John Dalhuisen: A second Brexit referendum – a constructive proposal

John Dalhuisen


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.


Please continue to read the full paper and proposal here: ESI John Dalhuisen – Brexit discussion paper 19 April 2019

Gesine Schwan und Gerald Knaus: Vorschlag für eine “europäische Antwort” auf die Flüchtlingsfrage, die sofort umgesetzt werden kann

Gerald Knaus and Gesine Schwan

ESI with EU Commissioner Oettinger at expert workshop: Unblocking the refugee relocation impasse? (15 May 2018)

Kernpunkte dieses Vorschlags sind: eine Koalition von betroffenen Staaten, in denen das Recht auf Asyl noch verteidigt werden soll; transparente und rechtskonforme Beschleunigung von Asylverfahren, schnelle Rückführungen jener, die keinen Schutz in der EU brauchen, freiwillige dezentrale Ansiedlung anerkannter Flüchtlinge und Umsiedlung von Schutzbedürftigen aus der Türkei. Und dadurch konkrete Ergebnisse noch vor dem Europaparlamentswahlen 2019.

  1. Im Format einer „Verstärkten Zusammenarbeit“ vereinbaren Frankreich und Deutschland im Verbund mit den Niederlanden, der Schweiz und Schweden den südeuropäischen Ankunftsländern Griechenland, Italien und Spanien solidarisch bei der Durchführung schneller qualitätsvoller Asylverfahren und der dezentralen Ansiedlung von anerkannten Asylbewerbern sowie bei der Rückführung nicht anerkannter Flüchtlinge zu helfen. Es geht um eine Demonstration von Erfolg, der die gesamte europäische Debatte beeinflussen soll: es ist möglich Kontrolle und Empathie zu verbinden.
  1. Die Asylverfahren sollen in griechischen, italienischen und gegebenenfalls spanischen Hotspots inspiriert vom niederländisch/schweizerischen Vorbild, das Qualität mit Geschwindigkeit verbindet, ablaufen. (Das ist im Einklang mit bestehendem nationalem Recht in diesen Ländern möglich). Durch sofortige Zuordnung von bezahlten Rechtsanwälten zu den Asylsuchenden und von Nichtregierungsorganisationen zu den Verfahren werden Schnelligkeit und Solidität der Verfahren erreicht. Einschließlich Revision brauchen sie dank juristischer Kompetenz und dank hergestellter Transparenz höchstens zwei Wochen bis zu einer Erstinstanz-Entscheidung, und weitere höchstens 6 Wochen bis zu einer Berufungsentscheidung. Personal aus anderen europäischen Ländern soll bei der kompetenten Prüfung der Asylanträge helfen. Die Asylzusage gilt für alle Mitgliedsländer der „Verstärkten Zusammenarbeit“.
  1. Für die anerkannten Flüchtlinge bieten die genannten Länder sofort eine freiwillige Aufnahme an, wie sie Deutschland aus Griechenland noch im Herbst 2017 durchführte. Zugleich wird ein neues Verfahren freiwilliger dezentraler Aufnahme von anerkannten Flüchtlingen durch die Kommunen und Städte eingerichtet. Kommunen sind eingeladen, auf der Basis beratender Multi-Stakeholder Beiräte (Vertreter der Gemeindeverwaltungen, der Unternehmen und von Nichtregierungsorganisationen, einschließlich, wenn möglich, wissenschaftlicher Beratung) darüber zu entscheiden, ob und in welcher Zahl sie im Rahmen ihrer eigenen weiteren Entwicklung Flüchtlinge aufnehmen wollen. Ihre Angebote schicken sie an die Hotspots, wo die anerkannten Flüchtlinge sich ihrerseits für drei Städte/Kommunen bewerben können. Hierzu muss ein Matching-System eingeführt werden.
  1. In der ersten Phase zahlen die Mitglieder der „Verstärkten Zusammenarbeit“ in einen Fonds ein, der außerhalb des EU-Haushalts angelegt ist und bei dem die Gemeinden die Erstattung ihrer Integrationskosten beantragen können. Sie erhalten dann für ihre eigene Entwicklung (Wohnungsbau, Infrastruktur, Bildung, Kultur etc.) zusätzlich die gleiche Summe.
  1. Perspektivisch sollte die EU im nächsten mehrjährigen Finanzrahmen einen solchen Fonds als „Kommunalen Integrations- und Entwicklungsfonds“ anlegen, der neben der Flüchtlingsintegration zielgenau kommunale Investitionen fördert. Die Mitgliedstaaten beschließen, Flüchtlingen, um die sich Kommunen aus ihrem Hoheitsbereich bewerben, die Einreise zu gestatten. Wenn sie das ablehnen, können ihre Kommunen aus dem Fonds keine Investitionsförderung erhalten.
  1. Jene deren Antrag abgelehnt wird oder bei denen entschieden wird, dass die Türkei für sie ein sicheres Land ist, werden in die Türkei zurückgeführt. Dazu wird eine glaubwürdige Ombudsperson für das Abkommen berufen, die in jedem Einzelfall der Frage der Behandlung jener nachgehen kann, die in die Türkei zurückgeschickt werden. Dazu werden wo möglich freiwillige Rückkehrprogramme in Herkunftsländer und Rückkehrberatung ausgebaut.
  1. Parallel beteiligen sich die Mitglieder der betroffenen Länder verstärkt bei der in der EU-Türkei-Erklärung vorgesehenen Umsiedlung von Schutzbedürftigen aus der Türkei.
  1. Ankara sollte weiters angeboten werden, die EU-Türkei-Erklärung auch auf die Landgrenze mit Griechenland auszudehnen – im Gegenzug könnte die schon versprochene finanzielle Hilfe für Flüchtlinge in der Türkei noch verlängert und aufgestockt werden (das ist im Interesse aller) .


