Greece: What happened to the fundamental values of the EU?

The European Union’s fundamental values are respect for human dignity and human rights, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law. These values unite all the member states – no country that does not recognise these values can belong to the Union[1].

The above words are copy pasted directly from the European Parliament’s webpage (link), and if they still hold true, it looks like most member states of the EU are set to be excluded. In the last nine months – since the refugee crisis became the talking point of European mass media and the union’s political leaders – European policy makers have been at pains to negotiate human dignity and human rights. As a consequence, those concepts as well as that of freedom have come to depend on who you are and where you are from. Due to this deterioration of European values, the EU-leaders first decided Afghans should no longer be seen as refugees despite the lack of change in the situation in Afghanistan, then most Iraqis were removed from the list of those accepted beyond the Macedonian border with Greece, and now only Syrians from the cities Aleppo and Homs are accepted as refugees – and only grudgingly. In the meantime Daesh (Isis) is still killing civilians in Iraq, Taleban is still creating havoc in Afghanistan, and bombs are still dropped on civilians outside the two before mentioned cities in Syria.

Is this how EU-leaders interpret respect for human dignity and human rights today, and how they wish to set an example and teach the rest of the world about the same?

 

New routes open in the face of a visionless EU
The recent deal with Turkey and subsequent promise to hand over up to six billion euros to Ankara is rather pointless, as it will not stop other routes opening up. In recent days – not even two weeks after the deal was signed – the UNHCR started seeing an increase in the numbers of refugees and migrants trying to cross from North Africa to Italy – a voyage far more dangerous than the one from Turkey to Greece. Other media reports point to new routes opening as this blog post is being written. One possible route even goes from Athens to Italy by ship! The smugglers’ boldness prove that the EU should wake up and stop the smuggling networks making billions on human misery and work harder to ease the underlying causes of forced migration, rather than spend billions trying to stop desperate people leave their war torn countries. For the EU-leaders to look for quick fixes is visionless, cowardly and will not solve anything – neither in the short or the long run.

The old and new routes seemed to start operating within days of EU-leaders and Turkey agreeing on their much criticised deal. Even as the deal was being signed by the 29 heads of state, some EU-leaders questioned the legality of it, whilst human rights groups were up in arms about the finer details of the 1-for-1 part of the deal. Yet despite political hesitation, demonstrations and the impossible situation in Greece, the deal has already been implemented and now refugees and migrants arriving on Greek shores are rounded up and arrested before they are quickly taken away to detentions centres. The other morning on Samos Harbour this happened with such numerous police presence and speed that one of the 80+ people just rescued off the island asked “You will treat us nicely, won’t you?” Furthermore, most of these detention facilities – presumably accepted by EU-leaders as in concord with the union’s values in regard to human dignity and human rights – keep the refugees and migrants – like the worried enquirer on Samos Harbour – locked up 24 hours a day and without internet access. Whilst the latter may sound like a luxury problem to a lot of Europeans worried about the numbers of people arriving in Greece, it is not for those seeking refuge. They may have loved ones at home or elsewhere in the world they wish to reach out to and calm down by texting them, they may worry about loved ones left in war zones, or they may wish to research their rights. We deny them this right, as our main priority is not ensuring their free access to information or to freedom. We lock them up as criminals awaiting trials, not as asylum seekers waiting to have their claims heard. European leaders know that by forcing 50.000+ refugees and migrants to apply for asylum in Greece, they will deter some from even applying. Greece is well known within the EU for its slow processing of asylum applications and the country has the lowest refugee acceptance rate in Europe. Furthermore, the economic crisis is still ongoing leaving the country with little resources and ill-equipped for taking on the huge task of housing and feeding the ever increasing numbers of people now living in camps across Greece – not to mention processing the claims, handling the subsequent appeals and carrying out the forced repatriations – or ‘returns’ as they are diplomatically called in the deal. Leaving the dirty work to Greece shows what low levels European “unity” has reached, but it also begs the question if this is how the richest continent in the world guarantees human rights, human dignity and freedom?

In the last nine months the EU has changed the status of several states from ‘unsafe’ to ‘safe’ – and thereby undermining citizens from these states their right to seek asylum in the EU. Lately, Turkey has also been upgraded to a safe country to send refugees and migrants back to, despite the fact that several EU-member states warn their own citizens to be alert and avoid certain areas of Turkey. Likewise EU-leaders have time and again criticised the present Turkish government for undermining press freedom, human rights and oppressing political opponents, but all this seem to have been forgotten in the latest deal, legitimising the rule of Erdogan. Is this how European leaders wish to encourage democracy and freedom abroad? Is this how you start negotiations with a potential new member state?

European leaders must be aware, that in the future it will be very hard for the union to talk about human rights globally. Likewise, it will be very hard for the leaders to pressure authoritarian regimes to adopt democratic reforms, improve living conditions for their citizens and ensure human rights, as the EU have just themselves shown the world, that such rights are not for all – but depend on perceived internal and external threats. From the intentions of the founding fathers of the EU, this is a serious step in the wrong direction, a dangerous cat and mouse game with not only human lives and rights, but also a complete erosion of what the EU according to its own fundamental values supposedly stands for. Furthermore, not being able to put pressure on authoritarian regimes in Europe’s backyard will soon increase migration from those states, leaving Europe once again in limbo with still more bodies washing up on our shores and yet more desperate people looking for a way in behind our walls and fences.

[1] http://europarlamentti.info/en/values-and-objectives/values/

Facts about Greece:
Capital: Athens
Population: 10,8 mio.
Area: 131.957 km2
GDP per inhabitant: $25.600 down from $26.400 (2012)
Form of government: Democracy

Source: CIA Factbook (2016)

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