Denmark: Increase aid and go after smugglers

Denmark will support the EU’s ten-point plan to stem the tide of migrants crossing the Mediterranean but will not take in any additional refugees, PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt said on Thursday.

Denmark: Increase aid and go after smugglers
PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt took part in an emergency meeting in Brussels on Thursday to discuss Europe's response to the Mediterranean migrants crisis. Photo: AFP/Emmanuel Dunand
Denmark’s opt-out on EU Justice and Home Affairs grants it exceptions from EU asylum measures, but PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt said that the nation would lend its support to the EU’s plan and increase its contributions to the Triton maritime frontier mission.
“I expect that today [the EU] will increase contributions to the Triton operation so we can save more lives, and Denmark will also contribute to that,” Thorning-Schmidt told the national press before leaving for a meeting of EU leaders in Brussels later on Thursday. 
The PM stressed however that Denmark would “under no circumstances” take in a greater portion of refugees that come to Europe. 
“Denmark is out of the shared asylum policies and we will not contribute to a different distribution [of refugees]. Overall, I don’t think there is much appetite for that. It would mean that some countries would take in considerably more refugees than they do today,” she said. 
Thorning-Schmidt said she would use Thursday’s meeting in Brussels to encourage other European countries to increase their foreign aid. 
“Denmark is one of the countries that assumes a large responsibility. And one of the things I will encourage my colleagues to do is to get them to also contribute 0.7 percent of their GDP to foreign aid,” she said. 
Thorning-Schmidt said that with increased foreign aid, African countries could create better conditions for their people and provide assistance closer to the source of the problem. 
In addition to stepping up the Triton operation, the EU will also try to capture or destroy human trafficking boats, something the Danish PM said was essential.
“We need to help capture these human smugglers. These are incredibly cynical people who first drain these poor people for their money and then send them out in decrepit boats. We need to do everything we can to catch the smugglers, hold them responsibile for their crimes and if it is possible to destroy their boats, then we should also do that,” Thorning-Schmidt said. 
The EU’s plan also calls for greater cooperation efforts with the countries bordering war-torn Libya, which is viewed as the epicentre of the Mediterrean migrant crisis.
Thorning-Schmidt said the problems in Libya make it impossible for the EU to adopt the ‘Australian model’ in which arriving boats of refugees are denied entry and sent back. 
“The Australian model can’t work, because Australia cooperates with Indonesia, with whom they have a good relationship. That’s why we can’t do it. Libya is not a state and we don’t have any cooperation with them,” the Danish PM said. 
'Body bags' are pictured on Brighton beach in southern England by Amnesty International to highlight the refugee and migrant crisis in the Mediterranean. Photo: AfP/Ben Stansall/Scanpix

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How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.