Ein realistisches Szenario für Griechenland 2018

Eine realistische Annahme ist, dass im Rahmen einer solchen Initiative die Zahl derjenigen, die aus der Türkei nach Griechenland kommen, zunächst schnell wieder auf das Niveau der ersten Jahreshälfte 2017 fällt (mit etwa 1.500 Ankommenden im Monat), und dann noch niedriger. Wenn 1.000 abgelehnte Asylwerber im Monat in die Türkei zurückgeschickt würden, würde die Zahl der Ankommenden schnell fallen.

Dafür sollten EU-Staaten für jeden in Griechenland von dieser Mission anerkannten Flüchtling (500 im Monat?) einen Flüchtling aus Griechenland aufnehmen, und die Zahl der Umsiedlungen aus der Türkei ausbauen (auf mindestens 2.000 im Monat).  So könnte die EU Griechenland helfen, die unzumutbaren Zustände auf den griechischen Inseln beseitigen, ein Model für schnelle qualitätsvolle Asylverfahren liefern, den Balkan entlasten, und den Druck auf die Grenzen Deutschlands spürbar reduzieren. Und all das im Einklang mit europäischem Recht und ohne Asylsuchende schlecht zu behandeln. Und die Verteilung anerkannter Flüchtlinge könnte zum Ausbau eines auf Freiwilligkeit beruhenden Systems flexibler europäischer Solidarität führen.


Mehr über das niederländische Asylverfahren: “Amsterdam in the Mediterranean” – How a Dutch-style asylum system can help resolve the Mediterranean refugee crisis (26 January 2018)

Mehr über den Vorschlag: FAZ, “Niemand sollte jahrelang in der Luft hängen” (23 April 2018)

“European tragedy” – strong mobilisation in Poland continues

Poland protests

Strong mobilisation in Poland to save the rule of law and independent courts continues:

Today saw the presentation of apetition signed by 120 NGOs, calling on European Commission to act on rule of law and take law on the Supreme Court to the ECJ:

80 leading Polish intellectuals also wrote a letter to the European Commission:…/

For this reason, like President Lech Wałęsa, we voice our support for the European Union with regard to the current proceedings taking place before the Court of Justice of the EU on the matter of the Polish Law on Ordinary Courts and we are impatiently awaiting the Court’s verdict.

We appeal to the European Committee to take without delay the Law on the Polish Supreme Court to the Court of Justice of the European Union in accordance with the provisions of Article 258 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and to file the relevant motion for applying interim measures.

The history of our continent teaches us that when the foundations of our common liberties are demolished, their restoration becomes extremely difficult.

As Piotr Buras and I wrote, exactly one week ago, in “European tragedy”: this is not a Polish issue only, but an existential issue for all Europeans, which touches the future of the rule of law anywhere in the EU. The more European media highlight what is at stake in Poland today, and what might still be done; the more policy makers across the EU respond, and call on their governments and the EU to act … the better for our common European future.

The EU has no future as a community based on laws if there are no independent courts in all member states.

For more background on what is at stake, and why so many Poles react so strongly in recent days, read the full report here:

“Concrete swift actions by the European Commission, member states and the European Court of Justice can still pre-empt the worst if

– the European Commission vigorously pursues the ongoing infringement procedure against the Law on the Ordinary Courts, which it launched in December 2017 before the Court of Justice of the European Union. The worst signal at this moment would be to withdraw this before it allows the Court of Justice to assess the state of courts in Poland today;

– The European Commission launches an infringement procedure against the Law on the Supreme Court immediately before the Court of Justice, with the aim to stop the mass dismissal of judges set to take place in early July and which would be almost impossible to reverse later.

