A SECOND BREXIT REFERENDUM – AND THE SEARCH FOR COMMON GROUND
A constructive proposal
By: John Dalhuisen, ESI Senior Fellow
Advocates for a second referendum on Brexit have struggled to articulate what such a referendum should look like. There are very divergent views on the question that should be asked – or the options that should be included. There is also little agreement on the voting system that should be used.
A second referendum can only be held if the public is convinced that the outcome would be conclusive, unambiguous and fair. The options presented and the voting system used would have to be simple enough to be easily understood. The voting system would also need to take the result of the first referendum into account by placing restrictions on the circumstances in which the leave result could be overturned.
In the absence of a proposal that satisfies these criteria, a second referendum might be a good idea whose time will never come. It needs to become a credible political proposition. As this paper shows, a referendum that satisfies demanding criteria and points the way towards a new consensus in a highly polarised UK debate is both possible and promising, presenting the best way forward. With a concrete and fair proposal on the table it becomes more likely to obtain the essential bipartisan public support for holding one.
A further referendum should be a three-way referendum between Deal – No deal – and Remain, in order to:
establish whether a majority of the voting public now wishes to remain in the EU in light of the available options (or not); and
avoid an inconclusive outcome, the securing of which would be hostage to further political debate or conditional on the agreement of the EU.
It should use a “Preferential Vote + Qualified Lock” voting system, in order to
remove incentives for tactical voting;
ensure that No Deal has a shot at winning;
prevent Remain winning if a majority of voters prefer either leave option to Remain counting across all preferences;
allow Remain to win even if it secures a minority of first preferences, if majorities prefer it to both leave alternatives counting across all preferences.
Both sequential voting options are problematic as they almost certainly preclude a No Deal victory. This is likely to generate considerable resentment amongst those who want it. No referendum should exclude the possibility of victory of an option on the ballot that could conceivably win under another reasonable voting system. A standard preferential voting system is also unsatisfactory as it would encourage tactical voting on the part of No Deal voters and would allow Remain to win even if there were leave options that a majority preferred to it counting across all preferences. This would not provide an adequate mandate to overturn the result of the June 2016 referendum. In short, a sequential or standard alternative vote referendum would not be unambiguous or fair: the outcomes would be disputed.
This leaves the two kinds of preferential voting system with a leave-favouring “lock”. There are compelling arguments for both. They pit two criteria against each other: the fairness / accuracy of the outcome, on the one hand, and the need to take the result of the 2016 referendum into account, on the other.
An “absolute lock” pays the greatest respect to the original referendum, as it would require an absolute majority of first choices for Remain for the result of the original referendum to be overturned. However, it could also result in a situation in which the UK leaves the EU with a deal, despite a majority of voters preferring to remain in the EU to both leave options counting across all preferences.
A “qualified lock” would satisfy the requirement that Remain should not be able to win in the event of an overall majority preferring one or other leave option to Remain counting across all preferences. But it would allow for a “minority” Remain victory if it beat both leave options after taking all voters’ complete preferences into account.
Under a qualified lock, Remain is already handicapped relative to both leave options. It faces an additional hurdle that the other two options do not. This is justified – indeed necessary – on account of the result of the 2016 referendum. However, the additional requirement of an outright majority of first preferences for Remain to overturn to the original result could result in an outcome that was clearly inconsistent with actual voter preferences and would be irreconcilable with the criterion of fairness.
In short, a new referendum on Brexit should be a single-round, preferential (alternative) vote on three options: Deal, No Deal or Remain, with a built-in “lock”. The lock would prevent Remain from winning unless it was preferred by a majority of voters to both leave options taking all voter’s complete list of preferences into account.
How might a second referendum on Brexit work?
As the choice of voting system and question heavily influences outcomes (i.e. the same set of voter preferences will yield a different result depending on which questions are asked and how votes are counted), it is difficult to come to a view on what a new referendum on Brexit should look like that is not influenced by one’s own preferences. This paper attempts to do this, however, by setting the following criteria:
A new referendum must be:
Conclusive: the options presented must require no new negotiations. A second referendum only makes sense if it results in the conclusion of the Brexit process, not a new beginning
Simple: the question is / or the options are / clear;
Unambiguous: the voting system must encourage the expression of real voter preferences; i.e. it must not encourage tactical voting;
Fair: the voting system should not effectively preclude an included option from winning that might have won under another system under a foreseeable voter distribution;
the choices presented do not exclude altogether a (conclusive) option that might have enjoyed majority support
the result must be consistent with expressed voter preferences; i.e. in a multiple-option referendum with no outright winner, an option preferred to all others counting across all preferences should win.
It should also acknowledge the result of the June 2016 referendum.
The voting system should exclude the possibility of victory for Remain if there is a conclusive leave alternative that is preferred to it by a majority of voters, counting across all preferences. Such an outcome would be legitimately contested, given that a majority of the voting public has already voted once to leave the EU.
These criteria aim to ensure that the result of any new referendum on Brexit is as undisputed as possible. Given the importance of the issue for the future of the country and the depth of feeling it provokes, it is crucial that any new referendum delivers a conclusive outcome that cannot reasonably and legitimately be challenged. The best referendum is one which the most people can agree to in advance and the least people can dispute once it has taken place. No new referendum can exclude the possibility that those who do not get their preferred outcome feel robbed. But it is crucial – and possible – that they cannot feel robbed by the format chosen.
Which options should be on the ballot?
The proposal in this paper is based on the deal negotiated by the government with the EU being one of the options. However, the considerations and conclusions that follow would apply equally to ANY deal. For now at least, whether Parliament likes it not, the current deal is the one on the table. But what should the other option or options be?
A binary referendum?
It would be possible to ask the public to choose simply between the deal the government has negotiated and a no deal departure from the EU. This has a certain logic: the question of whether or not to leave has been asked already. On the other hand, given the clarity that now exists on the alternatives on offer, and the possibility that a majority now favours remain, it would not be fair, and far from democratic, to leave this option off the ballot altogether. If you are going to ask people their opinion on Brexit again, you cannot confine this to how it should happen, when a good many may well have changed their minds on the desirability of the entire enterprise.
It would also be possible to run a straight deal-remain referendum. But this would also exclude a popular, possible option: no deal. It would face the same practical and principled short-comings in terms of the legitimacy of the outcome.
A new two-way referendum would not satisfy the criteria of fairness and unambiguousness set out above. So a new referendum should at offer at least three choices: deal – no deal – remain, in order to maintain democratic legitimacy.
A multiple-choice referendum?
Should any other options should be on the ballot? After all, Parliament has considered a range of alternatives in the course of the “indicative votes process”.
One could argue for the inclusion of soft Brexit options that the EU would likely agree to: remaining in either or both of the customs union or the single market. It is likely that there are voters who would prefer one or both of these options to all of the other three. This speaks for their inclusion.
However, a four-/five-/ or even six-way referendum would be excessively complicated. An outcome requiring entirely new negotiations would also fail the test of conclusiveness.
A new referendum should therefore offer a three-way choice between remaining in the EU, leaving with the government’s deal and leaving with no deal at all. These are all realistic, understandable, conclusive options that the UK can decide to pursue unilaterally.
