Last 5th of June, Home Affairs Ministers of European Union Members discussed the reform proposal of the Dublin III Rule that frames the EU migration policy. The Rule defines the distribution of responsibilities among EU states regarding asylum seekers. In a nutshell, the fundamental tenet underlying it is that refugees do not have the right to choose the country to which to apply for asylum – they are compelled to ask for asylum in the State where they enter Europe. Once obtained, refugee status is limited to that State. For instance, if a person arrives in Italy, then it is Italy that has the duty to check if she/he is entitled to refugee status and to provide it; such status is valid only for Italy and not in other European countries, so the refugee cannot move to Germany, Sweden and so forth.
This approach has raised many criticisms from humanitarian groups and movements as well as from the United Nations – it negates the refugees’ right to mobility, constraining migrants to be somehow prisoners of the country first welcoming them. As someone said – the Dublin III Rule leaves EU migration policy to geography; and this means that most of the migration flux is borne by the states (Italy and Greece mainly) that due to their position, represent the gateway to Europe.
Several countries – and in particular those more exposed to the migration fluxes – have been asking that the Dublin III Rule approach be changed, calling for the setting of refugee quotas each country should receive regardless of the country of access. Quotas were in fact decided as a special measure to address the most difficult moments of the refugee crisis in the past years; yet this decision failed to become a compulsory framework of EU migration policy accepted by all EU members.
What was discussed last 5th of June was a proposal that tries a compromise between the Dublin III Rule and the request to introduce compulsory quotas that is insistently demanded by Italy, Greece, Spain and other countries. The proposal introduces the principle of quotas, but with two “moderators” that reduce their impact: a) quotas are activated only if and when the number of refugees arriving at a EU state goes beyond a certain threshold (120% of the quota) and becomes compulsory only after a further, higher threshold (140%); b) the quote is compulsory, yet any EU State may escape from it and pay a sum of money for each refugee that it refuses to accept.
No agreement was reached on the proposal. Many States converged in raising a wall against it, though for opposite reasons – Eastern countries (e.g. Hungary) opposed it because they are against the idea of quotas, whereas Italy and other countries because they disagree with the fact that according to the proposal the quotas would not be compulsory. The image of Europe perceived by public opinion is quite sad and worrying – selfish nationalist interests, tactics and short-term views appear to dominate the field.
On the other hand, what is even more worrying is the logic of the proposal and more in general the approach that seems to be shared by most of the actors involved in the discussion. Two main issues are worth highlighting.
First, a bean-counting view of migration as if it were concerned with mechanisms and objects, rather than with people with rights, needs and desires. As it is designed, the strategy based on quotas implies that people are things that have to be displaced due to global functional parameters and motives, leaving no room to their preferences and projects as to the country where they hope to live. As the Re.Cri.Re. project has shown, before being an ethical argument, the policy’s blindness to the subjectivity has to be criticized in terms of efficacy – as various observers have pointed out, and as common sense should suggest, it lacks any chance of success to imagine a system of distribution of thousands and thousands of people that works in contrast with – or even simply regardless of – their will, as if the problem were to move people, rather than encourage them to invest in the new place.
Second, the idea underpinning the monetarization of the quotas On the one hand, in so doing a further step ahead is made in the direction of viewing human beings as fungible, namely as objects that lack individuality and can therefore be exchanged and substituted, then transformed into financial value. On the other hand, monetarization involves a radical shift from the view of the EU as a space of solidarity to the vision of it as a market-like exchange among selfish actors.
What has to be recognized is that the EU is not only engaged in the search for an efficacious and fair solution of migration policy. More deeply, what is at stake in the refugee issue – as well as in all the hot issues the EU is called upon to address (e.g. fiscal rules, environment, energy, safety, production, trade) – is the capacity of defending and enacting the vision of the Europe as a community of destinies.
Any action, any proposal, any political decision are not only instruments that have to be evaluated in terms of their local efficacy. Rather, any instance of government also has to be mainly recognized as an act of meaning: the enactment of an underpinning vision of the present and the future of Europe that works slowly but incessantly to shape European institutions and societies.
It may not be far from the truth to think that the main problem of the EU is the unawareness – or however the lack of interest – of the middle-term symbolic impact that policies and politics have on how people and institutions feel and think about Europe. The discussion about migration and refugee is a clear example of such blindness. Needless to say, technical solutions as well as political compromise are required and have to be searched for; yet in hard times of cultural and institutional turmoil, attention has to be paid to the fact that any initiative on such a major issue contributes to sculpture the words we use in thinking of the present and the future of the European project. A new approach to policy, conscious of this, is sorely needed.