The meeting between the EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, Cecilia Malmström, and Spanish Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz suggests a feeling of powerlessness and the desire to blame others for the February 6 tragedy in Ceuta, when 15 undocumented migrants drowned as they tried to enter Spanish territory from Morocco. By extension, it also evokes the overwhelming situation that has built up along the Melilla border in recent days.
Fernández Díaz has conveyed to Malmström his government's disquiet at the EU's suggestion that the tragedy was caused by Spain's use of rubber bullets. The government has now prohibited this measure, but is demanding 45 million euros from the EU to reinforce border controls. Malmström, who denies having accused anyone of responsibility for the incident, maintains her demand for an explanation and says she will be closely following the judicial investigation into the tragedy.
Once again, the problem of migration has caught European institutions in the uncomfortable position of not knowing what to do. And that is not just because the EU is currently focusing on the show of strength by Vladimir Putin in Crimea. The same delay tactics were evident following the Lampedusa tragedy last October, when 387 people lost their lives after their boat capsized; nearly 800 more were rescued in the following weeks off the coast of Sicily. It was an emergency that the Council of the European Union put off by commissioning a few studies. Now comes the Ceuta tragedy, followed by a peak of immigrants trying to jump the border fences in Melilla; yet neither the European Commission nor the Council of Interior Ministers of the European Union are giving any clear indications that a solution is in the pipeline.
The accumulation of emergencies (refugees, economic migrants) shows that the problem is structural, even if there is no demonstrable desire to get to the bottom of it. EU policy is apparently limited to trying to reach deals with authorities in the countries emitting the avalanche of migrants, to get them to contain the human transit to Europe. The recently announced agreement between Tunisia and the EU, which is similar to an earlier deal between the EU and Morocco, follows along these lines.
The reigning instability in Africa and the Middle East only adds to the evidence that these countries cannot offer their youth a chance to attain anything even remotely similar to European standards of living, and this will fuel an endless desire to emigrate.
But the EU is not exempt from the risk of harassing itself with its own internal migrations, which are the adjustment valve left to the southern European economies if the northern members insist on maintaining high export levels and low domestic consumption, while letting the south deal with its own economic troubles and border problems. At the same time, the upcoming EU-level elections are pushing into action those who claim that there is no room left in Europe for anyone else and that the borders must be closed. It is an explosive cocktail, easily manipulated by those who seek to implement increasingly restrictive and xenophobic policies.