European Movement International Federal Assembly 2016

On Friday, 27 May 2016 I had the privilege to take part to the European Movement International’s Federal Assembly, within the framework of the European Democratic Party delegation, lead by the EDP Treasurer Jean Marie Beaupuy. The event had an ambitious agenda, packed full of important policy positions to be debated and agreed upon among the 78 member organisations.

This article shall focus on several debated topics including the British EU referendum, Migration and the Refugee crisis, Security, European Union Enlargement and Schengen.

A new EMI Briefing Paper ‘The consequences of a UK exit from the European Union was presented. It formed the basis for a discussion on the UK referendum, with all members agreeing that Britain’s future is in the EU and a possible exit would have negative effects, both for Britain and the EU as a whole.

Economic Interdependence 
The UK is more economically dependent on the EU than vice versa; 12.6% of UK GDP is linked to exports to the EU, compared to only 3.1% of GDP generated from exports to the UK among the other 27 Member States. Overall, 60% of total UK trade is covered by EU membership and the preferential access it grants to 53 markets outside the EU. If TTIP and other currently negotiated trade deals succeed this could increase to 85%. In total, the seven most affected industries (financial services, automobile, chemicals/pharmaceuticals aerospace, machinery, food/beverages/tobacco, and professional services) employ 20.79% of the UK labour force. Another measure of EU-UK interdependency is the 1.4 to 1.8 million UK nationals that live in other parts of the EU on a permanent basis.

A trade-off between economic well-being and Immigration
Estimates for UK GDP in the case of a ‘Leave’ vote vary between an income loss of 9.5% and an income gain of 1.6% by 2030, with most predicting an income loss of between 2-3% of GDP. The only possible way to realise the scenario of 1.6% GDP growth would however require controversial economic reforms on three fronts: 1) further open up the economy to competition from China, India, USA and Indonesia; 2) pursue a liberal policy for labour migration; 3) slash regulation on environmental rules, social and employment protections and financial services. All three reforms seem highly unlikely given that anti-immigration sentiments are one of the main drivers of a Brexit vote and Britain is likely to keep many EU rules on climate change and banking regulation, where it has gone further in some areas than the EU standard.

Sovereignty and Security
The EU is the principal source of leverage for Britain in the world. The EU allows the UK to leverage the world’s biggest single market to secure the UK’s economic interests, to shape policies towards the EU’s Eastern and Southern neighbourhoods, to maximise its ability to shape global policies on climate change and to give it more clout vis-à-vis countries such as the United States. Leaving the EU would accelerate and make more permanent the UK’s diminished influence in the global order, forcing it to fall back on secondary relationships in order to exert influence.

Negotiation Position vis-à-vis the EU
Due to the formal process of leaving the EU, laid out in Article 50 in the Lisbon Treaty, and the nature of its trade relationship with the EU, the UK would be at a disadvantage if it found itself in the position of having to renegotiate its relationship with the EU following a Brexit vote. Article 50 allows all EU Member States a veto on any part of a renegotiated deal and empowers the EU to set the pace of negotiations. Furthermore, although the UK has a net trade deficit with the EU, it has a net trade surplus in services of £10.3 billion. The EU will thus have far less of a rationale to conclude a liberal agreement on services access than on goods, which would severely hurt the UK economy, where the service sector makes up almost 80% of the economy according to the UK Office of National Statistics. Lastly, the UK will be affected by a significant array of EU legislation, especially if it takes the likely route of wanting substantial access to the EU Single Market, with the important difference being that the UK would not be able to influence legislation.

Upon looking at and assessing a variety of reports and analysis, it is clear that a British exit from the EU will carry with it large economic and political costs. It is also evident that none of the alternative relations with the EU presents itself as more advantageous compared to EU membership. The clearest trade-off seems to be between economic well-being and immigration. In order to avoid the most catastrophic growth estimates, the UK would either have to accept an increased level of freedom of movement within Europe to gain full access to the EU Single Market or, if it decides to have a WTO-style relationship with the EU, it would have to substantially increase immigration from non-EU countries.

On the topic of migration, the subject of ‘new Europeans’ was much debated. How should we continue to integrate the many people travelling to European shores?

As outlined in the Movement’s new position on Migration and the Refugee Crisis, of key importance is reforming the Dublin regulation, readjusting the Blue Card regulation and treating refugees with the dignity and respect they deserve.

A concrete and determined European response to the present migration crisis must be global – focusing on the roots of the crisis – and at the same time truly European, with a common European approach on Migration and Asylum which includes the following:

A European-wide agenda
A true Common European Immigration and Asylum Policy is necessary to provide a European response to a European problem. European migration policy should be built on a common agenda and not on unilateral action contrary to European values.

