Tag Archives: EU

The hidden costs of closed borders for migrants stuck in Serbia


Originally published by The Conversation, 19 September 2016. 

Jelena Obradovic-Wochnik (Aston University) and Marta Stojic Mitrovic (Ethnography Institute, Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences)

In Spring 2016, Croatia, Slovenia and Macedonia “closed” their borders to migrants who had been transiting these countries via the “Balkan route” on their way further into the European Union. The closures follow other attempts at shutting EU borders: Hungary built a fence along its border with Serbia, while the so-called “EU-Turkey” deal was intended to prevent people from reaching EU borders by sending those who had crossed the Mediterranean back to Turkey.

Despite the border closures, the Balkan route is still active – a problem recognised at an EU leaders’ meeting in July. Now those refugees not able to get any further are stuck in limbo. Non-governmental organisatons (NGOs) and the UNHCR estimate there are at least 200 arrivals per dayin Serbia, with around 5,000 people stuck in Serbia alone.

Even though the number of people stuck in Serbia is comparatively small, our interviews throughout the summer of 2016 showed that a lack of resources and attention is precipitating a secondary humanitarian crisis: a growing refugee population is living in increasingly precarious conditions and is almost wholly reliant on smugglers to leave. The UNHCR believes that border closures divert problems and aggravate living conditions, while Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) told us they see a correlation between the closures and increased levels of violence against refugees – both by smugglers and border authorities.

The situation in Serbia

Serbia became a focal point of the refugee crisis in the summer of 2015, when an unprecedented number of new arrivals crossed into the country on their way to Western Europe via Hungary and Croatia. Typically, most people stayed in Serbia for only a few days before moving towards the EU. In contrast to measures employed by its neighbours, the Serbian government adopted an official policy stating that it would not erect fences and would respect international laws on human rights by not restricting movement of people searching protection. This changed dramatically a year later, and although Serbia has not completed sealed its own borders, policy has shifted from protecting rights to protecting borders.

These attempts at sealing borders have been accompanied with a complex and fragmented regional regime of asylum registrations and so called “push backs”, where people crossing the border into Hungary, for instance, are intercepted and returned to Serbia. The official and “legal” way to cross into Hungary is via one of the waiting lists operated by local authorities. But one local NGO working with refugees in Serbia said the information about how these waiting lists operate is unclear and contradictory.

In a Belgrade park, fenced off so migrants can’t camp there, people wait for free meals provided by local NGO. Jelena Obradovic-WochnikAuthor provided

Only 30 people are admitted  into Hungary legally each day via two border points point with Serbia, but the number of people arriving in Serbia each day far exceeds the number “allowed” to leave, so people are staying for longer periods of time (in some cases, several months). Refugees are also reporting to aid workers that they are facing increasing violence against them by Hungarian border police. Similar reports are also being collated by activists working with refugees in Belgrade.

Crossing borders into Hungary or Croatia now takes several attempts, both for people attempting to cross legally and illegally. The prices paid to smugglers have, according to our informants, increased dramatically: crossing the Serbia-Croatia border with a smuggler, we were told, now costs €1,500 per person. Deaths have also occurred along the Bulgaria-Romania border, as refugees try to find alternative routes, following the “closure” of the Macedonian border.

Pressures on resources

The Serbian state is partly unwilling and partly unable to provide adequate support and welfare for the growing number of refugees. Politically, its policy has shifted away from supporting refugees towards controlling borders in an effort to appease voters who are no longer sympathetic to the refugees’ stay in the country. In practical terms, the state has a support system in place – a state-run Commissariat for Refugees and Asylum, which oversees distribution of aid and runs “asylum reception centres”. But the infrastructure in place is not wholly adequate in meeting the actual needs of the refugees.

UNHCR reports that 87% of refugees are housed in official centres. But the need for shelter far outstrips supply, and homelessness – particularly among single men – is growing. The state-run “asylum reception centres” are located near Belgrade, the Hungarian-Serbian border, the Croatian-Serbian border and in Presevo, near the Macedonian border. Information on the centres is contradictory.

An informal camp near the Hungarian border, June 2 2016. Marta Stojic MitrovicAuthor provided



The government claims that reception centres with a capacity for 2,000 people are not full. But during our visits to the centres between June and August 2016, it was clear that in at least four of them, people were being accommodated in tents pitched outside of the centres themselves, suggesting overcrowding.

It’s also possible that refugees are choosing not to go the official camps, as it is unclear to most people – including aid workers – whether refugees staying there would be allowed to leave Serbia later. Informal camps and settlements along the Hungarian border have also sprung up, and we saw families with small children living in these settlements.

Pushed out of public places

In places like Belgrade, people, mainly single men unable or unwilling to access official camps, are sleeping rough in parks and squats. Ever since the crisis unfolded, public parks have been important hubs for sharing information about the route, and establishing contacts with other refugees and activists. Parks have free public wifi, free meals distributed by the NGO Refugee Aid Serbia, and various activists – some who speak Arabic and Farsi – who help refugees access information, answer questions and provide free tea.

