By: Adrienne Thompson, Columnist
Since the onset of the migrant crisis in 2015, the European Union (EU) has struggled to process migrants, secure its borders, and reduce political tensions to halt the rise of far-right movements. In order to address these issues, President of the European Commission Jean Claude Juncker announced a new plan to supplement border security with an additional 10,000 European Border and Coast Guard Agency personnel in his annual State of the Union on September 12, 2018. These agents will provide security for the Union’s external borders and increase cooperation between non-EU countries.[i] Juncker’s announcement occurred the same day the European Parliament voted to initiate sanctions against Hungary for violations against core EU values and its slide toward illiberalism. Anti-immigrant and anti-minority sentiments are pervasive not only in Hungary’s government, but throughout Europe. Juncker’s new border deployment and the recent sanctions on Hungary demonstrate how a lack of action within the EU to address the migrant crisis only frays the union between member states and contributes to an increase in anti-immigrant sentiments. If the EU does not stay unified, efforts to control the migrant crisis and provide border defense will not only create the perception of a weak Europe but could also slowly change the EU’s political landscape. The question remains: Will Juncker’s proposal be enough to mend the Union’s fragmentation? His plan for managing incoming migrants and increasing border security, while still in its early stages, is revealing a lack of cooperation between member states that could undermine the unity of the EU by reducing the legitimacy of Brussels and boosting the appeal of far-right ideologies.
While political tensions within the EU remain high, migration has abated. According to a statistic from the International Organization for Migration, “the number of arrivals to the EU fell from a high of over 1 million in 2015 to just 186,000 in 2017.”[ii] Despite the reduction in migration flows, the EU still requires a plan for addressing immigration pressures. According to the European Commission, the 10,000 armed agents with “executive powers and their own equipment will ensure that the EU has necessary capabilities in place to intervene wherever and whenever needed – along the EU’s external borders as well as in non-EU countries.”[iii] Many of the agents will be responsible for processing migrants arriving at the border and assisting them should they be granted permission to enter the EU. Otherwise, they will work to return migrants with the assistance of non-EU countries. Negotiations with non-EU countries are still ongoing, but an agreement between the EU and Albania has been finalized.[iv]
One potential challenge for this plan regards sovereignty: Member states, such as Hungary and Italy, are skeptical of giving Brussels more power, and they feel that Union-wide migration policy is encroaching upon their right to manage their own borders. While external borders are regulated, internal border controls are also being introduced to limit the movement of migrants to designated countries within the EU. Currently France, Austria, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway have imposed temporary border controls due to the potential threats created by the unfettered movement of people into their countries.[v] The introduction of internal border control compromises the Schengen Agreement, which allows for the free flow of people and goods between 26 EU and non-EU countries. Article 25 of the Schengen Border Code does permit the introduction of temporary border controls. However, seeing as the migrant crisis is no closer to a resolution, the right of free movement remains in limbo.
On Wednesday, September 19, European leaders met in Salzburg, Austria to further discuss Juncker’s plan and the logistics of its implementation. Many questions still remain unanswered. For example, when and where will agents will be distributed? Who will comprise the 10,000 agents? And, given the dissension this crisis has created, will member states take the initiative? During the EU Summit in June of 2018, members states came together to finalize a plan to help facilitate migrant processing through the creation of control centers. As defined by the EU, “The centers are to be set up in member states, only on a voluntary basis, and should provide rapid and secure processing allowing to distinguish [sic] between irregular migrants, who will be returned, and those in need of international protection, for whom the principle of solidarity would apply.”[vi] While this strategy emerged in June, no EU member state has yet volunteered to create one of these control centers. In an effort to provide clarity, leaders have ended up simply creating more confusion and uncertainty.
Could this all be rhetoric? Will this strategy be effective? If 10,000 agents are to be placed throughout the EU by 2020, the EU needs to begin implementing its plans soon. As time goes on, the EU appears increasingly ill-prepared and poorly organized to secure its borders. What has been lacking since the beginning of the migrant crisis is sufficient coordination. Far-right groups have used this failure as an opportunity to buttress their argument to voters that Brussels is in disarray, and this “underlines the impression that some national politicians who complain, such as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, have the most to gain politically from keeping the issue alive, and unsolved, thorough next year’s European parliament election.”[vii] To facilitate migrant processing and border control, the only viable solution is for member states to work together. The EU cannot succeed if it is not unified.
[i] “State of the Union 2018: A fully equipped European Border and Coast Guard-Questions and Answer,” European Commission, September 12, 2018,
[ii] Billy Perrigo, “The E.U. is Planning a 10,000- Strong Armed Force to Protect Its Borders. Here’s What to Know,” Time, September 12, 2018, http://time.com/5392444/eu-border-force-migration/.
[iii] “State of the Union 2018: A fully equipped European Border and Coast Guard-Questions and Answer.”
[v] “Temporary Reintroduction of Border Control,” European Commission: Migration and Home Affairs, September 2, 2018, https://ec.europa.eu/home-affairs/what-we-do/policies/borders-and-visas/schengen/reintroduction-border-control_en.
[vi] European Council, “European Council, 28-29/06/2018,” http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/meetings/european-council/2018/06/28-29/.
[vii] David M. Herszenhorn and Jacopo Barigazzi, “EU push to clean up migration mess only makes it messier,” Politico, September 19, 2018, https://www.politico.eu/article/europe-migrant-crisis-little-appetite-to-solve-problem/.