Heading to Essen for a debate today on confidence, values and European asylum and migration policy. For more information on the Mercator Salon see below.
In preparation I am updating my research on the invasion of Europe in 2018. I am coming across some shocking numbers, which must be shared.
Greece: August 2018 some 3,673 million people arrived. That is ~120,000 every day.
Spain: August 2018 saw 10.2 million people arrive. That is ~329,000 every day.
France: the Paris region alone saw 171 million people stay in hotels in the first half of 2018. That is ~945,000 every day.
Clearly the mainstream media are not doing enough to highlight these numbers. And have YOU seen the statistics showing how many crimes these hundreds of millions of people are responsible for? I have not either. It must be a conspiracy.
PS: Meanwhile, the total number of people who arrived irregularly per boat across the Mediterranean in the first nine months of 2018 – to Spain, Italy and Greece – was 81,000. This is 9,000 a month or 297 every day.
“Die Frage nach dem richtigen Umgang mit Einwanderung spaltet Europa. Viele Menschen sind nach dem sprunghaften Anstieg ein- und durchreisender Flüchtlinge und Migranten im Jahr 2015 verunsichert. Populistische Parteien werfen der Politik Versagen vor und geben vermeintlich einfache Antworten.
Wir möchten mit zwei Gestaltern von Migrationspolitik sprechen, die dennoch sagen: Wir schaffen das! Serap Güler und Gerald Knaus setzen sich auf unterschiedlichen Ebenen für eine Politik ein, die Einwanderung regelt, ohne Asylsuchende schlecht zu behandeln; die Migration und Asyl als Aufgaben begreift, die wir gemeinsam auf regionaler, nationaler und europäischer Ebene angehen müssen.
Warum setzen sie sich für eine humane und europäische Flüchtlingspolitik ein? Welche Praxisbeispiele geben ihnen Zuversicht, dass Politik und Gesellschaft die mit Migration verbundenen Herausforderungen meistern können? Wie versuchen sie, Menschen Ängste zu nehmen und Vertrauen in die Politik zurückzugewinnen?
Diese und weitere Frage möchten wir im Rahmen eines Mercator Salons gemeinsam mit Serap Güler, Staatssekretärin für Integration im Ministerium für Kinder, Familie, Flüchtlinge und Integration des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen, und Gerald Knaus, Gründungsdirektor der Europäischen Stabilitätsinitiative (ESI) und einer der wichtigsten Impulsgeber für eine europäische Migrationspolitik, diskutieren. Moderiert wird die Veranstaltung von Michael Martens, Korrespondent der Frankfurter Allgemeinen Zeitung in Athen.”
Last week I explored a few Schengen borders in Central Europe, cycling around Lake Constance: the border between Austria and Germany near Bregenz and Lindau. The border between Germany and Switzerland near Konstanz (Constance). And the invisible borders criss-crossing Germany’s largest lake.
This is what these borders look like in August 2018:
Border crossing from Germany to Austria: that’s it.
This bit of water marks the border between Austria and Germany. Seen from Austrian side.
This is the border between Germany and Switzerland. The towns on both sides have grown together. The train-station of Constance is used by both countries.
I will write more here about the reality of Schengen borders in Europe in 2018 soon.
I also gave a long interview, while in Constance, to the leading regional daily Südkurier; discussing what the reality of Schengen means for proposals to unilaterally close national borders (between Germany and Austria, say, or all around Germany): it is simply not possible without a dramatic intervention disrupting daily lives of millions massively. This, and more – Salvini’s theatrics, rescues at sea, hysteria and migration, what real crises are today, surprising facts such as “more people received international protection last year in Belgium than in Italy” I discuss in the interview below (in German, so you have to use google translate).
Migrationsexperte: Die Flüchtlingskrise wird von Hysterie geprägt
Gerald Knaus entwickelte das EU-Türkei-Flüchtlingsabkommen. Auf seiner Radreise entlang der Schengen-Grenzen treffen wir ihn in Konstanz. Im Gepäck hat er Ideen für Europas Asylpolitik.
Herr Knaus, Sie fahren zur Zeit mit dem Rad um den Bodensee. Verbinden Sie da Privates mit Beruflichem?
Es ist Urlaub in einer Region, in der einem viele Ideen kommen. Ansonsten arbeite ich im August im Bergdorf meines Großvaters im Bregenzerwald, am anderen Ende des Sees, schreibe Papiere und bereite eine Reise zum spanischen Außenminister vor. Hier am Bodensee schauen wir auch Grenzen an, bei Lindau etwa, und jetzt in Konstanz die Grenze zur Schweiz. Wir stellen uns dann vor, wie diese aussehen müsste, würde man hier versuchen irreguläre Migration nach Deutschland zu stoppen, so wie die CSU das im Juni vorgeschlagen hat.
Sie sind der Vordenker des EU-Abkommens mit der Türkei. Jetzt gibt es neue Flüchtlingsrouten übers Mittelmeer. Hat sich das Problem nur verlagert?
So wie der italienische Innenminister Matteo Salvini derzeit auftritt, würde man glauben, Italien wäre 2018 das Land, in dem die meisten Flüchtlingen in der EU ankommen. In Wirklichkeit hat Spanien dieses Jahr mehr Bootsflüchtlinge aufgenommen als Italien. Selbst in das kleinere Griechenland kommen aus der Türkei noch mehr Menschen. Für Asylantragsteller, die nach Deutschland kommen, sind immer noch die griechisch-türkische Grenze und der Balkan die wichtigsten Routen. Die öffentliche Diskussion nimmt das jedoch kaum wahr.
Woran liegt das?
Die Debatte wird von Hysterie beherrscht, und Populisten geht es nicht um Zahlen oder konkrete Lösungen. Selbst wenn irgendwann niemand mehr nach Italien oder Ungarn käme, um Asyl zu beantragen, würde Salvini Migration zum Hauptthema machen. In den ersten fünf Monaten dieses Jahres kamen im Durchschnitt weniger als 2700 Menschen im Monat über das Meer nach Italien. Dann wurde Matteo Salvini (Lega Nord) Anfang Juni Minister und versprach durch Sabotage privater Seenotretter eine angebliche Invasion zu stoppen. Das Ergebnis: Auch im Juni kamen wieder mehr als 3100 Menschen, dafür sind aber 564 Menschen ertrunken. Das sind mehr als fünf Mal so viele als im Durchschnitt im ganzen letzten Jahr im Monat ertrunken sind. Doch so wie Trump oder Orban ist auch Salvini gut darin, packende Geschichten zu erzählen, die mit der Wirklichkeit nichts zu tun haben. Und künstliche Krisen zu schaffen.
Eine künstliche Krise? Wir sehen wieder fast täglich Bilder vom Mittelmeer…
Es gibt genug echte Krisen, die man dringend lösen muss. Es sollte niemand mehr im Mittelmeer ertrinken. Es sollten sich viel weniger Menschen auf den Weg nach Libyen machen, um von dort in die EU zu kommen. Niemand, der mit einem Boot ankommt, sollte länger als sechs Wochen auf eine endgültige Asylentscheidung warten. An all diesen Krisen zu arbeiten und umsetzbare Lösungen vorzuschlagen, wäre verantwortungsvolle Politik. Aber zu behaupten, Italien müsste wegen 2700 Menschen im Monat die Flüchtlingskonvention, die Antifolterkonvention und die Europäische Menschenrechtskonvention aussetzen, weil Europa sonst von Migranten überflutet würde, hat mit seriöser Politik nichts zu tun.
