Pope Francis, on his recent visit to the Greek island of Lesbos, said that Europe must respond to the migrant crisis with solutions that are "worthy of humanity." He also decried "that dense pall of indifference that clouds hearts and minds." The Pope then proceeded to demonstrate what he believes is a response "worthy of humanity" by bringing 12 Syrian Muslims with him on his plane to Italy. "It's a drop of water in the sea. But after this drop, the sea will never be the same," the Pope mused.
The Pope's speech did not contain a single reference to the harsh consequences of Muslim migration into the European continent for Europeans. Instead, the speech was laced with reflections such as "...barriers create divisions instead of promoting the true progress of peoples, and divisions sooner or later lead to confrontations" and "...our willingness to continue to cooperate so that the challenges we face today will not lead to conflict, but rather to the growth of the civilization of love."
The Pope went back to his practically migrant-free Vatican City -- those 12 Syrian Muslims will be hosted by Italy, not the Vatican, although the Holy See will be supporting them -- leaving it to ordinary Europeans to cope with the consequences of "the growth of the civilization of love."
There is nothing quite as free in this world as not practicing what you preach, and what the Pope is preaching is the acceptance of more migration into Europe, and more migration -- much more -- is indeed what is in the cards for Europe.
At the UN's Geneva conference on Syrian refugees on March 30, Italy's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Paolo Gentiloni, put the total number of asylum seekers into Italy in the first three months of 2016 at 18,234. This is already 80% higher than in the same period in 2015.
According to Paolo Serra, military adviser to Martin Kobler, the UN's Libya envoy, migrants currently in Libya will head for Italy in large numbers if the country is not stabilized. "If we do not intervene, there could be 250,000 arrivals [in Italy] by the end of 2016," he said. According to France's Defense Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, the number is much higher: 800,000 migrants are currently in Libyan territory waiting to cross the Mediterranean.
Already in November 2015, the European Union estimated -- in its Autumn 2015 European Economic Forecast, authored by the European Commission -- that by the end of 2016, another three million migrants will have made it into the European Union.
Nevertheless, the European Commission optimistically noted that, "while unevenly distributed among countries, the estimated additional public expenditure related to the arrival of asylum seekers is limited for most EU member states." It even concluded that the migrant crisis could have a small, positive impact on European economies within a few years citing that "Research indicates that non-EU migrants typically receive less in individual benefits than they contribute in taxes and social contribution."
This is the classic, politically correct denial of facts on the ground. The multitude of very costly social problems that Muslim migration into Europe has caused thus far do not exist in this whitewashed report, where the "research" indicates that migrants are always a boon. Similarly, any mention of the very real security costs necessitated by the Islamization that is occurring in Europe and the consequent need for monitoring of potential jihadists, simply goes unmentioned. One wonders whether the EU bureaucrats, who authored this report, ever descend from their ivory towers and move about in the real Europe.
Several European states have a less optimistic picture of the prospect of another three million migrants arriving on Europe's borders than either the Pope or the European Commission do. In February, Austria announced that it would introduce border controls at border crossings along frontiers with Italy, Slovenia and Hungary. On April 12, Austria began preparations for introducing border controls on its side of the Brenner Pass, the main Alpine crossing into Italy, by starting work on a wall between the two countries.
The Austrian decision to close the Brenner pass has received harsh criticism from the EU. European Commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud criticized the measure as unwarranted, claiming that "there is indeed no evidence that flows of irregular migrants are shifting from Greece to Italy". Is Bertaud deliberately misrepresenting the issue? The issue is not whether the migrants are shifting from Greece to Italy after the EU's unsavory deal with Turkey (they probably will) but the up to 800,000 migrants are already waiting to cross into Italy from Libya.
EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos joined in the criticism of Austria, saying, "What is happening at the border between Italy and Austria is not the right solution." He had criticized Austria already in February, when Vienna announced that it would cap asylum claims at 80 per day. At the time, Avramopoulos said,
"It is true that Austria is under huge pressure... It is true they are overwhelmed. But, on the other hand, there are some principles and laws that all countries must respect and apply... The Austrians are obliged to accept asylum applications without putting a cap."
In response, Austria's Chancellor Werner Faymann told the EU that Austria could not just let the influx of migrants continue unchecked -- nearly 100,000 have applied for asylum in Austria -- and he called for the EU to act. The EU has not yet acted.
