‘Migrants are not commodities’: MEP

European leaders upset by the recent tragedy that claimed hundreds of migrants' lives near Lampedusa are wrong to accuse the European Union of inaction, argues Swedish MEP Cecilia Wikström of the Liberal Party (Folkpartiet).

'Migrants are not commodities': MEP
A migrant grave on Lampedusa. Photo: Roberto Salomone/AFP

Reactions from Europe’s heads of state following the tragic incident where hundreds of refugees lost their lives in the Mediterranean Sea a few weeks ago have finally begun to emerge.

“Europe wakes up only when migrants are dying," Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said after the tragedy. Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta urged the EU to do more to help the individual member states deal with the influx of migrants, and has agreed with his Greek counterpart Antonis Samaras to make the EU’s migration policy one of the key issues during the two countries’ presidencies next year.

Sweden’s Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt called for “comprehensive solutions” in the EU for the reception of refugees and migrants in the future in order to avoid similar incidents as those witnessed in Lampedusa.

I deeply regret, however, that only after hundreds of refugees lost their lives at once in the Mediterranean Sea has the refugee issue become a key concern for our ministers. But blaming the EU for not doing enough is incorrect.

As a matter of fact, the European Commission has repeatedly presented progressive legislative proposals to the European Parliament and European Council. But while we in parliament respond positively by uniting political groups and forming a position, member states always manage to put on the brakes. Reluctance, passivity, and constantly referring to the principle of subsidiarity mean that refugee proposals are being eroded and made ineffective. 

It seems cynical that the same voices from various member states who are now accusing the EU of doing too little are the same as those that repeatedly refused to give the EU the necessary tools to intervene. This applies, for example, to the expanded mandate for border control programmes Frontex and Eurosur. And let's not forget the member states’ failure to respond to the Commission’s plea for more countries to receive quota refugees.

Presently, we are working on a new proposal for rescue at sea, as well as guidelines for Frontex and member states in this mission. Again it’s the same old song and dance, however, as the member states have shown no willingness to work on this report in order to clarify who is responsible and how rescue work should be best conducted. 
The only way to prevent another horrific incident with boat refugees is to create legal and safe ways for refugees to enter Europe in order to apply for asylum.

By issuing humanitarian visas at European embassies or consular offices in temporary refugee camps in third countries and by increasing the number of quota refugees, we can prevent traffickers from taking advantage of the situation. Presently, the only hope for many people is to pay up to €10,000 ($13,500) to a trafficker for a seat in one of those dangerous boats that in many cases are in no condition to make the trip across the Mediterranean Sea.

Unfortunately, too many heads of state in the EU are cowards: they do not consider themselves to have enough support from their constituents to transform their fine words about humanity and solidarity into concrete policy decisions.

Unfortunately, migrants losing their lives in the Mediterranean as they search for a better life in Europe is nothing new. According to the International Organization for Migration, since 1993 over 20,000 people have drowned in what is being turned into the dead sea. The real figure is much higher. Every day, new boats leave the harbours of the African continent. In this migration debate, people are being turned into numbers. Migrants are not commodities. They are mothers, fathers, children and friends. They deserve both their lives and a future.

Cecilia Wikström, Liberal Party (Folkpartiet) Member of the European Parliament

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The Euro celebrates its 20th anniversary

The euro on Saturday marked 20 years since people began to use the single European currency, overcoming initial doubts, price concerns and a debt crisis to spread across the region.

The Euro celebrates its 20th anniversary
The Euro is projected onto the walls of the European Central Bank in Brussels. Photo: Daniel Rolund/AFP

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen called the euro “a true symbol for the strength of Europe” while European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde described it as “a beacon of stability and solidity around the world”.

Euro banknotes and coins came into circulation in 12 countries on January 1, 2002, greeted by a mix of enthusiasm and scepticism from citizens who had to trade in their Deutsche marks, French francs, pesetas and liras.

The euro is now used by 340 million people in 19 nations, from Ireland to Germany to Slovakia. Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania are next in line to join the eurozone — though people are divided over the benefits of abandoning their national currencies.

European Council President Charles Michel argued it was necessary to leverage the euro to back up the EU’s goals of fighting climate change and leading on digital innovation. He added that it was “vital” work on a banking union and a capital markets
union be completed.

The idea of creating the euro first emerged in the 1970s as a way to deepen European integration, make trade simpler between member nations and give the continent a currency to compete with the mighty US dollar.

Officials credit the euro with helping Europe avoid economic catastrophe during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Clearly, Europe and the euro have become inseparable,” Lagarde wrote in a blog post. “For young Europeans… it must be almost impossible to imagine Europe without it.”

In the euro’s initial days, consumers were concerned it caused prices to rise as countries converted to the new currency. Though some products — such as coffee at cafes — slightly increased as businesses rounded up their conversions, official statistics have shown that the euro has brought more stable inflation.

Dearer goods have not increased in price, and even dropped in some cases. Nevertheless, the belief that the euro has made everything more expensive persists.

New look

The red, blue and orange banknotes were designed to look the same everywhere, with illustrations of generic Gothic, Romanesque and Renaissance architecture to ensure no country was represented over the others.

In December, the ECB said the bills were ready for a makeover, announcing a design and consultation process with help from the public. A decision is expected in 2024.

“After 20 years, it’s time to review the look of our banknotes to make them more relatable to Europeans of all ages and backgrounds,” Lagarde said.

Euro banknotes are “here to stay”, she said, although the ECB is also considering creating a digital euro in step with other central banks around the globe.

While the dollar still reigns supreme across the globe, the euro is now the world’s second most-used currency, accounting for 20 percent of global foreign exchange reserves compared to 60 percent for the US greenback.

Von der Leyen, in a video statement, said: “We are the biggest player in the world trade and nearly half of this trade takes place in euros.”

‘Valuable lessons’

The eurozone faced an existential threat a decade ago when it was rocked by a debt crisis that began in Greece and spread to other countries. Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Cyprus were saved through bailouts in return for austerity measures, and the euro stepped back from the brink.

Members of the Eurogroup of finance ministers said in a joint article they learned “valuable lessons” from that experience that enabled their euro-using nations to swiftly respond to fall-out from the coronavirus pandemic.

As the Covid crisis savaged economies, EU countries rolled out huge stimulus programmes while the ECB deployed a huge bond-buying scheme to keep borrowing costs low.

Yanis Varoufakis, now leader of the DiEM 25 party who resigned as Greek finance minister during the debt crisis, remains a sharp critic of the euro. Varoufakis told the Democracy in Europe Movement 25 website that the euro may seem to make sense in calm periods because borrowing costs are lower and there are no exchange rates.

But retaining a nation’s currency is like “automobile assurance,” he said, as people do not know its value until there is a road accident. In fact, he charged, the euro increases the risk of having an accident.