Interlinkage between European migration policy and related policies is essential. Ongoing revisions of related policies offer the opportunity for a real interlinkage, including the post-2015 Development Agenda now under discussion, the ongoing review of the European Neighbourhood Policy, the annual Enlargement strategy and the EU global strategy on Foreign and Security Policy foreseen for June 2016. These policies should share elements from the European Agenda on Migration and vice versa.

Solidarity is key: efforts in the area of migration policy have to be made by all Member States – including those with opt-outs – in order to alleviate the pressure on the main countries of arrival. This means that national leaders have to take responsibility and refrain from nationalistic and anti-migration rhetoric and action, thereby blocking unanimous decision making, forcing the EU to resort to QMV and undermining European solidarity.

The Dublin regulation should be replaced by a permanent and binding mechanism that ensures the fair sharing of responsibility to host asylum seekers and refugees, according to the economic and social capacities of EU Member States and EEA states as well as the preferences of asylum seekers and refugees. Coercive transfers should be avoided. Such a system could offer a structural solution for the fluctuating influx of migrants.

Existing funds such as the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund should be mobilised and extra money should be made available by the EU and its Member States to deal with the height of the refugee crisis, to support cities and regions that function as main entry points or host large numbers of refugees, neighbouring countries such as the Western Balkans that see many pass through their lands, and organisations and countries taking care of the refugees close to their countries of origin.

Dignity and respect
The core of any policy should be that refugees and asylum seekers are, first and foremost, human beings and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

This includes access to legal asylum procedures for all, respecting the rule of law, and including set decision deadlines, personal interviews and better information. Detention of asylum seekers should only be a measure of the last resort and avoided as much as possible. In addition to a common list of safe countries of origin, work in the direction of common standards for the evaluation of asylum applications would be welcomed.

Social inclusion policies are important for the successful integration of those arriving in Europe. With timely measures and the appropriate funding Europe should help the national and local authorities alleviate the settlement of the refugees and asylum seekers. Efforts should be made to ensure that refugees are not discriminated against when it comes to the provision of social protections. European standards for the integration of refugees and asylum seekers should be developed so that they live harmoniously in the host societies for the period of asylum.

An open Europe
Whereas the current number of refugees arriving in Europe is extremely high, the open nature of Europe should be preserved. The European Union should not become a ‘Fortress Europe’ with a migration policy relying on fences and border patrol, and internally, Schengen cannot be compromised. Free movement is a fundamental right for EU citizens. A ‘Fortress Europe’ runs contrary to the founding values of the Europe Union. Safe access to the EU should be ensured for those that seek asylum. In that light, applying for refugee status at the country of origin and options such as humanitarian visa should be explored.

Legal migration
Migration is not a threat, but a challenge which also offers opportunities for a continent characterized by demographic decline and with labour markets in need of skilled workers. Legal migration is an essential part of the European Agenda on Migration.

The EU should foster and promote channels of legal immigration by extending the Blue Card regulation to non-academic fields such as entrepreneurs and lower-skilled migrants, and tone down the strict requirements (such as the salary threshold and the link between the qualification and job offer) to ensure a wider application. The Blue Card should be applied in a transparent and similar fashion by all Member States, limiting room for interpretation on grounds for refusal, and take precedence over the variety of national schemes.

Third country nationals working in the EU should receive equal treatment as EU citizens with regard to pay, working conditions, social rights, and with regard to freedom of movement within the EU.

The delegates went on next to discuss the often sensitive issue of European Union Enlargement. The debate brought up some of the obstacles to the Enlargement process, and the challenges that civil society faces in the different Member States. The debate focused around the below topics:

  1. Enlargement perspective and negotiations

Enlargement perspective

– The European Movement International unequivocally supports the enlargement process.

Focus of the enlargement negotiations

– The European Movement International fully supports the ‘fundamentals first’ strategy, which focuses on the opening of Chapter 23: Judiciary and fundamental rights and Chapter 24: Justice, freedom and security.

The positive effect of enlargement

– Enlargement is the most successful foreign policy of the European Union.

  1. Enlargement and Civil Society

Involvement of Civil Society Organisations in the Western Balkans and Turkey in the negotiation process

Support for CSO capacity building

Mechanisms to support cooperation between CSOs

  1. Enlargement narrative and momentum

Developing a positive enlargement narrative

Regaining the enlargement momentum

  1. Factors that negatively impact the enlargement process

In the Western Balkans and Turkey

– The low level of economic growth and rising poverty jeopardizes the enlargement process.

