A policy proposal that is good for Greece, the EU and refugees
Presented in The Hague
11 February 2016
Plodding and success
The inventor of management studies, Peter Drucker, noted once that, while high intelligence and imagination are far from rare in executive jobs, “high effectiveness” is often conspicuously absent. Many brilliant minds are strikingly ineffectual.
“While others rush around in the frenzy and busyness which very bright people so often confuse with ‘creativity’, the plodder puts one foot in front of the other and gets there first like the tortoise in the old fable.”
The European Union and its institutions are famous plodders. They have excelled at stitching a continent together by putting one foot in front of the other. Take Schengen: invented by a small “coalition of the willing” in 1985, it took until 1995 before France trusted its Benelux neighbours enough to implement the Schengen rules it had itself crafted. Soon Schengen turned out to be so popular and effective that it attracted many other countries to join, even non- EU members like Switzerland and Norway. It became part of EU rules, one of the most popular European projects, transforming lives for citizens and businesses. It has often been challenged, but never replaced, based on many compromises and interests slowly reconciled in endless meetings.
The plodding progress of the European Union institutions in Brussels can, given enough time, change the geopolitics of a whole continent. Yet things often look different when it comes to an unexpected crisis.
Frenzy and failure
In recent months, the European Commission and the European Council have been gripped by frenzy, even panic, as they sought to devise credible policies to deal with the sudden inflow of a million people into the Schengen area. One busy summit and extraordinary meeting followed another. As EU staff rushed through the corridors, many a speech and policy idea was presented that – upon a little reflection – should never have been tabled. But once announced, even obviously unworkable schemes had to be explored, tested and defended, with frantic attempts to stave off their eventual, inevitable failure.
This has certainly been the case for one of the supposed flagship projects in the recent crisis: the idea to set up an internal “relocation mechanism” – a scheme whereby those who arrive to claim asylum in Greece or Italy are relocated to other EU member states according to a key designed by the European Commission, with every country showing “European solidarity” by accepting a number of immigrants and asylum seekers.
This scheme has turned into a humiliating experience for the EU. It was adopted in September in a rare majority decision, outvoting countries who claimed that the scheme was both unworkable and wrong on principle. This led to serious tensions among EU members.
A few months on, even the most Europhile of observers have to admit that the doubters had a point: designed to relocate 160,000 people in two years, it has so far led to the relocation of no more than 500 people. It has failed altogether where it mattered most – in both Italy and Greece. These are embarrassing, even laughable numbers, and they make the EU look strikingly ineffective. Meanwhile the Commission has tried to shame member states into offering more places, while Greece and Italy are under pressure to set up “hotspots” whose precise purpose even EU ambassadors in the same country seem unclear about (Are they registration offices? Refugee camps? Detention centres?). In the meantime, the refugees move on, through Greece and the Balkans into the heart of the European Union, apparently unaware that somebody had other destinations in mind for them.
The search for culprits for this failure has led some in the EU to focus their ire at Greece: If only Greece would register everyone, if only Greece would have set up enough hotspots to accommodate and hold (by force?) its new arrivals, if only it would keep track of people, then the relocation idea would be viable.
Blaming Greek administrative ineptitude is convenient and comes easy to other Europeans, but in this case is completely off the mark. Obviously so, because Italy has had no greater success with the relocation/hotspot approach. In fact, the relocation scheme is profoundly flawed in conception, and could not work, no matter who was responsible for its administration. More than that, in a time of crisis when European ideals are at stake, it is actively harmful.
The current relocation scheme has already eaten up a huge amount of time and political capital, at a moment when both are in short supply. It has spawned many meetings and papers, but the number of people who arrive in Greece from Turkey has not been affected, nor the number moving on from Greece into the rest of Europe. It has increased the sense of distrust and acrimony inside the EU. It has given the EU’s critics a tool to beat European institutions with. It has made the EU look feckless, bumbling and, above all else, ineffective, while exposing it to populist attacks from those opposed even to this very abstract idea of burden sharing.
So what is to be done? A simple reflection makes clear why the relocation scheme from Greece should be scraped and replaced immediately by a voluntary effort based on moral pressure to instead resettle refugees directly from Turkey, ideally already at next week’s EU Council meeting.
Who is relocated? And why?
Many well-intentioned people continue to place their hopes in the relocation scheme as a solution to the refugee crisis. So let us pause for moment to examine what would happen over the next six months if the scheme were implemented as foreseen by its architects. Here is one possible best-case scenario.
Let’s imagine that 100,000 people were to arrive in Greece between 15 February and end of April.
Let’s assume that Greece manages to register every single one of them; that hotspots are set up that not only register but also host these refugees, becoming a string of refugee camps throughout Greece.
Let’s assume that the people who arrive believe in the relocation scheme and patiently wait to be assigned a place in any of the countries where they are supposed to go; and then go. They will not try to cross any borders as they have in the past year, and will not rebel against being held in hotspot/camps until their turn comes
Let’s finally assume that all states that are supposed to take part in this relocation scheme make all places available right away. All administrations involved work smoothly.
Then, at the end of April, the Commission and the EU presidency call a press conference to declare that relocation has been a big European success. A huge mobilisation of resources and total focus by all parties across the EU have made the scheme work as envisaged. And then one journalist asks, like the child wondering about the Emperor’s clothes, what the point of all this was? After all, this scheme will not lead to even one fewer refugee arriving in the EU.
It is much more likely to have the contrary effect. If potential asylum seekers would see this scheme as the only way to get into the EU in 2016, they might – in panic to get of these limited 100,000 places – rush to Greece in the coming months in ever larger numbers. Note that the vast majority of the people who would be relocated from Greece after 15 February are currently in Turkey! The scheme would give people an even bigger incentive to cross the Aegean, to risk their lives and to enrich smugglers.
