Monday

20th Nov 2017

Opinion

The unbearable lightness of leadership

  • Failing to address the root causes of migration will mean reducing Mediterranean crossing is only ever a stop-gap solution (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Contrary to prevailing mainstream political narrative, the recent migration flows across the Mediterranean to Europe are not the problem. But they have exposed the real problems we face.

The most significant of these is the crisis of leadership that has set states against each other, and citizens against newcomers, in a race to the populist bottom.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Migration policy "breakthroughs" are heralded by reduced numbers of people making it to Europe and rewarded inversely by higher poll numbers and more votes. These indicators tell us nothing about how migration is really being handled, but a lot about the current state of migration governance.

The numbers game is playing out as mainstream policies continue to move towards the populist right, where xenophobia is the ruling principle, in what has been described as a tactical move to 'neutralise' extremist parties and recover their voting base. Instead, pandering to anti-migrant sentiment legitimises and strengthens them.

Extremist forces have therefore become the policy setters and opinion-leaders. Ironically, they are the ones, in their fashion, demonstrating the most convincing leadership, and adherence to their values. It looks as if we have lost our faith in visionary leadership, and the attractive power of optimism, integrity and commitment to the fundamental values that constitute our moral compass.

Dark side of history

Migration has been for far too long an issue around which politicians can win or lose elections. And unfortunately, success in gaining votes is all too often contingent upon the fear whipped up among constituents toward migrants or migration. And yet, the dark side of our recent history should remind us of the deadly downward spiral that fear-mongering entails.

People in Europe have legitimate concerns about the arrival of immigrants and we recognise how this can create uncertainty and scepticism. However, we also see that certain politicians and political groups deliberately distort the picture to generate unreasonable fears and panic for short term gains.

We are facing systemic, structural challenges that can only be met with longer-term, strategic solutions. However, some politicians find it expedient to draw attention away from the systemic problems, leaving migrants exposed to bear the brunt of public fears and frustrations and scapegoated for failed social policies.

Reducing flows in itself has a real positive effect on the root causes of irregular migration only when no harm is done to the people we should be protecting and assisting and if not detrimental to the communities hosting people in transit or back in home countries.

Containment tactics such as reinforced borders and over-reliance on forced returns only serve to 'kick the can down the road' and exacerbate the root causes whenever they are not balanced by more legal routes, community-based stability, reintegration and development initiatives.

We are also witnessing the downplay of recent key international commitments on migration and rights such as contained in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the New York Declaration to be realised in the Global Compact on Safe, Regular and Orderly Migration next year. It is striking, and worrying, that these international commitments are not fully reflected in our political actions when addressing migratory flows. This does not bode well for the future.

The drafting of the Global Compact on Migration represents a historic opportunity for the international community to put an end to ad-hoc, fragmented and emergency-based response. The EU and member states have the expertise, experience and responsibility to take a leading role in shaping the Global Compact and building a system for human mobility where people can move safely, legally and voluntarily in full respect of their human rights.

Leaders need to step up and offer a new narrative that puts the fundamental rights, needs and vulnerabilities of everyone on the move at the center of migration policy instead of the overarching focus on reducing the number of arrivals. The measure of successful policy should not be only a decrease in arrival numbers but an increase in the well-being, protection and integration of migrants, which we know from experience benefits communities and the larger society.

Next election vs next generation?

James Freeman Clarke, the 19th century American theologian and author once said, "A politician thinks of the next election. A statesman, of the next generation."

Young and working-age migrants also represent a future generation. We need to tirelessly remind our public of migration's overwhelmingly positive contributions to the economic and social dynamism of home and host societies. Political leadership at all levels from global to local is essential.

There is no ready-made model for the governance of social diversity and none that may be universally applicable, but we must reaffirm a common base of core, universal values, that form the bedrock of our ambition to create policies for harmonious societies.

If we fail to do this, the deeply ingrained problems that lead to forced displacement and irregular migration will simply continue to fester and grow and risk creating a generation of trapped people who can become easier prey to criminal and extremist groups.

Is this our legacy?

Eugenio Ambrosi is the Brussels office regional director of the International Organization for Migration

Nepal units arrive in Libya to guard UN refugee agency

The UN is sending guards to Libya to provide security for staff working with the UN refugee agency and other UN missions inside compound premises in Tripoli. The agency's work in Libya is broadly funded by the EU.

Mind the gap: inequality in our cities

Minimum wages, 'living' wages and a universal basic income are all part of the ongoing mix to find ways to reduce social inequality across the EU.

The anti-glyphosate lobby strikes again

Opponents of glyphosate too often rely on one - contested - piece of research, or smear their opponents as stooges for the chemicals industry.

EU's eastern partnership needs revival

A week before a summit with EU eastern neighbours, Sweden and Poland's foreign ministers propose "a way ahead" for the relationship that is more focused on people's needs.

News in Brief

  1. EU medicines agency will move to Milan or Amsterdam
  2. Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Milan in next round of EMA vote
  3. Three countries pull out of medicines agency Brexit race
  4. Schulz calls for new German elections
  5. EU Commission 'confident' on German stability
  6. EU adopts new border check rules
  7. Soros: Hungary's campaign based on 'distortions and lies'
  8. German talks collapse 'bad news', Dutch minister says

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Dialogue PlatformErdogan's Most Vulnerable Victims: Women and Children
  2. UNICEFEuropean Parliament Marks World Children's Day by Launching Dialogue With Children
  3. European Jewish CongressAntisemitism in Europe Today: Is It Still a Threat to Free and Open Society?
  4. Counter BalanceNew Report: Juncker Plan Backs Billions in Fossil Fuels and Carbon-Heavy Infrastructure
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic countries prioritise fossil fuel subsidy reform
  6. Mission of China to the EUNew era for China brings new opportunities to all
  7. ACCASmall and Medium Sized Practices Must 'Offer the Whole Package'
  8. UNICEFAhead of the African Union - EU Summit, Survey Highlights Impact of Conflict on Education
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council Calls for Closer Co-Operation on Foreign Policy
  10. Swedish EnterprisesTrilogue Negotiations - Striking the Balance Between Transparency and Efficiency
  11. Access EuropeProspects for US-EU Relations Under the Trump Administration - 28 November 2017
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable Growth the Nordic Way: Climate Solutions for a Sustainable Future

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU2017EEHow Data Fuels Estonia's Economy
  2. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Step Up Water Management Cooperation
  3. CECEMachinery Industry Calls for Joint EU Approach to Develop Digital Construction Sector
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersMale Business Leaders Gather in Copenhagen to Advance Gender Equality
  5. EnelNo ETS Deal Means It Can Still Be Strengthened
  6. EU2017EEEstonia Anticipates More Digital Cooperation With Sweden
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina Launches Campaign to Protect IPR of Foreign Companies
  8. European Jewish CongressEJC Condemns Attacks on Ruta Vanagaite and the Shredding of Her Books in Lithuania
  9. Bio-Based IndustriesDiscover the Future of the Bio-Based Economy. Register Now for the BBI Stakeholder Forum!
  10. European Free AllianceWelcome Catalonia!
  11. UNICEFGrowing Number of Unaccompanied Refugee Children in Greece in Need of Shelter
  12. Counter BalanceNature Destruction Cannot Be Compensated For, Say NGOs