In the European Union

– The political, economic and social challenges that Europe faces, as well as a possible Brexit, turns away its attention from enlargement towards internal consolidation.

External factors

  1. Enlargement and the refugee crisis

Involving the (potential) candidate countries in a sustainable European solution to the refugee crisis

A debate on the Movement’s new position on Security was framed within the context of High Representative Federica Mogherini’s EU Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy, to be presented in June.

The European Union currently finds itself in a strategic environment that has changed fundamentally over the pastrecent years. The international system is in flux, with shifting power balances, the emergence of new actors on the global stage, and new threats to Europe’s security. The EU is confronted with complex issues ranging from regional to global dimensions. Among them the ongoing conflict in Ukraine as well as conflicts in Syria, Libya, Iraq and Yemen, terrorist attacks on European soil, and radicalisation. At the same time, the EU is dealing with a major refugee crisis and the need for a concerted humanitarian response. Energy dependence and global climate change are also pressing problems.

In today’s multipolar and globalised world, these challenges cannot be solved at the national level alone but require cooperation at the European level. The economic crisis and ensuing cuts in defence and security budgets only underscore this. To protect Europe’s interests both at home and abroad, the European Union offers the best forum for cooperation on defence and security issues.

The current crises have revealed the EU’s limited capacity in crisis management, and oblige it to formulate a better response to the ongoing security crisis urgently. However, there is a lack of political will among Member States: the EU heads of state seem reluctant to develop a comprehensive and coordinated response to the different issues facing Europe. But European citizens expect short, medium and long term answers to the current security challenges.

In order to develop a common and effective European response to the various security threats that it faces, the EU needs to:

Strategise and prioritise
High Representative Federica Mogherini will prepare an EU Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy, to be presented by June 2016. This strategy should be realistic, streamlining the existing strategies and policies and set top priorities that all Member States share and should adhere to. A European White Book on Defence should be drafted to follow up on this strategy in order to identify threats and possible solutions, also with regard to the reinforcement of the CSDP. It would also help to concretise the EU’s priorities in terms of capabilities.

Speak with one voice 
The strategising and prioritising exercise undertaken by Federica Mogherini will not ensure an effective and common action unless there is a political will among the Member States to cooperate and devote resources to it. This exercise will only have impact if Member States actively convey a joint message and pursue the same priorities, including in other international fora.

Use existing provisions and tools
The Lisbon Treaty contains several articles that have never been implemented, such as articles 20.2 on enhanced cooperation, 44 on the flexibility provision and, in particular, 46 on Permanent Structured Cooperation. The first invocation of the mutual defence clause (article 42.7) by France should be used to further develop concrete security and defence cooperation. The actual deployment of the EU Battlegroups as a first responder in a given conflict would also be a step in the right direction. However, these provisions and tools can only be employed with the aim of ensuring peace on the European continent and in its neighbourhood, and to contribute to peace efforts worldwide whilst defending human rights and promoting European values. Their misuse could generate new crises.

Complete the single market for defence
The completion of the single market for defence, following existing Commission plans, is an important element for a closer, integrated and more competitive defence industry, as well as for civilian and military synergies in research and technology. It will ensure a more efficient use of resources in times of austerity, while increasing Europe’s capability to face security challenges.

Explore new areas of defence cooperation
Fully exploiting the above-mentioned options is not enough to respond to the challenges facing Europe, and new areas of the defence cooperation should be explored. Increased cooperation in the field of cybercrime by setting up an EU Cyber Command could be a start, as well as setting up a permanent civil and military headquarters. Following these steps, the concept of a European army in the form of pooled capabilities and harmonisation among EU armed forces should be pursued, paying special attention to the human rights and fundamental freedoms of civilian and military personnel. Further integration of defence resources can also bring about greater efficiency of budgetary capacities.

Cooperation with partners
The EU needs not only to cooperate internally, but also externally. With regard to NATO, concrete ways to increase cooperation, while avoiding duplication, should be identified. The EU should keep an open channel with all partners and future EU members when devising its security and defence policies.

Coordinated, impactful and joint action is needed to respond to the ongoing and future security challenges. An immediate response is key, and in this light, short-term and practical measures using existing policies, tools and treaty provisions – such as permanent structured cooperation or the flexibility mechanism – should be prioritised. With that in mind, however, only deeper integration in the field of defence and security policy will allow the European Union to bring together its military capabilities, strengthen its global position and permanently ensure its security.

EU Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy: what should it contain?