What would happen once all 100,000 places are taken? It is unlikely that a new relocation quota would pass the Council. Even if it did – for another 100,000 people to be distributed from Greece – the same problem would be posed two months after that at the latest. In the meantime, far-right, anti-immigration, anti-Muslim, anti-refugee parties, boosted by constant press reporting on the progress of the relocations, would get even stronger.
If effective action requires working on the right things, then the relocation scheme fails disastrously because it diverts attention from the only things that really ought to matter now:
How to prevent more people drowning in the Aegean Sea
How to disrupt the operations of people smugglers
How to restore control over the EU and Schengen borders
How to help substantial numbers of recognised refugees find a safe way to the EU, so the EU can share responsibility for the refugees with Turkey
How to improve conditions for the many displaced persons who will remain in Turkey.
The relocation scheme achieves none of these things. In fact, it would be actively harmful. In the extremely unlikely best case scenario of full implementation, it would leave the EU facing a worsening refugee crisis with its ability to forge any future consensus compromised, perhaps irreparably.
If the relocation scheme is abandoned next week: what then?
If this scheme – poorly conceived, impractical, and unhelpful even if implemented – were abandoned, what should replace it?
Let us return to the basic fact that the 100,000 people to be relocated from Greece to EU member states in the next few months are not currently in Greece. They are in Turkey.
Imagine if the relocation scheme were not to require these 100,000 people first to cross to Greece (irregularly, in the hands of people smugglers, resulting in many more deaths), but instead could be implemented in a safe and orderly fashion in Turkey.
In recent days, leaders in the Netherlands and Germany have spoken out about the need to take contingents of Syrian refugees directly from Turkey within weeks – in return for Turkish willingness to take back anyone who crosses to Greece from that point onwards.
This is no simple matter: it would require serious preparation and the full attention of already overstretched administrations. It would take some time for the numbers attempting the Aegean crossing to fall away; in the meantime, Greece would need the administrative capacity to process those who reach the islands. The states in the coalition of the willing need to find ways to work with Turkey on an orderly resettlement process, sending a clear signal to these refugees not to get on boats. This would be a serious test of national capacities and European cooperation. It would need to be the main focus on European summits and technical meetings for the coming months. It can be done, but only if it is taken very seriously indeed.
ESI suggests that the February Council meeting in Brussels declares first that the relocation program is scrapped, or at least suspended. At the same time, it calls upon all countries to voluntarily take at least the number of people they would have been required to take from Greece directly from Turkey.
There would be no coercion. In fact, this step would remove a major argument of those who use this scheme to attack the EU.
There would now be strong moral pressure. After all, this voluntary resettlement scheme is not only designed to help refugees – whose fingerprints will be checked against databases of known terrorists – but also to help Turkey, at a moment when it is under immense pressure from Russian military operations in Syria. How could Turkey’s NATO allies refuse to participate in a voluntary burden-sharing scheme, if it supports Turkey, helps refugees and restores control over Europe’s borders?
The European Union needs trust to work. The relocation debate and its subsequent failure have eroded that trust. A voluntary burden-sharing scheme, as part of the Merkel-Samsom plan, could restore it.
This is not a defeat – but the best way forward for European ideals
Some will argue that this would be a defeat. If the EU cannot make even a modest relocation program work, how can it ever have a shared, centrally administered asylum system?
But this argument is based on denial. Unpalatable and unworkable schemes, like building a wall across Macedonia (a non-EU member) with EU support, so as to trap refugees in Greece (an EU and Schengen member) shows the damage that flawed and muddled thinking is doing to European ideals. Clinging to a poorly designed scheme only adds to the damage already done.
The EU will not get a central asylum system without first resolving this crisis. If anti-EU, illiberal parties gain strength on the back of public fear that mainstream parties and the EU have lost control, the political space for collaboration in this critical area may disappear.
Perhaps a centralised EU asylum system is not an appropriate goal. Coping with refugees in large numbers is perhaps possible for strong and democratically legitimized governments, like Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands. The EU as a political entity may never be strong enough to do so. Ironically, if the authority for refugee policy is moved to Brussels, the likely outcome is a less liberal EU stance, with reduced access for refugees.
The debate on future EU asylum policy is a serious one, of course, and arguments can be made on both sides. But anyone who cares about “European ideals” should admit that this moment of crisis is not conducive to a serious debate. The EU has been revealed as strikingly ineffective. The relocation scheme is an abject failure, and could not have been otherwise.
The EU needs to be effective in its response; not in the distant future but in the coming weeks and months. The best way forward is to scrap the relocation scheme at the EU Council next week and to replace it with a voluntary scheme based on the Merkel-Samsom plan. The time to get serious about how to allocate precious focus and resources is now.
Peter Drucker defined the characteristics of effective action as follows: it is action defined by concrete results. It requires working on the right things. It requires clear criteria that enable work on the truly important. Effective executives do not start out with the things they cannot do. Effective executives know that their time is the most crucial limiting factor. To be effective requires eliminating time-wasting activities – reports and monitoring that lead to no results; recurrent meetings that are not focused on what truly matters. An effective executive also takes care not to waste the time of others he or she needs. He or she is always aware that bringing too many people into coordination mechanisms is usually a time waster. As Drucker noted:
“My first-grade arithmetic primer asked: ‘If it takes two ditch-diggers two days to dig a ditch, how long will it take four ditch-diggers?’ In first grade, the correct answer is, of course, ‘one day.’ In the kind of work, however, with which executives are concerned, the right answer is probably ‘four days’ if not ‘forever’.”
The opposite of a good policy idea is not always a bad policy idea. It can also be a good policy idea badly implemented. This is the big threat facing plans now pushed by Germany of a resettlement of Syrian refugees from Turkey.
Today senior representatives of some European governments meet in Brussels to follow up on the meeting last Sunday of a coalition of willing states, initiated by German chancellor Angela Merkel.
