Margaritis Schinas: a study in failure
In an interview with a Dutch news-site, European Commissioner for the Promotion of the European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas, has revealed either a shocking and unacceptable personal inability or disinclination to do his job, or a horrifying truth about the EU which appointed him, and has kept him in his role.
The European Commissioner for the ‘Promotion of the European Way of Life’, Margaritis Schinas, has, in a long interview with news-site deVolkskrant (Netherlands), claimed there is ‘no evidence’ for Greece carrying out pushbacks.
Of course, there is a vast amount of evidence.
Schinas spoke at some length about refugees entering the EU, and we include the questions (Q) as well as his answers (A).
Q: Why are EU countries opening their doors to millions of Ukrainians and Syrian and Afghan refugees only marginally welcome? Because the latter are Muslims?
A: 'In Ukraine we have a war at our door, the country borders four EU countries. Five million people came this way in the past few months. Five million! That is of a completely different magnitude than in Syria and Afghanistan, where a gently burning avalanche gradually brought people to us. The scope is different, the principle is the same: everyone who flees from war is welcome here. Skin colour and religion play no role.'
This is a rather ‘mixed’ response. On the one hand, it is startling and should genuinely worry every person at every level that an EU Commissioner is claiming, or at least implying, that only those who are fleeing war can be considered refugees.
On the other, he does at least accept that Afghan and Syrian people are – by this incorrect judgement – ‘real refugees’, which Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachis is on record as having denied not just once but twice.
Then we have to ask whether what he also implies – that somehow the reason fewer Syrian and Afghan refugees than Ukrainians are in the EU is because they have been ‘slower’ to arrive, rather than that they have been deliberately and systematically prevented from entering the bloc, or pushed-back when they do enter – is in fact true.
It clearly is not. Right across Europe’s East, but most consistently, for the longest period, and in the greatest number, in Greece, men, women and children have been prevented from entering and pushed-back in order to prevent them from applying for asylum. This is certainly different behaviour than that exercised towards Ukrainian people (who are being treated correctly: other people are not) and a far less rosy image than that Schinas presents.
Q: Welcome? Pushbacks, the illegal pushing back of migrants by Polish and Greek border guards, are the order of the day. There are hundreds of documented examples, but the Commission has never launched criminal proceedings. Why not?
A: 'I have a clear conscience about this. External borders must be protected! There will be no European migration policy without effective border control. I have nothing to do with political parties and NGOs that shout: 'Down with border guards! Come on in and then we'll see.’
This is an astonishing claim. First of all, we must note that in this statement, Schinas is explicitly defending pushbacks. His comment is that pushbacks are an acceptable part of ‘defending borders’ (as pushbacks are what is explicitly mentioned in the question).
It is impossible that Schinas – a European Commissioner – does not know that what he is doing here is misleading people by claiming as truth something (that pushbacks are in some way a legitimate and legal practice) that is entirely untrue.
He then argues that he will not ‘have anything to do with’ political parties and organisations that point out the legal reality: that one is not allowed to ‘defend one’s borders’ against people seeking safe places to live, learn and work, and that one must allow them to enter and consider their application, making a decision based on that application alone.
He doesn’t even say he will listen and discuss, but disagrees with them (which would be deeply troubling because this is what the law says: it is like saying you disagree with people who say that chairs exist, or the sun heats the Earth): he says he will ‘have nothing to do with’ people – including political parties – who point out the law.
This is a deeply troubling position for a European Commissioner to have taken, and we must ask whether he is in fact capable of doing, or in any way suited to, his job.
Q: You make a caricature of it, nobody says that.
A: ‘Not overtly, but implicitly! I want the ideology out of migration policy. I want to tackle people smugglers.'
Once again, to characterise ‘we should obey international law on people movement’ as ‘ideology’ raises some very serious questions about Schinas’ aptitude and ability to perform his role, or – if it does not – the entire EU attitude to international law and the rights it grants to us all.
Equally, it is impossible to see how Schinas could possibly believe refusing to speak to people will ‘tackle people smugglers’ (who are of course not in fact smugglers): he must have noticed that people are still travelling to the EU. As we have noted many times, the way one removes people charging vast amounts for people to travel to the EU to seek asylum is to ensure there are safe and affordable routes by which men, women and children seeking safe places to live, learn and work, can travel instead.
Dismissing the law as ‘ideology’ and refusing to speak to those who do not is not only ludicrous and wildly irresponsible (not to mention criminal) it is also demonstrably not working, either to secure people’s safety, or to prevent them from coming to the EU. Schinas cannot possibly be unaware of this.
Q: The question was why the Commission did not start a single criminal procedure with so much evidence.
A: ‘There are a lot of allegations, but hardly any hard evidence. I want an independent investigation into possible abuses, not cases brought by NGOs, the press and certainly not by the authoritarian regime in Ankara that illegally sent 20,000 migrants to the Greek border.'
