Responding to the state-sponsored instrumentalisation of migrants at the EU's external borders, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) held a conference on this topic, highlighting the momentum of the Europeanisation of migration policy. So far, authoritarian leaders have instrumentalised humanitarian suffering to blackmail Europe, as they are aware of the gap on migration policy on the continent. Nowadays, the geopolitical atmosphere calls for a common, holistic and cohesive migration policy that cannot be further delayed.
The conference entitled Towards a Europeanisation of migration policy? Lessons to be drawn from the instrumentalisation of migrants and the war in Ukraine was held in conjunction with the External Relations section (REX) meeting on the occasion of the adoption of the opinion on the same topic. However, as noted by the president of the REX section, Mr Dimitriadis, in opening the debate, the instrumentalisation of migrants by the Belarusian regime was not the first case of its kind, as similar abuses had been carried out by Turkey in previous years at the EU border with Greece; Libya and Morocco had done the same with Italy and Spain.
However, the war in Ukraine means that we are now confronted with a different phenomenon that goes beyond the instrumentalisation of migrants. There is a big inflow of refugees fleeing a war, and the reaction of the EU and its Member States has a new quality, a new spirit of unity and solidarity awoken by the Ukrainian crisis that should be harnessed for future crises.
EESC president Christa Schweng underlined the heartening solidarity shown by European civil society organisations to the Ukrainian people and added that this could be a turning point in the EU's migration management.
This refugee crisis has made it clear that migration impacts all Member States. The EU must use this momentum to move forward with the New Pact on Migration and Asylum in order to bring about the systemic change necessary to develop a sustainable, rational and rights-based EU asylum and migration policy, said Ms Schweng.
The geopolitics of the war brought to light a stronger need for the EU to act as one. Before, it was the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, when the EU had shown itself to be united, in solidarity with the vaccination policy and the resilience and recovery fund, and moving towards a common health strategy.
Now it is the moment of geopolitics. Exactly as we came together with the pandemic, this war is producing the same effect in European public opinion and this is very important, emphasised the Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas.
For the first time in Europe, there is the emergence of a European common public space, precisely because of this illegal war. Some may be tempted to call it the start of a European public opinion, said Mr Schinas.
Regarding the instrumentalisation of migrants as a weapon in the hands of authoritarian leaders, Mr Schinas said:
The main lesson drawn from our policies is that as long as we are not able to produce a common and agreed migration system, we will be targeted.
The Director for International and European Affairs, Jean Mafart from the French Ministry of the Interior, referred to the Schengen zone as one of the most precious achievements of the EU. The French Presidency has been working on a roadmap to enhance the role and function of Schengen, by bringing to the table two important legislative initiatives, namely the revision of the Schengen borders code and the reform of the legal framework of internal border checks.
During the debate, the participants expressed the view that policy responses to all these fronts must remain driven by EU values and guided by the force of democracy, the rule of law and the system of the model of society that all European citizens are motivated to stand up for.