European Migration Policy, Still Pending?

European Migration Policy, Still Pending?

MEP Manfred Weber. Source: Bertrand Guay/AFP via Getty Images

On recent plenary debates, the European People’s Party President Manfred Webber highlighted the importance of concluding the migration negotiations. It is fair to agree that in 2022 the flow of refugees saw an increase due to the unexpected invasion of Ukraine. However, deaths in the Mediterranean routes and conflicts on disembarkment of rescue ships are still on top of the agenda in many EU member states.

Outdated Migration Plan?

In September 2020, the European Union approved the Pact on Migration and Asylum. This initiative responded to the challenges identified during the 2015-16 migration crisis. In the 2015-2016 State of the Union Speech addressed by European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen, she noted the importance of the solidarity component to share the burden of migration that the member states at the external border of the European Union suffered. Additionally, she agreed that saving lives at the sea was not an option, actions needed to be taken beforehand.

This pact proposed a long list of initiatives including a revision of the EURODAC Regulation, a proposal for a regulation on asylum and migration management (AMR), a proposal for a screening regulation, a proposal for an asylum procedures Regulation (APR), a new crisis instrument and a Migration Preparedness and Crisis Blueprint. However, despite the wide spectrum of the initiatives, the occurrence of events like COVID-19, whose recovery and consequences expanded throughout 2021, plus the Ukrainian war seem to have stolen the spotlight.

To this date, there are only so many of these initiatives that came to completion. For example, in December 2021, the European Union Agency for Asylum came into place. According to the available information, this agency is “mandated with supporting member states in applying the package of EU laws that governs asylum, international protection and reception conditions, known as the Common European Asylum System (CEAS).” However, a brief look into its legal basis suggests how outdated the migration legislation is at the European level. Most instruments were approved in the early 2010s, long before the migratory crisis. After that, critical issues like relocation mechanisms or the principle of solidarity have sparked disagreements between member state, resulting in stalled negotiations around the Pact. On the last Special EUCO that took place in February, President Ursula Von Der Leyen gave a speech reporting the advances made in regards to the Pact on Asylum and Migration.

Commissioner Schinas and Commissioner Johansson on New Pact. Source: EPA-EFE/STEPHANIE LECOCQ

Migration: A Political Issue

Only in November 2022, Italy and France disagreed over the fate of around 200 migrants that were docked in French ports after Italy’s refusal to accept them. In retaliation, France rejected to relocate 3000 migrants that were initially hosted by Italy. This incident shows how embedded the topic is in the political agenda of EU states.

Another proof of the controversies surrounding the topic is the institutionalization of migration. The clearest example is the current migratory crisis on the Belarusian border. This crisis started in July 2021 following the democratic demise of Belarus and the threats received by President Alexander Lukashenko to “flood the EU with human traffickers, armed migrants, and drug smugglers.” In a similar fashion, Morocco has put considerable pressure on Spain. The famous incident in 2021, where Moroccan authorities opened gates for thousands of migrants to access Melilla, has been followed by continuous attempts to jump over the fences that separate European territory from Morocco, specifically in the cities of Melilla and Ceuta.

Attracting Skills and Talent

In the latest attempt to revive the migratory agenda, the European Commission published a communication titled Attracting skills and talent to the EU in April 2022. The idea of this report is to build an EU legal migration policy based on legislative, operational, and future-oriented policy measures that focus on the transition of the labor market to green and digital economies by integrating economic migration. Some of the measures that this communication has triggered are the digitalization of the visa procedure or the single permit directive, which would allow migrants to use one single procedure to file for work and residence. Additionally, the EU has been working on roadmaps to tackle migration challenges in the most common routes to access Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Western Balkans.

2023, the Year of Skills. Source: European Commission

The apparent downside of this initiative is that it addresses migration from a purely economic point of view, thus disregarding the wide variety of reasons why a person would become a migrant. Additionally, the “validity” and “utility” of migrants are based on how well they can serve the European labor market and how they can help invert the demographic trend of an aging population. This approach leaves many structural deficiencies of the current EU migration policy uncovered and does not provide protection to the biggest group of migrants, which are often women and children. Still, given the political component of migration, it seems 2023 will start with no substantial developments in the matter.

This to Come?

It is worth mentioning that the critical difference between the approaches to the Ukrainian war and other conflicts is the political will behind it. It’s critical to assess how the EU has responded to the Ukrainian conflict and try to keep such an approach to other conflicts. A consistent approach towards migration would ensure that public opinion doesn’t perceive some crises as more important than others and most of all, that refugees only matter based on where they come from. The remaining objective for the EU is to be able to respond to migratory crises on time, to be able to build preparedness beforehand, and to put a robust system into place that addresses the lifecycle of migration, from the first relocation to reception and integration in local communities. 2023 could be the year we could finally see some of the proposed legislative measures coming into place. For that, we need strong political voices, willing to unlock the disagreements between member states. Migration should be understood not as an individual choice but as a response to circumstances and the EU’s responsibility is to ensure an appropriate response to it before it becomes another crisis.

  • Are the current migratory measures enough?
  • Is a new migratory crisis on the horizon?
  • Will the new measures be in place in due time?

Suggested Readings

Liboreiro, Jorge, “Major progress’ as EU gives fresh push to stalled migration pact,” Euronews, 10 June 2022.

European Commission, Report on Migration and Asylum, 6 October 2022.

Esposito, Addie, “The Limitations of Humanity: Differential Refugee Treatment in the EU,” Harvard International Review, 14 September 2022.

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European Migration Policy…

by Aralda Torres time to read: 4 min