TOPIC 2021 / 5
Cf. PUBLICATION: The Refugee Crisis Requires National Strategies. Asylum Policy in the Wake of EU Internal Power Interests and Foreign Policy on War Course, Forschungshorizonte Politik & Kultur, Vol. 4, 2020/12, 15 pages.
Contradictory press reports or are both reports true?
„It is easy to identify who the villain is here: Alexander Lukashenko, he authoritarian ruler of Belarus, is engaged in state-organised human trafficking. He uses migrants as a weapon to destabilise the EU.”, in: So leicht haben es Schurken in einem verwirrten Europa, Tagesspiegel, 9.11.2021.
“The majority of the arrested escape helpers who help migrants from Belarus to enter the European Union via Poland live in Germany. This is based on an internal confidential document of the EU Commission, which is available to WELT.”, in: Mehrheit der Schleuser aus Deutschland, Welt, 11.11.2021 [translation: S.R.].
The media reports on the situation on the Polish border with Belarus sound dramatic. The situation is getting worse every day and Belarus is to blame. In terms of structure and intention, they are similar to many other foreign reports, only the names are interchangeable.This time, the Belarusian autocrat Alexander Lukashenko is the supposed villain, the “scoundrel” (Tagesspiegel, 9.11.2021, cf. quote on the left).
Such personalisation of complex conflict situations only serves the goal of polarisation, in German: These media add fuel to the fire instead of helping to fight it with factual information.What is the purpose of these narratives? Should German foreign policy lay the foundation today for a development that will later turn out to be a disaster, as in the case of Afghanistan? There is plenty of potential for escalation in this border conflict, because it goes far beyond migration issues.
Scripts for a worsening of the situation are already in the drawer; after all, security policy issues are about interests and strategies for their implementation. Journalists who, as now, are heating up the mood against Belaraus should honestly tell their readers what what could be in store for us in Europe: a new war that will destroy all security structures that have been built generations before.
This issue of “Topics in Focus” aims to shed light on the interests of those conflict parties that are directly involved in this border conflict or indirectly influence it in the background. The classic question posed by political scientists about the interests of the relevant actors is not just a question of clarification. It is linked to the ethical attitude not to manipulate the reader but to help him build up his media competence.
The following analysis focuses on the main arguments, names the sources and refers to our own detailed analyses: Much is written about the interests of the migrants by third parties, but the darker sides of migration are hardly mentioned. The same applies to the interests of Belarus: Our reporting is almost taking the autocrat’s word for it when it concludes from the interests of the person Lukashenko to the entire country.
A look at the interests of Poland and the Baltic states of Lithuania und Latvia reveals that their main concern is to justify their border policies to Brussels. The supranational level of the EU is pursuing its own interests: It wants to centralise asylum and migration policy across Europe in its hands. The border conflict between Poland, the Baltic States and Belarus must be seen in a larger security policy context in which Turkey, the USA and Russia are following national interests.
Only Germany is afraid to articulate its interests. This is convenient for politicians, but does not serve the German people. Learning from history means making full use of all the room for division in order to preserve peace in Europe … .
Sources:Own compilation, assembly of two maps:
1. Schengen Area, in: CrazyPhunk, wikipedia, 20.5.2007,
Note: The map legend has been corrected because it contains inaccuracies; for example, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Iceland and Norway, which are outside the EU, are full members of the Schengen Treaty. With regard to the following EU states, it should be mentioned: the Republic of Ireland is not a Schengen member, Denmark has opt-outs (may suspend rules), Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania and Cyprus want to but are not yet allowed to join the Schengen Area because they do not yet meet the requirements.
2. Belarus–European Union border crisis. Routes of illegal migrants are shown, in: Homoatrox, wikipedia, 23.10.2021.
THE INTERESTS OF THE MIGRANTS: FLEEING PROBLEMS IN THEIR CONTRIES OF ORIGIN
♦ According to the United Nations Refugee Agency UNHCR, around 82.4 million people worldwide were fleeing wars and conflicts at the end of 2020 (UNHCR, 18.6.2021). These people are victims of persecution and displacement. Another 26.4 million have no access to education, health care or a job. This is compounded by poor environmental and living conditions.
