Dr Emma Carmel on: Game of Diplomacy anyone? Which country do you want to play?

Posted in: European politics, Migration

Dr Emma Carmel, Senior Lecturer, Department of Social and Policy Sciences

Donald Tusk’s decision to play ‘let’s diss the migrants’ is misplaced. It might have garnered him the goodwill he needs from central and eastern European member states to broker a deal (another one) on migration in the European Council and to justify deportations to Turkey.  But it will not solve the migration problem currently faced by the EU. Europe will be needing another deal on migration soon.

Dissing migrants is an easy card to play. After all, marking out ‘good’ migrants from ‘bad’ migrants is a political strategy of first resort for most states around the world. But using it to justify EU policies of exclusion in the case of the ongoing exodus of people from Middle East, it is particularly egregious, if entirely predictable. The EU is now deporting migrants from specific national states, trying to re-export migration management to its neighbours, and using Greece as an extended refugee camp. This is a case of old and inadequate policy tools being used in new and disturbing ways.

The Nobel Peace Prize-winning European Union and its member states have ratified the UN Convention on Refugees. This ratification requires applications for refugee status to be assessed on their merits. In fact, the EU, despite wishing to parade its virtues as a beacon of human rights and international legal norms through the Dublin Convention and its list of ‘safe third countries’, has long pursued a strategy of politically designating ‘friendly’ countries as not able to produce refugees (people at risk of persecution). Categorizing whole nationalities as ‘economic’ migrants, as a political expedient to facilitate returns from Greece to Turkey, lends this policy strategy a naked ruthlessness. Declaring that only a set number of refugee applicants can enter per day, contravenes the requirements for assessment of applications for refuge and leads to untenable living conditions for migrants stuck in borderlands in Southeastern Europe unwilling to move ‘back’ having come so far, and unable to move ‘forward’. These living conditions also contravene a whole host of international norms and human ‘rights’ (sleeping out in the open, lack of hygiene facilities, haphazard access to food). So, general and a priori categorization of who is a refugee is a well-worn policy tool for the EU, but its brutal application at its internal and external borders is new.

In addition, the EU has for many years tried to export its ‘migration management’ – including deportations – to ‘friendly’ countries, especially to those on the southern coast of the Mediterranean.  The aim has been to effectively push back the borders of the EU to ‘beyond the sea’ - to near neighbours such as Morocco, Tunisia, Libya (at one stage). In a crude political approach of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ this policy of ‘migration partnerships’  asserted responsibility for migration to the EU being one of exit from its near neighbours, as if such migration was unconnected to the interlocking of trade, agriculture, foreign and security policy which hold EU member states in tense and unequal relationship with its North African and Mediterranean neighbours. In the migration partnerships, money, policing resources, and co-ordination strategies are developed between the EU and its neighbours to prevent people from the poorer regions of the world from visibly encountering the borders of Europe. So, the attempt to recruit Turkey in a partnership for migration management reflects old strategies, but on a new scale. It involves a commitment of financial and political resources of a massively extended degree to a neighbouring country considerably more powerful than has been the case before.

And what of Greece? The EU leaders have made a move which makes explicit the assumption that Greece can be made a vassal state of the EU. The massive pressures of its Eurozone-governance enforced austerity and massive economic and social collapse have now been combined with the closure of EU member state borders, and the sanctioning by some EU members (both implicitly and explicitly) of the closure of other Southeastern states’ borders.

This is where the likely failings of the recent EU measures will be exposed. As everyone knows, the exodus will continue this year. Yet if borders are closed, Greece is effectively consigned to becoming a holding area for all the migrants continuing to arrive and seek settlement in the EU. As we know from other refugee camps– from Jordan, Lebanon, and sub-saharan Africa, - such camps frequently become zones of ‘permanent temporariness’ and receptions centres and camps the size of towns develop. A new holding zone of the economically and socially vulnerable is to be created in the EU, rather than outside it.

But geography matters in the European politics of migration and population. Cutting off Greece through re-bordering, and only supplying conditional monies, directly circumventing its formal state for the purposes of pursuing the interests of other EU member states can be read like a modernized version of a very old policy strategy.  But it is not a policy which has happy outcomes, least of all for the people directly involved. Mr Tusk might do well to consider this when justifying the latest proposals as being about separating ‘good’ from ‘bad’ mgirants.

In the 1980s board game, Diplomacy, different historical scenarios were set up (Napoleonic wars, world war 1, world war 2). Players opted to ‘be’ different countries, with the overall aim of controlling the map of Europe by working out alliances and wars in these scenarios.  In the classic 19th century scenario of this game, Germany always ended up allying with Turkey, Austro-Hungarians commanded the Balkans to keep Turkey at bay and Britain and France tried limited independent alliances to get control of the Med while keeping Russia quiet. Every game ended in tears, with even close friendships tested beyond their limit.

Game of Diplomacy anyone? Which country do you want to play?

Dr Emma Carmel, Senior Lecturer, Department of Social and Policy Sciences

Posted in: European politics, Migration


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