After months of heated debate in Europe, the question of how the European Union should handle the migration crisis came down to one simple clash of priorities.
What’s more important? The security and protection of the EU’s common borders to stop illegal, undocumented migrants from entering EU territory, or the method for taking in these migrants in a way that distributes the burden fairly among the Member States?
Finally last week, after representatives of EU institutions and several of the so-called core Member States identified the quota system as a necessary part of the response, Wednesday’s meeting of the European Council was a huge step forward in focusing on the real source of the problem and pursuing real solutions. Hungary and others have been pushing for a more effective system to protect the EU border and financial aid to safe countries like Turkey that border crisis zones. Following last week’s Council meeting, it’s quite clear that Hungary is not alone in pushing those priorities.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán arrived at the summit with a six-point list of practical initiatives. Among the six points, the list called for EU backing for two especially important priorities: One, to set up a common border protection system for countries like Greece, which are on the frontier of the EU but doing little to protect the borders; and two, to provide financial backing to countries like Turkey to help manage the migration crisis on the frontlines.
As Hungary has been saying, these steps would help us all manage the migration crisis more effectively and help the European Union preserve one of its greatest achievements: freedom of movement in the Schengen zone. Also essential to managing the enormous influx are the following: the capacity to accept those who are genuinely in need of asylum and to send back those who do not meet the criteria, following a proper and humane registration and adjudication process. While measures like these are being put in place for a robust response to the migration crisis, Europe should also be looking for partners in accepting refugees.
With the European Council giving new momentum to these priorities at the meeting last Wednesday, it will have other important effects. Initiatives like these will spare many migrants the dangerous journey and undermine human traffickers who prey on the migrants and whose prices, as we have seen, are sometimes paid in human lives.
Despite occasionally heated debate over the last several months, European leaders finally understood that the European response must be about more than simply quotas and decided to pursue steps along the lines of what Hungary has been proposing. Finally, some common sense has prevailed. By turning to practical ideas like those advocated by Hungary, Europe has taken an important step forward in protecting the freedoms that come with the Schengen Agreement.
Orbán’s 6-point proposal:
1) Greece should allow other Member States to protect its border.
2) Refugees and economic migrants should be separated before their arrival to the EU.
3) EU should agree on a safe country list (EU members and candidates should automatically be considered safe countries).
4) Each MS should increase their contribution to the EU by 1% (1% of the current contribution they make) and decrease all expenses by 1%. Funds from the additional 1% can be decided later if further funds are needed.
5) Special partnerships need to be established with key players – without whom the situation cannot be managed.
6) Quotas should be established on a global level.