♦ The needs of migrants to live in peace, freedom and security is a human right under the United Nations Charter (UN Charter, 26.6.1945). According to this, the 193 UN members are responsible for the well-being of their populations. However, only a few states have actually signed all 18 UN human rights documents (cf. Human Rights by Country).
♦ Refugee organisations that ignore this principle of self-responsibility release the countries of origin of their political responsibility. They individualise the diverse social causes of flight at the expense of the migrants. They promise them blanket refuge in other states, knowing full well that there are very different standards depending on the country.
♦ Migration does not solve any of the refugees’ social and individual problems, but causes even more suffering: an uncertain future in a foreign society. Many migrants often live separately from their families, become illiterate abroad, find work in the shadow economy and thus remain without rights and dependent on the goodwill of others, including in the EU!
THE INTERESTS OF BELARUS: LIFTING SANCTIONS AND PROVOCATIONS
♦ German-language media comment: “The pictures from the Belarusian border aim to blackmail the West.” (NZZ, 12.11.2021). Belarus is reacting to the tightening of EU sanctions. President Alexander Lukashenko has also the EU-Turkey agreement in mind and “is trying to turn it in a franchise model” (DW, 9.11.2021). Ankara received about 6 billion euros in refugee aid.
♦ Regardless of the question of whether Belarus can actually put the EU under pressure, President Lukashenko is interested in lifting the EU sanctions that were decided 10 years ago. Because they aim at a regime change and thus directly at him. The EU has already started the spiral of escalation towards economic actions that will also affect the population. Why isn’t Minsk giving in?
♦ Lukashenko is obviously concerned with more when media quote him as saying: “And if we turn off the gas tap there?” (Spiegel, 11.11.2021). The migration crisis is thus only the tip of further conflicts of interest. What energy security means for the EU is for Belarus its role as a transit country for oil and gas. Its share of goods exports was 20.7 percent in 2019 (destatis.de, 27.8.2021: 10).
♦ The Belarusian Ministry of Defence speaks of a military threat. Poland has stationed 15,000 people in 12 military camps on its border: “Poland is ready to unleash a conflict, …” (tvr.by, 12.11.2021). Belarus is thus justifying mobilisation to defend its borders (spiegel, 12.11.2021-2). The UN Security Council has already held a special session (tvr.by, 12.11.2021-2, DW, 12.11.2021).
THE INTERESTS OF POLAND, LITHUANIA UND LATVIA: POLITICAL UPGRADING OF NATO
♦ Poland, like Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, opposes the redistribution of refugees. They want the EU to accept only those migrants who have prospects of refugee status (Riedel 2020: 38). Poland has faced illegal immigration directly since 2021. As it can no longer count on the solidarity of EU members, it is placing its hopes in NATO. Migration is increasingly becoming a security policy issue.
♦ Poland is using the migration crisis on its border with Belarus to prioritise its NATO membership. This is gaining in importance because criticism of Brussels is growing among the Polish population. The attempts by the EU Commission to interfere in national jurisdiction strengthen the supporters of an EU exit along the lines of the Brexit. In contrast, NATO offers the advantage that, unlike the EU, it does not question national sovereignty.
♦ Lithuania and Latvia have a similar level of interest as Poland. There, too, the number of illegal migrants at the border with Belarus is increasing. The Baltic States have not protested against the EU’s distribution key, but they have not implemented it either (Riedel 12/2020: 2). They are now hoping for help from NATO. The security policy dimension of the migration crisis is reflected in the state of emergency along their border with Belarus (KAS, 13.11.2021).
♦ What Hungary was heavily criticised for in 2015, and most recently Greece, Brussels now accepts without contradiction: “By the end of the year, an approximately four-metre-high and 508-kilometre-long fence is to be built [in Lithuania on the border with Belarus]”. (zeit.de, 29.9.2021) This makes border traffic more difficult and affects the already discriminated population of Russian and Belarusian mother tongues in the Baltic States (Spiegel, 3.10.2017).
THE INTERESTS OF THE EU–INSTITUTIONS: MORE COMPETENCIES IN CONTROLLING LABOUR MIGRATION
♦ In the current migration crisis, it is becoming clear that Brussels does not yet have own competences either in border protection or in the field of asylum and migration (Riedel 2020). The EU Commission uses the migration crisis to gain national powers. Its aim is the centralisation of asylum procedures and controling labour migration by supranational authorities (europa.eu, 8.10.2021, Riedel 12/2020: 9). It gains importance in foreign policy through agreements with third countries (mobility partnerships).