This summer the local authorities started to clear the city of refugees by discouraging people from sleeping in the two centrally located parks – the Luka Celovic Park and Bristol Park – both located near the central bus station, via which many refugees arrived into Belgrade. In July 2016, all the grass in the central parks populated by refugees was dug up, and the parks fenced off, which precipitated a hunger strike by them.

For a while, people sleeping rough in the park relocated to decrepit buildings in a nearby derelict storage yard, living in a squat with no facilities, except for a single hosepipe. But on September 16 2016, local authorities evicted refugees as some of the buildings were being demolished to make way for a controversial development scheme, Belgrade Waterfront.

Refugees living in squats and parks rely on food donations by Refugee Aid Serbia for survival, and wait for a chance to cross the borders. Longer stays mean that many are running out of money and must either wait for money to arrive from family abroad, or seek increasingly desperate means of procuring it.

The fencing off of the parks has led to vocal protests by activists who see this as an attempt to break up the refugee communities, push them to the margins of the city and disable them from contacting smugglers, who use the parks as places to establish contact with refugees.

The support networks to help refugees are continually under threat: all NGOs must register with the commissariat in order to operate, but the official policy towards them is becoming increasingly hostile. Volunteers are also starting to report police harassment of activists aiding refugees in the park, particularly those not officially affiliated to NGOs.

Local tensions

Another perceptible change has been the shift in public mood. While outright xenophobic attacks against refugees are rare in Serbia, there have been some local anti-refugee protests.

In the border town of Sid, residents are petitioning for the removal of the refugee camp, and in Belgrade, a group of residents carried out a daily protest throughout August 2016 against refugees living in the park. This marks a drastic departure from a broadly sympathetic public attitude in 2015 and the emergence of solidarity networks. The change in mood can partly be attributed to the population’s own economic woes, mass unemployment and generally poor welfare provision, and the feeling that refugees have now overstayed their welcome.

Our interviews this summer show how the border closures around transit countries come with hidden costs. Politicians are able to claim that specific routes are “closed”, so giving the impression that all problems pertaining to these routes have been dealt with. In reality, border closures simply mean that attention is diverted from the increasingly precarious living conditions in which refugees stuck in transit zones find themselves. The EU border closures have left a significant population reliant on volunteers, donations, aid organisations and smugglers.

In the wake of the EU brokered agreement, Serbs in Northern Kosovo are more likely to pursue pragmatic co-existence with Pristina

This article originally appeared at the LSE’s EUROPP blog, on 15 May 2013. 

Last month, Serbia and Kosovo reached an agreement on ‘normalisation’ of their relations, following protracted EU-led talks. No official version of the agreement appears to have been published yet – but most analysts have been referring to this leaked version. The highlights of this agreement include a provision for a ‘Community/Association of Serb majority municipalities in Kosovo’, created by statute, and which will have ‘full overview of the areas of economic development, education, health, urban and rural planning’ as well as ‘other powers’. Other important points include the agreement on one police force in Kosovo, as well as a promise to that neither side will block each other’s EU entry.

On the one hand, the agreement appears pretty comprehensive, but on the other hand, it has puzzled some observers: what, if anything, will actually change as a result of it? As many will point out, Serb majority municipalities, under Kosovo’s decentralization laws, already have significant powers to run their own affairs in e.g. education. However, as it is also evident, most of the Northern municipalities do not seem to be using these competencies as much as they rely on Serbian financing, Serbian laws and Serbian institutions to run their affairs. Being largely beyond the control of Kosovo and Serbia, the North, in many ways, already acts as an independent ‘Community/Association’ with no clear rules.

As a number of observers have already pointed out, the North Kosovo Serbs are a crucial factor in implementing the agreement. So far, the community leaders have opposed the agreement. Recently, they declared that the agreement is ‘unacceptable for Serbs in Kosovo’, and that it should not be implemented until the Serbian Constitutional Court weighs in.  But, according to the Serbian media, the agreement is endorsed by Serb community leaders South of the Ibar.

What emerges from the North is often alarming, or alarmist. As the Kosovo-Serbia negotiations unfolded earlier this year, there were a string of minor explosions throughout the North, followed by protests composed of the residents of the northern municipalities of Zvecan, Mitrovica, Zubin Potok and Leposavic, and the creation of a ‘Civilian Defence Corps’. These have also been accompanied with strong, nationalist rhetoric from the Mayor of Mitrovica, Krstimir Pantic, whose anti-EU narrative is strongly reminiscent of the Milosevic era. He has recently stated that “We are sending a message to the enemies of the Serbian people that we will not surrender and allow them to seize Kosovo’. Much of this rhethoric is directed at both the Kosovan state and authorities as well as Serbia and its participation in the EU-led talks.

But, as a recent article correctly points out, the Northern Kosovo population itself is far from their usualrepresentation as ‘extremists’ and ‘criminals’.  Yet, surprisingly little is known about the political loyalties of North Kosovo Serbs. Are they really likely to boycott implementation of the agreement? Whilst their leaders – whose legitimacy is disputed –  may push for this, it is far more likely that the population of the North will adapt to the new realities in order to facilitate a more pragmatic (co)existence with Pristina. This has been increasingly the case with Serbs south of the Ibar river, who are much more isolated from other Serb communities.

