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Germany to reduce benefits for Polish children?

Berlin could follow in London’s footsteps and reduce benefits for children from other EU countries, including thousands of Polish children, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said.

Following the meeting of EU leaders over the weekend, where the UK agreed on a deal with the EU on reducing benefits to foreign EU workers in the country, among other issues, Germany said it would be considering a similar move.

“We can consider [this issue] and carefully look into the numbers. Germany certainly pays a lot of child benefits to EU workers compared to other countries,” Merkel said.

In the face of mounting catastrophe, Angela Merkel suspended European asylum rules and allowed an estimated one million migrants to enter Germany through Austria. This move earned her the grandiloquent praise of all of the ‘respectable’ media, not to mention a Nobel Peace Prize, but has done nothing to halt the flow of migrants into the Balkans, nor the deepening East-West split precipitated by the onset of the crisis.
A history of hypocrisy

Today, whilst the media fixates on Merkel’s “principled stance”, it must be remembered that at the same time the European Commission was striving to come to terms with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the increasingly autocratic President of Turkey. Under a deal hastily struck in November, the Turkish state will receive €3 billion and a revival of talks regarding Turkey’s accession to the EU. In return, the Commission expects work and education rights for Syrians in Turkey, tighter border controls, and a deal to allow it to send back thousands of “irregular” migrants. In other words, migrants are incentivised to stay out of Europe or, if that doesn’t work, forced to. As Alex Barker comments in the Financial Times, “Should it work, Turkey will essentially become Europe’s migrant buffer zone.”

Refugee crisis in EuropeThis is completely in keeping with what has become the traditional policy of “Fortress Europe” in relation to migrants from its former colonies. In August 2010, the Libyan dictator, Col Muammar Gaddafi, paid a high-profile visit to his friend, Silvio Berlusconi, the then Prime Minister of Italy. During a ceremony in Rome, Gaddafi declared that unless his request for €5 billion a year was met by the European Union, “Tomorrow Europe might no longer be European and even black as there are millions who want to come in,” threatening that the stalwart efforts of the Libyan navy to protect European waters would be overwhelmed by migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, tens of thousands of whom were already making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean to reach the Italian coast.

Gaddafi’s cynical attempt at extortion was decried as “demanding mafia-style protection money” by members of the Italian parliament, who are very familiar with such things. However, despite this and reports that migrants were being held in Libyan “concentration camps”, in October of the same year the European Commission eventually agreed to a deal in which the EU would provide a total of €50m over the next 3 years. A year later, Gaddafi was dead and Libya was rapidly sliding into the chaotic civil war which rages to this day.

Following the loss of Gaddafi as Europe’s guard dog, and the destruction of the war, an even greater influx of migrants and refugees began to attempt to cross the sea to Italy. Between October 2013 and October 2014, more than 100,000 were rescued by the Italian navy whilst over 3,000 died attempting to cross the Mediterranean. The response of the European Union’s border agency, Frontex, to this crisis was to replace the outgoing Italian “Mare Nostrum” operation with “Operation Triton”, which was to focus on “border surveillance” within 30 miles of the Italian coastline with less than a third of its predecessor’s budget.

Between January and April 2015, 1,600 people were estimated to have died making the crossing. On a single day roughly 650 died when their boat capsized off the coast of Libya, prompting David Cameron to call for “comprehensive action” to save the same people he would describe as a “swarm” later in the year.

gaddafiLibya is not the first North African country to have been used in such a way. In an article entitled, “Morocco: The forgotten frontline of the migrant crisis”, written for the humanitarian news network, IRIN, Obinna Anyadike writes, “Morocco is commonly perceived as an ‘outsourced’ gendarme for southern Europe – a key strategic partner. It has signed a raft of agreements with the European Union aimed at strengthening border security – and has been rewarded in return with millions of dollars in funding. In 2006 alone the EU provided US$80 million for border management.”

In return for economic aid and visa agreements, not to mention cold hard cash, the King of Morocco has provided an effective, and ruthless, border control service, often using police to clear and burn down migrant camps (along with migrants’ possessions in some cases). As a result, Morocco is now the least used of the main transit routes for African migration into Europe, despite its proximity to the Spanish border.

The Spanish police have also played their part in scenes reminiscent of the Berlin Wall. Anyadike reports, “Getting past the Moroccan border guards, the three layers of security fencing, the razor wire, motion sensors, CCTV cameras and the Spanish Guarda Civil is now next to impossible.” The Guarda Civil has also been known to fire rubber bullets and tear gas into crowds of migrants attempting to swim into Spanish controlled ports, a measure which caused the deaths of 15 migrants in 2014.

As has always been the case, the price of the (rapidly diminishing) privileges and liberties enjoyed within the imperialist powers is the exploitation and oppression of millions in the so-called Third World. Accordingly, the EU has always treated its neighbouring states (often former colonies) as “buffer zones” or “spheres of influence”. However, what is becoming increasingly apparent is that the EU has lost control of the situation. The fact that Erdogan has been able to extort such a huge sum shows the desperation on the part of the Commission during their negotiations.

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