The upcoming elections to the European Parliament risk triggering a far-right surge if governments fail to prove they can manage migration, Manfred Weber has warned.
“People want to see results. And that means, in practice, that we need to reduce the number of irregular arrivals,” the leader of the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) said on Wednesday morning.
In the first ten months of 2023, the European Union experienced almost 331,000 irregular border crossings, with the central Mediterranean route accounting for the vast majority of incidents. The figures represent the highest level for this period since 2015.
“The reception centers in Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany are full. People see the photos from Lampedusa. This is the reality on the ground,” Weber continued. “People want to have a state that solves problems, that manages things. And so far, we haven’t done that.”
“Sixty percent of those arriving from the Mediterranean route are not allowed to stay. They have to come back. And they are not going home,” he added. “On returns, the State does not work.”
In a meeting with journalists attended by Euronews, Weber, whose group is the largest party in the European Parliament, discussed the recent results of the Dutch elections, which resulted in the surprising victory of Geert Wilders and of his far-right, anti-Islam party. PVV party after a campaign dominated by the cost of living crisis, lack of affordable housing and an increase in the number of asylum seekers.
The result was interpreted as a harsh rebuke to the centrist parties that have dominated Dutch politics for more than a decade. Although it is not yet clear whether Wilders will manage to secure a government majority and become prime minister, his strong performance has raised fears of a rise of the far right within the party. next European electionsscheduled for June 6 to 9.
Opinion polls already show that far-right parties enjoy a strong position in countries like France, Germany, Austria and the Flemish region of Belgium, while in Portugal and Romaniathey started an upward trend.
Echoing these fears, Weber called on the European Parliament and member states to conclude the new pact on migration and asylum before Europeans go to the polls, so that governments have something to show skeptical voters .
The New Deal is a comprehensive reform of the bloc’s common policy that provides for a permanent system of “compulsory solidarity” to ensure that the burden is effectively shared among the 27 countries. The overhaul, which includes five different but interrelated pieces of legislation, is underway the last straight line negotiations.
“We need a solution. If we fail to find a solution on the migration pact, we risk ending up in a very difficult situation for the European Union as a whole,” Weber said.
“If we go too far, from the left’s point of view, we risk breaking the agreement from the Council side,” he added, referring to the decisive agreement reached by member states in the spring after a day of marathon conferences in Luxembourg.
“I see politicians who neglect the problem, who do not see what is happening on the ground.”
The external dimension
Weber’s hardened stance on migration has been criticized by socialist and green groups as an attempt to pacify the far right and emulate its radical agenda under a veneer of centrism. Several parties belonging to the EPP have entered in recent years coalition agreements with far-right groups to gain power.
In Italy, EPP-affiliated Forza Italia is one of three parties supporting the government of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, described as the most far-right executive in the country’s history.
Earlier this month, Meloni signed a protocol with Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama to outsource the processing of up to 36,000 asylum applications per year to the Balkan country. The agreement is unprecedented and raised serious questions about the extraterritorial application of EU law and potential human rights violations.
Meloni defended the protocol as a natural development of the EU’s renewed focus on the “external dimension” of migration, a catch-all term for promoting closer cooperation with countries of transit and origin in the ultimate goal of preventing irregular arrivals.
The strong focus on the “external dimension” has caused friction between conservatives and progressives in the European Parliament, with the former strongly supporting the approach and the latter calling for caution and solidarity.
“We need to invest in these talks and we need to start these talks from a perspective of listening and not preaching,” Weber said, calling Turkey, Tunisia and Egypt viable partners.
So far, the only result of the “external dimension” at EU level has been the protocol of agreement with Tunisia, which devotes more than 700 million euros of European funds to five thematic pillars, including financial assistance and border management. (Tunisia is the main gateway for migrants seeking to reach Italian shores.)
Since its signing in July, the memorandum has drawn scrutiny from lawmakers, media and humanitarian NGOs due to Tunisia’s disastrous human rights record and racist rhetoric from its president, Kais Saied. The memorandum was thrown into uncertainty in October after President Saied ordered the refund of 60 million euros in budgetary aid, after describing this money as “charity”.
The European Commission insists that work is underway to implement the five thematic pillars, but no additional disbursements have been announced.
Weber, however, was optimistic and said that if the bloc keeps its investment promises to Tunisia, the country “will in turn help us to fight against smugglers.”
“I know things are not easy, but now we have an opportunity to work together with our neighbors,” Weber told reporters.
“The agreement with Tunisia is the most urgent thing.”