European Commission denies link between Cologne sex attacks and migrant crisis
The sex attacks that took place in Cologne on New Year’s Eve were simply a “matter of public order” and had nothing to do with the refugee crisis, Jean-Claude Juncker’s inner circle believe.
The European Commission will be the “voice of reason” and tell the public that there is no link between the migration crisis affecting the continent and attacks on women in Germany, internal minutes disclose, amid growing concerns at a “xenophobic” backlash.
The minutes of the European Commission’s weekly cabinet meeting from January 13 hint at officials’ fears that the events in Cologne could turn public opinion sharply against the million migrants who have entered Europe.
They spell out Mr Juncker’s frustration at the inaction of national governments under pressure from voters, and a suggest sense of panic that the inability to halt a growing volume of economic migrants could undermine the “credibility” of the European project.
In events that shocked Germany, a crowd of around a thousand people surrounded and attacked women celebrating the New Year. More than 500 people filed criminal complaints, 40 per cent of which were for sexual assault. At least two cases of rape were reported.
The interior ministry, days after the attacks, said that “people with a migration background were almost exclusively responsible for the criminal acts”.
One perpetrator is alleged to have told police he was Syrian, adding: “You have to treat me kindly. Mrs Merkel invited me.”
German politicians and newspapers were accused of suppressing the events, while in Leipzig protesters from the Pegida movement marched with banners reading ‘Rapefugees not welcome’. Ukip have said the events show why Britain should vote to leave the EU.
The minutes document a presentation from Frans Timmermans, the first vice president of the European Commission and Mr Juncker’s trusted deputy.
“As far as the crimes in Cologne were concerned, he said that these were a matter of public order and were not related to the refugee crisis,” the minutes say.
He went on to set out how a growing proportion of the arrivals are economic migrants, rather than refugees.
“He also observed that the flow of migrants at EU borders was not slowing down and estimates suggested that only about 40 per cent of them, mostly Syrians, were fleeing war and therefore in need of international protection; meanwhile more and more third country nationals were slipping in who were driven by mainly economic reasons and did not qualify for such protection.”
During the discussion that followed, Mr Juncker’s team stressed “the importance of the Commission’s continuing to play its coordinating role and sounding the voice of reason to defuse tensions and counter populist rhetoric.”
They called for “the unconditional rejection of false associations between certain criminal acts, such as the attacks on women in Cologne on New Year’s Eve, and the mass influx of refugees.”
At the same time, they agreed that they must “respond to the concerns of European citizens, particularly by stressing that Europe was also a union of security and values.”
Mr Juncker, the Commission president, has been left exasperated by the refusal of eastern European countries to take part in his refugee relocation scheme, and angered at the criticism levelled at his handling of the crisis.
Following the Cologne attacks, Robert Fico, the Slovakian prime minister, said he would accept no refugees as they are “impossible to integrate” and have a “different relationship to women”.
The minutes go on: “The President wound up the debate, saying that he did not wish to downplay the current difficulties. The inaction by the Member States was a problem for the management of the refugee crisis in itself, but it also raised the question of the credibility of the Commission, which was struggling to provide political inspiration for Europe.
“In any event, he rejected as unworthy the accusations levelled at the Commission by the leaders of some Member States who impugned the reputation an institution that was the guarantor of European integration and, in particular, the Schengen area.”