Wednesday

29th Jan 2020

Opinion

New MEPs, new officials, new EU migration policy?

  • The increase in the number of populist MEPs, from five percent in the 2014-19 assembly to 10 percent in the new legislature, is likely to raise at least three challenges (Photo: European Parliament)

Despite the fact that migration had featured high, and had been one of the most divisive issues, during this year's European Parliament election campaign, the increase in the representation of populist parties in the new parliament has not been as prominent as widely anticipated.

The newly-elected assembly, however, is one of the most fragmented ever.

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And with a group of 73 MEPs, the newly formed Identity and Democracy group should be able to at least disrupt, if not impact, future legislative discussions on migration over the next five years.

So, how will EU migration and asylum policy be approached in the course of the new legislature, taking also account of the newly-appointed EU Commission and EU Council executives?

While difficult to capture at this early stage, the future of EU migration and asylum policy appears to be impelled by two diametrically opposed dynamics.

On the one hand, the increase in the number of populist MEPs, from five percent in the 2014-19 assembly to 10 percent in the new legislature, is likely to raise at least three challenges.

First, the ability to contain the spread of disinformation that will no doubt be fuelled by the increased speaking time and media exposure that will be allotted to populist MEPs, will undoubtedly be eroded.

Over the past couple of years there has been a growing determination by populist movements to use migration as a core theme in their potentially ill-intentioned agenda.

Disrupt the chamber

The need to establish an efficient modus operandi for mainstream European parliament political groups to be able to respond systematically to disruptive actions and discourses by populist MEPs over the next five years will therefore be critical.

Second, the ability to push for enhanced migration solidarity measures, might equally be affected.

While, in numerical terms, the new EP populist group might not be in a position to block any major legislative initiative, a large degree of self-restriction on the part of the mainstream groups to promote potentially contentious responsibility sharing measures in the future can probably be expected.

Third, because of the largely heterogeneous positions within both populist and mainstream parties regarding migration policy, substantial reforms and initiatives, whether they relate to restrictive or to liberal measures, might not abound during the new legislature.

To a large extent, this reflects the configuration that prevailed during the previous assembly, which had led to wavering support for a number of decisive initiatives and reforms, most notably on intra-EU relocation and on the Dublin reform.

Based on the above developments, it is therefore unlikely that any momentous initiatives and reforms will be adopted in the course of the new legislature, save for any resurgence of massive inflows over the next five years, for example as result of the recent suspension by Turkey of the EU deal on migrant readmissions.

On the other hand, a number of recent initiatives and political signals appear to challenge, or at least delimitate, the above predictions.

First, following the mini-EU summit of foreign affairs and interior ministers held under French chairmanship on 22 July 2019, 14 member states approved a plan to redistribute asylum seekers rescued in the Mediterranean – what the German government referred to as a "coalition of the willing".

This is a potentially momentous initiative bearing in mind the relative failure of the previous intra-EU relocation policy, not least since it now also foresees a suspension of EU aid to those member states that would choose to opt out from the new plan.

Second, the decision by the European Commission on 25 July 2019 to refer Hungary to the Court of Justice over legislation that criminalises activities in support of asylum applications and that restricts the right to request asylum, clearly marks a turning point in the EU executive's response to legal transgressions by member states in the field of migration and asylum policy.

Third, the manifesto published by the newly-elected commission president Ursula von der Leyen, proposing a new pact on migration and asylum that would include the relaunch of the Dublin reform, a return to a fully functioning Schengen area and a new way of sharing responsibility among member states, potentially bodes well for the new EU executive's resolve to address long pending issues in the field of migration and asylum policy.

Two-tier approach

While EU migration policy over the next five years might be far from legible at this stage of the new legislature, what the above developments clearly suggest is a crystallisation of the two-tier EU approach that had emerged under the previous EU executive and possibly an amplification of the increasingly irreconcilable split in migration policy doctrines expressed by various members of the bloc.

Although this does not necessarily foretell any form of paralysis in future EU work on migration and asylum, it is however likely that any new initiatives to be tabled over the next five years might require increasingly longer gestation cycles.

On the other hand, it would perhaps not be over-ingenuous to advance that the decline in the levels of migratory flows to the EU experienced over the past couple of years might also gradually open the way to a more painstaking and visionary, and therefore a much less emergency-driven reflection on the treatment of migration and asylum in future EU policy.

Author bio

Solon Ardittis is managing director of Eurasylum, a research fellow at the Institute of Labor Economics (IZA) and the Global Labor Organization (GLO), and co-editor of Migration Policy Practice.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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