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A European Commissioner for Migration?

by Philippe Fargues
Director, Migration Policy Centre

14 July 2014


On 30 June, 45 corpses were found asphyxiated in the hold of a fishing boat that was smuggling 600 migrants and asylum seekers to the shore of Sicily. The Mediterranean has become the most dangerous route to Europe and the Achilles’ heel of its migration system.  Between January and June, in the framework of the Mare Nostrum operation, the Italian Navy rescued some 65,000 persons smuggled by sea to Europe and twice that number must be expected by the end of 2014. This figure, however, represents less than 10% of the 1.5 million new immigrants that will be regularly admitted into the EU this year.

Immigration is an integral part of the European Union. Being built as an area of peace, prosperity and knowledge, it naturally attracts asylum seekers, workers, and students. An EU with no migrants could not claim a leading role in the world.  Until recently the mainstream agreed with this assessment and saw migration, for the most part, as positive. Migrants created growth and undertook jobs nationals no longer wanted to do.

Six years of economic crisis have changed the situation. Migrants are exposed to levels of unemployment, poverty and social exclusion up to twice as high as those of natives. They are often viewed as direct competitors for scarce jobs, and apart from the academia there is not much support for immigration in Europe today.

Moreover, refugee crises rage around the edge of Europe. In less than ten years, Iraq, Libya and Syria alone have brought five million refugees to the EU external border. Asylum seeking and irregular immigration find themselves lumped together by politicians, in defiance of the EU’s founding values.

Very few pay attention to Europe’s long-standing demographic recession that started at the same moment as the economic crisis. If no immigration takes place, Europe’s weight in the world is set to dwindle and its population to get older and older, challenging its role in world affairs, welfare systems and capacity to innovate. 

Appointing a Commissioner for Migration would be a sound decision that Jean-Claude Juncker, designate President of the European Commission, has advanced in the past days. The Commissioner for Migration would not be charged with Security, the other area under the purview of the current Commissioner for Home Affairs, and this change would rightly send the signal that migration is an issue in its own, not to be primarily seen as a threat to security. The Commissioner would have to take up the challenge of restoring a balanced approach to migration among Member states, which I believe would be advisable.


Read also

Non, l'Europe ne doit pas se fermer à l'immigration ! Sa prospérité en dépend, by Philippe Fargues, Le Monde (14/07/2014)

A New Start for Europe: My Agenda for Jobs, Growth, Fairness and Democratic Change, by Jean-Claude Juncker


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