Some evidence of North Kosovo Serbs’ political loyalties can be seen in the votes they cast in the 2012 Serbian parliamentary and presidential elections (they generally do not vote in Kosovo elections). First, as the official results indicate, the participation levels of Kosovo Serbs in Serbian elections seem to be dropping.

Another key trend is the relatively improved performance of Boris Tadic’s Democratic Party (as part of the Choice for a better life coalition) and the almost complete lack of votes for non-mainstream and extremist parties (such as the cleric-nationalist ‘Dveri’) is interesting – it demonstrates that support is moving away slowly from parties which make strong claims about Kosovo and emotional appeals to Kosovo Serbs.  The political support of Kosovo Serbs voting in the Serbian elections is still concentrated amongst the conservative parties (Serbian Renewal Movement; Democratic Party of Serbia and Dacic’s Socialist party), but it is beginning to fragment. In short, Kosovo Serbs’ loyalties to Serbia’s nationalist parties, are not as strong as they may first appear.

What, then, does this mean for the Kosovo-Serbia agreement? The narrative in Serbia at least, has moved towards discussing implementation. This is a key puzzle in the agreement itself, as it is not clear how many of those points will work in practice. Clearly, much of the ground will have to be prepared by political elites in Belgrade and Pristina. Local elites such as the Northern mayors may block implementation in various ways. However, the local populations are those that stand to benefit from any agreement which unblocks Kosovo-Serbia relations. Northern Kosovo Serbs may, politically, prefer to be a part of Serbia, but this may change soon as the agreement is largely interpreted by Serbian critics as a ‘sell out’ and an abandonment of Kosovo Serbs.

Serbia does not have the financial means to keep supporting North Kosovo (perhaps one of the key reasons for its unexpected support of this agreement?). As it now hopes that the agreement will unlock EU membership – something on which the current government has suddenly made its priority, having been, in the past, somewhat more ambivalent about accession – it is likely that it will start to meet other demands, such as the dismantling of parallel institutions in the North. The absences of these – schools, hospitals, municipality offices – and the jobs and finances it provides, will also translate into Serbia’s lessening influence on the ground. Eventually, it is envisaged that Kosovo or ‘Community/Association’ institutions will replace these. Either way, the Serbian population of North Kosovo, is much more likely to approach the issue with pragmatism and look to the instructions providing them with jobs and real prospects, than follow any rhetoric of Northern mayors, for the sake of political loyalties.

The Beginning of the End of the Road? Britain and the European Council meeting, 8/9 December 2011

The meeting of the Heads of State and Government in the European Council in Brussels on 8/9 December 2011 marks nothing short of a caesura in the UK’s almost thirty-nine years of membership of the European Union. There are five principal points to note from this:

1. Regardless of the content of the new intergovernmental treaty, the fact that the somewhere between 23 and 26 countries are likely to sign up for this, with potentially only the UK on the sidelines, represents a spectacular failure of British diplomacy. Hitherto, the UK’s underlying approach to European negotiations had always been predicated on the idea of being in the room when the decisions are taken, even if Britain did not always formally participate in the outcomes of these decisions. And when it did oppose proposals, the British government has generally managed to ensure that it is not the only country doing so. Of course, one could argue that this ‘having your cake and eating it‘ tactic could not continue indefinitely; nonetheless, it is David Cameron, not John Major or even Margaret Thatcher, who will go down in history as the first UK Prime Minister to have failed on this account.

2. In truth, there was little chance of Cameron ever agreeing to the proposed new treaty. For one thing, the City is not only a major contributor to the British economy, but also to the Conservative Party (see the FT’s telling blog on this issue) – given this, it would have been astonishing had he agreed to more regulation of financial services. Second, had he signed up to a treaty it would have meant, at best, a drawn out and tortuous parliamentary ratification process (with Eurosceptic backbenchers literally queuing up to demand repatriation of powers) or at worst a full-blown referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU, with terminal consequences for the Conservative Lib Dem coalition. It’s a moot point whether this prompted a deliberate strategy by Cameron to deploy his veto – Charles Grant of the CER certainly seems to think so.

3. One might therefore even be tempted to show understanding for the Prime Minister’s decision – if only it had not come at such a terrible price for the UK. Although the UK has de facto been outside key EU policies (the Euro, Schengen, Justice and Home Affairs / immigration) for many years now, that exclusion has now been institutionalised. Moreover – and this is perhaps the central point of this posting – it is an illusion to suppose that Britain will still have a full say in matters concerning the Single Market. The new treaty will spell much closer coordination and integration for participating member-states and to expect that this will not have implications for the forming of common positions in other policy areas, such as CAP and the Single Market, is frankly rather naive. It is not, as the Prime Minister suggested in his post-summit press conference, a question of whether EU officials will or will not support the work of the new treaty: in the EU, most decisions are prepared informally in the corridors between plenary meetings. Yet if the UK from the outset is not in the corridor, it cannot be part of that decision-making process. The very real likelihood over time, therefore, is that the UK will increasingly be presented with a series of faits accomplis by the other member-states, which it will have to accept, or face being outvoted on.

