Good morning and welcome to Europe Express.
Migration is back on the EU leaders’ agenda — and so are new allegations of abuses at the bloc’s frontier. Greek border forces have repeatedly pushed migrants trying to enter the country back into Turkey, according to an Amnesty International report published today and disputed by Athens. The latest claims come ahead of EU summit talks in Brussels on a multibillion euro cash injection to continue a €6bn scheme, under which the bloc has paid Turkey to host refugees and take back migrants from Greek islands.
On the table is an extra €3.5bn for Turkey until 2024, according to a European Commission proposal seen by Europe Express. I will unpack the findings of the report and what challenges lie ahead to approving the funding for Turkey.
Hungary’s anti-LGBT+ law has meanwhile alarmed 13 EU nations, which put out a joint statement condemning the legislation and urging the commission to “use all the tools at its disposal”, including taking Hungary to court.
But not all is dark in Europe: the economic outlook is improving by the day. We will examine at the latest figures and what they point to.
And we will analyse what the latest plans for a joint cyber unit — to be presented today — are all about.
It has been more than a year since reports emerged that Greece had pushed back migrants trying to enter from Turkey, particularly via the land border. Amnesty International has published a report based on interviews with 16 people who said they experienced multiple pushbacks from the frontier region between June and December 2020.
“Our research shows that violent pushbacks have become the de facto Greek border control policy in the Evros region,” said Adriana Tidona, migration researcher for Europe at Amnesty International.
The report alleges that Greek border guards routinely used force and unlawful detention before returning migrants to Turkey, in violation of EU and international law. The interviewees described beatings, sometimes resulting in severe injuries, and humiliating strip-searching in front of women and children.
The Greek ministry of migration and asylum told Eleni Varvitsioti in Athens that authorities abide by a “strict legal framework” in investigating allegations of ill-treatment at the border, adding that the claims “have so far proven to be largely unsubstantiated.” It said all actions taken by Greek authorities complied with international laws.
But the EU’s border agency Frontex has failed to follow up on claims of abuses, Amnesty alleged. The rights group called on Frontex to increase its scrutiny of the claims or withdraw from Greece altogether.
Frontex, the once-obscure Warsaw-based agency at the centre of the EU’s migration strategy (and multiple controversies), declined to comment on the allegations. It said it had no plans to reduce the agency’s 600-strong presence in Greece.
The Amnesty report also alleged brutality on the Turkish side. Migrants claimed that once they returned from Greece, Turkish officers forced them back to Greece or onto an islet in the Evros river. They also said Turkish authorities were slow to rescue people from the river or allow them to swim back ashore.
Turkish authorities did not respond to a request for comment.
The report will further fuel criticism that the EU is running a “Fortress Europe” migration policy aimed at preventing people from entering the bloc to seek asylum. The EU has repeatedly failed to agree a coherent strategy on migration after the internal political crisis stoked by an influx of refugees from Syria and other countries in 2015-16.
One focus for EU leaders this week will be the landmark agreement with Turkey that member states see as critical to keeping arrival numbers down. On the table, according to the draft seen by Europe Express, is a European Commission proposal of €5.7bn for refugees and host communities in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. Of this, €3.5bn is earmarked for Turkey until 2024.
Here lies a difficulty for member states and the commission. Since the funding for Turkey would come from the EU budget, the European parliament will have a say in approving it. Legislators are likely to ask for tougher human rights assurances, given multiple allegations of abuse at the EU border.
The commission would like to “gradually move from humanitarian priorities to socio-economic support and development”, according to the draft text. This would include “funding for migration management and border control”. These are precisely the areas rights activists and the parliament have flagged as of serious concern.
House prices have left the woes of the coronavirus pandemic in the rear-view mirror and have been soaring this year in Europe. The issue was flagged at the European Central Bank’s “ECB Listens” event, and ECB president Christine Lagarde was grilled over it by the European parliament on Monday. (Find out more here)
The outlook for Europe’s economy seems to grow brighter by the day, and a string of business and consumer surveys due to be published this week are only expected to reinforce this increasingly rosy picture, writes Martin Arnold in Frankfurt.
The first of the week’s data points were released yesterday afternoon, with the European Commission’s flash confidence indicator for eurozone consumers rising 1.8 points to minus 3.3 this month.
While this was slightly below the expectations of economists polled by Reuters, it was still the highest level since October 2018, after rebounding from a low of minus 22 shortly after the coronavirus pandemic hit last year. The reading for EU consumers also rose 1.5 points to minus 4.5.
The eurozone economy only recently slumped into a double-dip recession — defined as two consecutive quarters of falling gross domestic product — when it shrank in the three months to March, weighed down by rising infections and containment measures.
However, the bloc’s first-quarter performance has since been revised up from minus 0.6 per cent to minus 0.3 per cent and most economists believe the region rebounded into growth in the second quarter.
Although Europe still lags behind the US and China and the rapid spread of the Delta variant in some countries, including the UK and Portugal, has cast a shadow over the region’s outlook, most economists are upgrading their forecasts for the region.
German investment bank Berenberg upgraded its forecast for eurozone GDP growth next year from 4.6 per cent to 4.9 per cent.
This upbeat mood is expected to be backed up today when IHS Markit publishes its flash eurozone purchasing managers’ index, which is expected to show that business activity continued to accelerate this month.
The rise in business activity is likely to be strongest in the services sector, which has benefited from the relaxation of lockdowns, while the manufacturing sector is expected to still be struggling to meet rising demand because of supply bottlenecks.
Nikola Dacic, an economist at Goldman Sachs, predicted eurozone PMI would rise 2.4 points to a record of 59.5, saying: “With reopening under way across the euro area, high-frequency and early survey data imply a broad-based improvement in growth momentum in June.”
Most analysts expect similarly improved readings tomorrow in the main German and French business confidence surveys from the Ifo Institute and Insee, respectively. Both have already rebounded to pre-pandemic levels and are widely expected to set two-year highs in June.
EU countries should set up a joint cyber unit to deal with the growing threats of attacks, according to a European Commission proposal to be unveiled today. Member states would work together to share knowledge and even tackle electronic assaults as they happen, writes Michael Peel in Brussels.
The Brussels recommendation will underscore how the pandemic has amplified growing concerns about cyber vulnerabilities.
Recent ransomware attacks on the Colonial pipeline in the US and Ireland’s health service have underlined the risks posed by hackers to critical national infrastructure. The EU has had its own breaches such as a huge hack of diplomatic cables disclosed in 2018 and allegedly carried by a Chinese group linked to the People’s Liberation Army. (China has denied any involvement.)
The idea of bloc-wide member state action on cyber security has been around in various iterations but has struggled to gain traction. Governments have historically been reluctant to share sensitive national security data.
But as cyber attacks rack up, supporters of the commission initiative argue the issue’s moment has come.
Backers include Lithuania, which is already co-ordinating a six EU country project to run cyber rapid response teams to deal with serious incidents. Margiris Abukevicius, Lithuania’s deputy defence minister, said the latest Brussels recommendation was a “natural evolution” of that work.