On September 28, the Valdai Discussion Club hosted the presentation of a report titled “Schengen: Dead or Alive?” dedicated to migration issues in the European Union and possible challenges for Russia.
Olga Potemkina, Doctor of Political Sciences, head of the European Integration Studies at the Institute of Europe, Russian Academy of Sciences, discussed the migration crisis in the EU as a problem that is currently discussed in past tense. She noted that the number of migrants who reached the EU through the Western Balkan route has reduced by 97 percent since 2015.
She added that the influx of migrants continues in Italy, where 118,000 migrants entered through Libya from January to August 2016. Unlike Greece, Italy also does not receive assistance from the EU in dealing with the crisis.
Potemkina noted that the implementation of border control in Europe to end the flow of migrants was aided by several factors. First, all Syrian migrants who wanted to enter the EU have likely already done so. Second, the EU conducted a competent information campaign to discourage potential migrants. Third, the deal with Turkey, which put an end to the smuggling of migrants by organized criminal groups.
“This is a very fragile peace. It’s unclear, how relations with Erdogan will work out, what will happen to Greece, which the EU sacrificed. The situation remains suspended, although there is a certain calm, which allows the EU to carry out further plans to reestablish lost control,” Potemkina said.
She also noted the decrease in EU solidarity, and the split between its north and south. The Visegrad Group, (Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary) is trying to suggest the idea of “flexible solidarity” on the refugee issue, which would allow them to offer material aid, such as tents, instead of accepting refugees according to EU quotas.
According to Potemkina, EU members are currently able to make any decision, including refusal to accept refugees, without any consequences, as there is no system for punishing states that refuse to fulfil their obligations. The Visegrad Group’s idea of re-nationalizing borders is possible, but only in lieu of the Schengen Agreement.
Julia Paukova, PhD, civil servant at the Federal Migration Service of the Russian Federation (2008 -2016), said that the worsening of the situation with migrants in European Union countries could lead to the migration of Russian residents back to Russia, as well as the resettlement of EU citizens to Russia. Migrants could also surge toward Russia in case welfare payments and the standard of living in the EU decrease.
Paukova also noted that the Russian Federation’s migration control bodies have experience resettling displaced persons as a result of the 2014 Ukrainian crisis, which led to over one million Ukrainians seeking refuge in Russia.
Paukova said that she was against negotiations regarding visa-free travel between Russia and the EU, because “those who wish to visit Europe receive a visa without any problems, except persons who conducted violations and therefore cannot enter.”
“Entering Russia is the same, when certain procedures are adhered to, there are no problems in receiving a visa,” Paukova said.
According to Paukova, maintaining a visa regime also allows officials to forecast future migrant flows, based on how many visas are requested at embassies.