Aber war diese Eskalation nicht vorhersehbar? Auch vor der jetzigen populistischen Regierung in Rom appellierte Italien immer wieder an die Solidarität der übrigen Mitgliedstaaten…
Blicken wir genauer hin. Asylanträge? In den ersten fünf Monaten dieses Jahres gab es in Deutschland 66 000, in Frankreich 46 000, in Italien nur 28 000. Positive Asylentscheidungen? Im Jahr 2017 bekamen in Deutschland 222 000 Menschen internationalen Schutz, in Italien waren es gerade 12 000. Weniger als in Belgien, viel weniger als in Frankreich. Italien ist durch seine Geografie betroffen, in den letzten Jahren sind über 600 000 Menschen dort angekommen, die Küstenwache hat sehr viele gerettet, danach sind aber viele weitergezogen. Und endgültige Asylentscheide dauern Jahre. So wurde die EU zum tödlichen Magnet. Die Vorgängerregierung in Rom hat dann auf die libysche Küstenwache gesetzt. Salvini hat applaudiert und gleichzeitig behauptet, dass das nicht genügt und der Rest der EU Italien weiterhin im Stich lassen würde. Und er macht das sehr geschickt.
Das Problem liegt doch vor allem in der Dublin-Verordnung…
Tatsächlich denken viele, in Italien wie in Deutschland, die Dublin-Verordnung hätte das Problem von Asylsuchenden auf Kosten der Mittelmeerstaaten gelöst: Hätte man Italien früher unter die Arme gegriffen, etwa mit einem System der Umverteilung von Asylsuchenden, dann wäre die Situation nicht so eskaliert. Doch hätte es vor 2014 ein System mit Quoten und Verteilung gegeben, wären Asylsuchende aus dem Rest Europas nach Italien zurückgebracht worden, so wenige Anträge gab es dort. In Wirklichkeit hat Dublin einfach nie funktioniert, Menschen sind immer weitergezogen und Länder haben sie selten zurückgenommen.
Trotzdem zetern Europas Populisten gegen die EU…
Dublin ist vor allem deshalb ein Problem, weil es eine Fiktion schafft, an der sich alle Populisten abarbeiten können, die aber noch nie umgesetzt wurde. Man muss klar vermitteln, wie eine humane Alternative zur Politik von Salvini tatsächlich aussehen könnte. Aus Brüssel kamen seit 2015 zwei große Ideen, beide waren weltfremd. Erstens: die Zwangsverteilung von Asylsuchenden. Das hat von 2015 bis 2017 nicht funktioniert und würde auch heute kaum ein Problem lösen. Das weiß die Europäische Kommission auch. Zweitens: mehr Geld für Frontex und EU Grenzbeamte. Doch weder in Spanien noch in Italien oder Griechenland fehlt es heute an nationalen Grenzbeamten. Wenn man dann noch dazu nimmt, dass Dublin nie funktionierte, wirkt die EU verloren. Und dann kommen Populisten wie Salvini und Viktor Orbán, behaupten es sei alles ganz einfach, das Versagen Europas nur eine Frage des Willens. Das ist Theater, aber leider mit guten Schauspielern.
Wie sieht eine europäische Lösung denn aus?
Wir müssen wissen, was im Regelfall passiert, wenn heute ein europäisches Schiff im Mittelmeer Menschen rettet. Es ist illegal, Menschen nach Libyen zurückzubringen. Kein anderes nordafrikanisches Land ist zur Aufnahme bereit. Daher brauchen wir gemeinsame europäische Aufnahmezentren, in denen schnell entschieden werden kann, wer Schutz braucht und wer nicht. Und das binnen Wochen, wie heute in den Niederlanden schon, wo die Fristen zwischen Ablehnung und Berufungsentscheidung verkürzt sind. Dazu braucht es Anreize für Herkunftsländer, dass ihre Bürger zurückgenommen werden, die keinen Schutz brauchen. Geschieht dies konsequent und schnell, ist das der beste Weg, viele davon abzuhalten, die gefährliche Reise anzutreten. Und niemand wird Folterern ausgeliefert oder in die Gefahr zurückgestoßen.
Angenommen, die Zentren funktionieren, wie Sie sagen. Wie geht es dann weiter?
Wer Asyl bekommt, dürfte in der EU bleiben. Es wäre im Interesse von Deutschland, Frankreich, der Niederlande anerkannte Flüchtlinge freiwillig aufzunehmen – als Teil eines Gesamtsystems, das irreguläre Migration reduziert und Schengen stärkt. Die meisten, die in den vergangenen Jahren in Italien ankamen, bekommen in der EU keinen internationalen Schutz. Ein EU-Fonds sollte dafür Gemeinden und Städte subventionieren, wenn sie anerkannte Flüchtlinge aus diesen Zentren aufnehmen.
Das Problem solcher Zentren ist oft, dass die Menschen nicht bleiben, um auf die Entscheidung zu warten. Wie würden Sie das lösen?
Wenn Bedingungen menschenwürdig sind, und die Verfahren schnell, dann müsste man sicherstellen können, dass Leute nicht einfach weiterreisen. Auch Menschenrechtsorganisationen sollten das – unter Einschränkungen – unterstützen, wenn es dazu führt, das niemand ewig in der Luft hängt und niemand ohne faires Verfahren zurückgeschickt wird. Man sollte ein Zeitlimit setzen. Was in jedem Fall zu Problemen führt, wäre Menschen länger oder zur Abschreckung festzuhalten. Doch ich habe keine Illusionen: Wenn sich politisch Salvini, Orbán und andere in der EU durchsetzen, wird es wie in den USA kommen, wo es heute schon über 40 000 Haftplätze für irreguläre Migranten gibt.
Rückführungen funktionieren auch in Deutschland nicht. Jahre später werden längst integrierte Flüchtlinge abgeschoben. Wie sinnvoll ist das?
Es schadet dem Einzelnen, aber es nützt der Allgemeinheit nicht. Es ist sinnlos. Leider läuft die Debatte oft so, als gebe es nur zwei Möglichkeiten: eine Amnestie für alle, was dazu führen könnte, dass noch mehr Menschen nach Deutschland kommen. Oder eine rigorose Abschiebepolitik – koste es was es wolle, obwohl jedem klar ist, dass das oft sinnlos ist, und dass trotzdem viele, die heute hier sind, am Ende nicht abgeschoben werden können.
Gibt es denn eine Alternative?
Ja. Das erste Ziel sollte sein, dass diejenigen, die irregulär kommen und keinen Schutz brauchen, möglichst schnell zurückgeschickt werden, aus Aufnahmezentren an den EU-Außengrenzen und durch attraktive Abkommen mit Herkunftsländern. Das zweite Ziel sollte sein, dass nach einem Stichtag jene, die schon hier sind, eine Chance bekommen hier bleiben zu können, wenn sie konkrete Anstrengungen unternehmen sich ein neues Leben aufzubauen. Beides zusammen sollte erreichen, dass es in drei Jahren eines nicht mehr gibt: viele Menschen ohne Perspektive, die am Rande der Gesellschaft, ohne klaren Status leben. Doch so eine Politik kann die EU nicht umsetzen. Das müssen Koalitionen von Mitgliedsländern machen.
