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Refugees, bombs and  compulsory EU quotas

Ireland must opt out of Merkel’s Europeanisation of migration

One way of dealing with Middle East and North African asylum-seekers coming to the EU would be to allocate them in proportion to the arms exports by the different EU countries to those areas.

That would mean that Britain, France and Germany, in that order, would take most refugees. Would it not be fair that the EU countries which, after the US, have been most responsible for the civil wars in Iraq, Libya and Syria, should carry the consequences of their meddling in those countries, of which the current migration crisis is the latest?

Irish Times Berlin correspondent Derek Scally wrote recently about Germany’s unemployment blackspots: “German politicians rarely visit those areas, nor do they have answers to German involvement in the causes of the refugee crisis.  Such as how, in the first half of 2015 alone, Germany green-lighted arms exports worth €6.35 billion – almost as much as in the entire calendar year 2014. Arms exports to Arab States – from where millions of people are fleeing –more than doubled to €587 million”.


Western powers are breaking all international law in attacking Assad, for his regime is the legitimate government of that country, recognised by the UN


The Western Powers ousted Colonel.Gadaffi’s regime in Libya, as they had earlier ousted the secular dictators in Afghanistan and Iraq. Whatever their faults, these had kept Sunni-Shia antagonisms under control in those countries – and in Iraq’s case protected its 2000-year-old Christian community. Gadaffi’s overthrow in turn opened the way to mass African migration through the now failed Libyan State, and the horrific drowning of thousands in the Mediterranean.

It is the Western powers that armed Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, that have been channelling arms to the rebels against Syria’s Assad, the last remaining secular dictator in the region. They are breaking all the norms of international law in so doing, for the Assad regime is the legitimate government of that country, recognised as such by the United Nations, and there has been no Security Council resolution mandating his overthrow. If the Western Powers expect others to respect international law, should  they not do so themselves?

Britain’s David Cameron failed to get House of Commons approval for bombing Assad in 2013. He is now seeking Commons approval for joining the French and Americans in bombing the IS jihadists in Syria. Presumably from the point of view of those making the bombs and cruise missiles it matters little on whom they fall as long as Government arms orders keep rolling in.  The more Middle East mayhem there is, the more the military-industrial complex likes it.
Two principles should govern international migration policy. One is that there is no right in either international or natural law for people to move to other peoples’ countries unless they are genuine refugees, who do have such a right. EMBOLDEN Countries are perfectly entitled to control immigration, either to preserve their social cohesion or to prevent wage-cutting and defend labour standards. The other is that once people have moved to a new country they should be treated the same as everyone else in it. It is the continual confusion of these two principles that makes rational discussion of migration policy often difficult.


While treating educated Syrians as refugees, Germany now plans to deport non-Syrian economic migrants it does not want, back to to Turkey and Balkan States


Syria’s refugees escaped from the bombs and bullets that directly threatened them by moving to neighbouring Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. However miserable their lot in the refugee camps in those countries, they no longer face there the physical dangers they fled from. It seems to be the reduction earlier this year of food supplies and rations to these camps by the UN and straitened international aid agencies that precipitated the recent mass exodus to Europe. Once people move from the refugee camps, if they decide to do that, they are essentially economic migrants and under EU rules should be differentiated from those claiming to be refugees.

Chancellor Merkel’s call for Syrians to come to Germany was quite irresponsible, despite the media-generated emotionalism that first greeted it. With the arrogance typical of German governments, which was amply demonstrated in German bullying of Greece during the summer euro crisis, Merkel unilaterally tore up the EU rules to encourage as many educated middle-class Syrians  to come to Germany as possible.

The German Government gives these Syrians favourable treatment  – a policy which is officially justified by Germany’s supposed need for inward migration in view of its low birth rate and ageing population. Yet it is economic nonsense to suggest that populations must grow in order to have economic growth. What about the rising productivity of labour that has characterised industrial societies for the past three centuries? National output can rise with a static or even falling population if output per head increases. Machines, robots, computers and more efficient organisation of work make this possible. Fewer producers can carry more dependants and fewer young people can maintain more older ones because they have got more individually productive.

While treating educated Syrians as refugees, Germany now plans to deport non-Syrian economic migrants it does not want, back to so-called “safe countries”, which include Turkey and all the Balkan States. Hundreds have already been deported to Kosovo. Large camps are being opened in Germany to process returnees. “Refugees Welcome” notices are getting rarer.

Hence Merkel’s desire to “Europeanise” the problem by imposing compulsory EU quotas to allocate refugees to other EU countries. Likewise France’s calls, even before the Paris atrocities, to beef-up the EU’s Frontex border service to create a “Fortress Europe”. And the EU’s moves to bribe Turkey’s Erdogan, the hammerer of the Kurds, to keep Syria’s refugees in Turkey.

This is the explanation of the unexpected decision of Germany and France to push through a qualified majority vote at the EU Council of Justice Ministers in September to allocate 120,000 refugees among the EU Member States by means of mandatory quotas.  By increasing the EU’s supranational powers this can become another “beneficial crisis” for the Franco-German duo.

The Lisbon Treaty gave Ireland a legal opt-out from the migration and asylum policies of the EU, with the right to opt in to specific measures if it wished. This was to preserve the common Irish-British travel area.  Is it not astonishing that the Irish Government should have “opted into” this EU measure proposing the imposition of mandatory quotas for allocating  refugees without any public discussion of the long-term implications of this step, while the Dáil was not sitting and without  any critical attention by the Irish media?

The Irish Government could have decided to take as many refugees and asylum-seekers as it wished on a voluntary basis, without legally binding itself in this way. For there may be further such votes in future allocating much larger numbers, which we have now committed ourselves in principle to going along with.  The only rational explanation for this folly is the continuing uncritical europhilia of the senior leaders of the Fine Gael-Labour coalition.

Giving Brussels more powers means in practice more power for Germany and France, because their combined voting power in making EU laws means that they need only one or two smaller allies to block any measure they do not want, and it puts them in a good position to push through any measure they do want.  This stems from the provisions of the Lisbon Treaty which for the first time put voting power in making EU laws on a population basis just as in any State.

As Germany is the most populous EU country, Lisbon had the effect of increasing its voting weight in making EU laws from the pre-Lisbon 8% of total EU votes to 16%, while it increased the voting weights of France, Britain and Italy from their previous 8% each to 12% each. It simultaneously reduced the voting weight of Ireland from its previous 2% to 0.8%, with similar reductions for other smaller EU Members.  Of course that is better than nothing, if it is used to encourage a rational discussion on a long-term solution to this problem.

Anthony Coughlan is Associate Professor Emeritus of Social Policy at Trinity College Dublin