The EU Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy is currently being prepared by High Representative Federica Mogherini. This strategy should start from the core function of the European Union: ensuring peace and security on the European continent and beyond, while respecting European values. Furthermore, it should define European interests and decide on a limited set of key priorities. These can include different sub-priorities or themes. Without pretending to present an exhaustive list, the following elements should be addressed throughout the strategy:

Addressing the current refugee crisis in Europe asks for a focus on the causes of the refugee flows. There is a clear security dimension in addressing the conflicts that result in the displacement of people, such as the war in Syria. The implementation of the so-called EU Agenda on Migration should be fully coherent with the overall direction of the EU’s foreign and security policy. The recent plans to secure Europe’s external borders should also be fully aligned with the new strategy, while ensuring safe access to the EU as well as the freedom of movement.

Structuring relations with Europe’s different neighbours and partners should form a key part of the strategy. The recently reviewed European Neighbourhood Policy should, as is intended, be closely integrated in the EU Global Strategy, and its policies should be in line with the overall strategies set for EU security and foreign policy.

Enlargement should be an integral part of the strategy. Based on strict but fair and credible conditionality, with special emphasis on human rights and democracy, the enlargement process fosters the rule of law, economic development, good governance as well as good neighbourly relations among (potential) candidate countries. As one of the most successful external policies of the EU, it has a direct impact on the peace and security on the European continent.

Climate change and security are closely interwoven. Not only does global warming pose a direct threat to Europe – for example in rising sea levels – but the impact of global warming often aggravates existing tensions and security problems elsewhere, not in the least in the form of mass population displacements, for example due to droughts, water shortages, and poor harvests. Climate change is one of the key challenges that no state can solve by itself, thus asking for closer cooperation on a higher level.

Energy plays a role in many of the conflicts in Europe’s neighbourhood and has a strong geopolitical aspect. Europe’s energy dependency makes it vulnerable, and diversification, interconnection and integration of European energy markets is therefore important. Externally, cooperation in energy matters might have a positive effect on current conflicts. Continuing to purchase Russian gas, in addition to diversification and reduced energy dependency, will put the EU in a stronger position vis-à-vis Russia.

Development cooperation
The EU is one of the biggest global actors in development cooperation, an area that also shows a high level of unity among its Member States. Assistance in establishing good governance, human and economic development in its neighbourhood and worldwide will prevent conflicts and critical situations such as the current migration crisis facing Europe. Development cooperation is therefore a crucial element in the answer to a variety of challenges.

The digital realm
The digital realm is of increasing importance with regard to security. Countering (online) propaganda, cyberwarfare from state-actors, as well as cyberwarfare from non-state actors such as terrorist groups, extremist groups or hacktivists are important elements that should be addressed in any up-to-date security strategy. EU Member States need to invest more in sharing information and improving digital security, while respecting the privacy of citizens. Permanent structures of intelligence-sharing, which will feature all stakeholders, will help develop mutual understanding of common digital security threats and build the trust needed between governments, businesses and citizens to deliver a transparent, robust and proportional digital security network at the EU level.

The event ended with a keynote address by Bert Koenders, Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs, who outlined the challenges the EU faces and sketched his thoughts for the way forward.

The politics of equal opportunity and solidarity shapes the willingness to open up and to cushion the risks that accompany openness. And that makes it possible to reap the rewards that openness ultimately brings. You can’t have one without the other.

European integration shows much of the same dynamic. We’re finding out that sometimes we need limits. We need boundaries in order to deal with our growing interdependence. People demand it and they are right to do so. True, there might still be some European federalists – perhaps even here in this room today. Don’t worry, I won’t ask you to raise your hands. But I don’t believe a federal Europe presents a realistic project or even a desirable one. This is also a matter of definition: I have no problems with a clear system of definitions of competences at different levels. And the community method can still be relevant, especially for smaller member states. But the European Union as a federal state? That’s not the project we should strive for. […]

There’s no denying it: right now we’re seeing a lack of trust – a lack of trust in national governments, and a lack of solidarity between countries in Europe. I don’t believe there’s a single reason for that. Let me briefly name two major ones.

•        One reason is politics. Or the lack of politics, to be precise. For a long time, European cooperation was about de-politicising highly sensitive issues. For good reason: much of European history shows the damage too much politics can do. But I think the pendulum has swung too far, especially given the challenges we now face. Brussels became too much of a law-making machine – which works fine in good times, but becomes a weakness when crisis hits. A crisis calls for political action, and there are plenty of crises to go around these days.

When people are worried about whether their children will be worse off than they are; when geopolitics knocks at our doors; when terror strikes in European capitals; when migration stirs up fears about identity – well, then a law-making machine doesn’t exactly breed confidence.