Bundesinnenminister Horst Seehofer setzt vielleicht auch deshalb eher auf nationale Lösungen…
Die Frage ist: welche Lösung? Dublin an der deutschen Außengrenze wiederzubeleben, ist wie einen Toten künstlich zu beatmen. Es wäre hingegen sehr gut für Europa, wenn der deutsche Innenminister tatsächlich Erfolg hätte, gefährlichen Populisten das Wasser abzugraben. Etwa so: eine deutsch-französische Initiative für ein europäisches Ankerzentrum auf Lesbos, in Spanien oder auf Korsika, in dem seriös schnell entschieden wird, wer Schutz braucht. Eine Troika Spanien-Frankreich-Deutschland, die Herkunftsländern attraktive Angebote zur Rücknahme ihrer Bürger nach einem Stichtag macht. Das Ausdehnen des EU-Türkei Abkommens auf die Landgrenze mit der EU. Mehr Umsiedlungen von Schutzbedürftigen mit dem Flüchtlingshilfswerk UNHCR. Schnellere Familienzusammenführungen, schneller Abschiebungen von Gefährdern. Das strategische Ziel 2019: Weniger Menschen kommen über das Mittelmeer, niemand ertrinkt und proeuropäische Parteien weisen mit einer selbstbewussten und humanen Asylpolitik Salvini und Co. bei Wahlen in die Schranken. Wenn es Horst Seehofer gelänge, Kontrolle, Sicherheit und Respekt für Menschenwürde zu verbinden, wäre ganz Europa der Gewinner.
Seehofer versucht sich lieber in bilateralen Abkommen mit Wien.
Mitte Juni hat Horst Seehofer zunächst von Kanzler Sebastian Kurz und FPÖ-Vizekanzler Heinz-Christian Strache verbale Unterstützung erfahren. Dann aber, als es konkret darum ging, dass Österreich Asylsuchende aus Deutschland zurücknehmen sollte, hat sich deren Haltung um 180 Grad gedreht. Das war eine gute Lehre. Denn obwohl im Juni 2018 nur relativ wenige Flüchtlinge an die deutsch-österreichischen Grenze kamen, zeigte sich, dass es die angeblich einfache Option, national Grenzen dichtzumachen, praktisch nie gegeben hat.
Was passiert, wenn es der EU nicht gelingt, eine nachhaltige Lösung für die Flüchtlingskrise zu finden?
Das, was Salvini, Orbán, Marine Le Pen und andere offen anstreben, ist ein Europa, in dem die Flüchtlings- und Menschenrechtskonventionen nicht mehr gelten. Angst vor offenen Grenzen führt bei ihnen zur Attacke auf das, was im vergangenen halben Jahrhundert aufgebaut wurde. Was sie verbindet, ist das Schüren von Angst und Hass: auf Flüchtlinge und Migranten, als Invasionsarmee bezeichnet, also als Feinde. Auf Eliten und die Zivilgesellschaft, die als Verräter in diesem angeblichen Krieg auf der falschen Seite stehen. Das ist eine gefährliche Agenda. Jene in der EU, die das nicht wollen, müssen beweisen, dass es einen besseren Weg gibt, mit Migration und Asyl so umzugehen, dass sich Mehrheiten trotzdem sicher fühlen. Ohne unsere Werte zu verraten und uns Populisten auszuliefern.
Ideas matter – and few ideas mattered more in the Balkans in recent decades than the notion that different ethnic groups cannot live together in the long term, and that therefore it is inevitable that one day they need to be separated.
There are many policy makers today who appear to have forgotten the 1980s, and how such ideas – developed by intellectuals, turned into movies and novels by artists, picked up by politicians – prepared the ground for a decade of war, for millions of displaced and for more than 120,000 dead.
But there is no excuse to forget this recent past. This is why ESI will remind those who care about stability in the Balkans about the real reason peace took hold in the Balkans in recent years: a battle of ideas that was won at huge effort and cost.
Two ideas in particular were defeated.
The first: force is justified as a tool of politics to defend ethnic (tribal) group interests. Criminals can become legitimate national heros if they use their weapons in the name of their tribe. And the second: it is not natural for people of different ethnicities, religions, identities to live together. You are only ever save if you are in control. You can never be save as a minority.
In 2004 it looked for a moment as if these ideas would stage a breakthrough in Kosovo. During two days, Kosovo Serbs were viciously attacked by Kosovo Albanian nationalists. And immediately following these two days, leaders in Belgrade argued that this meant that coexistence had become impossible.
As we argued at the time, this logic clearly implied that coexistence was also impossible in Bosnia – where worse atrocities happened for years – and in parts of Macedonia (where fighting had erupted in 2001). It was impossible also in Croatia, and logically everywhere in the Balkans where minorities lived. And minorities lived everywhere: in Serbia, in Montenegro, in Kosovo.
And so we published a report in 2004 which we hoped had some impact on the debate: “The Lausanne Principle”. There we argued that the temptation of “simple” solutions to minority issues – by exchanging either territory of people – is deadly. We pointed to the example of the original Lausanne treaty – and what it meant for generations of Greeks in Turkey. We noted that the whole European (and US) strategy after the 1990s was based on the opposite idea: that Balkan nations were held to the standard of how they treated minorities, and that by showing that minorities were not only save but could live decent lives as equal citizens Balkan nations could prove that they were ready to join the rest of the EU.
Today tribal thinking is raising its ugly head also inside the EU. But this is not a reason to export this toxic idea to the Balkans. It is in particular a huge threat when it comes to the future of Kosovo – and a total betrayal of Kosovo Serbs, who did NOT flee their homes in 1999, nor in 2004. And who would now be told that unless they lived in or moved to Serbia they had no future.
We strongly believe that for this reason it is not a matter only for Pristina and Belgrade to settle their relations. Some things the EU should make clear are not compatible with European principles. For instance, any exchange of people against their will or under pressure would be totally unacceptable. And so should any exchange of territory based on ethnic principles.
Five years into the international administration of Kosovo, two violent days in March 2004 have sorely tested the international commitment to a multiethnic Kosovo. Directed against Kosovo’s minorities and against the international mission itself, the violence has left many wondering whether UNMIK has the capacity to achieve its objectives in the face of open resistance.
This is a dangerous moment for international policy in the region. The urgent priority for the Kosovo mission and the incoming Special Representative of the Secretary General is to reaffirm the international commitment to multiethnic society, at both the diplomatic and the practical level.
This paper argues that the policies needed in response to the March riots must be based on the practical needs of Serbs living in Kosovo today. The paper finds that the current reality of Kosovo Serbs differs from the common perception in important ways. There are still nearly 130,000 Serbs living in Kosovo today, representing two-thirds of the pre-war Serb population. Of these, two-thirds (75,000) are living south of the River Ibar in Albanian-majority areas. Almost all of the urban Serbs have left, with North Mitrovica now the last remaining urban outpost. However, most of the rural Serbs have never left their homes. The reality of Kosovo Serbs today is small communities of subsistence farmers scattered widely across Kosovo.
