Wednesday

20th Jun 2018

Opinion

Big changes in EU migration governance

  • Migrant family leaving a checkpoint in Greece. (Photo: Joseph Boyle)

It has been a year since the signing of the EU-Turkey agreement. The flow of asylum seekers and migrants through the Turkey-Greece corridor has been reduced to a trickle.

By contrast, flows from Libya to Italy continue at a sustained pace, a testament to political and economic hardships on the African continent. The increased movement over the last three years has put the EU under pressure, and has often led to drastic political and policy responses.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... our join as a group

Public debate tends to focus too much on criticism and forget the important steps taken to strengthen European governance of asylum and migration. Yet, there have still been at least ten notable developments.

First, although it remains premature to speak of the replacement or radical modification of the first safe country principle, the inadequacy of the Dublin Regulation has been proven. Responsibility for asylum-seeking is now shared among member states after first registration, not upon arrival - as was the case in the first safe country principle.

The European Commission has introduced relocation quotas to alleviate pressures on front-line and main destination countries. These are likely to transform from an emergency solution into a more permanent mechanism.

Second, cooperation with origin and transit countries has finally become a top priority, years after the European Agenda on Migration and Mobility.

In principle, such forms of dialogue are correct, but in practice all other issues become conditional and the burden of asylum seeking and migration management is laid on the weakest and poorest of states. It therefore neglects that several origin and transit countries are unable to fulfil what is asked of them.

Migration cannot be the only factor guiding the EU’s foreign policy, and prioritising concerns over migration control may involve sacrificing other priorities, such as human rights protection for both refugees and migrants, development aid, or trade.

Third, the Schengen interruption mechanism is no longer a taboo. It has become acceptable that if an emergency arises at the EU’s external borders, internal border controls may be reintroduced to limit and discourage flows into and across member states, as well as to appease national electorates.

Fourth, exceptional border regimes (see Greece) may be created at the EU’s external borders when large inflows of refugees or migrants are registered. Such regimes come at the expense of asylum-seeking procedures and unfortunately go hand-in-hand with the second point above, regarding cooperation with origin and third countries.

Fifth, there has been a high concern for preventing the loss of human life and combating criminal networks that take advantage of people’s despair. Policies aimed at preventing such losses have been temporary and, in part, contradictory.

Nonetheless, it is certainly a positive development that public awareness of the tragic plight of refugees and migrants has increased.

Sixth, a transnational civil solidarity movement has emerged in Greece and Italy, as well as in transit and final destination countries such as Germany and Austria. This spontaneous movement benefited from substantial state and international aid.

Civil society actors have played an important part in the management of the emergency, initially in search and rescues. Then, as flows diminished, these organisations have assisted in first reception, accommodation and long-term integration.

Seventh, the establishment of the EU Border and Coastguard, a dramatic development in institutional and legal terms, could be seen as an example of solidarity in dealing with a global phenomenon. However, it mainly concerns border management, whereas the management of asylum-seeking remains largely national.

The EASO, the European Asylum Support Office, remains a small and rather marginal agency within the EU institutional and political landscape, despite calls from the European Commission in March 2016 for a proper European Asylum Agency.

Eighth, emphasis on the fight against human smuggling has increased, but more research and policy innovation is needed to effectively combat the phenomenon.

Smuggling is a lucrative business, but one deeply rooted in local communities. Accessing the international protection available in conditions of safety remains a Catch-22 challenge, but the EU needs to address it.

Ninth, the capacity of single migrants/refugees and their families to execute a journey has increased exponentially in the era of smart phones. Single individuals can obtain and exchange information in real time with other actors, negotiate options, seize opportunities and navigate obstacles in dynamic ways.

This phenomenon that ‘exploded’ in recent years has unearthed many questions. Does it simply facilitate movement? Does it create new demands for migration or respond to pre-existing drivers? Does it disempower smugglers and governments? A better understanding of this new phenomenon is crucial.

Last but not least, the refugee emergency has made it clear that hard and fast distinctions between asylum-seekers and labour migrants are difficult to apply. In reality, people have both political and economic motivations to move.

However, individual or family migration cannot be explained solely with political or economic motives. Both factors play a part, though with differing degrees of importance. Policy should reflect the amount of freedom individuals have over their own actions.

A team of scholars, politicians and policy makers will cast light on these developments at the State of the Union in Florence on 4-5 May 2017. Here, and elsewhere, we need to create innovative policies that respond to the complex dynamics of population flows in the 21st century.

Anna Triandafyllidou is a professor at the Global Governance Programme (GGP) of the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies (RSCAS), European University Institute in Florence, Italy.

EU leaders discuss Libya migrant plans

A letter by Maltese prime minister Joseph Muscat, which will be discussed at the EU summit, provides an overview of plans to keep migrants in Libya.

EU court delivers blow to asylum seekers

EU court ruled in favour of Belgium against a Syrian family seeking asylum in the country, in what rights defenders called an "absurd impasse".

Refusing refugees would cost EU funds, MEP says

The Swedish liberal MEP Cecilia Wikstroem seeks to introduce a five-year transition period for countries that are not ready to take in asylum seekers under the reformed Dublin system.

Fate of EU refugee deal hangs in the balance

Europe's choice is between unplanned, reactive, fragmented, ineffective migration policy and planned, regulated, documented movements of people, writes International Rescue Committee chief David Miliband.

Long-distance animal transport: unthinkable still happening

A complete overhaul of animal products' supply chains is needed, privileging local food chains including local slaughtering which is proven to benefit the environment, the resilience of our economy, food safety and animal welfare.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  2. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMHRMI Launches Lawsuits Against Individuals and Countries Involved in Changing Macedonia's Name
  3. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  4. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  6. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  8. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  10. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  11. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  2. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  4. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  5. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  7. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  9. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and Reconciliation Is a Process That Takes Decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  10. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  11. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  12. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  2. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual Report celebrates organization’s tenth anniversary
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Cooperation Needed on Green Exports and Funding
  5. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li Confirms China Will Continue to Open Up
  6. European Jewish CongressCalls on Brussels University to Revoke Decision to Honour Ken Loach
  7. Nordic Council of Ministers12 Recommendations for Nordic Leadership on Climate and Environment
  8. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOxford Professor Calls for an End to the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  9. ACCAPeople Who Speak-Up Should Feel Safe to Do So
  10. Mission of China to the EUProgress on China-EU Cooperation
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersWorld's Energy Ministers to Meet in Oresund in May to Discuss Green Energy
  12. ILGA EuropeParabéns! Portugal Votes to Respect the Rights of Trans and Intersex People

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us