This is not only simply untrue: there are thousands of documented cases of pushbacks by the Greek government, which itself (as has Schinas in this interview) explicitly said that pushbacks are legal, and hundreds (at least) of transcripts from people who have been pushed back (including people who had in fact never even been to Turkey before they were forced there by Greek police, it is also once again an absolutely unacceptable position to take.
Schinas is now saying that he will not accept as evidence anything presented by either NGOs or the media. This is in fact ‘ideology’. To dismiss any evidence presented to you because it has come from an NGO (which is very likely to know more about what is happening in its area than any other ‘source’) or ‘the media’ is to deliberately make oneself blind, particularly because these organisations and the media are at present the only groups consistently researching and highlighting this activity.
The Greek government (and his comment shows he has clearly chosen to focus only on Greece) is hardly likely to highlight and report examples of the Greek government breaking international law.
This position, once again, means we must ask: is Schinas capable of doing his job? Does he simply not want to do it?
Does he realise that it is his duty, to every single person in Europe, and on this issue arguably in the world, to set aside his loyalty to Nea Dimokratia, the party in government in Greece, which has, since 1 March 2020, carried out tens of thousands of illegal pushbacks, and get on with ensuring the EU promotes and protects international law and every person’s rights?
In any case, there have been a series of legal cases and statements from the United Nations, the European Parliament and indeed even the European Commission of which he is part, which explicitly criticise the Greek government for pushing people back. The EU’s fraud watchdog OLAF and even the records of the EU’s border service Frontex make it absolutely clear that pushbacks have been taking place from Greece into Turkey: the body’s director Fabrice Leggeri was forced to resign as a direct result of these pushbacks, and then said he thought that was what Frontex was for.
Schinas could choose to read and listen to any and all of these, if he refuses to actually engage with the people working directly on the issue at ground-level.
It is very notable that despite claiming he wants ‘an independent investigation into possible abuses’ no such investigation has taken place, or has been announced. Why, we may ask, has Schinas not begun these proceedings?
His comment about Turkey pours yet more doubt on whether Schinas is even capable of doing the unbiased job Europe and the world needs him to do: not only did ‘Ankara’ not ‘send’ 20,000 ‘migrants’ to the EU (in fact it simply opened its borders, in direct obeyance of international law, and they went of their own accord), and not only did the Greek government openly and violently break international law by attacking those entirely innocent people with sticks, teargas and grenades, taken in the ‘round’ the comment is now identical to the position Nea Dimokratia pretends to hold: that a conspiracy exists in which the Turkish government, international media, NGOs, political parties (and in the Greek government’s case also the UN) have all, for some reason, ‘united’ to attack Greece, a tiny country in the South East of Europe.
We must ask: why? Why would all of those groups unite with one another to attack Greece?
Q: Migrants are sent back naked by land, drowning in the Mediterranean. Where are you as a patron of the European way of life?
A: 'People are dying in the Mediterranean, but a million lives have also been saved. You rarely read about that.'
In some ways this is the worst answer of the lot. Effectively, Schinas here does not even deny pushbacks are happening, but says it is fine for an EU member state to actually kill people – 19 of the ‘naked people’ in the question died on Wednesday 2 February 2022, having been stripped naked and forced into Turkey – for daring to try to enter Greece, and that we should, instead of caring about that, only pay attention to one million people whose lives the EU ‘saved’.
It is also hard to believe that Schinas is claiming, as an EU achievement, the ‘saving’ of ‘a million lives’ when allowing those people to enter the EU was the absolute bare minimum required by international law, and ‘inspired’ EU member states to break even EU laws by putting up walls and lining their borders with armed officers to prevent people travelling across states, while the EU sat on its hands and did nothing.
It is also a little much because in the years 2015 and 2016, to which he must presumably be referring, the EU’s refusal to provide safe routes by which people could reach it killed 1,440 people.
We must also note that, as we have noted previously, the ‘experience’ of the EU ‘saving’ those one million lives (by doing absolutely the least it was forced to do by the law) has led to it demanding that it must never ‘save’ so many lives again, changing its entire policy and approach to prevent people from reaching Europe, including paying criminal militia leaders in Libya, and bribing the Turkish government, for this purpose. As we noted, its staffers now claim ‘Angela was wrong’ in response to the former German Chancellor’s (correct) declaration that ‘we can do it’ in reference to people arriving to seek safety in Europe
Finally, of course, the idea that one ‘seldom hears about’ one million people arriving in Europe in 2015-16 is simply insane: we hear about almost nothing else, whenever people movement is even mentioned.
Schinas’ closing comment on the topic is that: ‘No state or empire in history survived without border guards.'
And this is true, to an extent.
On the other hand, the majority of states – and every empire – which have ever existed did not survive, even with border guards.
And, once again, there is no legal right for a state (or empire) to ‘guard its borders’ from people seeking safe places to live. One can have border guards. One just cannot use them to deny vulnerable people their – all of our – rights as human beings.
If Schinas does not know this, we must raise questions about his ability to do his job.
If he does, and is choosing to mislead people deliberately, we must question for how long he can be allowed to continue to fail to do his job, or ask some searching questions about how and why he was appointed, and remains employed, by the European Union.