Against this background, the paper argues that the Serbian government’s plan for creating autonomous Serb enclaves in Kosovo is dangerously flawed. Kosovo Serbs cannot be separated into enclaves without mass displacement of both Serbs and Albanians, increasing hostility and further compromising the security of Serbs. Any attempt to implement this vision leads inevitably towards renewed violence. If, as seems likely, the Belgrade plan is a tactical ploy aimed at securing the partition of Kosovo, it amounts to a betrayal of a large majority of Kosovo Serbs.
The paper argues that a sustainable solution for Kosovo cannot be based upon the Lausanne principle: the negotiated exchange of territory and population common in post-conflict settlements in the Balkans in the early 20th century. Serb communities in Kosovo will only be viable if the territory remains unified and Serbs are able to participate as full citizens in multiethnic institutions. The stakes are extremely high, both for Kosovo Serbs and for the international community, whose entire strategy in the region over the past decade has been based on a commitment to multiethnic society.
The essence of the ‘Standards before Status’ approach is that Kosovo’s institutions of self-government must take responsibility for ensuring that minority communities can live in Kosovo in safety and dignity. The paper proposes three practical measures for making this Standard a reality:
a redoubling of efforts on return and repossession of property, with a view to completing the process by the end of 2005;
ensuring that multiethnic security structures in Kosovo are strengthened, properly equipped and placed under the political responsibility of the elected Kosovo government, through a ministry of public security;
carefully targeted reform of local government structures to ensure that Kosovo Serbs receive adequate public services in the places and circumstances in which they now live.
In addition, the paper argues that a renewed effort to overcome the division of Mitrovica would be the most positive response to the March riots, removing Kosovo’s most dangerous flashpoint and opening up possibilities for negotiated solutions on a range of highly contentious issues.
A fundamental precondition, however, is that the international community explicitly rule out any solution for Kosovo based on territorial bargains or the expulsion of minority populations. Whatever its final status, Kosovo must remain whole and undivided, providing a safe home for all of its traditional communities. The Contact Group and the European Union should serve notice that any partition scheme will be vetoed in the Security Council. They should also serve notice that an ethnically cleansed Kosovo will never be seen as fit for sovereignty. Let it be made clear to everyone concerned that the anti-Lausanne consensus that guides policy in Europe today is too solid to be shaken by an angry mob.
The obstacles to implementing the Belgrade plan [of ethnic enclaves throughout Kosovo] are so great that it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that it is merely a negotiating ploy – a maximalist position designed to secure a tactical advantage. If so, what is the agenda that underlies it? The terms of the plan itself suggest an answer.
There is only one area of Kosovo where the proposal could be implemented without violent upheavals – the relatively compact Serb-majority area north of the Ibar. As the plan itself notes, being “close to central Serbia”, the north of Kosovo is safer and easier to defend than the Kosovo interior. Creating an autonomous province in Northern Kosovo would involve undoing some of UNMIK’s recent policy successes, particularly the establishment of a multiethnic court and Kosovo Police Service in North Mitrovica. However, many of the institutions required for an independent administration already exist.
There are those, both among the political class in Belgrade and in the international press, who believe that the complex institutional mechanisms required for “autonomy within autonomy” are impractical, and would rather see a simpler solution: the partition of Kosovo into a fully independent, Albanian south, and a northern part that would remain within Serbia. They believe that this is an outcome on which both sides might agree – the Kosovo government in order to secure independence for most of Kosovo, and the Serbian government as a face-saving compromise.
As one commentator in the Serbian daily Kurir put it: “We should either tell the remaining Kosovo Serbs that they cannot survive there and that they should move to central Serbia, or we should try to divide what still might be divided, thus at least a part of Kosovo really to be part of Serbia.” Cedomir Antic, a historian and member of the liberal group G17 Plus, proposed drawing a “green line” as in Cyprus. He suggests a Security Council resolution to divide the province according to the census data from 1991. Antic erroneously assumes that if “the Serbian canton includes the northern part of Kosovo plus the part around Gracanica,” then “90 percent of Serbs would enter the entity.”
There are also commentators on the international side who consider partition an unavoidable, if not desirable, outcome. As Ian Traynor put it in The Guardian: “The Serbian elite is not so dismayed to see Kosovo Serbs driven out of their villages. It thinks this will reinforce the case for partition. Albanians too may ultimately back a partition that maximises territory and entrenches an independent Kosovo. With a few exceptions they want Kosovo ethnically pure. In the middle stands the NATO-led international administration, which for five years has been pushing a multi-ethnic, multicultural Kosovo that neither side wants.”
Those opposed to partition have pointed to the dangers for Presevo or Macedonia, if the international community acquiesces in further border changes. In fact, the most immediate danger is to the many Serbs (up to 75,000) living in the Albanian-majority south. If the international community were to accept partition, caving in to demands for territorial separation from extremists on both sides, it would leave itself in an extremely weak position to protect the minorities left in the south. This is precisely the scenario that would lead to an intensification of mob violence in Kosovo and the expulsion of the remaining Serbs.
It is not likely that the international community will openly acquiesce in the partition of Kosovo, nor even that the Serbian government will officially advocate abandoning the Serbs living in the south of Kosovo. The real danger is that persistent talk of territorial solutions, along the lines of the Belgrade plan, will set in motion a chain of events that will make this outcome inevitable.
At the turn of the 19th century, when the nations of South Eastern Europe were emerging from a crumbling Ottoman empire, state-building was often accompanied by the brutal expulsion of ethnic and religious minorities. When the Great Powers sat together to redraw the map of the region following major conflicts, they considered forcible population exchange to be a legitimate technique for solving “minority questions”. In 1913, the treaty that followed the Second Balkan War included a Protocol on the exchange of population. In 1919, Greece and Bulgaria approved a Convention Respecting the Reciprocal Emigration of their Racial Minorities. In 1934, 100,000 Muslims were resettled from (Romanian) Dobrudja to Turkey. It was a brutal approach: solving minority problems by eliminating the minorities themselves.
The most infamous of these agreements was the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which ended the Greek-Turkish war in Asia Minor. At Lausanne, the Greek and Turkish governments and the Great Powers stated as the very first article of the treaty the principle of preventive exchange of population:
“As from the 1st May, 1923, there shall take place a compulsory exchange of Turkish nationals of the Greek Orthodox religion established in Turkish territory, and of Greek nationals of the Muslim religion established in Greek territory.”
The result was the forced displacement of almost 1.5 million people, destroying communities that had existed since ancient times. While many had already been displaced by conflict, there were still over 200,000 Greeks in Anatolia and more than 354,000 Turks in Greece. Many of these were “prosperous and satisfied, feeling secure and having no desire to abandon their homes.” As the Greek prime minister noted at the time, “both the Greek and the Turkish population involved… are protesting against this procedure… and display their dissatisfaction by all the means at their disposal.” With the principal of territorial separation accepted at the international level, however, there was nowhere to appeal, and the expulsions continued to their bitter conclusion.
