The difficult issue of migration
“2018 is about to come to an end. It was not a very good year for the EU and its neighbors”, says Romanian political scientist Cristian Preda, himself a Euro MP. He is about to wrap up his term ahead of the European Parliament elections of May next year. As shown by UN statistics, this is the fifth consecutive year when 100,000 migrants or more reached Europe. Two thousand have died attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea. The figures are dropping in comparison with previous years, but the issue of migration continued to be a major one in continental politics, influencing to a significant extent the decisions made in European chancelleries, and the evolution of European societies.
Less than one third of respondents to a poll run in all 27 European Union countries said that their country should take in more migrants. In Europe, large percentages of citizens said that their country should reduce, or even ban migration. In Greece, 82% said that, along with 72% in Hungary, 71% in Italy, and 58% in Germany. A wave of populism and xenophobia has swept Europe, fed by the fear of Islamism and attacks. This led to the election in Italy of an anti-system coalition, the Five Star Party, and an extreme right party, the Northern League. In Berlin, Chancellor Angela Merkel, with her image already worn down by two decades of leadership, lost much of her authority and popularity after taking a pro-migration stance, and ended up giving up the leadership of the Christian Democratic Union. After less than two years in his position, French President Emmanuel Macron is the least popular he has ever been, and was harshly criticized in the so-called Yellow Vest protests.
In Brussels, the Belgian coalition government, led by Walloon Liberal Charles Michel, handed in his resignation, with rising opposition from nationalist Flemish ministers, angry at his signing this month in Morocco the Global Pact on Migration. Controversial, though not binding, the pact was endorsed by about 150 of the 193 members of the UN, among them Romania. The pact outlines principles such as human rights, children's rights and national sovereignty, as well as proposals for helping countries cope with migration, such as exchanges of information and expertise, or the integration of migrants. The document bans arbitrary detention, and does not authorize arrests, except as a last resort. The countries that are against the pact, many of them in Central and Eastern Europe, complain mainly that the document does not draw a clear difference between legal and illegal migration, it bolsters the rights of migrants, and includes migration among human rights, which they allege encourages migration.
A complicated divorce
Brexit negotiations have outlasted their initial schedule, complicated by the issue of the Irish border, as well as uncertainties in Conservative PM Theresa May's camp. Speaking through its foreign minister, Teodor Melescanu, Romania said that it supported the agreement between the EU and the UK, as well as the political declaration on the future framework of their post-Brexit relationship.
The head of Bucharest diplomacy added that it was important for the UK to remain as close as possible to the EU. He also said that Bucharest is also considering starting bilateral negotiations with London, as part of the strategic partnership they enjoy. Asked if he was worried about the fate of the over 400,000 Romanian citizens in the United Kingdom, Minister Melescanu recalled that he met his British counterpart, Boris Johnson, who assured him that they would not be affected. According to Minister Johnson, if all the physicians and nurses who came to Britain from Romania were to leave, the national health system would collapse.
Tensions on the Black Sea
Russia's growing aggression and its revived appetite to expand are causing growing worries in Western chancelleries. As a member of the EU and NATO, and as a Black Sea country, Romania is deeply concerned with developments in the region.
Foreign Minister Teodor Melescanu spoke to Radio Romania about this issue: “Unfortunately, of late we have grave concerns regarding the increased Russian military presence in the Black Sea and on the eastern borders of NATO and the EU, the large scale military maneuvers they carry out, the creation of the very strong military structures in Crimea, a territory annexed illegally by the Russian Federation, the incidents in the Sea of Azov, in the Kerch Straight; obviously, all these things are of great concern to us.”
The Romanian Foreign Ministry specified that the Black Sea is one of the major topics that Romania has on its agenda of its presidency of the EU Council, which it is taking over for the first semester of next year.
Accounting and politics
The European Union announced it had inappropriately spent 3.3 billion Euro, incurring a 2.4% loss in its 2017 budget, an end-of-year report shows. The money was not spent in line with EU regulations, either because it was earmarked for purposes other than the proper one, or because of accounting errors. The European Court of Auditors specified that the percentage of improperly spent funds is dropping, after reaching 3.1% in 2016, and 3.8% in 2015. Analysts remark, however, that the report comes at a critical moment for the EU, amidst rising fears in Brussels that growing Euro-skepticism may bolster populist parties at the European Parliament elections next year.