Many Different Voices in Search of a Single European Stance on Asylum and Migration

Austrian Parliament, 11 October 2018

International Parliamentary Conference for the Common Foreign and Security Policy during Austria’s EU Presidency

Vienna (PK) – The International Parliamentary Conference for the Common Foreign and Security Policy under Austria’s EU Presidency was the backdrop for a controversial debate yesterday afternoon on the challenges facing Europe as a result of migrant and refugee movements.

Three keynote speakers presented their expertise from various areas. Wolfgang Baumann, Secretary-General from the Austrian Ministry of Defence, discussed his experience related to cooperation between civilian and military authorities and described the deployment of the armed forces to assist other authorities as a successful model for border protection. Berndt Körner, from the European Border and Coast Guard Agency Frontex, outlined his organisation’s remit. Frontex has developed rapidly in recent years and its potential has not yet been fully tapped, he said. Journalist Melita H. Sunjic tried to provide food for thought for further debate with seven short - as she herself put it - provocative hypotheses. The extremely complex issues of migration and flight also needed more nuanced answers, Ms. Sunjic said.

Wolfgang Baumann: Austria has a proven model of cooperation between civil and military authorities

As a representative of the Austrian Federal Ministry of Defence, Wolfgang Baumann explained that migration and asylum issues do not fall within the remit of national defence, but are the responsibility of the Interior Ministry. Austria has a proven tradition of deploying its armed forces to assist in securing borders during times of crisis. This model has proven flexible and cost-effective, as it does not require a large police force to be set up to cope with extraordinary situations. On the issue of cooperation between civil and military authorities, Austria is more than willing to share its experience with other countries, he said.

One of the lessons Mr. Baumann learned from the events of 2015 is that losing control at the border must not be allowed to happen again. Naturally, it is not a matter of stemming the flow of refugees by resorting to the use of weapons, he stressed. However, good border management must guarantee security and give genuine refugees the chance to apply for asylum and to avail themselves of a regulated procedure. For the near future, Mr. Baumann sees two priorities for migration. On the one hand, the EU must help stabilise the Western Balkans, and on the other hand it must ensure the protection of external borders on the Mediterranean. For that reason, Mr. Baumann expressly welcomed the planned increase of Frontex staff to 10,000 employees who can be deployed for border protection.

Berndt Körner: Frontex wants to be a partner in the Common Foreign and Security Policy

Director of the European Frontex Border and Coastguard Agency Berndt Körner outlined his organisation’s remit. His agency has developed rapidly since October 2016 and has been provided with additional staff and expanded functions. He pointed out that it is undisputed that the Schengen Area can only function properly if external border protections are guaranteed. A well-functioning border management system must not only guarantee security, but also economic and cultural exchanges, said Mr. Körner.

Frontex works successfully with authorities such as Europol to combat cross-border crime and terrorism. The overriding objective of Frontex is integrated border management (IBM), which encompasses many different elements, said Mr. Körner. In addition to operational border management tasks, Frontex also performs risk analyses and cooperates with third countries. According to Mr. Körner, IBM is a suitable approach for finding a consensus among the Member States of the EU. Frontex sees the Common Foreign and Security Policy actors as important partners. The agency is currently significantly expanding its capacities and sees itself as an integral part of the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy. Consequently, Mr. Körner welcomed the fact that issues of migration and border protection are increasingly at the focus of the CFSP and the CSDP.

Melita H. Sunjic: Political leaders must find more nuanced answers to complex questions

Melita H. Sunjic summed up her many years of experience in dealing with the topic of migration and flight by outlining seven hypotheses, while at the same time strongly cautioning against simplification. Nothing is more dangerous than trying to find simple answers to complex problems, she analysed.

Ms. Sunjic's first hypothesis is that border closures as a centralised means of migration management do not reduce migratory pressures, but ultimately increase them - just as more dams ultimately increase water pressure in the event of flooding. Secondly, the closer migrants are to Europe, the more risks they will take in order to reach their destination. Those who have nothing more to lose will also risk their lives, Ms. Sunjic stressed.

Their third hypothesis states that Europe needs two different systems to manage economic migration on the one hand, and refugees on the other. The economy could also benefit from labour migration. Fourthly, it is cheaper for Europe and safer for everybody if refugees are provided with the proper care in the countries of first asylum. Here, Ms. Sunjic warned against repeating the mistakes of the past.

Her fifth hypothesis is that there is a need for better and faster asylum procedures and for the rapid repatriation of those not in need of protection. This would be more humane than leaving people in limbo for an extended period of time and could also have a dampening effect on irregular migration. Sixth, the smugglers must be stopped; all of necessary information is available to do so. Smugglers’ activities can even be tracked via social media, where they carry out their transactions unencrypted, Ms. Sunjic explained.

In her final, seventh, hypothesis, Ms. Sunjic emphasised that borders should, of course, be protected, but should not be closed to those in need of protection - otherwise Europe would be in danger of losing its soul.

Europe struggles for a common stance on asylum and immigration

The struggle for a unified European position was clear in the debate among the parliamentarians. There was general agreement that issues of migration and flight will continue to dominate the agenda for the next several years and even decades, and that Europe must not close its eyes to them. The expansion of Frontex, the further development of the Dublin system and the role of a Common European Foreign Policy were touched upon. It was repeatedly stressed that it was incumbent on Europe to tackle the real causes of flight, which included climate change as well as political instability. Europe must also address the question of how to achieve positive development on the African continent.

In spite of the general tenor in the discussion that a common European stance was necessary, the parliamentarians did not hesitate to stake out different positions. Several participants mentioned that Europe also has the right to preserve its own identity. Opinions were also divided on the issue of rescue at sea. Where some see it as a humanitarian duty, others see it as further incentive for trafficking. Several parliamentarians noted that the responsibility for protecting Europe's external borders is increasingly being shifted to third countries, for example those in Northern Africa and the Sahel, which is definitely being met with scepticism.

In several interventions, it was clearly articulated that avoiding national unilateral action in migration and asylum policy was imperative. Europe must also speak with one voice in order to be able to proffer the right solutions on the international stage, many said. (Final)

PLEASE NOTE: Photos of this event can be found at the website of the Austrian Parliament at

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