In the first half of the 1990s, the shadow of Lausanne loomed large as Europe’s democratic governments met once again to decide the fate of South Eastern Europe. During interminable negotiations on the Bosnian war, the leaders of the warring parties sought to reinforce their territorial claims by expelling minority populations. As one Bosnian observed at the time, “The maps of a divided Bosnia-Herzegovina passed around at international conferences have become more of a continuing cause for the tragedy that has befallen us than a solution.” The international community faced a choice between acquiescing in a territorial solution based on ethnic cleansing, or finding a way to reverse the ‘facts on the ground’ which had emerged from the conflict.
The year 1995, with the horror of the Srebrenica massacre and the signing of the Dayton Agreement, marked both the nadir and a turning point in the international approach to the region. The peace agreement could not immediately reverse the injustices of the war. However, it did create the framework of a multiethnic state, and the promise that those expelled from their homes would be able to choose whether or not to return. Annex 7 of the Dayton Agreement contains a provision that is the exact opposite of Article 1 of the Treaty of Lausanne: “All refugees and displaced persons have the right freely to return to their homes of origin. They shall have the right to have restored to them property of which they were deprived in the course of hostilities.”
In the immediate post-war environment in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with the perpetrators of ethnic cleansing still firmly in power, the prospects of reintegrating the communities seemed remote. During 1996, continuing displacement far outnumbered minority returns. In 1998, reconstructed houses were still being torched by angry mobs incited by shadowy figures. Many believed that the idea of restoring a multiethnic Bosnia was a dangerous illusion that would only bring further violence. They argued that the only ‘realistic’ path to security was the partition of the country.
Yet the international response was remarkable. With every violent attack on returnees, the international determination to restore a multiethnic Bosnia and Herzegovina was strengthened. SFOR took a more vigorous approach to supporting return. International reconstruction programmes were made faster and more flexible. In 1999, an enormous international campaign was launched to implement the property laws that enabled displaced persons to recover homes they had lost during the war. By 2000, the tide had turned. Bosniacs and Croats were returning to homes across Central Bosnia, breaking down the armed enclaves left over from the war. By 2002, Bosniacs were returning in significant numbers across Republika Srpska. By 2004, over 200,000 families (around a million people) had recovered possession of their properties. With the success of the return movement, the vicious ideology of Milosevic, Karadzic and Tudjman was thoroughly discredited. Today, as international troops and police are steadily reduced, it is local, multiethnic police forces which provide security for minorities across Bosnia and Herzegovina.
It appeared that the international community had finally developed a principled and effective answer to the vicious logic of ethnic separation. In Kosovo in 1999 and in the Presevo valley in southern Serbia in 2000, the international community responded decisively. When an armed uprising in Macedonia in 2001 threatened to escalate into civil war, there was an immediate intervention to preserve multiethnic society. Each time, the settlement was founded on the conviction that different ethnic communities are able to live together. There were always some who believed that multiethnicity was naïve, utopian or dangerous, and that partition was the only route to stability. They were, however, disregarded. Not only was ethnic cleansing condemned as abhorrent, but systematic programmes to restore property rights and freedom of movement were developed to reverse the new realities created through violence. The very idea that stability could be achieved through exchange of populations was decisively rejected on both moral and pragmatic grounds. Since Srebrenica, international policy in the Balkans has been based on an anti-Lausanne consensus.
There are those who believe that acquiescing in the partition of Kosovo would be a simpler and more pragmatic solution than continuing to defend multiethnic society. Yet the Belgrade plan or any suggestion of partition are premised on a mass resettlement of population – a miniature version of the population exchanges agreed between Turkey and Greece in Lausanne. They are neither simple nor pragmatic. Forcible expulsions (whether officially sanctioned or carried out by an angry mob) would raise tensions to an impossible degree. The people in question – rural communities of subsistence farmers – have shown throughout the past decade that they are deeply attached to their traditional homes and lands, and would only leave under direct threat of violence. As one student of earlier Balkan population exchanges noted:
“The attachment of the individual to the soil where he was born is so deeply rooted that only the fear of an imminent peril to his life may force him to emigrate… On the basis of past experience, one is forced to conclude that the transfer of populations is intimately connected with the prevalence of extensive political upheavals.”
Any territorial exchange could only be accomplished through upheavals more extensive than any Kosovo has seen to date. A solution built upon further ethnic cleansing would be a dramatic failure for one of the most substantial post-conflict interventions ever undertaken, and a huge loss in credibility for the multilateral institutions – the United Nations, NATO, the OSCE and the EU – which are responsible.
It is a measure of the crisis of confidence on the international side that Serbian proposals for ethnic separation were greeted as “a good basis for resuming dialogue” by former Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Harri Holkeri. No longer confident in its ability to defend multiethnic society, the international community is once again flirting with the Lausanne principle. This is a dangerous moment for international policy in the region. Rearticulating a commitment to a multiethnic Kosovo is the most pressing priority for the new SRSG and the wider international community.
Needed: an Anti-Lausanne Consensus
In 1955, a rumour, subsequently proved untrue, spread through Istanbul that Ataturk’s birthplace in Thessaloniki had been vandalised by Greek nationalists. The result was serious rioting in the remaining multiethnic areas of the city, leading to numerous deaths and hundreds of looted and destroyed houses. As one Greek eyewitness noted at the time:
“It lasted less than twenty-four hours… Everyone shut themselves into their houses. Some were injured. They [the mob] destroyed the priest’s house. They tried to set fire to the church, but it would not burn… They did more damage in other places. We (the Greeks) were their main targets. But they also attacked Armenian and Jewish houses, probably without realising. We were afraid they would attack again. That was when people gradually began to emigrate.”
This and many similar episodes were the inevitable product of the Lausanne principle: the process of expulsion of ethnic groups – Greeks from Turkey; Turks from the Balkans – continued over subsequent decades until it reached its inevitable, tragic conclusion. By the 1960s, the idea of ethnic separation had spread to Cyprus, with predictable results. The spirit of Lausanne proved extremely difficult to put back into the bottle.
Will the riots of March 2004, also started by an unsubstantiated rumour and resulting in senseless destruction, set in motion a similar process in Kosovo? Any student of South East European history would find plenty of reasons to be pessimistic. After all, today there are no Greeks in Varna or Istanbul; no Turks in Belgrade or Thessaloniki; no Bulgarians or Circassians in Northern Dobrudja; no Germans in the Vojvodina. Once population transfers became accepted as a legitimate solution to ethnic conflict, it virtually ensured that this was the way in which all ethnic conflicts would end up being resolved.
Yet looking back over the decade since the fall of Srebrenica and the Dayton Peace Agreement, there is also cause for optimism. The international commitment to the right to return, not just as a legal principle but also as a practical reality, has offered a genuine alternative to the Lausanne principle. As a direct consequence, despite the horrific violence of the 1990s, today there are Croats in Travnik, Bosniacs who have reconstructed mosques in Prijedor, large Serb communities in Drvar, Macedonians and Albanians living shoulder to shoulder in Tetovo, Albanians and Serbs side by side in Bujanovac. None of these were easy successes. There was no shortage of violent challenges to multiethnicity: arson of Bosniac houses across Republika Srpska in 1996; riots in Brcko in 1997 which drove out the international officials; murder of Croats in Central Bosnia in 1998; riots against Serb returnees in Drvar in 1998; the destruction of mosques and churches in Presevo and Western Macedonia in more recent times. The violence showed how high the stakes are. Yet none of these events shook the international conviction that a stable Balkans could not be based on the Lausanne principle. By holding its line against territorial solutions, the international community has succeeded in stabilising large parts of the region.
