20 August 2015

800,000 asylum seekers expected in Germany this year; Austria considers legal action as Berlin backs mandatory distribution quotas

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière yesterday announced that the German government has revised its forecast for the number of refugees expected to arrive in the country to 800,000. The Minister argued that “Germany cannot bear the strain if, as has been the case, around 40% of all asylum seekers to Europe come here. The reform of the Dublin system into fair European burden-sharing with fixed quotas must be pushed forward,” adding that without such a fair distribution, the lack of border controls within the Schengen area will have no long-term sustainable basis. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung estimates that dealing with this number of refugees will cost Germany around €10bn this year. Handelsblatt reports that there is increasing momentum within Germany to recognise Balkan states as safe countries of origin – which would make it easier to return refugees to these countries – although some German states are still opposed.

Meanwhile, Austria is threatening to launch a legal challenge against the European Commission over its “unfair” proposals for the distribution of refugees across the EU, reports DPA. Its Interior and Justice Ministers, Johanna Mikl-Leitrner and Wolfgang Brandsetter, both from the centre-right ÖVP, yesterday demanded that the Commission enforce the Dublin system within the next two months so that migrants can be returned to the first EU member state they entered. A spokesperson for the European Commission responded by saying, “This is definitely not the right time to take each other to court. It is the time to show solidarity and implement the ambitious migration agenda put forward by the European Commission.”

Separately, Slovakia announced yesterday that it will only accept Christian refugees to the country. Prime Minister Robert Fico cited “security risks,” whilst Ivan Metik, the spokesperson for the Interior Ministry, cited the absences of mosques in Slovakia as a reason, “How can Muslims be integrated if they do not feel comfortable here?” he told the BBC.

Open Europe Co-Director Stephen Booth appeared on BBC World News and LBC Radio discussing the increase in the number of migrants into the EU. He noted that while the deal between France and Britain to better police ports in Calais would undoubtedly alleviate the immediate disruption, the root causes of the issue are far more complex and call into question the EU’s wider approach to migration both within its borders and from the rest of the world.

Source: The Times Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung Handelsblatt Die Welt The Financial Times

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Kathimerini: Tsipras set to call snap elections, still undecided on date

According to sources quoted by Kathimerini, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras appears to have decided to call snap elections in late September or early October – but has yet to decide on the exact date. Meanwhile, Greece has this morning received from the ESM – the Eurozone’s bailout fund – €13bn from the first tranche of its third bailout package and has already paid back €3.4bn of bonds held by the ECB. The disbursement follows yesterday’s approval of the third Greek bailout by the Bundestag by 454 to 113 votes with 18 abstentions. 63 MPs from German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU party voted against, up from 60 in the previous ballot – the largest rebellion Merkel has ever faced. The Dutch parliament also backed the third Greek bailout in a non-binding vote yesterday. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte comfortably survived a motion of no-confidence tabled by PVV leader Geert Wilders.

Speaking during the debate, Dutch Finance Minister and Eurogroup Chairman Jeroen Dijsselbloem suggested that Eurozone countries and the IMF will be able to reach a deal and get the fund to take part in the bailout, arguing, “We agreed with the IMF to look at annual debt service and that having a debt service of 15% of GDP is sustainable. The remaining difference is that the IMF’s worst-case scenario is more pessimistic than ours.” Separately, Tsipras asked yesterday that the European Parliament join the group of institutions overseeing the implementation of the Greek bailout.

Open Europe’s Vincenzo Scarpetta appeared on Al-Jazeera English yesterday discussing the Bundestag vote and the questions surrounding the IMF’s involvement in the third Greek bailout. Open Europe’s Twitter coverage of the debates in the German and Dutch parliaments featured extensively on The Guardian’s and The Daily Telegraph’s live blogs.

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British officers to help crack down on migrant smugglers in Calais

Home Secretary Theresa May and French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve will today announce the formation of a new “command and control” centre at Calais which will be jointly led by British and French officers tasked with “finding and disrupting” gangs who attempt to smuggle migrants across the Channel and ensuring that criminal “networks are dismantled, prosecutions are pursued and perpetrators are punished.”

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New poll puts anti-immigration Sweden Democrats as largest party

The anti-immigration Sweden Democrats has become the largest party in Sweden according to a poll by YouGov. The Sweden Democrats received 25.2% in the YouGov poll for August, almost double their score in last September’s parliamentary elections and ahead of the governing Social Democrats on 23.4% and the leading centre-right Moderates on 21%.

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Belgian farmers block roads to protest low milk prices

Shadowing similar action by their French counterparts, Belgian farmers blocked motorways on Wednesday to protest low milk prices, the Belga news agency reports. EU agricultural ministers will meet next month to discuss the crisis in diary and livestock farming.

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EU condemns Russia after Estonian intelligence officer sentenced to 15 years in prison

Yesterday’s sentencing of Estonian intelligence officer Eston Kohver to 15 years in prison by a Russian Court has been widely condemned by EU member states and by Federica Mogherini, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, who stated that “Mr. Kohver’s abduction and subsequent illegal detention in Russia constitute a clear violation of international law.” Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Roivas argued that “The staged court case that formed a verdict suitable for the Russian authorities has nothing to do with a fair trial.”

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What can the Eurozone offer to get the IMF on board with the third Greek bailout?

On the Open Europe blog Raoul Ruparel lays out what the Eurozone can offer the IMF in terms of debt relief to get it involved in the third Greek bailout and whether it will be sufficient. Given that a nominal debt cut is ruled out, there are three basic options: extend debt maturities, lower interest rates and increase grace periods on interest and principal payments. The most likely outcome seems to be another extension of maturities – from just over 30 years now to around 50 years – combined with an extended grace period – up from ten years now to between 20 and 30 years. Given that interest rates are basically already at funding cost, there is little scope for further cuts here. However, these are all options which have been used before so may not satisfy IMF demands to consider new options. That said, at the moment it seems likely the IMF will be involved but in a more limited way than before and it certainly is not a foregone conclusion.