Three ingredients for a future-proof funding for migration

When it comes to migration, the next EU budget is an important occasion to look back at what has been done so far and transform it into lessons for the future.

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      Migration has received much attention in the EU in past years and the topic will frame much of the debate on external resources in the next European Union’s budget. Recently, President Juncker and Commissioner Oettinger have come forth with the proposal of a single external instrument with a ‘strong focus on migration, potentially using also parts of the 20% unallocated share of the instrument’. Although it seems more likely that the unallocated reserve will rather amount to 10-15% of the budget, this would still add up to around €10 billion. Three ingredients need to be weighed carefully to address migration in the EU external instrument.

      One: Less fragmentation

      Migration, in the current budget, is funded through a number of internal and external financial instruments, but also humanitarian funding, through the off-budget European Development Fund and the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa. These instruments often follow their own logic, cycles and processes, and different ways of engaging with partners. European priorities on return and readmission, and the EU’s aim to use development financing as leverage, have shown very clearly this fragmentation. The discussions for the next budget, thus, revolve around reducing the current disconnect between the various instruments and the EU’s overall migration agenda.

      A single instrument may bring more coherence and coordination in the EU’s external spending. It would answer the repeated calls for simplification and rationalisation in the next budget as well as the Commission’s calls for a comprehensive approach to combine the internal and external dimensions of migration. Yet, given the increasing role of the Commission’s Directorate for migration and home affairs in the EU’s migration strategy abroad, the issue of migration within the single instrument poses critical questions about the blurring of internal and external priorities. Once all instruments are aligned, who will be in control of the overall instrument’s – and EU’s – development objectives? How will all the actors involved agree on a clear strategy and division of labour?

      In the past year, there have been calls for a dedicated financial instrument, specifically geared towards stemming illegal migration. The protection of the EU’s external borders will likely be an important element of the future EU budget. The biggest grey zone regarding this instrument is the strategy and narrative supporting it, and migration specifically. What strategic objectives will underlie the external funding for migration within a single instrument? Will it serve predominantly EU migration interests along the lines of the Migration Partnership Framework, or will it manage to build a more balanced narrative, including its contribution to development? And what about global processes such as the Global Compact on Migration? The EU will have to manage a balancing act between its ambition to be a strong player in the global negotiations and its internal political differences on migration and development.
      Answering these questions is important to assess the instruments’ success vis-a-vis migration and development.

      Building more coherence should not come at the cost of a development-oriented migration strategy that respects human rights and takes into account other aspects, such as South-South migration or the facilitation of legal pathways, that may not be immediately tied to European political interests.

      Two: The right balance between the short and long-term

      The large influx of migrants and refugees in 2015-2016 required a swift response and flexible funding. The EU mobilised humanitarian assistance and set up Emergency Trust Funds to support the countries of origin and of transit, and those hosting large numbers of refugees. These immediate measures have been presented as necessary to save lives, to keep tabs on current irregular migration flows and to facilitate return and reintegration.

      The overall EU external response has uncovered the tensions between short and long-term objectives when it comes to security, migration and development. The EU was then criticised for lacking a long-term vision on migration and contributing to human rights violations of migrants.

      It is indispensable to think both of the short and the longer-term. Yet, during the past years, funds have been redirected towards short- and medium-term objectives. Ensuring that the next budget gives sufficient space to a long-term strategy on migration will be important for an external relations budget that supports the EU’s foreign policy, and delivers on the Sustainable Development Goals.

      Migration challenges are here to stay. And so are its vast opportunities for development.

      Addressing the drivers of irregular migration and building sustainable systems to manage migration requires equally sustainable financial tools. They need to be able to support a shift from purely humanitarian to development responses to situations of displacement and they need to be apt to promote safe and regular ways for migrants to move within their region or come to Europe.

      For this to happen, those in charge of programmes need to take the time to plan according to technically-sound assumptions and with a good understanding of the political realities and dynamics in the countries of origin and transit. A single instrument should allow for long-term predictable funding that, ideally, stretches over five years and is equipped with strategies for adaptation along the way. But it should also provide for funding immediately available and with shorter time-spans for rapid responses.

      It is also important to introduce some checks and balances to make sure that a future single instrument gives equal weight to immediate and long-run measures. The latter include the support for identity management and biometrics, legal pathways for migration, support to both displaced populations and host communities through community-driven development approaches. Monitoring where and to what priorities the funds are allocated can guarantee some balance between top-down and bottom-up priorities.

      Three: More flexibility with appropriate safeguards

      A more unstable international environment requires a more flexible budget. The expenditures allowed under Heading 4 (the one for external action), for instance, have been increased to honour pledges made to Turkey through the EU-Turkey Facility, and Jordan and Lebanon to implement the so-called migration compacts. EU Trust Funds have also been created as a temporary measure. The envisaged large unallocated reserve can help providing the necessary flexibility and be used for migration and stability.

      But we need to keep in mind that a reserve that focuses too much on migration might bring the risk that short-term, flexible funding for migration override more sustainable resources that could foster development instead of tackling emergencies.

      The Commission has stated several times it would want to move away from an ad hoc approach based on crisis management, towards a stable future-proof comprehensive approach. A sufficient oversight of the allocation of the reserve can guarantee that it will serve an overarching migration strategy. The devil will be in the detail of the procedures applied to tapping into the reserves, and especially who has a say in its management.

      The negotiations on the next EU budget are likely to be tough, seen the increasing pressure on European leaders to curb migration. The extent to which member states will show some boldness or stick to their lowest common denominator remains to be seen.

      Creating a good recipe to integrate migration in the upcoming multi-annual budget of the European Union won’t be easy, but adding greater coherence (not only to the instruments but also to the way Europe speaks about migration), seeking for the right balance between immediate and long-term goals and, finally, giving flexibility the importance it deserves while safeguarding the strategic nature of migration spending, can be the right ingredients for success.

      The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of ECDPM

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