Has the international community’s commitment to multiethnicity been destroyed by the March riots, leading to a gradual acquiescence in the partition of Kosovo? Or will it lead to a strengthened international commitment to multiethnic institutions and a non-negotiable right to return? Much will depend on the response of the international community in the coming period, and the lessons which UNMIK draws from its experience. Much will also depend on the political choices made by politicians in Belgrade and Pristina.
While most of South Eastern Europe is looking forward to joining a Europe which is very different from that of the Lausanne era, the logic of ethnic separatism continues to find adherents in parts of the former Yugoslavia. Giving in to them at this late stage would not only be a betrayal of minority communities across the region, it would also compromise the basic values on which today’s European Union is constructed.
To ensure that the destructive spirit of Lausanne stays in the bottle, three things are required. Efforts to support return and property repossession need to be redoubled. Multiethnic law enforcement institutions need to be strengthened, properly equipped and made politically accountable. Institutions able to deliver effective public services to Kosovo’s minorities in the places and circumstances in which they now live need to be designed and established.
A fundamental precondition for all this to happen, however, is that the international community must explicitly rule out a solution for Kosovo based on territorial bargains or the expulsion of minority populations. Whatever its final status, Kosovo must remain whole and undivided, providing a safe home for all of its traditional communities. The Contact Group and the European Union should serve notice that any partition scheme will be vetoed in the Security Council. They should also serve notice that an ethnically cleansed Kosovo will never be seen as fit for sovereignty. Let it be made clear to everyone concerned that the anti-Lausanne consensus that guides policy in Europe today is too solid to be shaken by an angry mob.
Thank you very much for an opportunity to to talk to you this evening. It is so great to be back here after eight years.
Let me introduce myself. I think it is the easiest way for me to convey a message that I would like you to leave this room with.
I was born in 1986 in a small town in northern Bosnia-Herzegovina called Doboj. Today, Doboj is in Republika Srpska, one of the two Bosnian-Herzegovinian entities.
I was five years old when the war broke out in former Yugoslavia. I was six when fighting began in Bosnia. Together with my mother and my brother I spent the war as a refugee in Croatia. My father remained in Bosnia and fought in the war.
We were lucky because we all survived. When the war ended in 1995 I was 9. Throughout my primary and secondary school education there was peace in Bosnia. Ther was peace also when I went abroad to study, first in Austria and then in Belgium. There was peace also in 2013 when I returned to Bosnia to live and work there. There is still peace also today in Bosnia.
But I remember very vividely February 1996, when together with my family we went to Doboj for the first time. It was city of horror where Bosniaks and Croats were expelled, all minarets and mosques destroyed and many houses damaged. We did not even dare to say our Muslim names out loud on the streets. For months and years after the war I had nightmares about Doboj.
But since then Bosnia has changed dramatically. The number of foreign soldiers keeping the peace went from 60,000 in 1996 to just less than a thousand today, mostly Austrian soldiers. Since 2006 there is a joint army and conscription has been abolished. I am part of generation of young Bosnians and Herzegovinians that where never forced to use a gun.
But today I stand before you and tell you this story because I am genuinely worried. And I will tell you why.
I do not remember the time before the war but I read a lot about how Doboj turned into a nightmare. I read a lot of Yugoslav intellectuals and politicians talking about borders, injustice and ethnic rights. They were all making a simple but destructive argument:
You are only safe IF your own ethnic group is in control.
You are only safe WHEN and WHERE your own ethnic group is in control.
This idea destroyed Yugoslavia and Doboj. It destroyed families, it has led to mass expulsions and genocide in Srebrenica. It turned borders into frontlines, created new borders drawn in human blood.
But ideas can change. And they did in Bosnia. Doboj is a good example.
Half of the pre-war non-Serb population returned to live there today: almost 20,000 of them. Mosques and minarets had been rebuilt.
The Doboj of my nightmare is today an ordinary city, where Bosniaks and Croats do not fear their Serb mayor. They even vote for him repeatedly. And they all face same challenges: poor health and educational system, too few jobs to compete for.
And this is why I am worried. Today’s Doboj was possible because international community had a clear policy:
NO MORE CHANGES OF BORDERS ALONG ETHNIC LINES.
Serbs should be safe in Central Bosnia, as much as Croats in Banja Luka. Bosniaks in Doboj or Srebrenica. Macedonians should be safe in Tetovo, as much as Bosniaks in Novi Pazar, Albanians in Presevo, or Serbs in Gracanica and Mitrovica.
Some ideas seem innocent at first, but as they grow up they can become monstrous. The idea that you are only safe if, when and where your own ethnic group is in control is such idea.
This is why I plead to Balkan leaders, in particular those sitting at this panel today, not to go down this road, again. I also plead to European leaders, in particular those sitting at this panel and those in audience, to state clearly they would oppose it if the Balkan leaders decided to take that road.
The task for our generation is to turn all Balkan borders into European borders: like those between between Tyrol and South Tyrol. In order to do that we will have to do a lot: build institutions based on rule of law, allow freedom of media and do a lot more. It is time.
Thank you very much.
PS: The video is here: https://www.facebook.com/forumalpbach/videos/574682706268252/
Der Spiegel wrote a very good title story this week (25 August) on the right refugee policy for the EU, which Germany should push for. A coherent plan that could get majority support – and be presented as alternative to Nauru fantasies / push-back proposals of Salvini, Orban and co. The key recommendations in this article:
1. More assistance to countries close to crises hosting many refugees, and to UNHCR.
2. Control external borders to know who enters; identify and register those who do.
3. More resettlement: more ways for refugees and those who are politically persecuted to find their way to Europe legally.
4. Rescues: Europe has a duty to rescue those at risk of drowning. This should not be left to private organisations.
5. European transit centres: there European experts should be able to determine within a few weeks whether somebody needs asylum; those who do not should not remain in Europe.
6. Agreements on return: negotiate new types of agreements with African countries of origin for them to be willing to take back their citizens.
7. Contingents: offer annual legal migration contingents in return, so that countries such as Senegal, Gambia or Nigeria are ready to agree to new return agreements.
8. Those who arrived in Germany before a set date should be able to acquire residence and work permits. Concentrate deportations on those who pose threats or are criminal.
Implementation of a humane policy – start in the Aegean
The challenge is to find the way now to move from ideas to implementation.
