Ursula von der Leyen – All Rhetoric and No Substance

The 16th of September was the first State Of The European Union (SOTEU) speech by Von Der Leyen, the newly appointed president of the European Commission. In a step in the right direction, the European Green Deal was announced which aim to further reduce emissions and briefly discussed the need for a plan for a digital economy. Other challenges discussed include COVID-19 impact on health and economy, numerous foreign policy challenges including China, Russia, Belarus, Brexit and crises in the Mediterranean. Der Leyen mentioned free trade promotion but with fairness and a level playing field as some countries like China skewed free trade to their own advantage. In the latest EU-China summit, the president highlighted the need for China to comply with the Paris accord to tackle global warming. There was a sense of refrainment from discussing in detail the Hong Kong situation. Furthermore to the SOTEU, she also talked up Turkey as an important neighbor but criticized them for using refugees to intimitade its neighbors.

But again, the European Commission misses the mark with relation to the illegal migration crisis. The speech was riddled with rhetoric and platitudes to obtain cheap clapping and table thumping from members of European Parliament who seem as deluded as their president in this issue.

Von Der Leyen seemed keen on focusing on criminalizing hate speech instead of focusing on more urgent and the always sidelined issues of illlegal immigration. If she really wants to crack down on hate speech she should identify and act what is causing it. They figured out the identification part; A comparative report (www.ec.europa.eu/newsroom/just) funded by the EU was conducted in 2017 highlighting positive correlation between hate speech and migration flows in Europe. Again, the report only attempts to solve one aspect of the issue; that is of controlling hate speech. Nothing is mentioned on figuring out and acting on actually solving the immigration problem. Whether on purpose or subconsciously the European Commission seems enthusiastic to bury its head in the sand of real, impending issues.

In their obviously biased comparative report, they mention Illegal Migration only once in a 67-page report and 134 times the key word Refugees and 17 times the words Asylum seekers. Why this distinction? A refugee or asylum seeker can both be defined as someone who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution or natural disaster. On the other hand, an illegal immigrant is an individual who crosses into a country undocumented and without clear purpose. Any person with who can put two and two together can understand how this can be a threat to national security. But what is the EU doing to curb this? They are entirely focusing on criminalizing hate speech over actually dealing with displeasures/problems of the peripheries without realizing that solving this issue will naturally solve hate speech. Additionally, hate speech, which is never justified, is resonated by the few who have ulterior motives. The reason that it is growing in Europe is that unfortunately the average unhappy person is lending their ear to those right-winged politicians in the hope that they find an immigration solution. The sentiment is that the EU is constantly failing them.

Von Der Leyen refrained from using terminologies such as illegal immigration and instead made use of the Migration term. Therefore by mashing Legal and Illegal Immigration together she hopes on yet again to circumvent the issue of illegal immigration. Without seperating the Legal and the Illegal she emphasized that migration would enrich our culture.

A Map of EU

According to her, countries that are more exposed to this crisis (Spain, Italy, Greece, Malta, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Hungary) should be able to rely on solidarity of the whole EU. Solidarity.. not law or policies.. but good old solidarity. When immigration continues to get worse, and it will, we can rely on solidarity from core EU countries. Manners matter in the EU as peripheries must say pretty please before solidarity is handed out. Von Der Leyen tact to justifying illegal immigration is to mention individual success stories.

However the immigration crisis highlights a deep problem in the structural roots of the Union which neither EU politician wants to accept as it impacts their bread and butter. The key to solving the Mediterrenean crisis is to involve all countries touching the Mediterrenean sea, that is, not only Europe but also North Africa. First on the agenda should be on stabilizing Libya as its border runs from Sicily to Greece. But it seems that not all EU countries share the idea of a stabilized Libya, as France constantly backs General Haftar, NATO (which France makes part of) supports Fayez al-Sarraj (recently announced to resign) and Italy refuses to take sides. The EU may be a union on certain aspects but when it comes to foreign policy its members surely act in their own interest and not in the interest of the union. So, Von Der Leyen should have addressed this and pushed for further foreign policy harmonization which lack of is creating problems leading to discontent and displeasure among periphery countries who are at the forefront of the immigration crisis.

image credit : europarl.europa.eu, BBC.com

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