Their agenda is to set up a voluntary resettlement scheme for hundreds of thousands of Syrians under temporary protection in Turkey. They will discuss how, under the condition that irregular migration is stopped, such a scheme could partly replace irregular migration by legal and controlled migration. The aim is a scheme where (some in) the EU and Turkey share the responsibility for the biggest refugee crisis in the world today.
But here is the problem: the approach taken to this needs to be adequate.
There are some ideas floating around which will ensure that a good idea might sink like a stone in the pond of administrative failure:
involve UNHCR, IOM or any other organisation in a prominent role. i.e. a scheme whereby Turkish authorities share registration data with UNHCR.
There is no need to involve UNHCR in this, except as a source of advice.
run such a resettlement scheme through EU institutions, with prominent roles for the European Commission and EU delegations
European institutions should obviously be involved in the debates on this, but they also need not have an administrative role.
In preparing for today’s meeting the European Commission asked how such a resettlement scheme could be “effectively designed”. And suggested that the aim should be:
“expedited resettlement scheme or humanitarian admission that does not take longer than 3-6 months from the submission of the resettlement proposal from UNHCR to the Member state authorities to the physical transfer of the person concerned.”
Note: it would take “no longer” than 6 months, after a request from UNHCR to a member state, for a person to actually leave Turkey.
This dooms the effort.
The challenge is to find a quick way to resettle Syrian refugees from Turkey to EU MS.
Direct cooperation with DGMM
The quickest way is to leave out all unnecessary intermediaries. It is the Turkish Directorate-General for Migration Management (DGMM) that has registered the Syrian refugees (as well as all asylum seekers) in Turkey and which has information on them. It would make more sense to work with the DGMM directly.
Of course, MS could dispatch liaison officers to smooth cooperation, but they do not need UNHCR as an intermediary, which would request the data from DGMM and then pass it on to the MS.
MS will need a local partner, or send their own staff on the ground, who will be in touch with the refugees – collect applications and documentation from those willing to resettle, contact them if additional information is needed, let them know when the security check will take place etc. Whether this should be UNHCR or another organisation is a different question. (UNHCR also worked with local implementing partners. E.g. the organisation ASAM – Association for Solidarity with Asylum-Seekers and Migrants – used to register asylum seekers and I think still serves as a first contact point; they then send them to the DGMM.
EU MS should decide on their own profiles, the EC should establish a light framework
The EU should establish a framework together with the EU MS willing to resettle refugees, settling questions such as which nationalities to take – we suggest only Syrians -, how to avoid a pull factor, that a certain percentage should be vulnerable cases etc. However, it should leave it to the EU MS to decide on the specific selection criteria.
When Germany resettled 20,000 Syrian refugees from countries neighbouring Syria as well as Egypt between 2013 and this year under its Humanitarian Resettlement Programme for Syrian refugees (HAP – Humanitäres Aufnahmeprogramm), it chose for the first contingent of 5,000 refugees the following criteria: “Firstly particularly vulnerable refugees, secondly refugees with a link to Germany, and thirdly refugees with special qualifications that could be useful for Syria’s reconstruction.” For the second and third contingents of 5,000 and 10,000 refugees, respectively, it put a stronger emphasis on the presence of family members in Germany. These family members could submit a request that their relatives be resettled to Germany.
MS should decide on technicalities in line with existing legislation
Under the Humanitarian Resettlement Programme for Syrian refugees, Germany did not grant the resettled refugees asylum (refugee status) or subsidiary protection. It offered them temporary protection in line with the EU’s Directive on Temporary Protection and Germany’s Residence Act (Art. 24 on temporary protection and Art. 23 on Admission in case of special political interests).
UNHCR and Caritas Lebanon made a selection based on applications from refugees. In addition, German embassies made suggestions (humanitarian cases they already knew of), and when the criterion “family members in Germany” was emphasised, refugees were also selected based on the requests filed by the family members in Germany, collected by the German federal states.
All these bodies sent information concerning the selected refugees to the German asylum authority (Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge – BAMF), which examined it and then issued admission agreements (Aufnahmezusagen).
With this paper, the refugees could receive a visa at the German embassies/consulates. There they underwent the usual security check, which includes giving fingerprints. Those that did not have passports could receive temporary travel documents based on other identity documents.
Then the majority were flown to Germany. Those that had family members had to travel on their own. The federal states that had to accommodate the refugees without family were informed in time so they could prepare for their reception.
The challenge to resettle 500,000 is of course different. However, the HAP offers some important lessons:
It is not necessary to conduct an asylum procedure. Germany can offer the refugees temporary protection, like it did for the 20,000 HAP refugees. Even if it wants to channel them through an asylum procedure, BAMF can decide cases based on the documentation, like it has done for Syrians since November 2014. So, in practice this means that DGMM sends the required documentation to the BAMF, with German liaison officers smoothing cooperation. Of course, this will mean a lot of additional work for DGMM, so Germany will have to compensate it for it, or send human resources to reinforce it (who could, e.g., contact the refugees if the necessary documentation is not complete).
Germany will definitely need an intermediary on the ground, or provide for it by itself, because there will be issues like having to request from the refugees additional information, informing them about when and where the security check will take place, when they will be flown out etc.
The system will also mean a lot of additional work for BAMF, which will have to examine the documentation and issue admission agreements. The BAMF is already overburdened and in dire need to additional resources. This means that it needs to be beefed up for this specific task too.
As regards security checks, registration, fingerprinting etc., Germany and the other countries should find a system best suited to their needs. The German embassy and consulates in Turkey will not be in a position to process 500,000 people in a year. So Germany & others could send to Turkey, personnel to carry out this task. Doing it bilaterally strengthens the ownership aspect and increases efficiency. Of course, of one of the willing MS is willing to take only a small contingent, it could try to pool resources with another MS, but this should be left to the MS to decide. In the end, it would be German officers checking those going to Germany, Swedish officers checking those going to Sweden etc.)
