Category Archives: European Union

Balkan route influx now to a trickle: EU-turkey deal paves way for visa free travel for Turks but raises concern in Europe.

New arrivals on the Greek islands now are down to less than a hundred than from an average 10,000 a day at the peak last October. Also the latest figures from Turkey’s Coast Guard show that the EU-Turkey deal is working, with the number of migrants intercepted at sea only 1,536 in April whereas 8,100 people were intercepted in March. This has led the European Commission to declare that Turkey has broadly met the criteria for early visa liberalization and would be asking EU governments and the European Parliament to approve the decision by the end of June. This will allow visa-free travel to Europe for millions of Turks, as a reward for having reduced a flood of refugees and migrants into Europe to a mere trickle.

On 18 March this year, following on from the EU-Turkey Joint Action Plan activated on 29 November 2015 and the 7 March EU-Turkey statement, the European Union and Turkey decided to end the irregular migration from Turkey to the EU. EU and Turkey have agreed that all new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey into Greek islands as from 20 March 2016 will be returned to Turkey but in full accordance with EU and international law. The agreement stipulates that all such migrants will be protected in accordance with the relevant international standards and in respect of the principle of non-refoulement. As per the agreement, migrants arriving in the Greek islands will be duly registered and any application for asylum will be processed individually by the Greek authorities in accordance with the Asylum Procedures Directive, in cooperation with UNHCR but migrants not applying for asylum or whose application has been found unfounded or inadmissible in accordance with the said directive will be returned to Turkey. The agreement further stipulates that for every Syrian being returned to Turkey from Greek islands, another Syrian will be resettled from Turkey to the EU taking into account the UN Vulnerability Criteria. A mechanism will be established, with the assistance of the Commission, EU agencies and other Member States, as well as the UNHCR, to ensure that this principle will be implemented as from the same day the returns start. Priority will be given to migrants who have not previously entered or tried to enter the EU irregularly.

As per the agreement, Turkey will take any necessary measures to prevent new sea or land routes for illegal migration opening from Turkey to the EU, and will cooperate with neighbouring states as well as the EU to this effect. Once irregular crossings between Turkey and the EU end or at least have been substantially and sustainably reduced, a Voluntary Humanitarian Admission Scheme will be activated.

On the monetary aspect, the EU will further speed up the disbursement of the initially allocated three billion euros under the Facility for Refugees in Turkey and ensure funding of further projects for persons under temporary protection identified with swift input from Turkey before the end of March. A first list of concrete projects for refugees, notably in the field of health, education, infrastructure, food and other living costs, that can be swiftly financed from the Facility, will be jointly identified within a week. Once these resources are about to be used to the full, and provided the above commitments are met, the EU will mobilise additional funding for the Facility of an additional 3 billion euro up to the end of 2018. Also the fulfilment of the visa liberalisation roadmap will be accelerated with a view to lifting the visa requirements for Turkish citizens at the latest by the end of June 2016. The EU and its Member States are further obligated to work with Turkey in joint endeavour to improve humanitarian conditions inside Syria, in particular in certain areas near the Turkish border which would allow for the local population and refugees to live in areas which will be more safe.

The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently warned that it would stop implementing the deal with the European Union on curbing the flow of refugees to Europe if the EU failed to fulfill its promises under the agreement. Now the EU hastily seems to fulfil its commitments under the deal so that Turkey does not renege from its commitments. But allowing of visa free travel to Turks have not gone down well with few European nations who are voicing their resentment quite openly. In the coming days it will be interesting to watch how the EU tackles the objections of the member states in fulfilling its commitments made to Turkey

Brexit: Tories dissension brings Carltona doctrine to the fore

David Cameron has finally set June 23rd as the date for a referendum on Britain’s continued membership of the European Union. But such announcement has kicked in new accusations and controversies. Indian orgin minister, Priti Patel, on behalf of Vote Leave campaign group has alleged that the civil servants are not cooperating with the Brexit supporting ministers. She said that the civil service must maintain impartiality during the EU referendum. Secretaries of state are responsible for their departments. For an unelected official to prevent them being aware of the information they need for their duties is wrong.

