A project within the framework of the ‘Straniak Initiatives’, funded by the Hermann and Marianne Straniak Foundation.

Project “An alternative to ‘Fortress Europe'”

The project refers to the current EU border regime in the Mediterranean, which has not only been ex-territorialised and implemented by the EU border management agency Frontex, international organisations and third countries, but also intensified in police and military terms, and to which the term ‘Fortress Europe’ coined. With ex-territorialisation, grey areas of law emerged in which there is a lack of clear assignment of legal responsibilities for police-military operations in the Mediterranean, and refugees are not or only inadequately protected from human rights violations. Statistics and research also indicate that the method chosen by the EU to stop illegal border crossings is not achieving the desired success. This raises the question whether or not the means bear any relations to its goals and alternatively, more effective solution models.

According to the figures published by Frontex, its budget has been increasing every year since 2015. From 142 million Euro in 2015, it rose to 460 million Euro in 2020. For the period 2021-2027, the budget for Frontex is to be increased to 11 billion (!) Euro, mainly for personnel and their equipment. Furthermore, the costs for planned area-wide satellite, drone surveillance and search systems are estimated at around 2 billion euros.

The majority of people fleeing or migrating to Europe come from the Middle East, North Africa and the Sahel. Socio-economic estimates assume that up to 20 million people from northern Africa will come to Europe in the next 10-20 years. The high rate of mobility has brought an influx of financial capital to these states, as remittances from migrantes living in Europe make a considerable contribution to the economies of their former home countries. Nevertheless, the political, social and economic situation of the population in most African states has not changed significantly so far. Flight and migration appear to many people as the last chance to escape poverty and persecution.

As a possible alternative approach to solving the problem, numerous experts have already suggested that the focus should not be on the financial capital brought into African countries, but on the existing human capital. The programme ‘Migration for Development in Africa’ (MIDA), for example, provides impulses in this regard. It deals with the question of how the transfer of money, knowledge, skills and ideas in the course of migration affects the African countries of origin. The goal of research in this regard should not be to close off Europe and prevent all migration, but to identify and explore potentials that can lead to a fruitful exchange of resources and labour between EU and other states.

  • Project objectives

In the course of the project, alternative ideas and strategies will be developed with the help of relevant economic, fiscal and cultural expertise, as to how alternatives to flight and migration to Europe could be developed by reallocating EU financial resources available for border security, which would offer the affected people in the countries bordering the Mediterranean existential prospects for the future. This could be achieved, for example, by not merely intercepting refugees and migrants at the land and sea borders and pushing them back to their fate or keeping them in detention centres, but by a completely different kind of ‘reception’, which instead of a perilous crossing to Europe and an uncertain future offers them human rights and social security while at the same time handling asylum and residence procedures (see the project on “Temporary Protection described below) as well as training and employment opportunities locally. Economic cooperatives co-financed by the EU would also be associated with economic benefits for the host states and the respective local population. This would create a ‘win-win-win situation’ for these states, the EU and the people concerned, in which refugee and human rights standards could be met. Opportunities for cooperation could lie, for example, in the field of agriculture or solar energy, as shown by a large-scale project of the German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ) in Morocco.


Temporary Protection Project

In view of the millions of people who have fled to the EU and applied for asylum in the last ten years and the prospect of increasind numbers of refugees and migrants seeking to enter Europe from many parts of the world, it can be assumed that there will be further massive pressure on the ‘Common European Asylum System – CEAS’ and most national asylum systems, because they are neither designed nor suitable for the flight and migration of so many people.

The consequences are attempts to close Europe’s borders and the Mediterranean Sea, but also disagreement, indecision and a lack of solidarity among EU Member States on how to deal with the situation politically, legally and economically, as the case of the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos shows. For these reasons, the European Council is currently proposing a reform of the Common European Asylum System based on a new migration and asylum package presented by the European Commission on 23 September 2020.

