A safer entrance than Lampedusa? Will Juncker’s new Commission find good solutions for migration and development in EU external action

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      To better govern migration for the future economic benefit of both Europe and Africa, and to ease the current crisis of migrant deaths in the Mediterranean, Jean-Claude Junker’s new Commission College must show innovation and leadership and bring effective synergies in the way the EU works across all its policy areas.

      Last week EU Commission President-elect Jean-Claude Junker presented the new Commissioners and their portfolios. Migration is one of the pressing challenges for them, not just because well managed migration safeguards the EU’s own future economic development, but most of all because of the continuing tragic events at Europe’s shores claim ever more victims.

      Meanwhile, migration policies have become an issue for global development as part of post-2015 discussions, also on the agenda for the new Commission. Will solutions for migration and development find safer passage with the entrance of a new Commission?

      New Synergies and Leadership in Tackling the Crisis

      For newly appointed Commissioner for Migration and Home Affairs, Dimitris Avramopoulos, dealing with the challenge of irregular migration will be top priority. Recommendations put forward by the Task Force Mediterranean have already triggered a number of actions by the EU institutions and member states.  Yet, Avramopoulos inherits a crisis: there are worsening conditions around the EU Mediterranean border in 2014 with weekly updates on additional deaths at sea (despite successful Italian and Libyan rescue missions saving lives). The task force reiterated the need to cooperate with third countries both to defend Europe’s interest as well as to more effectively protect migrants.

      The task force reiterated the need to cooperate with third countries both to defend Europe’s interest as well as to more effectively protect migrants. Against this background, discussions took place on Migration and Development during the 4th EU-Africa Summit emphasising the need to fight irregular migration, the trafficking of human beings, to deal with the root causes of irregular migration and to establish more secure and safe channels for mobility.

      Achieving these goals and strengthening migration as a development enabler requires not only cooperation across the continents but most crucially creating better synergies between the EU’s internal and external policies. The mandate of working more closely together to strengthen the EU’s strategic partnership with Africa on these matters needs to be taken seriously by Avramopoulos and the new external relations Commissioners.

      In migration, we are far from a truly integrated response that takes into account global development aspects. The EU’s reaction to the irregular migration challenge so far, and its migration system more broadly, has predominantly focused on protection, limiting irregular migration and strengthening the EU’s borders as well as supporting border management capacities of transit countries (for example through the 30 Million Euro EU Border Assistance Mission in Libya or the 147 Million Euro support by Italy to Tunisia providing vessels, vehicles and technical equipment to improve Tunisian border control).

      While EU development cooperation is increasingly focusing on migration and efforts for dialogue with third countries have been strengthened, these have not included many new ideas and innovative solutions to create safe legal migration channels at the European level or to insert global development dimensions in EU’s immigration system. The taskforce list of actions notes only 4 activities under ‘Reinforcing legal migration challenges’ - none of which clearly establishes links to global development.

      What we see is an EU migration system which aims to restrict rather than govern, minimising the opportunities for sustainable development.

      Of greater concern, in its recent Council Conclusions on freedom, security and justice, EU Heads of State Summit voiced demands for narrow migration interests to feature much more strongly in the design and focus of EU’s development cooperation and external policies (see paragraph 8). The pressure from Interior and Justice Ministries to instrumentalise development cooperation and aid for migration and security interests may thus increase - reversing the logic of the EU’s commitment on Policy Coherence for Development.

      Building capacities in border management to stop migrants while addressing the ‘root causes’ of irregular migration from countries strategically relevant to the EU through development cooperation can be a manifestation of such logic.  Besides the fact that this is often ineffective in reducing migration, it may ignore that the EU’s strategic migration interests do not always overlap with development needs, priorities, expectations and sensitivities of partner countries.

      Win-Wins or Silos?

      The Italian EU Presidency has prioritised the integration of migration in development cooperation and in post-2015 discussions; this is a useful step in directing the development focus to migration issues.. Yet, the risk of silos remains. Discussions in the field of development cooperation predominantly focus on diaspora and entrepreneurship and do not seem to link to the more sensitive discussions concurrently taking place on irregular migration and the EU’s migration system more broadly.

      Simultaneously, the Commission’s Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund has a new possibility to use parts of it for the external dimension of the EU’s migration policies, such as regional protection and readmission in 3rd countries. DG Home is not a traditional actor in external,relations or international cooperation with which some of these interventions interlink. This calls for good mechanisms to ensure cooperation and coherence with the EU’s other external instruments and principles on migration, development as well as foreign policy.

      Be Bold with a Comprehensive Approach to Migration

      To really tackle migration challenges, a number of good proposals for more comprehensive action of both development policies and migration policies working together have been made. Namely, the silo structure must be abandoned and teams must be mixed with specialists in migration, development, geography, security and labour markets to design effective migration policies and assess their impact on global development.

      This spirit of working together across sectors seems to be one of the defining strategic objectives of Junker’s EU Commission and it would be bold to apply it to migration issues. In EU Member States, development agencies could cooperate more closely with interior ministries in order to establish innovative migration mechanisms that allow access for vulnerable communities outside the typical asylum criteria.

      As the recent 4th EU-Africa Summit declaration on migration and mobility argued, more work is needed for the creation of legal migration channels across continents with matching mechanisms for effective labour markets. Such a new approach could be combined with a new and more effective policy for the Mediterranean Neighbourhood and integrated in the Africa-EU dialogue on migration and mobility funded by the European Commission’s DG DEVCO and managed new Pan African Programme.

      The new Commissioners need to be open to such innovative proposals and work jointly on migration systems that support global development aspirations and better govern migration flows to avert the current EU-Mediterranean crisis. The new Commission set-up offers potential to overcome the siloed working and design more integrated and effective solutions.

      Yet, pressure by Member States for a new post that narrowly caters to migration interests and reinforce borders will be high. Given the current crisis of tragic sea deaths, the opportunity presented by a new Commission should not be wasted on retrograde approaches long proven to be ineffective. 

      The views expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily those of ECDPM

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