The participating MS should meet regularly to exchange information and harmonise their approach.
The document states that only refugees who have stayed in Turkey already for between 3 months and 1 year should be eligible for resettlement, in order to avoid a pull factor drawing more refugees to Turkey. This is not enough – refugees will be willing to wait even for 1 year if there is a chance to qualify for resettlement then, so they will be drawn to Turkey. The resettlement should be open to refugees that have been registered in Turkey by the DGMM before a date before the scheme is announced, e.g. 30 December 2015.
Another refugee summit in Brussels, and another dishearteningly confused set of conclusions. Which most likely leave everything more or less as it is.
ON THE POSITIVE SIDE: ASPIRATION
“Refugees need to be treated in a humane manner along the length of the Western Balkans route to avoid a humanitarian tragedy in Europe.”
That was the promise made by Juncker before the conference. If this would be realised, it would obviously be a very good thing: “Increasing the capacity to provide temporary shelter, food, health, water and sanitation to all in need.” A worthy aspiration.
How realistic are these commitments, though? It is the end of October. Some conclusions suggest that additional resources may not be available soon:
“Working with International Financial Institutions such as the European Investment Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the Development Bank of the Council of Europe which are ready to support financially efforts of the countries willing to make use of these resources”
Slovenia noted that 60,000 people arrived there in recent days. What does the summit do to help Slovenia, concretely, in the coming weeks? Or Croatia? Or Greece?
Is there a working group to determine where capacities for temporary shelter are most needed? In Slovenia? in Croatia? In Serbia? in Macedonia?
DREAMING AND REST
It would help to know where temporary shelters are needed, or exist now; or how many new ones have to be found. Perhaps this is known, but it is not stated in the conclusions:
“Greece to increase reception capacity to 30,000 places by the end of the year, and to support UNHCR to provide rent subsidies and host family programmes for at least 20,000 more – a pre-condition to make the emergency relocation scheme work; Financial support for Greece and UNHCR is expected”
Note; this does not say how many such places Greece has now. So it is not clear what “increasing” capacity to 30,000 means in terms of additional capacity. Which makes budgeting and raising funding for it tricky. Or assessing the meaning of this commitment.
Note also: this would be sufficient for the number of refugees who will arrive between today, Monday, and next Friday. By the end of the year, these refugees would unlikely still be in Greece.
Plus: these are still rest stations. Nobody will stay in any of these shelters one day longer than necessary. “Host families” for rest stations?
From here on the conclusions become ever less realistic:
“Working with the European Commission and Frontex to step up practical cooperation on readmission with third countries and intensifying cooperation in particular with Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan; Commission to work to implement existing readmission agreements fully and start work on new readmission agreements with relevant countries;”
Anybody who has examined the difficulties of readmitting even rejected Balkan asylum seekers from Germany to Western Balkans countries – which do not oppose taking back their citizens – knows that expecting to do this, on a large scale, with Pakistan or Afghanistan is not a plan, but closer to day dreaming.
This is the least serious part of the conclusions.
“- Finalising and implementing the EU-Turkey Action Plan;
– Making full use of the potential of the EU-Turkey readmission agreement and the visa liberalisation roadmap;”
Turkey was not even invited to this summit. The EU-Turkey Action Plan is empty of content. “Making full use of the visa liberalisation roadmap” means what concretely? We have to wait for another summit.
“- Upscaling the Poseidon Sea Joint Operation in Greece;
– Reinforcing Frontex support at the border between Bulgaria and Turkey;”
What is this supposed to achieve? How will it make any difference?
“- Strengthening border cooperation between Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, with increased UNHCR engagement;
– Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania will strengthen the management of the external land border, with Frontex to support registration in Greece;”
Is the aim to slow down people leaving Greece … and has Greece agreed to this? Where would those who are made to stay longer stay in Greece?
Or is the idea to register everyone in Greece … and people then move on? What difference would this make?
“- Working together with Frontex to monitor border crossings and support registration and fingerprinting at the Croatian-Serbian border crossing points;
– Deploying in Slovenia 400 police officers and essential equipment within a week, through bilateral support;
– Strengthening the Frontex Western Balkans Risk Analysis Network with intensified reporting from all participants;”
So there will be more Frontex and more reporting, everywhere! But Frontex is essentially just other European border guards, not magicians or super-heroes. And this seems to assume that the problem in Slovenia or Croatia is a lack of people.
“14. Reconfirming the principle of refusing entry to third country nationals who do not confirm a wish to apply for international protection (in line with international and EU refugee law and subject to prior non-refoulement and proportionality checks);”
How many of those who reach the EU’s borders do NOT wish to apply for international protection? ANYBODY?
Finally, there is this:
“Under the current circumstances, we will discourage the movement of refugees or migrants to the border of another country of the region. A policy of waving through refugees without informing a neighbouring country is not acceptable. This should apply to all countries along the route.”
This either means a dramatic change which will likely cause the humanitarian tragedy Juncker wanted to avoid or it means that waving through refugees should happen “while informing a neighbouring country” a little better. Most likely – and fortunately – it is the second.
If this is what the countries most concerned by this crisis come up with as their operational conclusions we know that there is no plan. It was another summit without a serious discussion. Another missed opportunity.
The political scientist Gerald Knaus on working together with Turkey, border controls and Germany’s role in receiving refugees.
DIE ZEIT: Mr Knaus, while Germany finds itself confronted with one million refugees, you are calling for taking in another 500,000.
Gerald Knaus: This is not as absurd as it looks at first sight. After helpless politicians proposed many faulty solutions in the past few weeks, chancellor Merkel needs to present something credible and tangible.
ZEIT: The plan that Angela Merkel will bring to Ankara comes close to a proposal you made already weeks ago – and now it became EU foreign policy. What exactly did you propose?
