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Richard Nixon, left, with British prime minister Harold Wilson at Downing Street in 1969
Frost: “So in a sense what you’re saying is that there are certain situations…where the president can decide that it’s in the best interest of the nation or something and do something illegal?”
Nixon: “Well, when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.”
When it comes to the refugee crisis, Nixonian thinking appears to have taken over the EU’s institutions. Since the outline of a controversial deal with Turkey emerged last Monday, officials have repeated the mantra: whatever the EU does, it will be legal – and in the best interests of Europe. But doubts, both legal and practical, still remain.
On Wednesday, Frans Timmermans, the orotund first vice president of the European Commission, spelled out how the EU will try to return migrants and asylum seekers to Turkey without trampling on EU and international law. He said all asylum seekers on Greek islands would be subject to a proper hearing to determine whether their application is admissible – as is required in the Geneva Convention. This principle is also contained in a draft EU-Turkey agreement distributed to national capitals last night by Donald Tusk, who will host a two-day summit to hammer out the refugee deal starting today.
But for this to happen, Greece’s asylum system needs to be bulked up to cope with 10,000 arrivals per week. Extra judges and translators will be flown onto its islands, while reception facilities must be transformed into something resembling detention centres. In short, the system needs to be transformed from a dysfunctional mess labelled “degrading” by the European Court of Human Rights into the bulwark of the EU’s response to the refugee crisis. If the Greeks fail, and the system degenerates into a network of kangaroo courts rubber stamping decisions, then Europe’s actual courts – in either Strasbourg (European Court of Human Rights) or Luxembourg (European Court of Justice) – would likely strike the deal down. Read more