4. The decision to wield Britain’s veto formally has also cost an enormous amount of political capital. Already, patience with Britain has been wearing thin, but it has now erupted into open anger. The situation was not helped by some very poor preparatory work by the British government – in particular, David Cameron made no real attempt to win allies for his position, preferring instead to ‘go to Brussels’ and fight it out, mano y mano, with the other leaders. The BBC has an interesting collation of responses to Britain from around the EU, but the palpable anger in the comments by the Lithuanian President, Dalia Grybauskaitė, in her comments to German television gives the best impression of how isolated the UK now is.

The summit, therefore, has left Britain more on the margins of the European Union than at any previous time in its history. Its outcome moreover now poses questions of a fundamental nature about the UK’s future role and position in the EU, which, ultimately, may even lead to referendum on the UK’s membership itself. That may cheer the hearts of the Conservative Eurosceptic Right, but it is scarcely a credible position for a relatively small (and heavily indebted) trading nation on the northwestern fringes of Europe to take.

Of cakes and their consumption – reflections on the UK’s position within the EU

Among the general maelstrom that is the crisis in the Eurozone, one of the most fascinating things to observe has been the United Kingdom’s ever more apparent marginalisation within the European Union. Put differently, the recent actions of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat government have won it few friends within the EU.

On the one hand, the UK is issuing near-constant exhortations (or should that be demands?) for the Eurozone to put its house in order; after all, with half our trade going to the EU, there is little prospect of our ailing recovery gathering pace once more while the Eurozone remains locked in crisis. Yet at the same time, the Government has flatly refused to contribute to commit British taxpayers money to either the EFSF or the ESM. While this may be understandable from a domestic political perspective (after all what would the Daily Mail say?), it cuts little ice with other EU member-states, especially Germany, who are ultimately underwriting the massive bailout loans needed. Indeed, it’s rather akin to the UK ‘having its cake and eating it’. Is it therefore really surprising that President Sarkozy lost his temper with David Cameron at the EU crisis summit in October?

On the other hand, persistent rumblings about the desirability of a ‘repatriation’ of powers from Brussels, combined with the recent parliamentary vote on whether a referendum should be held on EU membership, which produced the biggest Tory rebellion for some twenty years, makes the claim that the UK remains at the heart of the EU look frankly risible.

Of course, the attempt to ‘have it both ways’ reflects a long-established in British European policy, which goes back to the Treaty of Rome – the UK does not want further integration, but neither does it want other countries to gain an advantage from integrating themselves. Thus, the UK countered the establishment of the EEC in 1957 with the formation of EFTA – until it realised that the latter was very much a second-rate organisation and it decided to defect to the former. The UK long argued in favour of unanimity as the method of voting in the Council of Ministers – because it would make it easier to block unwelcome proposals from other member states. And as many in the old western European EU member-states will testify, the UK was such a strong proponent of enlargement in 2004/7 precisely because it knew that the inevitable change in the dynamics of the EU associated with this would dilute moves towards further integration. As ever, the essential truth of this view is confirmed by none other than Sir Humphrey Appleby, who explains the UK’s support of enlargement in Yes Minister thus: “the more members it [the EEC] has, the more arguments it can stir up, the more futile and impotent it becomes”. When Jim Hacker chides Sir Humphrey for his cynicism, he responds, with characteristic nonchalance, “We call it diplomacy, Minister”.

But the indications are gathering that this well-trodden path of British diplomacy in Europe, together with the relentless pursuit of short-term interests, has had its day; indeed, it is now becoming counterproductive. Already in 1994, the German CDU/CSU published a proposal for a ‘two-speed’ European Union (the so-called Schäuble-Lamers paper), with a core of members pursuing greater integration and a looser periphery of other states. Hardly surprising, therefore, that the central idea of this paper was reflected in the CDU’s new proposals for deeper integration among the members of the Eurozone, which were agreed at its Leipzig party congress this week.

So Britain will already structurally be on the periphery; but more than that, there has been a distinct change in tone within the German political elite when it comes to the UK. Whereas in the past, German politicians were at pains to appeal to the UK, those days are gone. Already back in September 2011, the former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder (SPD) gave an interview with Der Spiegel, in which he was quite blunt about the UK’s role in Europe. It is worth quoting what he said verbatim (my translation):

Schröder: … In any case, it’s not the new member-states who are causing the real problems.

SPIEGEL: Then who?

Schröder: The biggest problems are created by Britain. Britain is not in the Euro. But the British always want to be involved in decision-making regarding a common economic area. The two things just do not go together. And secondly, the British have been extremely reluctant about any kind of further integration, and that is putting it very diplomatically.

SPIEGEL: You mean that they simply blocked any proposals to this effect?

Schröder: Exactly.

