Managing the challenge of illegal migration in Malta

Malta
Mediterranean Academy of Diplomatic Studies, University of Malta
 
Over recent years, Malta has increasingly moved into the international spotlight as a frontline state for irregular migration from the African continent towards the EU. Since 2002, Malta has experienced a growing influx of migrants predominately from the horn of Africa, practically all of which have departed from the Libyan coast towards Europe. Even though, in absolute terms, the number of seaborne migrants landing on Malta has been rather modest, given the country’s small size and very high population density, the impact in proportional terms has been higher than in most if not all European countries.
 
Consequently, illegal immigration has become one of Malta’s top policy priorities, nationally as well as at the EU level, where Malta has been calling for burden-sharing mechanisms and support from other EU countries in coping with the growth in irregular immigration. Moreover, boat migration across the Mediterranean has also become an increasingly pressing humanitarian challenge: it is estimated that, over recent years, several hundred would-be immigrants have died every year in the Mediterranean trying to reach the EU from the south.
 

Luxemburg’s banking sector hit by financial crisis, unforeseen constitutional crisis

Luxembourg
Centre d’Etudes et de Recherches Européennes Robert Schuman
 
Little Luxembourg was badly shaken both by the global financial crisis and by the home-made constitutional crisis in the last quarter of 2008.
 
The international financial crisis nearly threw into bankruptcy the two biggest private banks of the country. Both banks represented not only national pride in finance matters: a long expertise and a high prestige doped with ‘triple A’-ratings. “Dexia-Bil”, the oldest bank of the Grand Duchy, and “Fortis” formerly “Banque Générale du Luxembourg” are of focal importance for the national economy. Had they disappeared, the consequences for the national economy could not have been worse, as Jean-Claude Juncker put it in a TV address to his fellow citizens.[1] In both cases, heavy losses of the Belgian or French mother agencies brought their Luxembourg daughter agencies big trouble. Only a concerted action by the Belgian and Luxembourg government and at a certain moment also by the Dutch government – did save those two banks from bankruptcy. A strong public intervention could persuade new investors to take participation in the banks’ capital. Hence, the Luxembourg state became a major shareholder of the banks and could rely on accurate public reaction to sign public bonds in order to finance the operation, at least partially.

Lithuanian energy security – a high salience issue

Lithuania
Institute of International Relations and Political Science, Vilnius University
 
Lithuanian politicians keep on talking intensively at all levels about the Lithuania’s difficult situation in the energy sector and Lithuanian energy security which will be endangered when “Ignalina nuclear power plant” – the main provider of energy in Lithuania – has to be closed according to the Treaty of Accession to the European Union. For example, during the October European Council meeting, the Lithuanian President, Valdas Adamkus, emphasized that without the electricity interconnections with Sweden and Poland, Lithuania can face energy bankruptcy.[1] The Prime Minister, Andrius Kubilius, claims that the Russian and Ukrainian gas crisis has clearly demonstrated that each European state can face big problems of energy security. Following him, we have to do everything with the European Union that next year, i.e. after the closure of the “Ignalina nuclear power plant”, we will not come across such problems as Slovakia did.[2]
 
Victory of the right-wing parties in the national elections
 

Political uncertainty and economic recession

Latvia
Latvian Institute of International Affairs
 
At the beginning of 2009 Latvia is facing political uncertainty and the onset of what is likely to be deep economic recession. Public discourse tends to concentrate on those two general themes.
 
The current political uncertainty is closely linked with that fact that the national government as well as the parliament and political parties no longer enjoy the public’s confidence. According to an opinion poll, published in late January 2009, 64 percent of Latvia’s citizens would favour dissolving the parliament.[1] Another public opinion poll in December 2008, reveals that 51 percent of the people were totally dissatisfied with the performance of the government and only 10 percent said that they were satisfied.[2]
 
This is the lowest rating of any government since 1996 when thousands of Latvians lost their life’s savings owing to the folding of “Banka Baltija”.
 

Concerns about public order and illegal immigration

Italy
Istituto Affari Internazionali
 
·         Rise in prices: In the last year the prices of basic goods, such as food, oil and energy, have increased considerably. This issue has been the centre of press articles and interventions by politicians.
 
·         Security and crime: Italian public opinion is getting increasingly worried about the lack of public order in some areas of Italy. Episodes of violence are given a lot of space in Italian press and TV shows.
 
