Candid Johansson makes the case for refugee protection

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Welcome to EU Politics Decoded where Benjamin Fox and Eleonora Vasques will bring you a round-up of the latest political news in Europe and beyond every Thursday.

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In this edition, we look at the admission by EU migration chief Ylva Johansson that the EU’s law to protect refugees should have been used to deal with previous crises.

Editor’s Take: Candid Johansson makes the case for refugee protection

It is rare for politicians to admit to mistakes. So the remark by EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson in an interview with EURACTIV that the failure of EU ministers to use the bloc’s Temporary Protection Directive to deal with the refugee crisis in 2015 was the ‘wrong decision’, deserves a wider discussion.

While this does not strictly count as self-censure by Johansson, who was then Sweden’s interior minister and would have had a say, albeit not a decisive one, candour from politicians is always welcome.

It is also a striking admission. So, too, are her remarks suggesting that the EU’s 20-year-old law designed to help shelter refugees should be used again in the future.

Lest we forget, the directive’s refugee protection clause was invoked for the first time, with the unanimous support of EU governments, days after the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last February.

There’s little doubt that the EU’s response to the millions of refugees who fled Ukraine since last February has, largely, been a success.

Ukrainians have been able to move freely across the EU, millions have used their rights to live and work within the bloc, and to access social service benefits like housing and medical care. National public services have, in the main, stood up to the extra demand. Social cohesion has not been undermined.

While Johansson did not specify the context in 2015, it was the escalation of the civil war in Syria that led to a major increase in refugee and migrant numbers fleeing west from the Middle East. It is a decision that has had lasting consequences.

One result was that the EU effectively set up Turkey as a buffer state, paying President Erdogan’s government €6 billion to keep potential migrants and asylum seekers from entering the EU and offering visa-free travel to Turkish people.

Meanwhile, the national response by member states ranged from the ‘open door’ policy of then-German Chancellor Angela Merkel to the far more prevalent stance of tightening border control, pushbacks, and hostility.

The ‘cash for migrant control’ blueprint established with Erdogan’s Turkey has now been repeated for migration from North Africa.

Despite widespread human rights abuses and authoritarian governments in most North African states, the European Commission – with the support, it appears, of member states – is determined to increase financial support for them in exchange for more migration control.

The question of whether the EU directive should be invoked again could be back on the table sooner than previously thought.

There are growing concerns that the fighting between rival military leaders in Sudan – which has prompted EU and other Western states to scramble to get their diplomats and civilians out of the country – could escalate into a full scale civil war.

Should that be the case, it is likely that a significant number of Sudan’s 46 million population will flee north to Libya and Egypt and, potentially, attempt to reach Europe.

The circumstances may be different. Unlike Ukraine, the EU does not have a trade and political agreement with Khartoum. But the fate of the refugees potentially fleeing for safety is the same.

The decision on whether to give them temporary protection as refugees would be a test of the EU’s consistency and of Johansson’s words.


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EU elections: The ebb and flow of a French left-wing coalition. The French left-wing coalition NUPES is divided over whether to run as a common bloc in the 2024 European elections: The radical-left La France Insoumise (LFI) is pushing for a joint candidacy while the French Greens and Communists are more sceptical.

Lithuania legalises migrant pushbacks. The Lithuanian parliament Seimas adopted a law on Tuesday (25 April) legalising the turning away of irregular migrants at the border under a state-level extreme situation regime or a state of emergency.

Austria rejects Romania’s Schengen timeline demand. Austrian Interior Minister Gerhard Karner cannot offer an exact date for when his country will lift its veto on Romania joining the Schengen Area, Karner said during a meeting with Romanian counterpart Lucian Bode on Wednesday.

Irish government approves country’s first ‘Clean Air Strategy’. Ireland’s  first ‘Clean Air Strategy’, aimed at reducing pollution-related deaths and improving air quality to meet targets set by the World Health Organisation (WHO), was approved by the government on Wednesday.

Inside the institutions

Drop import bans if you want the money, Commission tells frontline EU countries. Member states will need to lift unilateral bans on the import of agricultural goods from Ukraine in order to receive financial aid, EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski told agriculture ministers in a closed meeting.

EU Lawmakers vote to extend EU methane emission rules to gas imports. The European Parliament’s Environment and Industry Committees voted on Wednesday (26 April) in favour of new and more ambitious legislation aimed at reducing methane emissions in the energy sector. 

MEPs call to step up EU efforts against foreign interference. EU lawmakers adopted a resolution calling for coordinated action on foreign interference, warning of risks in the lead-up to next year’s European Parliament elections. 

Ministers warn EU pesticide cut plan could jeopardise agriculture exports. EU ministers have raised concerns over the compatibility of international plant health requirements with the EU’s plan to reduce the use of pesticides, warning this risks ‘jeopardising’ agricultural exports from the EU..

What we are reading

Using crypto for crime is not a bug — it’s an industry feature, writes Jemima Kelly for the Financial Times.

Simon Rattle is right: Britain is becoming a cultural desert – and that’s a political choice, writes Martin Kettle for The Guardian.

Why Sweden’s Nato accession is still on hold, writes Kjell Engelbrekt and Michael Sahlin for EUobserver.

The next week in politics

At the Council next week, informal meeting of employment and social affairs ministers (3-4 May), Development Council (3 May), and eventually, informal meeting of health ministers (4-5 May).

Business as usual at the European Parliament, with political groups and committee meetings.


Thanks for reading. If you’d like to contact us for leaks, tips or comments, drop us a line at [email protected] / [email protected] or contact us on Twitter: @EleonorasVasques & @benfox83

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