Spain’s Sánchez top achievement: exporting migration to other Member States

4 min read

In late April, Spain’s socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez barely escaped resignation over corruption allegations linked to his wife. Considering the huge efforts and extraordinary political deals that allowed Sánchez to finally become head of government in 2023, it would have been surprising if the socialist politician would have been ready to take responsibility and step down. However, there are far more important issues than his wife’s business tricks the leftist Spanish PM one day has to take responsibility for.

Firstly, there is the issue of migration, which not only divides Spanish society, but also has a negative impact on the security of Europe as a whole. In this respect, there are two major opinions. According to one of them, the way the Sánchez cabinet tries to tackle migration is appropriate, while others say that the government does no more than relativise the problems.

The other main point of criticism Sánchez and his Socialist Party (PSOE) faces is that in order to become Spain’s PM last year, he was willing to enter into an alliance with Catalan separatist politician Carles Puigdemon’s Junts per Catalunya, which is seen by many Spanish as an act of betrayal, in addition, even the most moderate critics called this political decision controversial or problematic.

Let’s look first at migration, given that the Spanish government’s steps, or, more precisely, the lack of governmental actions, have a major impact on the security not only of Spain and the surrounding countries, but of the entire continent.

In terms of irregular migration, the first months of 2024 proved to be a complete disaster for Spain.

The fact that in late January, European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders (Frontex) suspended its operations in Spain for a week signaled not only the difficulties the country’s Socialist government faces but, unfortunately, also its helplessness, even weakness. In January, the situation was really tough: the entire 2024 operating plan of Frontex in Spain has been put in danger after Spain failed to reach an agreement. When claiming that it was merely a technical issue, Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska obviously tried to relativise the problem.

To fully understand what the problem is, let’s see the official statistics.

According to UN Refugee Agency, over the first weeks of January, at least 4,400 migrants reached the Spanish coasts. In addition, Frontex reports indicate the West African route to the Canary Islands has registered the highest increment of irregular migration flows of all migration routes to the continent.

It needs to be noted that the timing of the debate with Frontex was extremely unfavourable considering that Spain registered a new record of arrivals that certain weekend in January with over 1,200 migrants reaching the Canary Islands which is one of the most popular destinations for would-be asylum seekers – in 2023 over 40,403 migrants reached the archipelago. The majority of the migrants are apparently from Senegal and Mauritania. Last October, the then Spanish migration minister, José Luis Escrivá said that unused military barracks, hotels and hostels would be converted into temporary shelters for 3,000 migrants to deal with the rapidly-growing number of people arriving on the Canary Islands.

According to further alarming figures, in 2023, the Spanish Ministry of the Interior registered more than 56,000 undocumented people entering Spain which shows an 82 % increase in comparison with the 31,000 registered in 2022.

In light of these figures, it’s easy to understand why migration needs to be given a proper answer not only in Spain but at EU level as well. The fact that the Spanish society is fractured with regard to the issue of migration cannot be hidden when it comes to in-depth analysis of this issue. While some call for the government to put greater effort into securing the borders, others support NGOs which ask for increased humanitarian aid to help migrants. The Spanish authorities, including the Civil Guard and the Spanish National Police call for more resources to defend the borders.

It’s worth recalling words of Carlos Echeverría, the director of Ceuta and Melilla Observatory (two autonomous Spanish exclaves in North Africa) who told Brussels Signal in March, that ’it is very easy to focus on the humanitarian dimension of the problem but let us not forget that States have the obligation to protect their territory.’Failing to protect it will not lead to equal opportunities for people’, he added wisely.

To help to tackle the increasing migration in Spain, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen – mirroring her trip to Tunisia in July 2023 where she offered financial aid of the EU to reduce migration -, visited Mauritania together with Sánchez and offered the Mauritanian government €210 million to stop migration. Von der Leyen believed this aid would help the African country’s government create opportunities for employment there and taking actions against human traffickers. Considering the recent background in Niger, this idea could be born only in the head of a forgetful person. (Before the coup in Niger July 2023, the EU offered €503 million to the country to suppress migration and, after the coup, in November 2023, the Military Government of Niger revoked the law criminalising human traffickers.)

The above-mentioned raise a question: is throwing money really the best solution the EU can reinvent to tackle migration in Africa?

As for the new EU Asylum and Migration Pact – a reform of the EU’s migration and asylum system, aimed to reduce irregular migration – which was passed by lawmakers of the European Parliament in April, Spain didn’t join to criticism expressed by some Eastern European Member States, in particular, Poland and Hungary. On the contrary, the preparation of the new migration rules was the top priority of Spain’s six-month presidency at the helm of the EU in 2023. However, on behalf of the Spanish government, such approach is understandable, in light of a new mandatory solidarity mechanism which would oblige other member states to shoulder a fairer share of the burden…

The growing number of migrants and, the the consequent accumulation of unaddressed problems, will undoubtably have a significant impact on Spain’s internal political situation, beyond the fact that it leads to wedges in Spanish society. Local experience shows that when migration intensified, it led to the rise of far-right groups such as the Spanish Vox party. That’s why in the 2019 general elections, Spain’s North African exclave Ceuta became a Vox stronghold. Given the rapidly growing number of migrants arriving in Spain, the socialist ruling coalition has certainly lost a significant number of voters this year, as each new migrant indicates the failure of the government.

When Madrid’s conservative regional leader, Isabel Diaz Ayuso accused the government of mismanaging the migration situation and suggested that the transfer of migrants to the mainland could pose a security risk, Socialists accused her and her fellow conservatives to whip up xenophobic rhetorics’. Just like before.

If you vote against that pact you will give a victory to the far right of Europe,’ said German MEP Birgit Sippel (SDP, European Socialists) about the EU’s new Migration Pact. This statement fairly precisely highlights what’s in the head of the European Socialists concerning migration.

While Pedro Sánchez takes a typically leftist position on migration, seemingly focusing on humanitarian issues, all that is actually happening is that the Spanish government is simply unable to manage mass migration, and therefore it’s long been advocating for a ’fairer’ distribution of asylum-seekers across the EU. It cannot be left unnoticed that this two-faced approach of the Spanish PM, as a result of the EU’s migration policy, hits the whole of Europe. It’s quite obvious that when the Spanish government claims that the situation is well-handled and manageable, it doesn’t tell the truth, in fact, the opposite is true: instead of managing unwanted migration within the country, it prefers to export it to other EU Member States.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This website uses cookies to provide user authentication. Please indicate whether you consent to our site placing cookies on your device and agree with our Privacy Policy. To find out more, please read our Privacy and Cookie Policy