Aboard the Aquarius rescue boat this week
Delilah Roberts

PARIS — Central American migrant parents and children are reuniting in Texas. After being stranded off the coast of Italy, the Aquarius ship has now safely docked in the Spanish port of Valencia and the dozens of migrants have been cared for and asylum requests submitted. But even if the waters have calmed and the front pages are moving on, the migrant crisis is definitely not going away.

Along the Mediterranean coast and U.S.-Mexico border, in South Asia refugee camps and Eastern European parliaments, hard questions are coming into focus: How far will policymakers go to enforce anti-immigration policies? Can you shut down the border without violating basic human rights? How will it play out when people return to the voting booth?

Campaigning on a platform of rigid limits to immigration has been helping leaders get elected in functioning democracies around the world. In the U.S., Donald Trump's promised wall at the border with Mexico and vows of "zero-tolerance" have been a common rallying cry and the White House has held firm amid criticism of the travel ban linked to Muslim countries and other hardline immigration policies. But when evidence began to circulate of the effects of a new policy to separate migrant parents and children crossing the border, Trump's tough stance went too far. Polls have found that some two-thirds of Americans opposed the policy, which Trump eventually reversed course this week with an executive order to keep parents and children together.

We won't be Europe's doormat anymore.

But nobody should expect the White House to go soft on the issue in any larger sense.

Trump publicly hashed out what he called a "dilemma" on Wednesday. "If you're weak, which some people would like you to be, if you're really, really pathetically weak, the country is going to be overrun with millions of people," he said after a meeting with Republican lawmakers. "And if you're strong, then you don't have any heart. That's a tough dilemma."

In Italy, newly elected coalition government has come into office with its own fierce anti-migrant rhetoric, and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has so far shown few signs of worrying about his heart. In his first major action since taking office, Salvini ordered last week that the Aquarius rescue ship with 106 immigrants aboard not be given access to dock on Italian shore, reversing national policy (and longstanding maritime practice). "We won't be Europe's doormat anymore," Salvini declared.

Writing in the Italian daily La Stampa, Stefano Stefanini argues that Salvini has so far been successful in forcing other European countries to confront the issue, which for too long has fallen disproportionately on Italy and its long coastline that serves as the southern border of Europe. "Let's not delude ourselves in thinking the problem is resolved," he writes. "Immigration is a problem for Europe in the way that it cuts deeply into the fabric of the different nations." Both Trump and Salvini believe their duty is to severely limit immigration in the interest of their country's current citizens, and the human right's emergencies that occur are merely a factor to be managed away.

Another European leader setting new standards for migrant crackdowns is Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Shaun Walker of The Guardian reports from Budapest that the sharp-speaking prime minister forced through legislation this week that will make it a crime to help undocumented migrants.

U.S. border holding facility in McAllen, TX. (See more about OneShot here)

But neither Trump, Salvini nor Orban could imagine what Bangladesh is facing. Already seriously limited in terms of wealth, infrastructure, power and gas supply, political corruption and instability — not to mention natural disasters — the South Asian nation has been forced to add 1.1 million penniless Rohingya refugees over the past year. The killings and forced exodus from Myanmar of the Muslim minority people has left most of the survivors on to the 10 square mile Cox's Bazar refugee camp in southern Bangladesh.

The Financial Times" Kiran Stacey reports: "The problem for the Rohingya is that while most are too scared to return to Myanmar, their presence in Bangladesh is causing difficulties for the government in Dhaka. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who will fight an election later this year, has refused to allow the Rohingya to gain refugee status, to travel outside the camps or to build anything resembling a permanent dwelling."

"While this overburdened country has shown remarkable generosity, compassion may fade as the country's scant resources are diverted to people who aren't its nationals," wrote Feliz Solomon, a writer for TIME Magazine, late last year.

The movement of people — forced and otherwise — across borders is a major issue of our times. As such it is ripe for exploitation by leaders playing off fear. But what we do in the face of those coming from far away in search of safety or simply a better life is not a simple question. It is not a choice between human rights or the popular will, but a question of how to reconcile the two.

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Economy

European Debt? The First Question For Merkel's Successor

Across southern Europe, all eyes are on the German elections, as they hope a change of government might bring about reforms to the EU Stability Pact.

Angela Merkel at a campaign event of CDU party, Stralsund, Sep 2021

Tobias Kaiser, Virginia Kirst, Martina Meister


-Analysis-

BERLIN — Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD) is the front-runner, according to recent polls, to become Germany's next chancellor. Little wonder then that he's attracting attention not just within the country, but from neighbors across Europe who are watching and listening to his every word.