  • Another reason is quite pragmatic: the European Union has grown from 6 to 28 Member States. That inevitably means more bureaucracy, more tedious negotiations, and less influence for each individual member state. Yes, there’s a very positive side as well: European decisions carry much more weight nowadays, because 28 countries can achieve more than 6. But we should not deny the downsides.

So what’s the answer? The European Union must get used to politics, but I already mentioned we do not need a federation. Instead, we need a European Union that protects and even strengthens governments’ ability to fulfil their duties towards their citizens. A European Union that protects, inspires trust and confidence. The Netherlands Presidency has always emphasised the need for the European Union to ‘be big on big things, and smaller on smaller things’.

The arc of instability, terrorism, migration, the euro: these are the big things for which our citizens expect European solutions. There, more Europe is needed. And slowly but surely we’re finding those solutions.

For example, as a Presidency we’re working hard to get the European Union’s Common Foreign and Security Policy in better shape, by supporting the development of a new Global Strategy. But in other areas, the European Union should take a step back, or at least have modest ambitions. That’s where the Better Regulation agenda comes in, for example.

It may sound like a paradox, but European integration needs boundaries in order to deliver.

The single market and the four freedoms that come with it have brought Europeans liberty, stability and prosperity. So much so that we sometimes risk taking them for granted. But they also require boundaries in the form of safeguards. The internal market should also be a fair market – fairer than it is now, in some important respects. And breaking down internal borders also means that Europe needs secure its external borders. For instance, Schengen can only work if we put collective effort into proper border control, especially for those countries at the periphery. Strengthening these borders is exactly what we’re doing right now, by boosting Frontex and by setting up ‘hot spots’ in Greece and Italy.

The migration issue also shows why the European Union must think and act beyond its borders, entering into partnerships with the countries in the neighbourhood. Not only with Turkey, but also with Lebanon and Jordan. And with African countries, through the Valletta partnership for example. I recently visited several countries in West Africa to agree and sign deals on behalf of the European Union. It’s a perfect example of something that member states can only achieve when they work together. The deals address the root causes of migration. They’ll make remigration possible, and they’ll help us drive people smugglers out of business.

These deals are based on equal partnerships. We don’t tell others what to do. We listen, we negotiate and we reach agreements that serve our mutual interests. The Netherlands, France or Poland could never have achieved the same results on their own – and even if they could, it would have been pointless, because migration affects all members of the Union.

So European cooperation is never an end in itself. It’s always about constructive engineering: finding ways to achieve other ends – and those ends are always changing. We are no longer recovering from the Second World War. The communist threat is over. There is no oil crisis.
But European cooperation has provided answers to all of those challenges in the past, it’s has the answer to many of the challenges we face today, and it will have the answer to the challenges we’ll face tomorrow.

Let me shine a light on a new challenge that European cooperation must address. I briefly mentioned the four freedoms already.

The Netherlands Presidency strongly believes the time has come for Europe to guarantee a fifth freedom: free movement of knowledge, information and data in the digital domain.

The digital age had barely dawned when the Treaty of Rome was signed. Today, we can’t imagine life without digital technologies. But our laws have failed to keep pace with these new advances. And now we’re missing out on the opportunities that the digital domain offers.

Access to scientific information and even raw data is too often limited. Some of our best and brightest minds are now deciding to try their luck elsewhere. Europe can’t afford that. As Stewart Brand said back in the 1960s, ‘Information wants to be free.’ That’s why we need to add free movement of information to the free movement of people, capital, goods and services.

The fifth freedom is about much more than markets. People care about their digital privacy. We should have more control over who has access to our personal data. And internet freedom is a human right. Europe must guarantee access, and prevent governments from blocking people they disagree with. Europe must guarantee freedom of expression – no citizen should fear prosecution for exercising the right to free speech. Offline and online, in Europe and beyond.

The fifth freedom can deliver tangible results for European citizens. It can be proof of how European cooperation works: not as an end in itself, but as a means to achieve greater prosperity and freedom. […]

Make no mistake: the referendum on a possible Brexit constitutes a European event of the first political order, even before its outcome is known. Its ripples have already spread across the continent. Populist and nationalist parties are feeding on frustration and fear and stir up hatred for free trade, the European Union, but also immigrants.

In the end the debate is not just about how the United Kingdom relates to the European Union, it’s about how each and every member state relates to European cooperation. It’s about how, together, we protect our citizens from geopolitical and economic threats. It’s about how to ensure the freedoms we believe in and enjoy.
The debate will not end when the polling stations close; we’re only witnessing the beginning. Ivan Krastev rightly warns us that it’s the centre, not the periphery, where disintegration starts. Let’s bear that in mind.

More details are available online here