The EU should hardly be surprised that a sovereign state decides to take matters into its own hands in the face of the EU's failure to heed that call, and as it anticipates a repeat of last year's migration chaos -- which, given the predicted estimates, is bound to occur this year with even greater force.
Predictably, Italy has also criticized the decision, with Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano saying that Austria's decision to erect the barrier is "unexplainable and unjustifiable." Italy, however, only has itself to blame for Austria's restrictions at the Brenner Pass. In 2014 and the first half of 2015, around 300,000 migrants arrived in Italy, mainly from Libya. Despite EU rules that require Italy to register those migrants, Italy simply let most of them pass through the country and continue into Austria. From there, most went further into Germany and Northern Europe. Clearly, Austria does not expect the Italians to change their practices.
Austrian police prepare to hold the line at the Brenner Pass border crossing with Italy, as a crowd tries to break through during a violent protest on April 3, 2016, against Austria's introduction of border controls to stem the flow of migrants. (Image source: RT video screenshot)
While the bureaucrats of the EU bicker with their member states over those states' unwillingness to follow EU regulations -- evidently not made to cope with a migration crisis of these huge proportions -- Turkey's President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan is threatening to drop his obligations under a recent EU-Turkey migration deal. Those obligations include taking back all new "irregular migrants" crossing from Turkey into Greek islands, as well as taking any necessary measures to prevent the opening of new sea or land routes for migration from Turkey to the EU. "There are precise conditions. If the European Union does not take the necessary steps, then Turkey will not implement the agreement," Erdogan warned recently in a speech in Ankara.
Erdogan knows that in the current European reality, his words have the effect he intends: When he threatens to flood Europe with migrants unless it does what he wants -- in other words, blackmail -- EU leaders will do what he says. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, one of the driving forces behind the EU-Turkey deal, also recently bowed to Erdogan's demands that Germany prosecute the satirist Jan Böhmermann, after he mocked and insulted the Turkish president in a poem. The German criminal code prohibits insults against foreign leaders, but leaves it to the government to decide whether to authorize prosecutors to pursue such cases. Angela Merkel gave her authorization, a decision widely criticized. Her own ministers -- Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and Justice Minister Heiko Maas -- said they did not believe that the authorization should have been granted.
Another indication that Erdogan has no reason to fear any misbehavior on the part of the European Union regarding the EU-Turkey deal is that the European Parliament just voted in favor of making Turkish an official European Union language. Ostensibly, the vote came about in order to back an initiative by the president of Cyprus, Nicos Anastasiades, who asked the Dutch EU Presidency to add Turkish to the bloc's 24 official languages in order to boost attempts to reach a reunification agreement for Cyprus.
In his letter to the EU presidency, Anastasiades noted that Cyprus had already filed a similar request during its EU entry talks in 2002, but, at that time, it "was advised by the [EU] institutions not to insist, taking into account the limited practical purpose of such a development ... as well as the considerable cost". Turkey's occupation of northern Cyprus, which Turkey invaded in 1974, is one of the issues blocking Turkey's accession negotiations with the EU.
Making Turkish an official language is seen by Turkey, according to a senior Turkish official, as "a very important, very positive gesture" for the Cyprus peace talks and for EU-Turkish ties more broadly. "If the blockage is lifted because of Cyprus being solved, then we can proceed very quickly," the Turkish official said.
All of the other official and working languages of the European Union are tied to states which are full members of the EU. Although the vote has to be approved by the European Commission before the decision can come into effect, it speaks volumes about the EU's deference to Erdogan.
In light of these developments, the granting of visa-free travel to European Union states for 80 million Turks looks as if it is a done deal, despite the 72 conditions, which Turkey, at least on paper, is expected to live up to. These include increasing the use of biometric passports and other technical requirements. So far, Turkey has only met half of these conditions. Perhaps that is why European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker recently felt the need to mention that, "Turkey must fulfill all remaining conditions so that the Commission can adopt its proposal in the coming months. The criteria will not be watered down." The question is whether Juncker himself even believes his own words.
With the provisions on visa-free travel for 80 million Turks, the EU may just have gone from the frying pan into the fire. The visa-free admission of Turks into Europe would give Erdogan completely free rein to control the influx of migrants into Europe. Moreover, anyone believing that Erdogan would not take great advantage of this opportunity would have to be dangerously naïve. The European Union may yet conclude that the migrant crisis, in all its enormity, is the far lesser evil.
Judith Bergman is a writer, columnist, lawyer and political analyst.