And only this week, Volker Kauder, the influential leader of the CDU/CSU parliamentary party in the Bundestag delivered a pugnacious speech at the CDU’s Leipzig congress. In it, he singled out the UK for especial criticism, pointing out that, as a member of the EU, the British DID bear direct responsibility for the Eurozone’s success. And in the context of Germany’s proposals for a tax on financial transaction (vigorously opposed by the City), he declared (again, my translation) “Only looking out for your own interests and not being prepared to contribute at all – that cannot be the message that we allow the British to get away with”.

These are not fringe politicians, and such public statements give an indication that Germany has probably lost patience with the UK and is no longer prepared to make any significant allowances for its particular historical position within the EU. That of course has major implications for the future: there are tricky negotiations around the corner regarding the next EU budget, and it is difficult to see countries lining up willing to defend the UK’s budget rebate. But on other issues too which really matter to the UK – liberalisation of energy markets, implementation of the single market, CAP reform – it will be others defining the agenda, not the British Government.

At the end of October 2011, the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg wrote in the Observer that “Being shoved to the margins, or retreating there voluntarily, would be economic suicide”. Unfortunately, it looks increasingly as if that is precisely where we are already.

MA students’ study trip to Brussels

This is a guest post from our students on the EU and the World Masters programme.
Untitled1Brussels, Commissionn, European institutions, policymaking…we had heard about these topics non-stop since we started our MAs last September, some of us studying the European Union and International Relations, others on a Double MA in Europe and the World with Institut d’Etudes Politiques Lille. Going to Brussels to visit the main institutions was therefore very useful as it enabled us to gain first-hand experience of the venues and processes we learn about in the classroom, and to get a taster for the environment where some of us might want to work in the future.

Our five-day trip was structured around meetings with officials who work on policymaking or the provision of services in institutions such as the Commission, the Council of Ministers, the Committee of the Regions, and others. We had been encouraged to prepare questions for each meeting, where we also had the opportunity to learn about how these people have made it to Brussels and what their daily jobs are like. While we might have been a bit intimidated at the beginning, we found that our speakers were all very friendly, and sometimes there was not enough time to ask our questions and provide our comments!

The trip was arranged for the beginning of the second Teaching Period, so that we would have gained sufficient knowledge about what we were going to see and developed questions and interests. Moreover, it gave us an opportunity to strengthen our friendships and spend time together in a lovely city beyond lectures, presentations and group assignments.

Untitled2“Overall, I found the study trip to Brussels very impressive and based on my personal experience it is an excellent opportunity for master students to complement their theory based learning of the EU and its key institutions, with an interesting and informative insight into day-to-day EU policy making, right at the heart of the EU” (Eyerin Jesuthasan, MA in the European Union and International Relations).

Want to find out more about our trip? Here is our travel journal.

Monday 31st January

In order to arrive in Brussels we took a Eurostar train from London. We checked in at the Bedford Hotel, not very far from the city centre and after a small nap we all headed off to explore the city. Some of us ended up eating the Belgian national dish, moules frites. We were very excited to see the most famous Grande Place and Manneken Pis. Even though it was late evening all of us were amazed at how marvellous the Grande Place is!


Luckily our hotel was in a great location as we were able to admire the Grande Place and the old town every morning.

Traditionally, the Manneken Pis is dressed in different costumes several times each week. However, this time he decided to wear no clothes, even though it was a cold winter evening!

But, unlike the Manneken Pis, we were cold and hungry. Our next destination to experience Brussels was the most delicious waffles in the whole world –Gaufres de Bruxelles! Yummy!

We could not have left Brussels without trying Belgian beer. The Delerium Tremens bar has the ‘’biggest beer list in the world’’, as you can find 2000 different types of beer! Of course we tried the most popular one called Kriek (cherry flavour). Even people who do not like beer liked it a lot. People in there are so relaxed and friendly and it made us feel comfortable and have fun!

Tuesday 1st February

The first visit we had during our study trip was at the Visitor’s Centre of the Commission. We had a lecture from Jo Vandercappellen, from DG Education and Culture, followed by a question and answers session. He spoke about the functions of the EU institutions, in particular the functioning of the European Commission post-Lisbon Treaty.

Malcolm Harbour

Despite the fact that the main institutions of the EU are the European Parliament, the Commission and the Council of Ministers, there are so many other institutions that are crucially important for the EU to function. After visiting the Commission we were able to visit one of these; the European External Action Service (EEAS). This is an independent department and its main purpose is to manage the responses of the EU to different crises. It is like a foreign ministry for the EU. The first speaker, Alar Olljum, told us in detail about the mission and objectives of the EEAS and about his long experience in the field of external relations. The second speaker, Tereza Novtona, told us about her experience as an intern at the EEAS and about the application process, which we found particularly interesting.

On Tuesday afternoon we met Helen Bower, Diplomatic Civil Servant at UKREP, the UK Permanent Representation in Brussels. She explained that the main aim of UKREP is to represent the UK in all policy areas in Brussels. Within UKREP, there are permanent representatives known as Ambassadors. These Ambassadors attend COREPER meetings (Committee of Permanent Representatives) and present the UK’s views on EU policies and legislation. Under the Ambassadors are the “Secretaries” or Policy Makers who draw up and negotiate policies with the other member states’ representatives.


