The European Union is now closing the doors to refugees. Those who make it to Greece will be deported back to Turkey. The road along the western Balkans is blocked. But the war and the suffering of all those who are forced to flee continues, as does the EU’s crisis.
Yesterday’s EU summit (Monday, March 7) illustrates the EU’s deep crisis. After a night of negotiations before the summit, the EU’s real leader, Germany’s Angela Merkel, presented a joint proposal with Turkish prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu.
For all other government leaders and heads of state it was a fait accompli:- Turkey is the solution to the EU’s refugee crisis. More than a million refugees - just over 0.2 percent of the EU population - was enough to create sharp national contradictions between EU governments and the deepest crisis of the entire EU project.
The countries that have closed their borders – including Austria and Sweden - have forced a further militarisation of the EU’s external borders. The new proposals - as reported in the media on Tuesday morning - say that Turkey with the support of NATO ships (from Germany, Canada, Greece, Turkey and the UK) should stop people who are fleeing across the sea to Greece. Those who reach Greece are to be sent back to Turkey. This means massive operations. In January and February alone, 132,000 refugees travelled across the Mediterranean to Europe.
European Council President, Donald Tusk, last week urged refugees not to come into the EU. Now he and the EU add that Turkey is a "safe" country.
To carry out its side of the bargain, Turkey is demanding that financial support from the EU should be doubled to 6 billion euros, that negotiations on EU membership should restart and that Turkish citizens will not need visas to travel to the EU. According to Angela Merkel, on the night of Tuesday, the EU accepted these demands from the increasingly war-like and dictatorial regime in Ankara.
Today there are over 30,000 refugees in Greece, of which close to 15,000 are in difficult conditions in camps on the border with Macedonia at Idomeni. The Swedish prime minister, Stefan Löfven, claimed that their right of asylum will be looked into, but other EU leaders made it clear that deportations will take place. Everyone can imagine the tragedies such mass expulsions would create. Already, the Macedonian police have used tear gas against refugees.
Desperation will be on the increase, especially among all those refugees who do not come from Syria. Moreover, women and children are over half of this year’s refugees, many of whom hoped to be reunited with their men, who have already crossed the border.
Where to go?
The EU says refugees from Syria, and Syria alone, will be able to travel directly from Turkey to the EU. Previously there has been talk of 300,000 refugees over the period of a year - a quarter of last year’s number. But whether governments are prepared to receive them is extremely unclear. The EU’s previous plan to spread the refugees stands as a monument to the failure of the Union itself.
Of the 66,400 refugees who were supposed to be displaced from Greece, according to the previous plan, 325 have been placed in another EU country. A total of 160,000 refugees were planned to be dispersed from Greece, Italy and Hungary. Even then, governments in Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania voted against the decision. Since then they have been joined by the new Polish right-nationalist government and almost all other governments have moved in the same direction.
In varying degrees, border controls have been tightened and controls introduced - Sweden against Denmark, Norway against Sweden, Denmark against Germany, Germany against Austria, Austria against Slovenia etc. There was even a conflict when Belgium introduced border controls against France.
Just over a week ago, the Austrian government - a coalition of Social Democrats and conservatives - called a conference in Vienna, with representatives of nine states in the Balkans, but not Germany or Greece. Then Austria declared that no more than 80 refugees per day would be allowed to seek asylum in Austria and just 3,200 to go on to Germany.
This crisis also shows up the weakness of the EU and of its member states in that it is mainly NGOs that are taking care of the refugees. In Idomeni it is the Praksis organisation that deals with food and MSF for health and welfare.
Crises to continue
Even if, as is usual with EU summits, the details of its decision remain to be seen, it is possible to draw certain conclusions. The Swedish government’s border controls and the hardening of its approach actually spearheaded the EU’s deterioration, contrary to claims it would force other governments to accept refugees.
Past promises to refugees, especially from Syria, are being completely abandoned by Angela Merkel and the German government. They are closing borders. This is being done in an attempt to win back lost support.
The EU crisis is far from resolved. Nationalist parties have gained support and much suspicion against refugees has been cultivated. This mood can also turn against the EU’s financial set-up and ultimately against the euro. The collapse that leading EU politicians have warned against is still a real threat.
The new wall-building and mass expulsions will strengthen European racists and the Nazi right wing. In Slovakia, the ruling Social Democratic party used propaganda against refugees as their only election issue, but lost heavily anyway in last weekend’s election, including giving ground to a Nazi party. This is in a country which last year received just 350 asylum seekers, of which 8 were given asylum!
Solidarity and opposition to the EU’s wall-building continues, and will increase. Even the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, says that the crisis is self-inflicted by the EU. Amnesty International says that support for Turkey is absurd. In Greece, strong solidarity with the refugees continues.
This crisis and the recent decisions again expose the real role of the EU. The refugee crisis is a failure of capitalism. The action being taken against the refugees is part of the same neo-liberal policies that have seen banks rescued, privatisation pushed through of public enterprises and services, unemployment increasing, worsening conditions in the workplaces and so on.
The alternative is the struggle against right wing policies and in favour of the right to asylum, against the capitalist EU and against imperialist wars and exploitation worldwide. For internationalism and a real struggle from below. Against capitalism - for democratic socialism.