On the other hand international business leaders are warning United Kingdom of the serious complications that could follow a Brexit. Financial services, farming and millions of Britons living in Europe can be seriously affected if Britain chooses to leave European Union. Europhiles argue that UK’s withdrawal from the EU would mean unravelling all the rights and obligations – from access to the single market, to structural funds for poorer regions, to joint action on sanctions – that the UK has acquired during the accession to the EU. As well as negotiating its withdrawal, the UK would also want to negotiate its post-exit arrangements with the EU. A recent report suggests that a vote to leave the EU would be the start, not the end, of a process. It could lead to up to a decade or more of uncertainty! Labour’s shadow Business Secretary has been recently forced to defend Jeremy Corbyn against charges that he is privately against the continued membership of the EU. Even the pound is falling to its lowest level against the dollar since 2009.

G20 in a joint communique at the end of the recently concluded two-day meeting in Shanghai had warned that downside risks and vulnerabilities have risen, against the backdrop of volatile capital flows, a large drop of commodity prices, escalated geopolitical tensions, the shock of a potential UK exit from the European Union and a large and increasing number of refugees in some regions.

But Euroseptics continue to argue that EU was a “fundamentally flawed concept” that threatened the sovereignty of its members. London Mayor Boris Johnson said ‘It is the European Court of Justice, with its vast new remit over the charter of fundamental rights, that is making it harder month by month for the security services to get on with their job – whether it be expelling murderers or monitoring terrorist suspects. It is the border-free Europe, obviously, that makes it so much easier for our enemies to move around.’ Euroseptics further reason that post Brexit UK would have the ability to sign genuine FTAs with whichever nation(s) it wishes. There can also be tremendous advantages in a U.S.-U.K. free trade area. UK will reassert its commitment to international organisations like NATO and continue cooperation with the European nations in areas of common geopolitical interests.

The Britons are evenly divided on this serious issue. If Brexit happens, whether the UK would be more prosperous is a million dollar question which only time can answer.

Brexit: Final tussle between Eurosceptics and Europhiles (Part 2 of 2)

EU leaders have taken varying positions on Cameron’s renegotiation demands. The Social Democrat-Christian Democrat Coalition Government in Austria has been protesting the proposals in protest at Britain’s reluctance to share migrants. The Social Democrat Swedish Government is supporting Britain. The Centre-Left coalition in Czech Republic has strongly protested the welfare reforms. The Christian Democrat led coalition in Germany has not ruled out treaty change but Merkel’s position is obfuscated. The Socialist Government in France is a strong opponent of the British reforms. The Conservative Government in Hungary has also hit out at the reforms. The Populist Right Government of Poland is also against the proposals. But the Centre Right Government in Netherlands is supporting Cameron.

Those favoring Brexit argue that withdrawal would reverse immigration, free Britain from an economic burden and save billions of taxpayer’s money. Britain being outside the EU would be free to rescind EU laws and regulations. Some estimates put the benefits at several per cent of GDP. The UK’s net contribution to the EU is about £9bn a year which is a substantial sum. Euroseptics argue that UK is suffocated by employment legislation. Britain is also culturally, linguistically and legally aligned with the Commonwealth countries and so has options of trade outside EU too. Those thinking otherwise argue that such withdrawal would lead to deep economic uncertainty leading to millions of jobs losses. Also Britain would then face the common external tariff. British companies would find it difficult to comply with EU regulations in order to gain access to the Single Market. Business investment in Britain might drop, with falls in foreign direct investment and withdrawals by overseas firms. Whether a British exit from the EU would diminish or enhance the country’s standing and influence is an open question.

Also United States has presently ruled out a separate trade deal with UK if it leaves the European Union. Whether UK would be successful in negotiating favourable trade deals with other countries like China, India also needs to be seen. But a tiny non EU member like Switzerland has managed to sign a favourable trade agreement with Japan, a country with which the EU could not seal a deal till date. So, Euroseptics argue that mere exit from EU may not pose any terrible loss to the country. Germany’s close relationship with Poland also works unfavorably as Poland staunchly objects to the Britain’s proposals as the proposals are generally seen as discriminating against East European countries.

Whether the “Norwegian option” can be emulated is also a hotly debated question. Norway has negotiated a semi-detached relationship with the EU through its membership of the European Economic Area. European Economic Area membership gives Norway full access to the EU’s internal market, allowing it to trade goods with EU states without customs fees. Norway is obliged to implement all the EU’s laws relating to the internal market. Though Norway has representatives in EU institutions, they have no decision-making power in how EU rules are drafted. But still Norway has higher per capita immigration than Britain, also Britain has more control over its borders than Norway, which is part of the Schengen border-free area. Thus there are disadvantages of the “Norwegian option”, as Norway had to accept EU regulations, yet had no vote or influence in Brussels, makes a contribution to the EU budget and yet has no effective control over its borders.