– Important EU member states voice their support for both steps. At the same time the Council must ensure that the European Commissions “reasoned proposal” on the rule of law in Poland, based on Article 7 of the EU’ treaty, is put to the vote as soon as possible, and receives broad backing from member states.

The Polish government’s assault on its judiciary represents a threat to the EU’s legal order and long-term political stability. The EU and national legal orders are now so intertwined as to make up a single patchwork quilt, from which so great a hole cannot be cut, without the whole unravelling.

The rule of law is central to the very existence of the European Union. The second article of the Treaty of the European Union states confidently: “The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights.” The EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights states: “Everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal previously established by law.” What is at stake in Poland today is the future of the EU as a project based on core principles such as the rule of law, separation of powers and human rights.”

More reactions:

The collapse of Poland’s Rule of law: Statement by Lech Walesa concerning the Supreme Court

Lech Walesa. Photo: flickr/MEDEF
Lech Walesa. Photo: flickr/MEDEF

ESI-Batory paper: European tragedy – the collapse of Poland’s Rule of law (29 May 2018)


Statement by Lech Wałęsa concerning the Supreme Court

Polish original: Wałęsa: Wzywam Komisję Europejską, by skierowała do Trybunału Sprawiedliwości ustawę o Sądzie Najwyższym


There is no freedom without the rule of law.

I would like to express my deep concern about the crisis caused by the far-reaching changes to the Polish judiciary. These raise fundamental doubts at home and abroad. The violation of the independence of Polish courts threatens very negative consequences, for Poland, but also for the entire European Union. The EU, which is the anchor of the Polish raison d’etat, cannot function without free courts in each member state.

That is why I am calling on the Polish government, the European Commission and all political forces in Poland to do their utmost to prevent the irreversible consequences of the changes to the judiciary and the political crisis they have caused.

Only the verdict of an independent court can solve the problem of the independence of the Polish judiciary today. Political agreements cannot serve as a response to these dubious propositions, wherein the tripartite separation of powers, the fundamental principles of law and the Polish constitution are at stake.

That is why I favour asking the Court of Justice of the European Union to evaluate the most questionable changes to the judiciary system, as its judgments are binding both for the European Commission and for EU member states.

I support the European Commission in relation to the proceedings pending before the EU Court of Justice concerning the law on common courts, and I am awaiting the Court’s decision. I am also calling on the European Commission to refer the law on the Supreme Court to the EU Court of Justice under Article 258 of the EU Treaty. Due to the reduction of the retirement age provided for in this law, about 40 percent of the Supreme Court’s judges will have to end their calling prematurely on 3 July.

These provisions raise very serious legal doubts, and the Tribunal should be given the opportunity to judge them. I appeal to all political forces in Poland to support this legal path, which may lead to the protection of the rule of law in Poland and the EU, and to a resolution of the political conflict. I also appeal to the Polish government to refrain from taking any actions that would hinder such a solution.

Just as in 1980 there could not be freedom without solidarity, so today there cannot be freedom without the rule of law!

Lech Wałęsa, Gdańsk, 30 May 2018

Two steps – towards a humane and effective EU asylum policy in the Central Mediterranean (I)

A new ESI report on this is coming early next week – in recent weeks we presented the ideas below at many meetings to policy makers, from Athens to Stockholm, from Berlin to Brussels. 

If Europe’s current refugee and migration crisis has made anything clear over the past two years, it is this: the European Union urgently needs a credible, effective policy on asylum and border management that respects existing international and EU refugee law and controls external land and sea borders. It must treat asylum seekers respectfully while deterring irregular migration and undermining the business model of smugglers; it must save lives and respect the fundamental ethical norm of the rule of rescue, not push individuals in need into danger, which is at the heart of the UN Refugee convention (and its key article 33 on no-push backs).

The EU-Turkey agreement on refugees in the Aegean adopted on March 18, 2016, contains the elements of such a policy – but to serve as a good model it has to be fully implemented. The agreement is based on existing EU laws on asylum and on the principles of the UN Refugee Convention. It commits the EU to helping improve conditions for refugees in Turkey (the country in the world hosting the largest number of refugees today) with the most generous contribution the EU has ever made for refugees in any country in the world. It also makes improving the work and quality of the Turkish asylum service a matter of direct interest to the EU: only if Turkey has a functioning asylum system can it be considered a safe third country. Finally and crucially, it foresees substantial resettlement of refugees in an orderly manner from Turkey once flows of irregular arrivals in the Aegean are reduced. The fact that this last provision has not yet been implemented seriously does not make it any less important to the overall logic of the agreement.