Ms Bower told us that the UK’s current interests lie in the internal market and economy. Therefore, the UK attaches most importance to policies such as the issue of internal energy infrastructures, the implementation of the Services Directive, the protection of consumer rights (particularly online), the emergence of trade partners such as India and China and finally the enlargement of the EU with respect to the Western Balkans and Turkey.

Wednesday 2nd February

In the morning, we walked to the European Economic and Social Committee. It is one of these not very well-known European institutions, which made this visit all the most interesting.


We were invited to have a seat in a small circular room, a very ceremonial room with computers and microphones on everyone’s desk. Then, Jean-Pierre Faure, director of the Single Market Observatory, welcomed us. He talked to us very simply about his job, making numerous digressions and delivering several funny anecdotes. Thanks to him, a very formal environment became friendly and when he finally spoke about the possible internships at the EESC, all of us were very interested in doing one!

In the afternoon, we had the opportunity to visit the Council of the European Union. The information visit consisted of a talk given to us by a Council Official, Mr. Jeremy Rand, the General Secretary of the Council in the Directorate-General responsible for Agriculture and Fisheries. The talk consisted of a general introduction to the Council, during which we were informed about its structure and key functions as well as the institutional framework within which the Council operates as the EU’s main decision-making body. In addition, the talk was followed by a question and answer session in which we were given the chance to ask questions relating to more specific topics. Overall, the information visit to the Council was very interesting and informative.

And in the evening…Moules Frites, waffles, and lots of beer; hardly imaginative and not enough to excite this particular palate. It is however much more than that. The steaming bucket of moules (mussels) is a sensation to any seafood lover, though the frites (fries) on the side are rather dull. Which is every reason why you must dash over to one of the city’s countless friteries and gawp at the vast array of condiments. A quick peruse of the supermarket shelves and I deftly grab the cured horse meat and the baby octopuses. Delicious, washed down with beer bought from the ‘250 Beers’ store. I kid you not- 250 varieties. The apple beer was remarkably exquisite. The highlight? Chez Leon on the famous Rue de Bouchers, pricey but settled at the behest and invitation of our dear School. Despite trying to locate the lobster, I was drawn to two enticing words that (quite literally) evoked a raw urge- steak tartar (forgive the cliche). So eat the moules, eat the frites, and by god lose your conscience at the chocolate store. But let Brussels bring out the adventurer in you too.

Untitled7Thursday 3rd February

In the morning we went back to the shiny Bâtiment Jacques Delors on Rue Belliard to attend a briefing at the Committee of the Regions (CoR), where we were welcomed by Chris, a British official working in the Communications and Press Unit. Chris gave us a clear presentation of the structure and main functions of the CoR, which provides a platform for regional and local authorities of the member states to express their views on policy developments and EU proposals in areas that affect the regional or local level. We found out that Chris is one of the only three British citizens supporting the work of the Committee members, and that the relative number of UK nationals working for the EU is low, one reason being perhaps that Britons are likely to be less proficient in foreign languages than their colleagues from other European countries.

In the afternoon we got the chance to attend a conference at the European Parliament about Integrating the Wider Europe after the Lisbon Treaty’ organised by the Wider Europe Network. The opening speech was made by the President of the EP, Jerzy Buzek, who talked about the relationship between the EU and its neighbours. The following speakers, specialists from different countries, focused on enlargement issues, on the prospects and difficulties of the European Neighbourhood Policy and also on the new External Action Service that we visited on Tuesday morning. We even got the chance to try the tea and coffee like real MEPs!

Friday 4th February
In the morning we went back to the European Parliament for the second day of the conference. The third session was entitled ‘Widening the Union’. The first speaker Christophe Hillion in his presentation ‘the Policy of the Union’ gave an overview of the accession policies and its issues, the second speaker gave a statement about the ‘nationalisation of the EU Enlargement Policy’, and eventually Nathaniel Copsey gave a talk on ‘What do Europe’s citizens think about enlargement?’ We attended the fourth session as well concerning the ‘Association Agreements and DCFTAs as tools of integration’ where Philippe Cuisson talked about the ‘Deep and comprehensive integration with the EU’ and Professor Alan Mayhew gave us a presentation on ‘the economics of integration’.

In the afternoon we walked one last time through the streets of Brussels to catch our Eurostar train at the Gare du Midi station. What an unforgettable trip! We hope you enjoyed reading our blog.


ACE students quiz former UK Ambassador on life in the diplomatic service

Michael Arthur MA visitACE today welcomed Sir Michael Arthur KCMG, who recently retired from the Diplomatic Service as HM Abassador to Germany. Prior to that, from 2003-2007, Sir Michael served as British High Commissioner to India.

Students had the opportunity to hear Sir Michael deliver some candid reflections on his role as the UK’s representative overseas, and to hear his thoughts on the current state of both UK-India relations and UK-German relations. He also offered ACE students some useful pointers on how to develop a career in the UK’s diplomatic service.

