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The EU needs a new narrative on migration. Will the European Agenda on Migration meet the challenge?

by Philippe Fargues
Director, Migration Policy Centre

14 May 2015


The glass seems more empty than full and there are reasons to fear that the European Agenda on Migration released on 13 May will not be up to the migration challenges that Europe faces.

The agenda was released in the context of an authentic emergency, with 5,000 migrants drowned in the Mediterranean over the last 12 months. It comes just two days after Ms Mogherini, the High Representative of EU for Foreign Affairs, returned from the United Nations with no green light to undertake military operations to destroy the smugglers’ boats. While destroying the boats on the Libyan shore would have been the worst possible way forward (depriving the migrants of their only way to escape Libya where we know that they are at the mercy of ruthless militias), sinking the boats off the Libyan shore and rescuing the people on board would have amounted to an (almost safe) corridor to Europe.

The Agenda does not, though, go that far. It extends the budget and mandate of the Frontex search and rescue operation, but not even up to the level of the discontinued Italian Mare Nostrum. This means that we must expect more lives to be lost. The Agenda also foresees a mechanism for mandatory relocation quotas to tackle large numbers of arrivals and to distribute them between the Member States, therefore reinforcing intra-EU solidarity. This is very good news. However, regarding extra-EU solidarity with first countries of asylum, the opening of 20,000 places for resettlement in the 28 Member States looks like a drop in the ocean, given the unbearable pressure exerted by refugees on Europe’s neighbours. There are, for example, four million Syrian refugees at our external borders. Moreover, the UK Home Secretary almost immediately broke ranks with her EU partners, declaring that her country was not backing a rescue at sea plan that attracts economic migrants.  The EU should, rather, work, she claimed, at creating safe landing sites to send rescued migrants back to North Africa and from there to their country of origin.

The Agenda is not limited to addressing the emergency in the Mediterranean. Prepared since Mr Juncker took office last summer, it includes a section on “four pillars to manage migration better”: 1) reducing the incentives for irregular migration through partnership with countries of origin and transit, the fight against traffickers and the return of irregular migrants; 2) border management including strengthening the capacity of third countries to manage their borders; 3) implementation of the Common European Asylum System; and 4) a new policy on legal migration.

The last point was expected to address a fundamental discrepancy: between present circumstances (two-digit unemployment levels that make the immigrant a competitor in the eyes of natives) and structural trends (Europe’s demographic predicament with population ageing and population shrinkage eroding our innovative capacity, that makes the immigrant a potential asset). Evidence shows that migrants do not steal natives’ jobs and we can assume that the economic crisis will pass. However, we already know that the demographic predicament will, instead, gain ominous momentum in the next two decades and that immigration must be part of the response. The Agenda fails to look-forward, then. The measures it lists are a timid revamping of existing tools, from the Blue card to EURES (Europe’s Job Mobility Portal). We look in vain for ideas to inspire a new narrative on migration.  The immediate response the Agenda brings needs to be complemented with a longer term approach.


MPC Policy Briefs on the European Agenda on Migration


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