Even without full implementation, the agreement has produced a dramatic and immediate impact on refugee movements in the Eastern Mediterranean. Crossings in the Aegean Sea fell from 115,000 in the first two months of the year to 3,300 in June and July. The number of people who drowned in the Aegean fell from 366 people in the first three months of the year to seven between May and July. This was achieved without pushing refugees to take other, more dangerous routes (the people arriving in Southern Italy this year were from African countries). And there have not been any mass expulsions from Greece either, something NGOs had feared would happen. In fact, more people had been sent back from Greece to Turkey in the three months preceding the agreement (967) than in the ten months since it was concluded (777).

It is obvious, however, that the EU has no current plan or credible strategy for the Central Mediterranean, and this presents a huge risk. The status quo is clearly unacceptable from a humanitarian point of view: in 2016 an unprecedented number of people (more than 4,400) drowned in the Central Mediterranean. It is also politically explosive, lending ammunition to those on the far-right across Europe (from Geert Wilders in the Netherlands to Marine Le Pen in France and the Alternative für Deutschland in Germany). They argue that the only way to control migration to Europe is by abolishing the Schengen open borders regime and restoring border controls within the European Union. The lack of a coherent EU strategy has led some to suggest looking to Australia for inspiration, praising a model whereby anyone reaching the EU by sea should be denied the right to even apply for asylum in the EU and be returned to North Africa. This would amount to the EU turning its back on the Refugee Convention, which would be a moment of existential crisis also for the UNHCR anf global policy on asylum.

A humane and effective border and asylum policy is indeed possible, and it does not involve emulating the Australian model. The first step requires implementing the EU-Turkey agreement in full. The second step would involve applying the right lessons to the Central Mediterranean as well. Both would require the EU to set up new structures, including credible EU asylum missions and instruments to resettle refugees, among others. Both depend on Greece and Italy persuading other EU countries that the challenge they face is a European one that requires innovative European solutions.

Following Through

Nearly a year after it was signed into action, the EU-Turkey agreement remains at risk – and that despite its successes so far. This is because of inadequate implementation.

On average, less than 100 people have been returned to Turkey each month; many people who arrived on the Aegean islands have remained struck there in limbo for extended periods of time, while the number of new arrivals has been some 100 a day on average in recent months.

All this creates a realistic scenario for failure. Greek authorities, under pressure and without an answer for islanders who see Lesbos and Chios turning into a European Nauru (the Pacific island where Australia sends people who arrive by boat), might move larger numbers of people from the Aegean islands to the mainland. That would again lead to rising numbers of people crossing the Aegean. Once larger groups are moved to the Greek mainland, the humanitarian situation for refugees there, which is already bad, will deteriorate further. We would see the populist-led calls to build a stronger wall north of Greece multiply.

Already now, the number one topic of conversation among migrants stranded on the Greek mainland is the cost of getting smuggled across the Balkan route, either via Macedonia or Bulgaria. It is hard to imagine Greece making a major effort to stop people from leaving the country if Greeks feel the EU has left them alone. The weak Macedonian reception and asylum system might then collapse within weeks, once more people cross the border. The Western Balkans would turn into a battleground for migrants, smugglers, border guards, soldiers and vigilante groups, destabilizing an already fragile region.

If this scenario played out, it would be a serious blow to European leaders like Angela Merkel, who argue that it is possible to have a humane and effective EU policy on border management while respecting the refugee convention. It would also be a blow to already tense EU-Turkish relations. What is needed now is the right implementation strategy.

The EU should appoint a special representative for the implementation of the EU-Turkey agreement – a former prime minister or former foreign minister with the experience and authority to address urgent implementation issues on the ground. To preserve the agreement, the European Commission and Turkey should address all concerns raised about Turkey as a safe third country for those who should be returned from Greece. Such concerns can be addressed. As UNHCR noted already on March 18, 2016, everything depends on serious implementation:

“People being returned to Turkey and needing international protection must have a fair and proper determination of their claims, and within a reasonable time. Assurances against refoulement, or forced return, must be in place. Reception and other arrangements need to be readied in Turkey before anyone is returned from Greece. People determined to be needing international protection need to be able to enjoy asylum, without discrimination, in accordance with accepted international standards, including effective access to work, health care, education for children, and, as necessary, social assistance.”