·         Immigration: This issue is partly connected to the previous one, because in the last months there has been an increase in illegal immigration. This had led to some episodes of tension in the so-called “Centri di Prima Accoglienza” – the temporary shelters in which the illegal immigrants are hosted until they are repatriated to their country of origin – and sometimes to racist reactions by the Italian public opinion.
 

Salient topics in Ireland

Ireland
Institute of International and European Affairs
 
Most analysts would agree that the most salient topics in Ireland are a) the financial crisis and b) the Lisbon referendum, both of which have been addressed by the questions above.

Weak Hungarian economy seriously hit by the crisis

Hungary
Institute for World Economics of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences
 
In Hungary, the focus of current public discourses is the country’s critical situation due to economic recession. In fact, Hungary is extremely vulnerable because the economy has already been in bad shape for the past couple of years. Contrary to all other new member states, Hungarian growth, real convergence and gross fixed capital formation has been sluggish since accession; unemployment and inflation as well as interest rates were rising, and public debts have been increasing (diverging from and not converging to the Maastricht limit of 60 percent of GDP). In parallel, a huge public deficit was accumulated in 2006 (above 9 percent) which the government started to cut back via restrictions on the expenditure side but without any major reform on the revenue side. The restrictions and now the effects of the crisis are seriously felt by the majority of the population. Layoffs are reported every day, and the great number of citizens who are indebted in foreign currencies find themselves now in huge trouble, as the exchange rate of the Euro skyrocketed from 230 Hungarian Forint ( in August 2008) to well above 300 in February 2009.
 

Mass protests disrupting normal life

Greece
Greek Centre of European Studies and Research
 
The last few months of 2008 left a rather unpleasant feeling to the vast majority of Greeks. The government, haunted by rumors of a major politico-financial scandal, found itself unable to defend itself adequately on moral grounds while the situation of the economy was becoming alarming even before the eruption of the world financial crisis. On top of all that, the killing of a 15 year old boy by a policeman in the center of Athens on 6 December led to a wave of protests of unprecedented violence that disrupted normal life not only in the capital but in many other towns as well. These events were widely reported/publicised internationally and paved the ground for those who wanted to depict Greece as the ideal ‘victim’ for rumors about the country’s expulsion from the Eurozone, due to its bad financial situation.[1] Meanwhile, Greek eastern islets are continuously disputed by Turkey, a fact that brings forward the argument that there are some contradictions in the overall Greek foreign policy: The political system in Greece continues supporting the Turkish candidature for EU membership for strategic reasons, despite certain conceptions of the Greek public opinion, experiencing a sense of threat once more. However, the ‘perpetuating myths’ are a necessity in foreign policy.[2]
 

The jubilee and memorial year 2009 and the shadows of elections

Germany
Institute for European Politics
 
The national elections on 27 September 2009 cast a shadow on policy making and public debates in 2009. Chancellor Merkel will run again for the Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) while Foreign Minister Steinmeier is the candidate of the Social Democrats (SPD) for the chancellorship. Steinmeier will prefer to lead a SPD/Green/FDP coalition as chances for a red-green majority are quite meagre. If the CDU/CSU/FDP, the so called bourgeois camp (bürgerliches Lager) will not gain a sufficient majority, a ‘grand coalition Merkel II’ with a however weakened SPD is most likely. National elections are preceded by the election of the state president (23 May 2009). The significance is that the two parties of the grand coalition nominated their own candidate so that the outcome will indicate the strength of the two opposing camps (CDU/FDP versus SPD/Greens/Left). Moreover, 13 elections at the regional (Länder) and local level have been scheduled:
·         18 January: state parliament election in Hesse
·         7 June: local elections in Baden-Württemberg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland, Saxony-Anhalt (partly), Saxony (partly), Thuringia

Lukewarm reactions to the compromise on the “energy and climate” package

France
Centre européen de Sciences Po
 
Both because of the Poznan Conference and the EU-27 climate summit in Brussels, environmental issues have been largely covered by the French media. In its editorial, “Le Monde” emphasises the importance of these conferences: “the EU not only plays for the future of the international climate change treaty, but also for its economic future and international statute”.[1] Therefore, in view of these challenges, reactions to the final agreement have been lukewarm.