Though there is general consensus among the EU members that the UK’s In-Out referendum will not force open Europe’s treaties, yet it is viewed as a “pandora’s box”. A new European treaty would require ratification in 28 national parliaments and potentially trigger referenda in many other member states.

On Cameron’s demand of a “multi currency union”, European Central Bank fears that it could lead to a breakaway regulatory regime for non-eurozone countries as other countries may try to avoid its obligation to join the euro.

After the two-day Brussels summit of the EU leaders on 17-18 December, 2015, Cameron has finally cleared the way for a UK referendum on EU membership next summer. His renegotiation at another summit in February next year, may be the last opportunity before holding the referendum. A “Brexit” is now more likely than ever due to the tough stand taken by Cameron and the entrenched position of many EU leaders. With the recent accusations against the Tories of a “migration cover-up”, the Euro Wars have just begun!

Brexit: Final tussle between Eurosceptics and Europhiles (Part 1 of 2)

UK is one of Europe’s “Big Three” states. The erstwhile European Economic Community was created by the Treaty of Rome of 1957. Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany were the founding members. United Kingdom alongwith Denmark, Ireland joined in 1973. In 1980, Greece, Spain and Portugal joined. Following the creation of the EU in 1993, an additional sixteen countries had become members. Upon the formation of the European Union in 1993, the European Economic Community was incorporated and renamed as the European Community. In 2009 the European Community ceased to exist as it was absorbed into EU. Membership of the European Union has always been a controversial issue in the United Kingdom. As per the Conservative Party manifesto’s commitment to hold a referendum on EU membership, the present United Kingdom European Union membership referendum bill is now under consideration. The first referendum was held in 1975 when membership was approved, this will be the second referendum.

In a letter to Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, the Cameron government has recently expressed concern about the pressures that free movement has brought on the schools, hospitals and the public services. Unlike some other Member States, Britain’s population is increasing and it will become the most populous country in the EU by 2050. Also the net migration is running at over 300,000 a year which is also not sustainable. Controlling immigration from not only outside the EU but also inside the EU is urgently required. Britain further wants to find arrangements to allow a Member State like the UK to restore a sense of fairness to its immigration system and to reduce the current very high level of population flows from within the EU into the UK. Cameron claims that these have been unplanned and are much higher than forecast, and far higher than anything the EU’s founding fathers envisaged. These very substantial flows of population have also had a significant impact on a number of Member States, many of whose most highly qualified citizens have departed en masse. On the abuse of free movement, tougher and longer re-entry bans for fraudsters and people who collude in sham marriages are now being sought by Britain. It is easier for an EU citizen to bring a non-EU spouse to Britain than it is for a British citizen to do the same. Also stronger powers to deport criminals and stop them coming back, as well as preventing entry in the first place is on the reforms agenda of Britain. ECJ judgments have even widened the scope of free movement in a way that has made it more difficult to tackle the abuse.

The most contentious proposal is that people coming to Britain from the EU must live in Britain and contribute for four years before they qualify for in-work benefits or social housing. Eastern European countries are most resistant to this change and there could be retaliatory action by Poland and other eastern European countries too. The Tory Government also wants to end Britain’s obligation to work towards an “ever closer union” as set out in the Treaty through a formal, legally-binding and irreversible way. This is intended to ensure that UK is never forced to join any future European superstate.

The Conservative government further wants the EU to recognise many principles like that the EU has more than one currency (and not the sole Euro); there should be no discrimination and no disadvantage for any business on the basis of the currency of their country; integrity of the Single Market must be protected; any changes the Eurozone decides to make such as the creation of a banking union, must be voluntary for non-Euro countries, never compulsory; taxpayers in non-Euro countries should never be financially liable for operations to support the Eurozone as a currency, just as financial stability and supervision has become a key area of competence for Eurozone institutions like the ECB, so financial stability and supervision is a key area of competence for national institutions like the Bank of England for non-Euro members, and any issues that affect all Member States must be discussed and decided by all Member States. But the recent Labour Party’s campaign for the UK to remain in the EU has made the situation more complex.