Turkey would need to present a concrete proposal on how to ensure – and how to make transparent – that it is fulfilling the conditions set by EU law to be a credible safe third country for refugees of any origin, whether they are Pakistani, Afghan or Syrian, that Greece might return. It would need to guarantee – with more assistance from the EU and UNCHR, if need be – that there are sufficient asylum case workers, translators and legal aid in place to provide an efficient asylum process. There would need to be full transparency surrounding what is happening to each and every person returned, as well. Given the small number of people concerned this is all doable.

At the same time, the EU should send a European asylum mission to the Greek islands, including at least 200 case workers that should be able to take binding decisions on asylum claims (which would require an invitation by the Greek government and changes in Greek law, and assurances that any decision taken by such a mission could be suspended by a chief Greek legal officer). Those who are given protection should then be relocated across the EU immediately; all others sent back to Turkey. The principle behind an EU mission would be obvious: in times of crisis, there is a need for a substantial number of case workers, interpreters and reception officers to ensure quality standards for assessing protection requests, and with speed where most asylum requests are submitted. It would be unfair to blame Greece or any other country for being unable to deal rapidly with asylum requests of the tens of thousands of people; it would be unreasonable for Greece not to ask for such a European mission. Ultimately it is a matter of political will on the part of the EU and Turkey to deal with the few thousand asylum seekers now on the Aegean islands, in line with international norms and EU directives for their mutual benefit.

Adapting the Agreement

So far it has proven difficult to send a sufficient number of EU asylum caseworkers to Greece. At the same time, there are still no decent reception conditions for the relatively small number of people who have arrived on the islands since April 2016. These challenges cast serious doubt on proposals to slow illegal migration to Italy by setting up reception centers somewhere in North Africa; as some EU politicans have suggested, everyone who reaches Italy would be taken there to have their asylum claims processed. This is sometimes presented as a model inspired by Australia, which puts everyone who arrives via the sea in camps on the Pacific island of Nauru or on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. In fact, asylum seekers held in Nauru in recent years have been forced to wait many years for their applications to be decided. Conditions of detention were and remain intentionally harsh to deter further arrivals. And once asylum is granted, it remains unclear where refugees might go (recently the US offered to help out and promised to accept a large number of people moved to these islands by Australia; it remains unclear whether this will actually happen). It is important to note that Nauru never hosted more than a thousand people at any given time. The notion that the EU might outsource the detention of tens of thousands of asylum seekers to camps across North Africa for long periods and under similar conditions is surely a recipe for failure.

So how might the EU reduce the number of arrivals – and deaths – in the Central Mediterranean? The key lies in fast processing of asylum applications of anyone who arrives, and in fast returns of those whose claims are rejected to their countries of origin. Both of these tasks should become European responsibilities. Anyone who would not get asylum should be returned to his or her countries of origin. Prioritizing the returns of anyone who reaches Italy after a given date and does not get asylum should become the central issue to be negotiated with African countries of origin. On the other hand, those who are given asylum should be relocated across the EU to support Italy and Greece and replace the inadequate Dublin system (the notion that Dutch or German case officers would decide which refugees remain in Greece or Italy would obviously not be acceptable to these countries).

What would be the likely impact of such a policy on arrivals? It is very likely that these would fall sharply.

Nigerians were the largest group of arrivals in 2016, and the majority would be unlikely to risk their lives crossing the deadly Sahara, unstable Libya and the Central Mediterranean and spending thousands of Euros on smugglers when the likelihood of being returned to Nigeria would be upwards of 70 percent, which is the current rate of rejection of Nigerian asylum applications in the EU. As noted, ensuring that Nigeria, Senegal and other countries take back their nationals who arrive in Italy after an agreed date should be the chief priority in talks between the EU and Nigeria – similar to the commitment Turkey made to take back without delay people who arrive in Greece after March 20, 2016. This would require that an EU asylum mission in Italy is able to process all claims within weeks. Rapid readmission would bring down the number of people who stay in the EU after their applications are rejected. In this way, the number of irregular arrivals becomes manageable – with less business for smugglers and far fewer deaths at sea. The aim might be to reduce the number of all irregular arrivals by sea to below 100,000 (for an EU of over 500 million people) already in 2017. Such a goal is realistic: it is, after all, the average number of irregular arrivals into the whole EU in the years 2009-2013.

European leaders could thus demonstrate to their electorates that it is possible to control external sea borders without undermining the refugee convention or treating those who arrive badly to deter new arrivals. European leaders should simultaneously push forward the global debate on orderly transfers of refugees through resettlement. The only way to do so is to lead by example, building up EU capacity for resettlement as well boosting the UNHCR’s capacity to do more. Coalitions of willing EU states should commit to resettle a significant number of vulnerable refugees each year.