Knaus: Greece declares Turkey a safe third country. Turkey commits to readmitting all refugees that reach Greek islands through the Aegean, from a point in time to be specified. In return, Germany commits to granting asylum to 500,000 Syrian refugees from Turkey in the next twelve months. In addition, the EU visa requirement for Turkish nationals will be waived next year.
ZEIT: Why should this reduce the number of refugees who want to come to Europe?
Knaus: This offer is only for refugees who are already registered in Turkey. Thus no new incentives for refugees to travel to Turkey would be created by this plan. Then refugee families – half of the Syrians in Turkey are children – would no longer need to make the dangerous trip across the sea and the Balkans. This would quickly reduce the number of boats heading towards the Greek coast. The result would be what Angela Merkel and Horst Seehofer both demand: control of the external borders and an orderly process – and German emergency relief for refugees in a real crisis situation.
ZEIT: But Turkey is currently reeling from a terrorist attack of which nobody knows who was behind it. Kurds and members of the opposition are brutally persecuted. How is one supposed to declare such a country a safe third country?
Knaus: You have to differentiate between a safe third country and a safe country of origin. For refugees Turkey is a safe third country – even if it is not necessarily a country of safe origin for its own citizens. Currently, these two things are often confused. Under the new Turkish asylum law, refugees can apply for asylum, are not persecuted in Turkey, and are also not deported to Syria. And that’s decisive for this proposal. Whether the EU should declare Turkey a safe country of origin as the EU Commission suggested, raises doubts indeed.
ZEIT: But is it wise to demonstrate to an autocrat like Erdoğan in the run up to the elections how much one is dependent on him?
Knaus: Even Erdoğan needs Germany. Turkey finds itself in the biggest security crisis since the end of the Cold War. Russia is waging war north of Turkey, in Ukraine. The Russian air force is bombing Turkish allies in Syria in an alliance with Assad and Iran, both adversaries of Turkey. And Turkey itself is at war with the »Islamic State« and the PKK. The economy is no longer growing as it was in the last decade, and taking care of two million Syrian refugees is not easy. The refugee issue plays hardly any role in the electoral campaign.
ZEIT: Part of your proposal is visa free travel for Turkish nationals to the EU – what effects would this have in practice?
Knaus: I do not believe in a mass exodus of Turks. In the past few years the trend went the other way; especially from Germany more Turks immigrated to Turkey than did immigrate to Germany. For the young generation in Turkey, Europe only has a real meaning if they can actually travel there. The only danger that I see is if the situation in Southeast Turkey would descend into a full blown war like in the 90s.
ZEIT: But in the current political climate it is completely unthinkable that the chancellor would speak about a number of 500,000 she actively wants to bring to Germany.
Knaus: I know that in the first moment this sounds counterproductive. But you can make it clear to people that without an agreement more refugees are to be expected. Even now there is talk of one million. And in talk shows superficial solutions like fighting root causes, solving the situation in Syria and Libya, or sharing the burden in the EU are being floated.
ZEIT: What about the magic formula “transit zones”?
Knaus: What the German federal minister of the interior proposes would indeed reduce the number of applicants from Balkan countries who are being rejected anyway – but this is not about them. Above all, it is about civil war refugees. Often people will say that the EU needs to better secure its borders, introduce stricter border controls and better equip refugee camps in the region. But none of these proposals will solve our most acute problem: How to reduce the number of refugees reaching the external borders of the EU. No Frontex mission, no European quota, no perfectly equipped refugee camp will stop the desperate from trying to flee to Europe. But if there’s an impression in the public debate that there’s no limit at all for the number of refugees, then soon the readiness to help will turn into fear. That’s why I believe that we need to move fast. Angela Merkel and her political allies in Europe need to show that they – and not the extreme right – have a real solution to offer.
ZEIT: Why should European solidarity suddenly work now if there was already a lack of it in past months?
Knaus: If hundreds of thousands of Syrian children grow up without schooling and without perspective, if we lose an entire generation, this will not be without consequence for European security. There’s a helplessness among the political elite in the entire EU, from Greece to Sweden, nobody has an idea what to do. And extreme right parties profit from this, while having no real solutions to offer either. In this situation Germany is the only country that has the political credibility and economic clout to take the initiative. If Germany can’t deal with the problem, nobody else will manage to do so. But if Germany takes the lead, countries like Austria, Italy, France and Sweden will follow.
ZEIT: Viktor Orban accuses Angela Merkel of moral imperialism. This argument also goes down well with many Germans.
Knaus: Orban is right if he calls the hitherto existing international refugee policy hypocritical. On paper there’s a generous right to asylum. But at the same time everything has been done to prevent refugees from claiming this asylum. In recent years, UNHCR resettled only 100,000 refugees worldwide per year to wealthy countries. That’s of course a ridiculously low figure. But Orban’s response to this is to by de facto get rid of the right to asylum altogether. He regards refugees as criminals, as enemies, and refers to Hungarian experiences with the Ottomans, as if they were an invading army. He also says that the refugee crisis is a good opportunity to overcome the “liberal age of human rights.” Le Pen in France, Strache in Austria and others join in into that chorus. In the general helplessness such slogans are becoming more and more appealing.
ZEIT: The right and the left claim that 60 million people are fleeing and that we are only talking about a fraction.
Knaus: That figure is totally misleading. The biggest part of all refugees worldwide stay within their home countries. Syria is the biggest disaster. One fourth of all refugees outside of their home country are Syrians. Most of them now live in Turkey, in Jordan, and in Lebanon. Only a few years ago the number of migrants who tried to enter the EU illegally was 72,000. So this is not about a massive migration of the planet’s poor to the rich North that has been going on for a long time and will never end. This is a specific emergency situation.
ZEIT: Why should erecting borders not work?