That was certainly the case this past weekend in Brdo, Slovenia, where the minister met with his European counterparts. And of particular interest for those in attendance is where Scholz stands on the issue of debt-rule reform for the eurozone, a subject that is expected to be hotly debated among EU members in the coming months.

France, which holds its own elections early next year, has already made its position clear. "When it comes to the Stability and Growth Pact, we need new rules," said Bruno Le Maire, France's minister of the economy and finance, at the meeting in Slovenia. "We need simpler rules that take the economic reality into account. That is what France will be arguing for in the coming weeks."

The economic reality for eurozone countries is an average national debt of 100% of GDP. Only Luxemburg is currently meeting the two central requirements of the Maastricht Treaty: That national debt must be less than 60% of GDP and the deficit should be no more than 3%. For the moment, these rules have been set aside due to the coronavirus crisis, but next year national leaders must decide how to go forward and whether the rules should be reinstated in 2023.

Europe's north-south divide lives on

The debate looks set to be intense. Fiscally conservative countries, above all Austria and the Netherlands, are against relaxing the rules as they recently made very clear in a joint position paper on the subject. In contrast, southern European countries that are dealing with high levels of national debt believe that now is the moment to relax the rules.

Those governments are calling for countries to be given more freedom over their levels of national debt so that the economy, which is recovering remarkably quickly thanks to coronavirus spending and the European Central Bank's relaxation of its fiscal policy, can continue to grow.

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive.

The rules must be "adapted to fit the new reality," said Spanish Finance Minister Nadia Calviño in Brdo. She says the eurozone needs "new rules that work." Her Belgian counterpart agreed. The national debts in both countries currently stand at over 100% of GDP. The same is true of France, Italy, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus.

Officials there will be keeping a close eye on the German elections — and the subsequent coalition negotiations. Along with France, Germany still sets the tone in the EU, and Berlin's stance on the brewing conflict will depend largely on what the coalition government looks like.

A key question is which party Germany's next finance minister comes from. In their election campaign, the Greens have called for the debt rules to be revised so that in the future they support rather than hinder public investment. The FDP, however, wants to reinstate the Maastricht Treaty rules exactly as they were and ensure they are more strictly enforced than before.

This demand is unlikely to gain traction at the EU level because too many countries would still be breaking the rules for years to come. There is already a consensus that they should be reformed; what is still at stake is how far these reforms should go.

Mario Draghi on stage in Bologna

Prime Minister Mario Draghi at an event in Bologna, Italy — Photo: Brancolini/ROPI/ZUMA

Time for Draghi to step up?

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive. That having been said, starting in January, France will take over the presidency of the EU Council for a period that will coincide with its presidential election campaign. And it's likely that Macron's main rival, right-wing populist Marine Le Pen, will put the reforms front and center, especially since she has long argued against Germany and in favor of more freedom.

Rome is putting its faith in the negotiating skills of Prime Minister Mario Draghi, a former head of the European Central Bank. Draghi is a respected EU finance expert at the debating table and can be of great service to Italy precisely at a moment when Merkel's departure may see Germany represented by a politician with less experience at these kinds of drawn-out summits, where discussions go on long into the night.

The Stability and Growth pact may survive unscathed.

Regardless of how heated the debates turn out to be, the Stability and Growth Pact may well survive the conflict unscathed, as its symbolic value may make revising the agreement itself practically impossible. Instead, the aim will be to rewrite the rules that govern how the Pact should be interpreted: regulations, in other words, about how the deficit and national debt should be calculated.

One possible change would be to allow future borrowing for environmental investments to be discounted. France is not alone in calling for that. European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni has also added his voice.

The European Commission is assuming that the debate may drag on for some time. The rules — set aside during the pandemic — are supposed to come into force again at the start of 2023.

The Commission is already preparing for the possibility that they could be reactivated without any reforms. They are investigating how the flexibility that has already been built into the debt laws could be used to ensure that a large swathe of eurozone countries don't automatically find themselves contravening them, representatives explained.

The Commission will present its recommendations for reforms, which will serve as a basis for the countries' negotiations, in December. By that point, the results of the German elections will be known, as well as possibly the coalition negotiations. And we might have a clearer idea of how intense the fight over Europe's debt rules could become — and whether the hopes of the southern countries could become reality.

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