In recent decades, resettlement has never reached more than 100,000 a year in the whole world, and of these the US took the lion’s share. Until now European states have not built up the bureaucratic machinery for large-scale resettlement. For this reason, pushing the EU to fully implement the resettlement provisions in the Aegean agreement (point 4) is vital and deserves to be an advocacy priority for human rights NGOs and refugee rights defenders.

In the face of rising anti-refugee sentiment across the world, it will take a strong coalition of countries to protect the refugee convention. Such a coalition requires governments who are able to win elections on the platform that a humane asylum policy and effective border control can be combined and can even reinforce each other. Such a policy needs to be based on core principles: no-push backs; no-Nauru; discouraging irregular passage through fast readmission and fast asylum processes; expansion of resettlement of refugees; and serious financial help to host countries elsewhere. If this happens lessons from the Aegean agreement with Turkey – the only plan in recent years that dramatically reduced the numbers of people arriving without changing EU refugee law – might help develop a blueprint for protecting refugee rights in an age of anxiety. The stakes – for Europe and for the UN Refugee Convention – could not be higher.  



A popular antisemite – why much of what seems new today is not



Thinking a lot recently about Karl Lueger, a successful politician in Vienna, one hundred and a few years ago. Weekend reading: an excellent book by Brigitte Haman, “Hitler’s Vienna”. On the crazy and dangerous ideas and political models emerging in the middle of a cosmopolitan metropolis in a complacent era.

What seems new in our politics today is not really new at all, facebok, twitter or other social media notwithstanding. Nor is there anything new in “post-truth” politics – when was “truth” important to nationalists, colonialists, decolonisers, or communists in the 20th century? If you do not have Haman’s book ready, have a look at the below description of one of the most respected democratic politicians in the late Habsburg empire. Then replace “Jew” with “Muslim” or “foreigner” in the text below, and you have a not so secret formula, which looks set to become the inspiration for political leaders in much of what was until yesterday the West … until it stops working.

It worked then, for Karl Lueger. He won elections. He managed to run a decent city administration. He also built a lot. His statue is still up in Vienna. But the consequences of this style of politics in the short and medium term were disastrous for his city, country and continent.

As will be the consequences this time, if this style of thinking, of politics without constraints, is not contained. Or, better put: defeated in elections. This is the only response that matters.

“Karl Lueger was an outstanding example of this new kind of politician: he attempted to get a feeling for the mood of “the people”; he like to hold speeches in dialect, took account of the intellectual level of his listeners, made complex issues simple and tried to entertain his public with humorous remarks.

He was especially successful when he attacked the supposed enemies of his listeners. He stoked antipathy to politicians with different points of view as well as national and religious minorities. His polemical attacks, sometimes extremely drastically formulated, were not directed towards reason but consciously appealed to emotions and instincts. Thus he understood how to use rousing speeches to win over the Viennese population to his cause, consciously invoking stereotypical images of alleged enemies and, in particular, making use of anti-Semitic prejudice. Every set back was reduced to a simple formula: “The Jews are to blame” and stirred up hatred with statements such as: “ We will prevent the oppression of Christians and a new Palestine replacing the ancient Austrian empire of Christians”.

In the process he activated the traditional Catholic anti-Semitism directed against “the people who killed God”. He combined it with anti-liberal and anti-capitalist elements and thus addressed the widespread prejudice against “money and stock market Jews”, “press Jews”, “ink Jews”, i.e. Jewish intellectuals and businessmen. Under his leadership the Christian Socialists regarded their main political task as the reduction of the “rapidly growing power of the Jews” and the reversal of their emancipation which had only taken place in 1867.”

The book itself, with its excellent analysis of the impact of Lueger, Schönerer, and many of the thinkers at the time: in English –

Blind in den Sturm – wie die Europäische Kommission in Griechenland versagt (in German)

Forschung in Lesbos - hier im Rathaus
Forschung in Lesbos – hier im Rathaus

Ein Artikel in der Frankfurter Allgemeinen Zeitung vom 27 September 2016 (Brüssel: Vertrag mit Türkei bewährt sich, FAZ, Seite 2, Dienstag) zeigt zweierlei: die Europäische Kommission erkennt nicht, was notwendig ist, um das EU-Türkei Abkommen umzusetzen. Sie versäumt es, Politiker und die Öffentlichkeit aufzurütteln. Stattdessen verschleiert sie Probleme. Das ist unverantwortlich und gefährlich. Wenn nichts passiert, könnte das Abkommen in den nächsten Wochen in sich zusammenbrechen. In diesem kurzen Überblick stehen die Aussagen der Kommission, die in dem Artikel zitiert werden, den tatsächlichen Entwicklungen gegenüber. Ein aufmerksamer Leser kann von selbst erkennen, dass hier vieles nicht zusammenpasst:

