The EU is in Denial About Stopping the Boats

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The Global Alliance to Counter Migrant Smuggling is the latest EU initiative to address the continent’s migrant crisis. Unveiled in Brussels on Tuesday, the aim of the alliance is, in the words of the EU, ‘to close the loopholes in national legislation and international systems and prevent this criminal trade in human lives.’ 

The EU president, Ursula von der Leyen, used social media to boast that the Global Alliance will, among other things, ‘Intensify cooperation with partner countries to tackle this issue globally’ and ‘strengthen the role of Europol’, the EU’s agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation. 

Forgive the cynicism but haven’t we been here before? In 2002, for example, when the EU announced its legal framework to combat migrant smuggling. How did that work out?  

Or how about the EU’s Action Plan of 2015, which vowed to ‘prevent the exploitation of migrants by criminal networks and reduce incentives to irregular migration’?

Even as von der Leyen trumpeted news of the latest initiative, the EU’s Home Affairs Commissioner, Ylva Johansson, struck a more pessimistic note. She explained that in Niger, where General Abdourahamane Tiani seized power in a summer coup, a 2015 law on people smuggling has just been repealed.  

The law had been thrashed out between the EU and the Niger government and it had a dramatic effect on reducing the number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean to Europe. In 2014 more than 170,000 made the voyage, with large numbers having passed through Niger en route to the coast; by 2019 the figure had plummeted to under 15,000.  

With the law now repealed – who knows, perhaps with the encouragement of Russia, whose influence in the Sahel is considerable – Europe should brace itself for a fresh migrant surge in 2024. 

That would a serious blow to the EU. They hope that this latest initiative might go some way to placate voters ahead of next June’s European elections when the electorate is expected to punish those who have allowed the continent’s migrant crisis to deepen since the 2019 elections.  

In that time voters across Europe have voted in domestic elections for parties who have promised to be the most robust in tacking the crisis, the latest being Geert Wilders in Holland. 

An opinion poll published this week in France forecast that Marine Le Pen’s National Rally will be the big winners in the European elections; 28 per cent of respondents intend to vote for her party, with 19 per cent backing Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance. Third is the Socialist party on just 9 per cent.

The same poll asked if Europe should set up external borders to limit migration: 77 per cent were in favour; asked if the right to asylum in Europe should be restricted to a certain number of countries, 74 per cent replied in the affirmative. 

Opinion polls, whatever the European country, always return similar overwhelming results, and yet nothing is done. The French right claim that is the fault of Brussels, which is fundamentally pro-migration. 

That is the reason why Le Pen’s party and Eric Zemmour’s Reconquest see next year’s European elections as crucial in the battle to take back control of France’s borders.  

In their sights is the dominant European People’s Party (EPP), to which von der Leyen belongs. Like the Tory party, its members masquerade as conservatives while eagerly acquiescing to all the latest progressive fads. 

The EPP is the largest umbrella group in the EU parliament with 178 seats out of 705. Their leader is Manfred Weber of Germany’s Christian Social Union, a protegee of Angela Merkel, herself a stalwart of the EPP. 

In recent years, two genuinely conservative groups have emerged in the EU parliament to threaten the hegemony of the EPP; one is the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), which includes among its members Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy, Poland’s Law and Justice, Vox of Spain and the Swedish Democrats. Eric Zemmour’s party aligns itself to the ECR and his vice-president, Marion Maréchal – the niece of Marine Le Pen, with whom she has fallen out – is married to Vincenzo Sofo, one of Meloni’s MEPs. 

The ECR has 66 MEPS, which is six more than Identity and Democracy (ID), to which belong Le Pen’s National Rally, Germany’s AfD and Italy’s Liga, the party of Matteo Salvini, who is Meloni’s deputy PM. Also affiliated is Geert Wilders’ PVV party although it has no MEPs. 

Le Pen is frequently compared to Meloni but whereas the latter is a social conservative and economic liberal, the Frenchwoman is more socially liberal and to the left economically. ‘Meloni is not my twin sister,’ explained Le Pen an interview with La Repubblica earlier this year. ‘It’s Salvini to whom I’m loyal’.

In October Marion Maréchal – who will lead Reconquest at the European elections – said that a coalition of the right is the only way to defeat the centrist managerialism that characterises Brussels. ‘We have the opportunity to see conservative parties become the real centre of gravity… so that the European Union is no longer built against the interests of the French,’ she said. 

A poll this week revealed that both the ECR and ID are set to make gains at next year’s elections, with the latter increasing its number of MEPS from 66 to 82 and ID from 60 to 87.

However, the EPP are projected to remain the dominant force with 175 seats, while the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats would take 141 seats and the Greens just 52, a loss of 20 seats and a further sign of the diminishing influence of ecology politics in Europe.  

A coalition between the ECR and the ID would make electoral sense but there are a lot of egos standing in the way of such an alliance, not least in France where Le Pen’s party has consistently rejected the idea of a coalition with Eric Zemmour. 

But there is also conflict within the EPP. Manfred Weber wants to move them more to the right in order to counter the threat from the ECR and ID; he is in favour of toughening rules on immigration and weakening some of the green regulations. 

Von der Leyen remains rooted to the centre. Like Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak she talks tough on reducing migrant numbers but there is no conviction in her rhetoric. 

The Global Alliance to Counter Migrant Smuggling will grab headlines but it won’t stop the boats. Nothing will, until the day the EU is run by politicians who genuinely share the belief of the people that Europe has lost control of its borders. 

Source : Spectator