Watch: Europe failed on solidarity on migration – Manfred Weber

“Europe failed over the last decade, even decades when you have the history of the past 20-30 years in mind. We were not capable to deliver on the solidarity prospect [of migration]”. This was the strong and damning evaluation which the Chairman of the European People’s Party Manfred Weber made on the EU’s response to the issue of migration. He was speaking to Newsbook.com.mt in an exclusive interview. Weber said that big countries like his own Germany failed in this regard on the level of solidarity. However, Weber said that now he is sensing a new momentum in the European Parliament seeking to resolve the issues on migration. “The Commission will come up in a few days with a concrete proposal on this how to solve the problem after the years of uncertainty in this field. One element is that we have to assist the countries of origin, it has to do a lot with assisting Africa. The second is that we need to have strict and strong border control, strengthening Frontex to assist the countries on the border region like Malta,” said Weber. The third element Weber mentioned was a binding solidarity mechanism similar to the quota system which guarantees that everyone contributes to the migration problem. “Let us find a flexible way in which we can contribute but everyone must contribute: this is not a Maltese issue or a Greek issue it is a European issue,” said Weber, adding that he hoped this would be resolved under the German presidency of the EU.

Frontex needs to follow the rules

Newsbook.com.mt quoted stories published by The New York Time, L’Avvenire, The Guardian and Newsbook itself that indicate that Frontex is involved in tacit pushbacks of migrants into Libya. “Let me make it crystal clear: The Eu is a union of values and we have legislation and the legislation is clear. When someone is knocking on our border…then he has the right to appeal for asylum,” stressed Weber. He said that this must be guaranteed by Frontex and when questions are asked on the way Frontex operates, everybody must respect the rules. He did clarify however, that borders are there to be respected and not all who knock may enter. “Europe cannot open all the boarders and let all the people enter,” said Weber adding that a balance needs to be arrived at.

Many will be losing their jobs

Covid affected the Multiannual Financial Framework of the EU very heavily said Weber and the economic dimension is very much in focus. He said that it is extremely important to give a clear signal to the EU Commission with a clear statement of solidarity. “We can only recover if we fully use the potential of our European single market,” said Weber. The Chairman of the EPP said that Europe is in what he described ominously as “an extremely deep crisis” which everybody can feel and in summer and autumn, in the upcoming weeks and months “many people will lose their jobs”. That, he said is the reality in Europe, and that is why European states must take the opportunity to invest now. He said that that is why certain fiscal measures are being relaxed so that there is enough liquidity for investment. “Nobody is responsible for corona…so this is really a message of solidarity, a way of sharing a common burden,” said Weber.

Polluter pays through taxation

Asked if however, this largesse had taxation strings attached, strings which might impinge on the sovereign states’ jurisdiction on taxation, as indicated by Minister Edward Scicluna, Weber said no. He said that the EU had very strict laws on how taxation law in the EU may be approached or modified and this would require a unanimous vote. “Corona will not change this rule. So without the approval from Malta and from other countries in the European Union, there will be no change in legislation,” emphasised Weber. He did, however, criticise Malta on the issue of taxation on polluting sources. He referred to what he called as criticisms which Prime Minister Robert Abela had made on taxation of the carbon emissions from cruise liners and the transport sector. He said that while he understands fully the economic considerations of such taxation but the Socialist group in the European parliament is the most pressing in favour of increasing taxation on pollution and climate issues. “It is the EPP who is seeking to balance out the economic issues wit climate issues,” maintained Weber adding that Prime Minister Abela should put pressure on his EP grouping to address this issue. “We are all for compromise to keep the business strong,” added Weber.

On fascism and Brexit

The Chairman of the EPP said that the political grouping in the European Parliament was one which did not include fascist or extreme rightist elements. “We draw a clear red line on all right extremists…if you try to copy populism you make them stronger,” observed Weber. The said that the only way to combat populism is to be a union of values and to be firm.

Speaking on the position of the EU on the Brexit negotiating table, Weber did not feel that the union was placing too much reliance on negotiation. He said that the EU is, economically a huge market, and as such the benefits are obvious. He said that if the UK wants to go for a hard Brexit then that is up to the UK but it cannot expect to have the benefits of a single market without any of the burdens and with a consequent lowering of standards. “We call this a level playing field and we call on our English friends to respect the rules,” concluded Weber.