MA students quizzed Sir Michael on the role of bilateral relations between European states in the context of a European Union.

Forthcoming Event: The UK Coalition and the European Union

On 19 January 2011, together with the European Commission, the Aston Centre for Europe is organising a seminar on the European policy of the Conservative–Liberal Democrat coalition entitled: ‘The UK Coalition and the European Union’.
The event will begin with a roundtable discussion chaired by Lord Kerr of Kinlochard at 14h30. Confirmed speakers include: Professor Tim Bale (Sussex), Professor Simon Bulmer (Sheffield), Professor Helen Wallace (LSE) and Professor Richard Whitman (Bath).
After the roundtable, a keynote speech will be given by Dr Adam Posen of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee entitled, ‘Decoupling and Divergent Recoveries in Europe’.
The event will be held at the Lakeside Conference Centre at Aston University. A buffet lunch will be available from 13h30 to 14h30 and the event will be followed by a reception at 18h30.
The event is free of charge and open to all, although since places are limited, participants are requested to register their intention to attend in advance with Mrs Baljeet Jhheent by sending an email to: europe@aston.ac.uk.
We look forward to welcoming you to the Aston Centre for Europe on 19 January 2011.

Cameron’s EU Budget ‘Victory’

The Prime Minister David Cameron claims he has “succeeded spectacularly” in seeing off a potential 6% EU budget increase. Mr Cameron has spent much of Friday taking credit for putting together an alliance of 12 mostly old, rich Member States in favour of a smaller 2.9% increase in the Community budget. Even during the present period of self-imposed austerity, the size of the increase in the budget is actually rather uninteresting – after all, the Union spends a fraction more than 1% of the aggregate GDP of the EU-27. This post is also not concerned with the rights and wrongs of whether rich Member States should really be repatriating funds away from assisting poorer ones.

What is interesting about Mr Cameron’s grandstanding today are three things.

First, what Mr Cameron has provided us with a textbook example of how Member States (and the UK in particular) portray the business of Brussels negotiations. In this game, the Government stalwartly defends the national interests of [British] taxpayers from attempts by dastardly Brussels bureaucrats to suck in ever more money for their hare-brained, money-wasting schemes. Needless to add, every penny that goes to Brussels can’t be spent on “schools n’hospitals”, “frontline services” and so on back home. Governments “win” at summits – no less than “spectacularly” in this case – although Mr Cameron’s announcement is hardly the news of a great victory on the plains of Waterloo that his rhetoric implies.

Second, Mr Cameron and his allies have demonstrated publicly that Member States really believe that the only “fair” Union budget is one where everybody gets out more or less what they pay in. Yet why should this be the case? Do we expect to get back from the State in services EXACTLY to the value of what we pay in taxes? No – at least not if one is reasonably sane and sober at the time that the question is asked. Following on this logic, one might ask: “why contribute to the budget at all?” Cameron’s claim is tedious pub-talk populism at best and reminds me of that boorish class of individual who “doesn’t mind paying tax” but it’s “what they spend it on” that he objects to. Insert here: housing benefits for “layabouts”, wars in Afghanistan, “waste”, NHS managers etc. etc. What do such people expect? A questionnaire from HM Treasury asking the respondent to tick which areas of State activity he is willing to support and by how much?

And the third point is that for all the talk about eurosceptic Tories and pro-Europe Liberals (or Labour supporters), British governments basically all act in the same way in Brussels. It’s not hard to imagine a stern faced Gordon Brown emerging from the smokeless negotiating chambers of the Council asserting that he has saved “£450 million pooounds” or similar which can now be “invested” in “hard-working families”. What about lazy families? Who will take care of them? Answers on a postcard please.

Immigration and Citizenship in Germany Twenty Years After Unification: Deutschland einig Einwanderungsland?

One of the most resilient fixtures on the domestic policy agenda of the old West Germany was immigration and citizenship. By the late 1980s, it already had a thirty year long history, with the first recruitment treaty for temporary Gastarbeiter signed with Italy in 1955. It had also been over fifteen years since the end of recruitment (Anwerbestopp) in 1973 heralded the start of the transformation of a hitherto temporary migrant population into a more permanent community, as well as the advent of dependant migration. Even so, throughout this entire period West Germany remained resolutely wedded to the notion of not being a country of immigration (kein Einwanderungsland), a position which especially the CDU/CSU maintained on the basis that, in contrast to countries such as the United States, West Germany had not actively sought to attract new permanent migration to increase its population. At the same time, for good historical reasons, West Germany had maintained a comparatively liberal policy on political asylum and offered a homeland for ethnic Germans who had been persecuted under Communism (so-called Aussiedler).

Unification in 1990 had a seismic impact on all aspects of this self-understanding. For one thing, the associated end of the Cold War and collapse of the Iron Curtain triggered unprecedented migratory flows to Germany: Between 1988 and 1993, over 1.4 million asylum seekers and over 1.6 million ethnic Germans and their dependants arrived in the country. The sheer scale of this migration led to its curtailment in two separate items of legislation in 1992. At the same time, the demise of the GDR formally allowed united Germany to reconsider the basis of its citizenship and to move away from the pan-Germanic and ultimately ethnic definition which underpinned it. This culminated in the 2000 Citizenship Law, which inter alia introduced ius soli for the first time in history into German citizenship.

