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Apr 25, 2016 - Zoltán Kovács

Why so many competing proposals to protect Europe and its borders?

European member states are exceptionally busy these days. Although some critics suggest that they seem asleep at the wheel in the wake of the biggest migration crisis the continent has seen for decades, the European Commission and some individual member states have drafted proposals to respond to the crisis. These plans are currently vying with one another, all in preparation for the upcoming European Council Summit.

Although the approaches are somewhat different, one thing is certain. EU leaders, of member states and of its institutions, are slowly realizing what Hungarians have been saying for some time: successful protection of the borders is a precondition for any migration policy. It also helps, I might add, to have the consent of the people of the member states.

On April 6th, the European Commission announced its plan to reform the Common European Asylum System, aiming to propose an amendment to the Dublin Regulation in order to deal better with a high number of arrivals and distribute the migrants more equally among member states. This implies that the EU will allow a massive number of migrants to enter its territory, with the possibility of even scraping the Dublin Regulations that allow member states to send them back to their point of registration.

According to the Commission’s reasoning, the migration crisis could be the answer to Europe’s demographic challenges, bringing in “talented and skilled workers” from Africa and the Middle East. However, not every member state wishes to answer these contemporary challenges by increasing immigration. Hungary agrees with the Commission that the current asylum system is on the brink of collapse but prefers to tackle demographic problems in a different way, namely through economic measures supporting Hungarian families. Those include government measures such as housing programs and utility price cuts. On the issue of migration, we stand for strengthening Europe’s borders and shifting the focus from the Dublin Regulations to the Schengen system, while keeping both in place.

In line with these goals, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán presented Hungary’s proposal last week at a meeting of the Centrist Democrat International in Lisbon. The ten-point action plan, referred to as Schengen 2.0, rejects the EU's mandatory resettlement quota system, as its adoption should be decided by the member states themselves. Hungary, recognizing its citizens’ democratic right to decide, wishes to ask its citizens about the mandatory quota system in a referendum. We find it contradictory that Brussels wants to dictate the solution when Hungarians should have the final say about who comes to live in this country and how. Another proposal in Prime Minister Orbán’s plan is to set up a common European list of safe third countries, similar to the practice in other countries targeted by migrants such as Canada. This is an important point as migrants cross many safe countries during their journey, expressing preferences on where they would like to apply for refugee status, thus making them economic migrants in legal terms.

The Hungarian prime minister’s plan was well received by the Commission, where officials said that many points were in common with the EU’s plans, such as strengthening border patrols, restoring the Schengen system and creating a common European list of safe countries.

At the latest meeting of the EU ministers of foreign affairs in Luxembourg on Monday, Italy also joined the political debate, proposing a “migration compact” plan that includes the creation of so-called “migration bonds”. According to the document, submitted as a non-paper, countries of origin, mainly in Africa, would commit to effective border control and the reduction of flows towards Europe and would accept returns. In return, the EU would offer investment projects and security cooperation, in addition to the bond scheme, and expand opportunities for legal migration and resettlement programs. This plan was opposed by Germany, which “sees no basis for a common debt financing of the migration expenditures of member states.”

Other EU countries have yet to contribute to this crucial political debate, but the clock is running. Europe needs to act quickly as summer is coming and the wave of migrants will be rising again.