, people will view this moment as either the biggest missed opportunity in a decade or the first step toward restoring order regarding European migration flows.
To achieve a breakthrough, social democrats and liberals need to accept that it is a new world out there; that without a European approach, we will move from one migration crisis to the next, slowly feeding the extreme right and undermining the people’s support for the EU. The time to act is now.