So, twenty years on after unification, does this mean that Germany is now an undisputed Einwanderungsland? Even when one moves beyond the rather simplistic interpretation of this question during the 1980s to consider whether Germany now reflects the structures and experiences of other countries with large migrant populations, the answer, perhaps unsurprisingly, remains a resounding ‘Jein.’

On the one hand, Germany’s immigrant population is more settled than ever. At the end of 2009, almost 7 million non-Germans resided in the country, including 1.7 million Turks. Over 95 percent of non-Germans lived in the old Länder, with an overall average residence period of over eighteen years; indeed, over one-third had more than twenty years’ residence. Around one-fifth of the total population of Germany is formally considered to have a ‘migration background.’

In policy terms, Germany has witnessed a visible convergence with other countries in the EU. Thus, over the past five years, and in addition to the citizenship reform of 2000, Germany has passed not only the first immigration law but also, thanks to the EU, the first dedicated anti-discrimination legislation in its history. High-skilled migration is now possible from outside the EU. There has been a concerted policy focus on integration, with the introduction of formal language courses in 2005, a national integration plan in 2006, and citizenship tests in 2007. Institutionally, integration is now recognized as a core policy task under the auspices of a government minister in the Federal Chancellery, as opposed to a non-governmental commissioner located in the Labor Ministry in the 1980s. And although the educational attainments and labor market outcomes of migrants generally remain well below those of the indigenous population, this too is common to other countries with a similar migration history.

On the other hand, despite the 2000 reform, and in clear contrast to countries such as France and the UK, citizenship in Germany remains largely exclusive. Contrary to initial expectations, the number of naturalizations has actually halved over the past decade. Dual citizenship remains formally rejected and thus constitutes a key impediment to higher numbers. More broadly, and despite their long residence periods, migrants in Germany have struggled to make an impact on society as a whole and, some notable exceptions notwithstanding, remain largely under-represented in the professions, public service, and especially in politics. Perhaps even more fundamentally, Germany is no longer a major recipient of migration. Ethnic German and asylum migration flows have slowed to a comparative trickle from their peak in the early 1990s and net migration too has been broadly around zero since 2006. If anything, Germany is becoming a country of emigration once more, as both Germans and high-skilled Turks increasingly seek opportunities elsewhere.

In general, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Germany continues to struggle to come to terms with its situation as a culturally diverse and pluralistic country. Discussions about a German Leitkultur in 2000, or more recently Thilo Sarrazin’s tendentious and frankly prejudicial claims about what he perceives as the apparent inability of Muslims to integrate into German society, completely miss the point. For better or for worse, Germany has and will continue to have a permanent and large migrant population. Migrants cannot be expelled for integration deficits, as such a policy could scarcely be reconciled with the principles of the Rechtsstaat. Germany therefore has no choice but to do much more to give this significant part of the population a full and active stake in Germany’s economy and society at large. Calls for Turks to do more to ‘integrate’ are thus not only by definition tinged with a hefty dose of hypocrisy, they are also unrealistic and counterproductive: By tarring entire groups with the same brush, they, if anything, risk alienating those migrants who might otherwise have been willing to play a more active role in German society.

In any case, the demographic realities Germany is facing dictate that the country will need more, not less immigration. The most recent Statistisches Bundesamt demographic projections show that the country’s population is set to fall from currently 82 million to 65 million by 2060, with the proportion of the population of working age falling from 61 percent to 50 percent over the same period. Crucially, as well as a constant fertility rate, this assumes annual net migration of 100,000 persons – a level Germany last experienced in 2003.

Perhaps Germany could learn more from immigration countries such as the United States. For all its problems, the ‘American Dream’ remains a powerful image, which helps to attract thousands of determined and often highly able migrants from across the world. Tales of first generation migrants who are now millionaires abound in the U.S.; by contrast, in Germany there are literally only individual parallel stories. And yet this is not, as Sarrazin would have us believe, a question of the genetic make-up of migrants; rather, German policymakers have long overestimated the country’s attractiveness for high-skilled migrants from across the world, especially compared to the U.S. The ‘Green Card’ program of 2000 filled only two-thirds of its very modest quota of 20,000 places over five years, and those who came quickly found out just how conservative the immigration authorities remained. Tellingly, although such migrants can now be granted immediate permanent residence in Germany, only 450 persons obtained this status between 2005 and 2008 – that’s just 150 each year.

Germany has certainly come a long way since the late 1980s, something which is already reflected in the fact that the term Einwanderungsland no longer appears in public discourse, on either side of the political spectrum. But Germany has not yet grasped the extent to which recent migration has already changed it, as well as the extent to which it must change itself in order to prepare itself for the future.

This essay appeared in the Advisor of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies (AICGS) on 1 October 2010. It is part of a series of AICGS essays celebrating twenty years of German unity.