It is hard to understand why the current debates ignore an existing EU legal instrument that was specifically created to deal with mass exodus and provides a relatively simple and quick legal foundation for accepting refugees on a temporary basis: the ‘Council Directive 2001/55/EC of 20 July 2001 on minimum standards for giving temporary protection in the event of a mass influx of displaced persons’, which was created in the aftermath of ethnic expulsions from former Yugoslavia. Not even in 2015, when millions of people fled to Europe from Syria, did the EU Commission and the European Council apparently include this Directive in their deliberations.

This Directive is intended for cases where large numbers of people flee, are displaced or evacuated from an area where there is ‘armed conflict or ongoing violence’ or where the people concerned have been ‘seriously threatened by or have been victims of systematic or widespread human rights violations’ and therefore cannot return safely and permanently. They are not referred to as ‘refugees’ but as ‘displaced persons’ and for the time being only need to establish their origin credibly. The instrument grants immediate but temporary collective reception for a maximum of three years, especially if there is a risk ‘that the asylum system cannot absorb this influx without impairing its functioning and without disadvantages for the persons seeking protection’. This approach would be covered by Art 9 of the Geneva Convention on Refugees (‘Provisional Measures’). A decision by the EU Council with a qualified majority on the proposal of the EU Commission would be required. Any EU Member State can request that the Commission submit such a proposal to the Council.

Due to the high flexibility of the Directive, the EU and its Member States would have time to prepare a repatriation of refugees, which can then take place if the situation in their country of origin stabilises (which could be an incentive to intensively engage in solutions). Or to prepare a Plan B if repatriation cannot take place when, according to the Directive, ‘compelling humanitarian reasons exist which make return impossible or unreasonable in particular cases’, which would be roughly comparable to subsidiary protection for rejected asylum seekers.

Presumably, most displaced persons are not entitled to asylum because they are not being persecuted individually, but are fleeing a war-like conflict in which crimes against humanity are being committed. Many of them will be willing to return to their country when the security situation improves and reconstruction of the country is possible. As displaced persons, they have the right to remain in Europe until safe repatriation and to receive protection and care. States could send clear signals in this regard, provide appropriate information and develop training, employment and support programmes for the duration of the reception, which would prepare the persons concerned for their return in such a way that they can constructively participate in the reconstruction and possible reconciliation processes.

According to Directive 2001/55/EC it is not possible to accept refugees outside the external borders of the EU. But Art 5 para 4 lit b of the Directive provides that – before the Council determines the existence of a mass influx of displaced persons by decision – the ‘appropriateness of initiating temporary protection, taking into account the possibilities for granting emergency assistance and for measures to be taken on the spot or the inadequacy of such measures’ is to be examined and assessed.

  • Project objectives

In the project ‘An Alternative to “Fortress Europe”’ (please see above), it is proposed to develop alternative ideas and strategies on how alternatives to flight and migration to Europe could be developed by reallocating EU financial resources curently used for border security, which would offer the affected people in the countries bordering the Mediterranean existential prospects for the future instead. In this respect, it would be obvious to supplement the Mass Influx Directive to the effect that war refugees can also be accepted outside the EU in training and economic cooperatives. Even before the enactment of the Mass Influx Directive, Kosovo Albanians who fled persecution by the Serbian Milošević regime were taken in and cared for in Macedonia, i.e. outside the EU. A proposal to amend the Directive in this regard could be developed in the course of this project and put up for discussion throughout the EU.

If, as proposed, training and economic cooperatives or other humanitarian reception centres are established outside the EU, authorities could also be set up in these centres to decide on asylum applications of war refugees who have been admitted, whether they were and are (also) individually politically persecuted in the sense of the 1951 Refugee Convention. In cooperation with the asylum authorities of the country of residence, it could be examined whether the conditions for granting asylum also exist in the country of residence or whether asylum is granted in an EU Member State according to a key to be agreed upon. Likewise, such a model opens up the possibility of setting up offices in the training and economic cooperatives that also deal with applications for visas and work permits in EU Member States.