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Polarised Discussions in EU Member States Contradict the European Commission’s Stance on Migration

02-10-2013

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The Upcoming UN High-Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development

Is it not the dream of all people to have the right to move and live where they want? , Owen Barder thinks so.

However Paul Collier suggests, in a short article, that people who do move for a better life incur substantial psychological costs that may broadly offset their economic gains through higher wages. He argues that migrants may become wealthier but not always happier and that tensions may rise within countries of destination the more migrants are admitted.

This notion was described as ‘armchair rationale’ by a responding blog post from within the development community. They believe his reasoning of the effect of migration on heightened intolerance is: ‘a bit silly’.

International migration is a strongly contested issue in European politics. For many politicians it is considered a taboo to be positive about migration and some would even like to restrict the freedom of movement within the EU.

There is therefore a dire need to depolarise international discussions on migration and development, and luckily 2013 offers key opportunities to do so.

High-Level Dialogue

To start with, the upcoming High-Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development (HLD), organised during this year’s session of the UN General Assembly on 3-4 October 2013.

In May 2013 the European Commission published a proposal for the EU’s engagement at the HLD, which is further guided by the existing EU policy framework that includes its Agenda for Change for EU development policy as well as the Global Approach to Migration and Mobility.


Oxfam Solidarity climate migrant installation

The proposal broadens the approach to migration and development. It includes new areas such as: forced migration, climate migration and explicitly states the objective to go beyond the ‘traditional’ migration and development areas of remittances, brain drain, diaspora and circular migration. The EU member states welcomed the Commission’s proposals and recently adopted guidelines for the EU’s participation that have been formulated jointly by the member states’ migration and development cooperation experts.

As far as the position of the EU member states goes, the very first paragraph emphasizes that the EU is committed to playing a constructive role in the HLD, thus underlining the challenges posed by earlier debates in the UN that were in fact not always that constructive. The EU is committed to maximizing the positive impact of migration on development and broadening the approach to migration and development. However, given the EU’s own situation in economic and political terms, the EU position reflects mainly the willingness to commit to concrete steps in the current priority areas. These include: remittances, brain drain and circular migration, counter-acting racism and xenophobia and in assisting partner countries with the effective integration of migration in development strategies.

The track-record of the EU in these areas has however been somewhat disappointing during the past years. Only very modest progress was made towards the goal to reduce the costs of sending remittances to 5% by 2014, as the EU average still stands at 10.6%, somewhat higher than the global average.

Moreover some EU Member States have recently decided to stop their pilot circular migration programs and adopt targeted open media campaigns to send irregular migrants home that are likely to further create hostile environments for migrants rather than encourage them to leave.  When it comes to more sensitive areas, such as direct commitments to facilitating legal migration to its own territory, the text of the position retreats into vague formulations such as the recognising of “the need for states to consider reviewing possible barriers to mobility”. This reflects anything but a sense of urgency about doing away with those barriers as a response to Europe’s long-term needs for migrants because of its ageing population..

The most crucial position of the EU Council is however formulated in its 41st paragraph, which states that the EU “BELIEVE(S) that the HLD should not be an end in itself, but rather a part of continuing process, and that the issue of the follow-up to the HLD will be crucial” – without daring to make any predictions of what this continuing process may look like or focus on. Opinions may differ on whether this statement reflects indecision and indifference as to what such a process may envisage, or a well-intentioned desire not to set the terms of continuing dialogue

What’s on the Menu for Post-2015 Migration

Migration and development has entered the discussions on the post-2015 agenda. The Secretary General’s recommendations on what a new agenda should address, for example, includes actions to enhance the positive contribution of migrants to development.

There are signs for optimism that the topic of migration will get decent attention in the post-2015 framework. A recently published book by the IOM investigates the prospects and options for giving migration its rightful place in a post-2015 framework on development.

Devising objectives, targets and indicators on migration in a post-2015 framework is far from straightforward. Beyond the headline that migration tends to create both winners and losers, the effects on sustainable development of the current 215 million registered international migrants are complex, as discussed in this year’s European Report on Development.

Maximising the positive effect of migration largely depend on the match between skills and labour market needs and the terms of integration. Unfortunately, instead of identifying and encouraging this match through suitable social and legal policies, many ‘destination countries’ tend to respond by placing further restrictions on migration and mobility.

More Migrants Crossing an Expanded Europe

The EU’s own internal discussions around the forthcoming open internal migration of Bulgarian and Romanian workers, however, do stress once again that that the gap between the aspirations of the EU internationally and the internal discussions seems large.

It is clear that a truly productive dialogue on migration and development requires leaving comfort zones behind – but is the EU ready for that?

The views expressed here are those of the authors, and may not necessarily represent those of ECDPM.

Picture: Salesmen on the Spanish Steps – 2/4  Phillip Wong on Flickr.

AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by Oxfam International.

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European external affairsEU Development Policy and PracticePolicy Coherence for DevelopmentPost-2015 Global Development AgendaMigrationPost 2015Europe

External authors

Niels Keijzer (DIE)