One place to start is in the Aegean, right away. The EU- Turkey agreement is based on these very principles – if it would actually be implemented in full:
– EU provides substantial financial help for refugees in Turkey (1)
– It allows for better control at external (Greek-Turkish) border (2)
– (Voluntary) resettlement of refugees from Turkey to EU (3)
– Sharp decline in deaths in Aegean; everyone rescued in Greek waters is brought to Greece. (4)
– KEY CHALLENGE on Aegean islands: quick and fair decisions on who needs international protection in the EU and who can be returned to Turkey (or offered voluntary return to country of origin) (5)
– Return: Turkey agrees to take back those who do not need international protection in EU if they arrived in Greece after 20 March 2016 (6)
– Mobility: Turkey is offered visa liberalisation in return for full cooperation (while meeting mutually agreed key conditions set out in visa roadmap) (7)
– Cut-off date: the EU-Turkey statement has a cut-off date for returns to Turkey – those who arrived after March 2018 (8)
Implementation of a humane policy: a place for rescuers to take people in Europe
At the same time there is an urgency to find a better way to deal with those rescued now in the Central Mediterraean , and to do so quickly. The ESI’s Malta/Rome/Amsterdam/Sanchez Plan for the Mediterranean would achieve this, and also meet all the objectives and respect all the above principles.
(Two recommendations in the Spiegel article concern development policies in Africa and job creation programs in refugee camps: both go beyond issues we developed in our proposals).
In recent weeks, we sent a number of letters to European policy makers with concrete suggestions how Spain, Germany and others might move ahead in addressing the current Mediterranean migration and rescue crisis. Here is a summary of some of the concrete things that we suggested in these letters (and in a few meetings):
There needs to be a strong joint commitment to sea rescues.It is unacceptable to let people drown who might be saved with more effort. In June 2018 – the first month with Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini –more people drowned in the central Mediterranean than in any June in the past decade!
While it is crucial to send more rescue boats, this is not in itself enough to reduce deaths. The deadliest six-month period in the Mediterranean was actually the period May-October 2014, when Italy was fully engaged in its ambitious rescue mission (Mare Nostrum): more than 3,000 people died on the way to Italy. (The deadliest full year was 2016, the year when most rescues took place).
Spain, France, Germany and others should provide more rescue boats outside the Libyan territorial waters. The objective must be to ensure that nobody drowns; while arrivals are reduced without push-backs.There are three possible ways to achieve this:
discourage people who have no need of protection from coming, by sending a clear message that those who do not need international protection will be returned to their countries of origin quickly, following a fair but fast asylum procedure.
work with transit states that stop boats leaving (as Spain did with Senegal in 2006 and with Morocco for a longer period; as Italy and the EU have done, much more problematically, with the Libyan coast guard since early 2017; or as the EU and some members have done working with Niger to stop smugglers taking people through the Sahara).
send back people who are rescued to North Africa, or to some “processing platforms”, as Matteo Salvini, Viktor Orban and Sebastian Kurz have long advocated as “Australian solution”, modelled on Nauru; an option the last EU council requested should be studied. This is both highly problematic legally and completely impractical. When some European leaders present such platforms as their proposal what they really appear to want is a thin cover for push-backs to Africa.
The first option is by far the best. It represents a real humane alternative to Salvini’s current approach. It combines control and empathy, sea rescues and returns.Can a strategy based on this first option be implemented? Yes, it can.It would require three concrete measures:
1. European RICs – registration and identification centres, what the European Council called “controlled centres” (the term hotspot, discredited by the awful conditions on the Greek island, should be dropped): i.e. humane, decent accommodation centres, set up in European Mediterranean countries of arrival, jointly funded, perhaps even jointly run, as concrete expressions of solidarity. The opposite of the current Greek hotspots in crucial aspects:
Ensuring sufficient space and decent treatment of everyone (modelled on the Dutch Ter Apel asylum centre; or European “Ankerzentren”, as agreed in the German coalition agreement), these should set a model how a coalition of European countries respects human dignity. There should be full transparency.
A time limit: nobody will be kept in a RIC longer then 2 months at most. The goal is to ensure that a first asylum procedure and an appeal are possible within 6 weeks for most cases.
Set up an immediate coordination board of senior officials from reception and asylum services of European countries that want to make this possible: the Dutch, French, Germans, Benelux, Portugal, Nordics, but also inviting Swiss and Norwegians, both members of Schengen and Dublin. Create a small secretariat to set out realistically the human resources needed for this (perhaps based in Madrid.) Appoint a credible coordinator with administrative experience to ensure that resources arrive in time. Learn from Greek islands experience: outsourcing this to EASO, under current procedures, is not going to work, as can be seen in Lesbos or Chios.If France would offer to host such a centre in Corsica (for people rescued in the central Mediterranean), if Malta would as well, it would be even better. Then such RICs should replace the current hotspots in Greece – to help accelerate asylum procedures, increase returns from the islands to Turkey (which currently stand at only 25 a month!) and to relieve the humanitarian crisis on the islands.
2. Immediate outreach to key African countries of origin for LARS (Legal Access and Return statements). Appoint a joint team (one Spanish, French, German) to go to West African countries first to offer simple and transparent statements. These statements should include:
Commitment from a coalition of willing EU member states to annual contingents of legal migration and scholarships to these EU countries in the next five years.
Commitment from African partners to take back everyone who crosses the Mediterranean after a day X and does not apply for or does not receive asylum in the EU. The goal is that the announcement itself sharply reduces arrivals.
Start negotiations with some African countries now (Senegal, Ivory Coast!) It is vital that other countries in Africa see this as attractive and want similar arrangements.
3. Commitment by European members of this coalition of concerned countries to quickly relocate those who get protection in these RICS, so there is no special burden for Spain – relocating recognised refugees, not asylum seekers.
May I suggest other questions put in a similar mindset?
Provide safe, clean water for people, in big cities, 24 hours a day? What a crazy idea. How would this ever be possible?
Run a hospital in any of our countries decently? Ensure that somebody maintains machines, pays bills, manages personnel, ensures enough medicine is available?
Choose leaders of a country by elections: how could this possibly be done? Just think of all the things that might go wrong when millions of people have to vote on the same day! How can anyone ensure they only vote once? How can we move so many ballots quickly?
Ensure that all airports in Europe guarantee basic security on and off planes. What, really: “all”? How can this possibly be done? Ok, we understand Amsterdam and Frankfurt: but nobody serious will expect Greece or Bulgaria to ensure safety in their airports? (Of course we do. And it works. Every day)
We can go on. The food safety of all dairy products sold in our markets every day? Education systems teaching millions of pupils (who come to school all on the same day in September!)? Environmental policy, product standard policy, security of online systems and communication. ANY field of policy requires effort and investment and serious planning to get any results. Everywhere. Always.
In reality, the implicit defeatism in discussions about sea rescue, asylum and returns reveals an astonishing lack of seriousness.
A German politician was quoted yesterday saying that any proposals to accommodate and process asylum applications of a few thousand people (in spain or anywhere) would inevitably lead to inhumane camps for masses of people. The same party proposes policies which aim to change the effect of human societies around the globe on the climate.
We understand the scepticism. It was not possible in 2.5 years on the Greek islands, to our ongoing frustration. Some now wonder if it is ever possible anywhere.
Of course it is. What Greece shows us is what happens when any serious interest in implementing what one decides is missing. When leaders and institutions don’t care. If we assume from the start that nobody cares about the decisions we take in the EU, though, or the goals in our own laws and conventions, then we might as well go home.
Civilisation takes effort. It has done so ever since our ancestors moved out of their caves.