Asylum and border control policies currently stand at the forefront of debate in European politics. The Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom’s Transatlantic Dialogue Program hosted Angelika Mlinar, an Austrian Member of the European Parliament, to discuss the challenges posed by the refugee crisis and present solutions for a handful of the problems faced. Ms. Mlinar serves as Vice President for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) Party and is a member of the “New Austria and Liberal Forum” (NEOS) party. Her personal history growing up as a Slovenian in the Austrian state of Carinthia has motivated her politics and inspired her to stand up for those who are unjustly restricted in their daily lives.
Ms. Mlinar began the event by providing a brief overview of the EU leadership structure to explain why it is sometimes difficult for its 28 member nations to reach a consensus. First and foremost, Members of the European Parliament and their constituencies represent a wide range of political values and affiliations. The institutional framework of the EU poses an additional challenge – the European Parliament, the European Commission, and the European Council often act as separate entities, making agreement difficult.
Despite these hurdles, Ms. Mlinar believes it is possible for Europe to develop a comprehensive strategy that will allow for member states to relocate and support asylum seekers. She outlined a number of proposals from 2015 that were a direct result of the influx in refugees seen last year. An emergency relocation proposal would have allowed for the relocation of 160,000 refugees from Greece and Italy across most EU member states, though it unfortunately never came to fruition. Furthermore, the EU’s governing body developed a concept for a handbook on common return and an EU Action Plan on Return. In addition, members of ALDE submitted propositions that would develop common asylum policies and help to secure the EU’s external border.
Even with the baby steps of 2015, it is clear that the refugee crisis is nowhere near an end. Ms. Mlinar used an apt metaphor comparing the time of difficulty to a cloudy sky, saying that EU member states no longer have an umbrella to hide under. ALDE remains the only parliamentary group to have developed a comprehensive roadmap that could provide a solution to the current crisis. The ALDE plan includes upgrading reception centers at the border and streamlining the relocation system for refugees entering the EU. It would develop a uniform asylum policy for all EU member states. This proposal would also create a European Refugee Emergency Force, which would be responsible for registration and screening of refugees at external border checkpoints. This task force would be integrated as part of the European Border and Coast Guard, and would assess migrants’ eligibility for refugee status. The recent announcement that NATO would deploy ships in the Aegean Sea to combat smuggling does not, in Ms. Mlinar’s view, sufficiently address the issue at hand nor does it fall in line with the traditional tasks of NATO.
Two million refugees, while a large number, is relatively small when compared to the overall EU population of approximately 500 million. Ms. Mlinar emphasized that only political will remains as the final barrier to the development of a unified refugee policy. Until recently, the care of refugees was primarily left up to international organizations and institutions of civil society rather than governments themselves. Development of an effective plan necessitates collaboration with all EU governments, international and domestic organizations, the United States, and even Iran and Russia to address concerns within the EU and develop a path to peace and stability in Syria.
In light of these serious challenges facing Europe, Ms. Mlinar underscored more than anything the importance of cooperation to safeguard human rights, maintain economic and political stability, and ensure the security and well-being of all EU citizens.