Knaus: Angela Merkel said that she has lived behind a fence long enough and she knows that fences won’t help. At first sight that’s a strange argument: The Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall worked very well and repelled refugees for decades. But for that you need a death strip and a firing order. And even that could not deter many desperate people to try nevertheless. Merkel made it clear that she will not build this kind of fence. You could militarise your borders and regard refugees as enemies. But then you would need to give up European asylum law as we know it.
Gerald Knaus is chairman of the European Stability Initiative, a think tank advocating unconventional solutions to European crises.
Solange die Türkei nicht kooperiert, wird der Migrationsstrom nach Europa nicht beherrschbar sein / Von Michael Martens
ATHEN, 16. September. Auf dem Meer kann man keine Mauer bauen. Mit diesem simplen Satz ließe sich ein an diesem Donnerstag erscheinendes Positionspapier der „Europäischen Stabilitätsinitiative“ (ESI) zusammenfassen, einer Denkfabrik mit Hauptsitz in Berlin, deren Studien und Analysen seit 1999 die Debatte zu politischen Schlüsselthemen in Europa bereichern. In dem Aufsatz „Warum in der Ägäis Menschen ertrinken. Ein Vorschlag zu Grenzkontrolle und Asyl“ unterbreitet ESI-Chef Gerald Knaus einen Vorschlag, der helfen soll, die Masseneinwanderung nach Europa beherrschbar zu machen. Der Vorstoß lässt viele Fragen offen und wird nicht ohne Einwände bleiben, spricht aber einige wichtige Punkte an. Der wichtigste: Ohne die Mitarbeit der Türkei, die Europa nicht umsonst bekommen wird, können die Europäer noch so viele Mauern bauen, Polizisten oder gar Soldaten an ihre Grenzen schicken, Kontrollen einführen – es wird wenig ändern. Zwar können physische Demarkationen durchaus Teil einer Lösung sein und dürften es künftig in wachsendem Maße auch werden – doch sie ändern nichts an der topographischen Realität, die Griechenlands ostägäische Inseln bei der muslimischen Masseneinwanderung nach Europa spielen. „Die griechische Regierung kann nicht Schiffe versenken oder sie von den Küsten abdrängen. Das wäre illegal und gefährlich. Sie kann also nur warten, bis die Migranten ankommen; und sie muss sie retten, wenn sie auf See in Gefahr sind”, schreibt Knaus.
Damit ist die Ausgangslage beschrieben. Ein Zaun in der pannonischen Tiefebene oder ein Großaufgebot des in Bayern ändern zunächst einmal gar nichts daran, dass wie zuletzt im August mehr als 20.000 Migranten auf Lesbos, Kos und den anderen Inseln in Sichtweise der türkischen Küste anlanden. Um das zu verdeutlichen, lässt Knaus seinen Text am anderen Ende des Kontinents beginnen, in Finnland, dem EU-Mitglied mit der längsten Landaußengrenze des Schengen-Zone: 1340 Kilometer zu Russland. Finnlands Grenzschutz gilt als vorbildlich in Europa. Gesichtserkennungssoftware, modernste Methoden zum Erkennen gefälschter Pässe, umfassender Datenabgleich zwischen den Behörden, Bewegungsmelder, lückenlose Überwachung des Schiffsverkehrs in der Ostsee. So wurden 2013 denn auch nur 18 illegale Grenzübertritte in Finnland registriert. Nur war der Grund dafür nicht finnische Hochtechnologie sondern – Russland. Dort stehen noch aus Sowjetzeiten zwei je vier Meter hohe Grenzzäune, der Geheimdienst überwacht das Gebiet. Zäune machen also, im Unterschied zu dem, was meist behauptet wird, durchaus einen Unterschied – zumindest an Land und zumindest, solange Russland das will. Doch selbst wenn man den gesamten finnischen Grenzschutz nach Griechenland versetzt, wird der mit all seiner Technik nicht viel ändern können. Er wird die Migranten nur früher kommen sehen. „Letztlich hängt die Grenzkontrolle vor allem von den Nachbarn der EU ab und davon, ob diese willens und fähig dazu sind, potentielle illegale Migranten daran zu hindern, die Grenzen der EU überhaupt erst zu erreichen“, schlussfolgert Knaus.
Da kommt die Türkei ins Spiel. Das Land hat schon seit 2002 ein Rückführungsabkommen mit Griechenland, also einen Vertrag, der die türkischen Behörden verpflichtet, illegale Einwanderer, die aus der Türkei kommend griechischen Boden betreten haben, zurückzunehmen. Freilich weigert sich die Türkei, den Vertrag einzuhalten. Mehr als 9600 Anträge auf Rücknahme eines illegalen Einwanderers stellten griechischen Behörden 2014. Die Türkei nahm 6 (in Worten: sechs) zurück.