Die Zahl der Flüchtlinge, die in der Ägäis ankommen

Der Artikel beginnt optimistisch:

„Das vor sechs Monaten zwischen der EU und der Türkei vereinbarte Flüchtlingsabkommen scheint sich insgesamt zu bewähren. Zu dieser positiven Einschätzung ist die Europäische Kommission in einer Bilanz gelangt. ‚Ich habe keine großen Befürchtungen, dass das Abkommen zwischen der EU und der Türkei scheitert. Es steht für beide Seiten zu viel auf dem Spiel’, sagte ein mit dem Dossier betrauter Beamter am Montag.“

Dafür bietet der ungenannte Beamte folgende Argumente:

„Die Zahl der über die Ägäis aus der Türkei auf die griechischen Inseln gelangenden Flüchtlinge sei mit zuletzt durchschnittlich hundert am Tag auf einem ‚historisch niedrigen Stand’.“

Ankunft von Flüchtlingen aus der Türkei auf griechischen Inseln (2016)[1]

Datum Ankommende Flüchtlinge
Täglicher Durchschnitt Januar 1,932
Täglicher Durchschnitt Februar 1,904
Täglicher Durchschnitt 1-20 März 1,148
Täglicher Durchschnitt 21-31 März 333
Täglicher Durchschnitt April 121
Täglicher Durchschnitt Mai 55
Täglicher Durchschnitt Juni 51
Täglicher Durchschnitt Juli 59
Täglicher Durchschnitt August 111


Die Zahl der ankommenden Flüchtlinge lag im August bei durchschnittlich 111 am Tag. Das sind doppelt so viel wie im Mai oder Juni. Dieser Trend ist besorgniserregend. Es ist auch kein „historisch niedriger Stand“: auf ein Jahr umgelegt bedeuten 111 Ankommende am Tag insgesamt etwa 40,000 Ankommende im Jahr.

Um das einzuordnen hilft es, sich die Gesamtzahl ALLER, die die EU Außengrenzen in den letzten Jahren überquert haben, vor Augen zu halten: das waren von 2009 bis 2013 jährlich durchschnittlich 110,000 an ALLEN EU Außengrenzen. 40,000 im Jahr nur in der Ägäis wären eine historisch hohe Zahl, die nur verglichen mit dem Ausnahmejahr 2015 (als über 800,000 ankamen) „niedrig“ erscheinen mag. Dass der negative Trend der letzten Wochen nicht einmal erwähnt wird ist auch merkwürdig.


Die Zahl jener, die von den Inseln in die Türkei zurückgeschickt werden

„Positiv wird in der Kommission herausgestellt, dass seit Inkrafttreten des Abkommens von den griechischen Inseln bis zum Montag insgesamt 578 Flüchtlinge in die Türkei zurückgeschickt worden seien. Allein am Montag brachte ein Schiff 70 Migranten von der Insel Lesbos in die Türkei Dikili zurück.“

Das bedeutet, dass seit Inkrafttreten des Abkommens im Durchschnitt pro Monat weniger als 100 Flüchtlinge in die Türkei zurückgeschickt wurden – weniger als derzeit täglich auf den Inseln ankommen.

Was die Kommission nicht erklärt, ist erneut der tatsächliche Trend. Der sieht nämlich so aus: auch im September wurden insgesamt nur 90 Leute zurückgebracht. Im August waren es 16, im Juli niemand, im Juni 21 und im Mai 55. Die allermeisten wurden zu Beginn des Abkommens, im April (386), zurückgebracht. In der ersten Oktoberwoche ist noch einmal ein Transfer von 75 Menschen geplant. Doch danach ist es wieder unklar aus wie es weitergeht. Von einer Trendwende kann derzeit keine Rede sein.

Transfer von Migranten aus Griechenland in die Türkei bis 27 September 2016[2]

Date Transfers
4 April 202
8 April 123
26 April 49
27 April 12
18 May 4
20 May 51
8 June 8
9 June 13
16 June 6
17 August 8
18 August 6
25 August 2
7 September 5
8 September 13
23 September 7
26 September 70
Total 579


Die Kommission erklärt übrigens selbst, warum es auch in den nächsten Monaten nur sehr wenige Rückführungen geben wird:

„Derzeit gibt es mit jeweils drei Mitgliedern besetzte Berufungsgremien, die derzeit monatlich nur 200 Fälle zum Abschluss bringen können Zur Bewältigung dieses ‚Flaschenhalses’ müssten die Verfahren gestrafft, mehr Personal müsse eingestellt werden. Ziel sei es, die Dauer des Prüfverfahrens auf zwei bis drei Wochen zu begrenzen.”