♦ The Eurostat figures show that Brussels failed with its strategy of only assessing the need of illegal migrants after they have entered the country: of the migrants who apply for social assistance in a member state, only 38 percent receive refugee status (Eurostat 27.4.2020). Many of the rejected or tolerated applicants try to survive through illegal employment in the informal economy and are de facto without rights.
♦ The attempt by the EU Commission to take over the powers of national foreign policies has also failed. In the case of the EU-Turkey Agreement, a legal dispute has revealed that it is not a “European” treaty (EUGH, 28.2.2017: 2). It was concluded by EU members whose 6 billion euros in refugee aid was administered only by Brussels. On the negative side, Ankara terminated its repatriation agreement with Athens.
♦ The NATO partner Turkey has so far been spared in every respect. Its military intervention in Syria, which violated international law, had no consequences, EU funds continued to flow. Only the conflict with Belarus prompted EU diplomats to put Turkey in its place: Ankara is now stopping flights from Istanbul with illegal migrants to Minsk (Spiegel, 12.11.2021). What about the flights to other European cities (Europarl, 25.5.2018)?
THIRD PARTY INTERESTS: POSITIONS OF TURKEY – USA – RUSSIA IN THE BORDER CONFLICT
♦ Since the attempted coup on 15 July 2016, Turkey’s relations with the EU have deteriorated. Ankara accuses it of supporting putschists, the Islamist Gülen movement and the Kurdish terrorist organisation PKK (SZ, 18.9.2017). For fear of Kurdish separatism and the collapse of the state, Ankara is influencing the diaspora of Turkish origin in the EU, especially in Germany.
♦ Turkey is also trying to upgrade its strategic role in the NATO alliance. It seeks a leadership role in the Black Sea region, which includes the EU members Bulgaria and Romania as well as the EU-associated countries Ukraine and Georgia. As a regional power, it can contribute to resolving conflicts (Donbass/Ukraine, Georgia) or deepen tensions such as on the border between Poland and Belarus (caucasuswatch, 30.3.2020).
♦ The transatlantic alliance entered a crisis when Donald Trump took office in 2017 and is no longer a priority under Joe Biden. The Brexit contributed to this because the United Kingdom, as the closest strategic ally of the USA in Europe, is going its own way in terms of security policy. More important to the USA than the crisis-ridden NATO (DLF, 3.12.2021) is its presence in the Asia-Pacific region.
♦ Russia has taken sides in the current border dispute for Minsk, because Belarus is an important trading partner in the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). However, President Vladimir Putin wants to avoid an escalation, as emerged from his talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel (zeit.de, 13.11.2021). However, the Russian-speaking minority in the Baltic States could be drawn into the border conflict and provoke Russia.
WAT ARE GERMANY’S INTERESTS? A MEDIATING ROLE IN THE BORDER CONFLICT WOULD BE A START
♦ In his latest statement on the border conflict, President Putin assigned Germany a mediating role (dpa, 13.11.2021). This is certainly an adequate role for a country that, for historical reasons, avoids speaking of its own national interests. However, this requires the understanding that sanctions only have a limited effect (DW 19.6.2021) and that diplomacy should speak instead.
♦ The role as a mediator would suit Germany well in the pan-European context, but it is not enough for European policy in the narrower sense. The German government can no longer communicate to its own population why it should continue to relieve other EU members in refugee policy. In the last five years, Germany has taken in one third of all asylum seekers within the EU-28 (Riedel 12/2020: 2).
♦ Germany’s migration and asylum policy is apparently a substitute for a foreign policy that has failed to achieve its goals. Germany spent 3.5 billion euros on infrastructure projects in Afghanistan in 20 years (NZZ, 11.9.2021) and is the largest international donor for reconstruction in Iraq and for the EU-Turkey Agreement. And yet most asylum seekers come from these states (vfl. Figures, BAMF 2/2021: 52).
♦ The lack of German foreign policy positions leads to other actors filling this gap with their agendas. This is not in the interest of the German population, including its well-integrated immigrants. Despite solidarity payments for those seeking protection of 25 to 50 billion annually (IfW, 11.12.2015) it is accused of right-wing radicalism across the board (AI, MI, IG-Metall) thus preventing democratic discourse.
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