Doch ist das so unverständlich? Die Türkei, hat fast zwei Millionen Flüchtlinge aus Syrien aufgenommen, manche beherbergt sie seit Jahren. Die Vorstellung, dass die Türkei, die mehr syrische Flüchtlinge aufgenommen hat als ganz Europa zusammen, nun auch noch Zehntausende aus der EU zurücknimmt, nennt Knaus „vollkommen unrealistisch.“ Es sei denn die EU mache der Türkei ein außergewöhnliches Angebot. Knaus schlägt vor: „Die EU“ erklärt sich bereit, in den kommenden 12 Monaten eine Million Flüchtlinge aus Syrien (und nur von dort) aufzunehmen, die ihre Asylanträge noch in der Türkei abgeben können. Sie könnten dann legal mit dem Flugzeug nach Europa kommen statt ihr Leben auf Schlauchbooten zu riskieren. Die Türkei würde sich im Gegenzug verpflichten, das ab 2017 voll in Kraft tretende Rücknahmeabkommen mit der EU sofort anzuwenden. „Das bedeutet, sie würde jeden, der aus der Türkei kommend Lesbos oder Kos erreicht, am folgenden Tag zurücknehmen.“ Diese Doppellösung, so Knaus, würde das Geschäftsmodell der Menschenschmuggler in kurzer Zeit zerstören. Doch wie werden die Menschen in der EU verteilt? Und würde die Türkei ihren Part eines solchen Abkommens erfüllen? Wer traut noch dem Wort des Autokraten von Ankara, Tayyip Erdogan – selbst wenn der sein Wort gäbe? Solche und andere Einwände liegen auf der Hand. Klar ist aber auch, so Knaus: „Der Schlüssel, um die unkontrollierte Ankunft Hunderttausender Migranten und Asylbewerber in der EU zu stoppen, wird von der Türkei gehalten. Nur eine Strategie, die auf dieser Tatsache aufbaut, kann den Notstand beenden.“
The situation on the European Union’s external borders in the Eastern Mediterranean is out of control. In the first eight months of 2015, an estimated 433,000 migrants and refugees have reached the EU by sea, most of them – 310,000 – via Greece. The island of Lesbos alone, lying a scant 15 kilometres off the Turkish coast and with population of 86,000, received 114,000 people between January and August. And the numbers keep rising. The vast majority of people arriving in Greece during this period were Syrians (175,000). They are all likely to be given refugee status in the EU if they reach it; in 2014, the recognition rate of Syrian asylum applications was above 95 percent. But to claim asylum in the EU, they need to undertake a perilous journey by land and sea.
In the face of this massive movement of people – the largest in Europe since the end of the Second World War – there have been two diametrically opposed responses.
Germany has responded with open arms to the tide of Syrian refugees pouring into its train stations. At the beginning of the year, Germany anticipated some 300,000 asylum claims. By May, this prediction had been revised to 450,000. The German ministries of interior and social affairs are now making preparations for 800,000 this year. The German vice chancellor and Social Democrat Party leader has stated that Germany can cope with a half a million refugees a year for the coming years. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, has become the face of this generous asylum policy. She has been widely hailed for her moral leadership; but she has also been accused by other EU leaders of making the situation worse, by luring ever more refugees into the EU.
A radically opposed agenda has been pushed by Viktor Orban, the Hungarian prime minister. In early 2015, Orban vowed that Hungary would not let any Muslim refugees enter, making this promise in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris. He repeated this pledge in May, when the EU discussed quotas for sharing the refugee burden among member states. He warned in a speech in July that Europe was facing “an existential crisis.” He blames the refugees themselves, whom he labels economic migrants, and EU migration policy for the current crisis. And he does not mince his words: quotas for refugees are “madness”; “people in Europe are full of fear because we see that the European leaders, among them the prime ministers, are not able to control the situation”; European leaders live in a dream world, failing to recognise that the very “survival of European values and nations” is at stake. Orban declared the issue a matter of national security, ordered a fence to be built, deployed the military, used teargas and passed legislation to criminalize irregular migration. He has also taken this message to the country at the core of the refugee debate, Germany, convinced that before long German public opinion will force Merkel and her allies around to his way of thinking.
In reality, neither the German nor the Hungarian approaches offer a solution to the ever-increasing numbers of Syrian refugees crossing into Greece and on through the Balkans. Neither a liberal asylum policy nor a wire fence will prevent people from drowning in the Aegean. Although they are diametrically opposed in their views of the Syrian refugee crisis, neither approach is sustainable. This is because it is not the EU but Turkey that determines what happens at Europe’s southeastern borders. Without the active support of the Turkish authorities, the EU has only two options – to welcome the refugees or try – futilely – to stop them.
ESI proposes an agreement between the EU and Turkey to restore control of the EU’s external border while simultaneously addressing the vast humanitarian crisis. Rather than waiting for 500,000 people to make their way to Germany, Berlin should commit to taking 500,000 Syrian refugees directly from Turkey in the coming twelve months. While this would be an extraordinary measure, it is a recognition that the Syrian crisis is genuinely unique, creating a humanitarian crisis on a scale not seen in Europe since the Second World War.
It is essential that these 500,000 asylum seekers are accepted from Turkey, before they take to boats to cross the Aegean. As a quid pro quo, it is also essential that Turkey agrees to take back all the refugees that reach Greece, from the moment the deal is signed. It is the combination of these measures that will cut the ground from under the feet of the people smugglers. If Syrian refugees have a safe and realistic option for claiming asylum in the EU in Turkey, and if they face certain return back to Turkey if they cross illegally, the incentive to risk their lives on the Aegean will disappear.
These two measures would restore the European Union’s control over its borders. It would provide much-needed relief and support to Syrian refugees. And by closing off a main illegal migration route into the EU, it would reduce the flood of people now trying to reach Turkey from as far away as Central Asia. This would help to manage the huge burden currently faced by Turkey.
This proposal would take Germany’s readiness to welcome hundreds of thousands of refugees and redirect it into an orderly process where refugees no longer have to take their lives into their hands in order to claim asylum. At the same time, it would stop the uncontrolled flood of people across Europe, something Orban’s fence can never do.
If this agreement could be put in place quickly, before the seas get even rougher and the cold season closes in on the Balkans, it could save untold lives.
What might work: a two-pronged strategy
We therefore propose the following two-pronged strategy for addressing the refugee crisis.
First, Germany should commit to taking 500,000 Syrians over the next 12 months, with asylum applications made in an orderly way made from Turkey. The German government is already anticipating and preparing for this number of arrivals. But instead of waiting for them to make the sea and land journey, with all its hazards, they should accept claims from Turkey and bring successful claimants to Germany by air. Of course, Germany cannot, and should not, bear the whole refugee burden. Germany’s offer must be matched by other European nations – ideally through a burden-sharing arrangement agreed at EU level. It may make sense for the EU itself to manage the asylum application process. But such agreements take time to achieve.
