On September 13, the President of the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, Jean Claude Juncker gave his State of the Union Address to the European Parliament, saying:
"Last year... Europe was battered and bruised by a year that shook our very foundation. We only had two choices. Either come together around a positive European agenda or each retreat into our own corners... I argued for unity. I proposed a positive agenda to help create ... a Europe that protects, empowers and defends... Over the past twelve months, the European Parliament has helped bring this agenda to life. We continue to make progress with each passing day... In the last year, we saw all 27 leaders... renew their vows... to our Union. All of this leads me to believe: the wind is back in Europe's sails."
Most EU citizens probably wondered what EU Juncker was talking about. The EU Juncker inhabits does not appear to be the same one most Europeans live in.
Jean Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, gives his State of the Union Address to the European Parliament on September 13. (Image source: European Parliament)
This past year in Europe, a terrorist attack was attempted every seven days, on average. Juncker delivered his speech just two days before yet another terrorist attack, this time on the London underground, perpetrated by an 18-year old migrant. The European Commission, however, does not appear particularly concerned with such matters. Juncker mentioned terrorism only very briefly toward the very end of his long speech, almost as if it were an afterthought:
"The European Union must also be stronger in fighting terrorism. In the past three years, we have made real progress. But we still lack the means to act quickly in case of cross-border terrorist threats. This is why I call for a European intelligence unit that ensures data concerning terrorists and foreign fighters are automatically shared among intelligence services and with the police".
"Real progress"? The last three years saw an enormous surge in large-scale terrorist attacks in European cities: The ISIS attacks in Paris in November 2015, the Brussels attacks in March 2016, the Nice attack in July 2016, the Berlin Christmas Market attack in December 2016, and the Manchester attack in May 2017 -- and those are just the most spectacular ones. The hundreds of people killed and thousands more maimed would probably not subscribe to Juncker's definition of "progress".
Moreover, 16 years after 9/11 -- and the large-scale attacks that followed in Europe just a few years later -- it seems a bit embarrassing that the president of the European Commission is calling for enabling automatic data-sharing among intelligence services and police. Should that not have been in place more than a decade ago?
Juncker spoke of the five main priorities of the EU Commission for the coming year. Strengthening trade and industry were first and second on the list of priorities; climate change, third, and protecting Europe from cyber-attacks fourth. The issue of migration came last. Migration, Juncker said, choosing casual words, "will stay on our radar". He tried to claim that the EU is "protecting Europe's external borders more effectively" by adding the ridiculously small number of 1,700 officers from the new European Border and Coast Guard to aid member-states patrol places such as Greece, Italy, Bulgaria and Spain. He also claimed, "We have managed to stem irregular flows of migrants, which were a cause of great anxiety for many" -- making it sound as if the problem were European "anxiety", rather than the invasion of the continent by millions of mainly young Muslim men, several of whom have turned out to be Islamic terrorists.
Juncker made it clear that whatever Europeans may think -- polls repeatedly show that the majority of Europeans do not want any more migrants -- the EU does not intend to put a stop to migration. With ill-concealed reference to the Central and Eastern European member states' refusal to bow to EU demands, Juncker said:
"Even if it saddens me to see that solidarity is not yet equally shared across all our Member States, Europe as a whole has continued to show solidarity. Last year alone, our Member States resettled or granted asylum to over 720,000 refugees -- three times as much as the United States, Canada and Australia combined. Europe, contrary to what some say, is not a fortress and must never become one. Europe is and must remain the continent of solidarity where those fleeing persecution can find refuge".
Juncker also spoke about the issue of repatriation, a matter most European politicians gave up on years ago, even if they continue to say what they know their electorates want to hear:
"When it comes to returns: people who have no right to stay in Europe must be returned to their countries of origin. When only 36% of irregular migrants are returned, it is clear we need to significantly step up our work. This is the only way Europe will be able to show solidarity with refugees in real need of protection".
Hardly any migrants are returned to their countries of origin, nor are they ever likely to be. As Juncker well knows, it is too complicated and too expensive. Sweden serves as an example: In 2015, Sweden received a record 163,000 migrants. In January 2016, the Swedish government stated that 80,000 of them were not eligible for asylum and would have to be repatriated. In 2016, however, only a fraction of the migrants were sent back: roughly 4,000 out of the original 80,000 -- and at an extremely high price. 784 of the migrants were flown back home at a cost to Swedish taxpayers of 45.6 million Swedish kroner ($5.6 million).
Many migrants simply refused to leave, disappeared, or their home countries refused to receive them. The Swedish authorities paid one Moroccan migrant, Kader Bencheref -- a dangerous convicted rapist -- 40,000 Swedish Kroner ($5,000) before he finally agreed to be flown out of Sweden. A Sudanese migrant cost taxpayers 1 million Swedish kroner ($125,000) in botched attempts at repatriation: after being sent away by Sudan, the plane had to return to Sweden. Sometimes migrants are flown in expensive chartered private planes.
The European Commission, however, has little patience for such details. In a press release published September 6, the Commission published a sort of "report card" on the EU member states' "progress" in taking the allocated quotas of migrants. Even Sweden, on the brink of societal collapse from the influx of migrants, was told that it was only "close" to reaching its quota.
Finally, Juncker spoke of the need to extend the borderless area to those EU countries that are not parties to the Schengen agreement -- establishing that the EU should have no internal borders. Juncker said he hopes that by March 30, 2019, the Schengen area will have "become the norm for all EU Member States". As terrorists posing as migrants travel unhindered through Europe, the Schengen agreement has been proven an enormous mistake. But why bother with facts?
ISIS apparently has at its disposal some 11,000 stolen blank Syrian passports that it could put to use in order to smuggle its terrorists into Europe under fake identities; at the same time, more European ISIS fighters are expected to return to Europe. Why does the EU want to make it easy for them?
Juncker spoke about the "unity" of the EU, but the EU has never been less unified. On September 6, the European Court of Justice ruled that the European Commission has the right to order EU member states to take in asylum seekers, and that EU member states have no legal right to resist those orders. As the EU continued to impose its will upon states that refuse to bow to its demands, Hungary's and Slovakia's complaints were thrown out. This show of force by the EU can be called many things -- "unity" is not one of them.
Judith Bergman is a columnist, lawyer and political analyst.