Das bedeutet: egal wie viele Fälle die Asylbehörde in erster Instanz derzeit bearbeitet (und es sind nicht viele – siehe weiter unten), die erwartete Zahl derjenigen, die von der zweiten Instanz monatlich „zum Abschluss“ gebracht wird, liegt bei „nur 200“ … und das bedeutet noch nicht, dass alle 200 auch in die Türkei zurückgebracht werden.

Derzeit gibt es noch keine Erfahrung mit den Berufungsgremien, aber selbst wenn ALLE 200 Fälle pro Monat in einem Rückführungsentscheid in die Türkei enden, wären das weniger als derzeit in ZWEI TAGEN auf die Inseln kommen.

Die kleine griechische Asylbehörde ist der Aufgabe auf den Inseln nicht gewachsen.

„In der EU-Behörde wird zudem erwartet, dass auch die Zahl der ‚Rückführungen’ von Flüchtlingen aus Griechenland in die Türkei in Kürze deutlich zunehmen wird. Inzwischen sei in Griechenland über die Zulässigkeit von rund 3500 Asylanträgen – davon gut 3000 von syrischen Flüchtlingen – entschieden worden. Dies entspricht der im März gegebenen Zusage, Asylanträge im Schnellverfahren zu prüfen.“

Doch selbst wenn 3,500 Anträge in sechs Monaten entschieden wurden, dann sind das weniger als 600 im Monat. Derzeit kommen PRO WOCHE mehr Flüchtlinge und Migranten auf den Inseln an.

Man kann es drehen wie man will: sechs Monate nach Inkrafttreten des Abkommens haben weder die erste Instanz der Asylbehörde, noch die Berufungskommissionen, noch die – immer noch dramatisch unterbesetzte – EASO Mission auch nur ansatzweise die Ressourcen, die notwendig wären zu verhindern, dass die Schere zwischen der Zahl der Ankommenden und der Zahl der in die Türkei zurückgeführten nicht weiter aufgeht.

Die letzte der zitierten Aussagen der Kommission wirkt vor diesem Hintergrund bemerkenswert:

„Günstig habe sich zuletzt die Versorgungslage für die Flüchtlinge entwickelt.“

Dass sich die „Versorgungslage“ auf den Inseln günstig entwickelt haben soll, nachdem das wichtigste Lager Moria auf Lesbos erst vor kurzem brannte, während die Differenz zwischen Bedarf und Resourcen immer grösser wird, und obwohl Proteste der Bevölkerung auf den Inseln immer mehr zunehmen, ist schwer zu glauben. Es widerspricht auch dem, was Journalisten und Menschenrechtsorganisationen von den Inseln berichten. Abgesehen davon ist jedem Laien klar was es bedeutet, wenn

  • sich heute doppelt so viele Menschen auf den Inseln befinden als Kapazitäten vorhanden sind, sie gut zu versorgen (UNHCR);
  • jeden Tag so viele Menschen auf den Inseln ankommen wie durchschnittlich im Monat in die Türkei gebracht werden;
  • der Trend zeigt, dass die Zahl der Ankommenden steigt, die Effizienz der Behörden aber seit Monaten stagniert.

All das wirft die Frage auf: Wie kann eine Organisation, die bestehende Probleme und alarmierende Trends nicht wahrnimmt, diese Probleme lösen? Und was macht die Europäische Kommission, wenn in wenigen Wochen die griechischen Behörden das Handtuch werfen müssen und tausende von den Inseln wegbringen, und damit den Schlepper in der Türkei signalisieren, dass das ganze Abkommen einzustürzen beginnt?


Kapazität und Auslastung in den Lagern auf den griechischen Inseln, 13. September 2016[3]


Island Kapazität Auslastung
Lesvos 3,500 5,660
Chios 1,100 3,598
Kos 1,000 1,540
Samos 850 1,425
Leros 1,000 702
Rhodes 136
Karpathos 71
Kalymnos 24
Megisti 14
Total 7,450 13,171


 PS: Was tatsächlich – schnell – passieren müsste hat ESI erst vor kurzem in diesem Papier beschrieben: Background paper: On solid ground? Eleven facts about the EU-Turkey Agreement (12 September 2016)

Wir haben unsere Vorschläge auch in vielen Gesprächen, in internationalen Medien oder bei Veranstaltungen in Den Haag, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Wien und Berlin erkläutert:

Flüchtlinge auf Lesbos
Flüchtlinge auf Lesbos


[1]             Source: UNHCR (Weekly report, 4 August 2016)

[2]             Source: European Commission

[3]             Source: UNHCR