Second, from the date that the new asylum claims process is announced, any refugees reaching Lesbos, Samos, Kos or other Greek islands should be returned back to Turkey based on a new Turkey-EU agreement. Initially, there would be huge numbers of readmissions – tens of thousands – presenting a major logistical challenge. But once it is clear that (i) the route through Greece is closed, and (ii) there is a real and immediate prospect of gaining asylum from Turkey, the incentives for the vast majority of people to pay smugglers and risk their lives at sea would disappear. Within a few months, the numbers passing through Greece would fall dramatically.
There are many reasons why this two-pronged strategy is the most credible solution to the crisis. It would place a cap on the number of Syrian refugees accepted into Germany. While amounting to an extremely generous response, it would not be the open-ended commitment that Merkel’s critics fear. It would enable the German government to assure the public that the crisis is under control, helping to prevent public support from being eroded.
It would provide Merkel with a ready answer to Orban’s criticism. The asylum process, while generous and humane, would no longer be generating incentives for desperate people to risk their lives at sea. Hungary and other transit countries would be relieved of the security challenge – and the political pressure – created by the mass movement of refugees, taking the heat out of the debate. It would destroy the business model of the whole criminal underworld of human traffickers.
Finally, it would relieve Turkey of a major part of its refugee burden. Furthermore, with the route into Greece closed, Turkey would cease to be a magnet for migrants from as far away as Central Asia. This would relieve the pressure building up on Turkey’s eastern borders. With Europe finally making a genuine effort to share the burden with Turkey, it can legitimately ask for more cooperation on managing the remaining migration flows.
In the interim, the solution is in the hands of Germany and Turkey. And a quick solution is sorely needed, before the seas grow even rougher and the cold season closes in on hundreds of thousands of desperate refugees seeking a route across the Balkans.
Presentation of these ideas on Austrian public television: http://tvthek.orf.at/program/ZIB-2/1211/ZIB-2/10595483/Gespraech-mit-Tuerkei-Experten-Gerald-Knaus/10595689
“People only accept change in necessity and see necessity only in crisis.”
This weekend Greeks vote in a referendum whose outcome could have dramatic consequences for their country. Polls show that the result is on a knife-edge. Every vote counts. The stakes for Greece could not be higher.
Please find the full ESI newsletter on the Greek Referendum here:
“The truth is that the recession in Greece has little to do with an excessive debt burden. Until 2014, the country did not pay, in net terms, a single euro in interest: it borrowed enough from official sources at subsidized rates to pay 100% of its interest bill and then some. This situation supposedly changed a bit in 2014, the first year that the country made a small contribution to its interest bill, having run a primary surplus of barely 0.8% of GDP (or 0.5% of its debt of 170% of GDP).
To watch “One Step Ahead” (on the 2010 Thessaloniki elections) go here.
When the Syriza government fails this must not mean that the only alternative are the neo-Nazis of Golden Dawn.
There are pro-European and pro-reform Greeks who will make their voice heard. And there would be a huge reservoir of good-will across Europe for a Greek government that is serious about reforms, does not blame outside forces for its problems and really designs credible reform strategies to replace inchoate reforms proposed by foreigners.
Imagine the next Greek prime minister speaking like this, in Athens as well as in Berlin, in Thessaloniki as well as in Brussels, and also in Riga, Vilnius, Warsaw and Bratislava:
“As you all know Greece is going through an excruciating financial crisis. Under these conditions we need common sense …
… in Greece we are still hesitant to liberate the administration from the rule of the politicians. We are all embedded in a culture which resists the separation between politics and administration.
In the Greek state as a whole, this is the most important reform which is desperately needed. Unfortunately, in reality it has not advanced much.
The current system of a strikingly unreliable administration tends to reproduce itself. And this is clearly the responsibility of both the Greek government as well as of the EU since it hasn’t touched upon this during the last 34 years.
I dare to say that reforms and changes are not enough in the case of the Greek state. We need to revamp the state and its mentality almost from scratch! A new political culture needs to emerge in order to host a genuine separation of powers within the state.
The current institutional framework under which we operate is excessively centralist and any effort of decentralisation has proved to be inefficient. We are still unable to cooperate effectively with the private sector and increase our productivity. An inextricable web of laws determines the framework within which we are forced to operate.
The state needs to stop being hostile to its citizens. We need a government that will stop fooling citizens and proceeds immediately to some common sense action.
Greece is going through a crucial phase. After the biggest recession ever experienced by a developed country in the post-war period, people are in despair.
Political forces must form a united front on certain fundamental issues – like the state’s modernisation – and negotiate from a better position the country’s future.
The view that we can resort to excessive public spending in order to revive the prosperity of the past is not only surreal; it also ignores the current balance of power in our continent.
In order to distribute wealth you need to create favourable conditions in order to produce it. Unfortunately, there are too many Greek politicians suggesting that sustainable growth can come without radical reforms but in some magic way.
What Greece desperately needs, is radical transformation of its state which can in turn bring change to its political culture. This will be our task.”
PS: Note: this speech was actually delivered by a Greek politician in 2014. A politician who was elected on this platform in 2010 and reelected in 2014 in Greece’s second biggest city.
” … we have an obligation to act in order to preserve Greece’s stability and prosperity. This can only be attained within the Eurozone and the EU. In the unfortunate event that things will go astray, we should all unite and protect the people’s well-being from irresponsible political manoeuvring. Greece cannot afford to waste more time and consume itself in endless and irrational political conflict. I will do whatever I can in my power to avert this. If we manage to pass the dire straits of the immediate future, I am hopeful that our country will enter a phase of creative reform and sustainable growth. Greece has demonstrated in the past and Greeks have demonstrated abroad that if they work under decent conditions, they can definitely thrive.”