What has changed in the EU migration debate?

At the EU summit in June leaders agreed on exploring a concept of regional disembarkation platforms outside of the EU and controlled centres set up in Member States. On Thursday EU summit should discuss the issue of migration and there will be a report on progress. But what progress from June, it seems MSs are not very keen on implementing June’s conclusions. Would you say that something has changed in the EU regarding the migration debate? Read few comments.

Matteo Villa, Research Fellow, Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI)

(a) on regional disembarkation arrangements (note the change in terminology), there has been NO progress to date. The main resistance is to find the cooperation with one or more third countries. To me, this proposal will prove to be unfeasible, i.e. no third country will agree to participate in such arrangements. This is both because domestic political dynamics in those third countries (e.g. Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, …) could spiral out of control against the setting up of such centres, AND because there does not seem to be any feasible answer to many of the questions posed about the framework and practical functioning of such centres. For instance, would they be closed or open centres? If open, how long would it take for them to have their asylum request evaluated, and who would accommodate them where in the meanwhile? Would people being disembarked there be swiftly processed, and how? After processing and being granted asylum, would they be swiftly resettled to Europe? After processing and being denied asylum, would they be swiftly returned to their countries of origin, and how to ensure that this process is faster than the abysmal return rate experienced by many EU countries? How to ensure that such disembarkation places do not act as the biggest “pull factors” ever?

(b) so, as you can see, this proposal is unfeasible (practically), and if it were feasible, it would be dangerous for the third country who would accept to host them. My comment is that such proposals are the result of hysteria at the political level, and the frantic search for original solutions that deliver results immediately, as if we were still experiencing an emergency in terms of numbers of sea arrivals to Europe.
The truth is, there is NO emergency in terms of sea arrivals right now (not even in Spain, despite their domestic reception system experiencing the highest pressures since 2006), and the current extent of flows could be easily managed if EU countries agreed on solidarity mechanisms.

(c) The explanation for this hysteria is that there has been a lag between the crisis and its political outcomes. Right now, governments in the EU have become more nationalist and isolationist, and so they are adopting policy solutions to prove that, in the short term, they can be even tougher than in the recent past. This is dangerous, because it focuses on unfeasible, short-term solutions, instead of looking for a compromise on the three most pressing issues to face irregular migration over the longer term in the EU: (1) reforming Dublin rules; (2) returning to a functioning Schengen area; (3) setting up sufficient quotas for regular migration from non-EU countries.

Kristof BenderDeputy Chairman, European Stability Initiative, Fellow, Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna

Nobody believes that we will see any “Disembarkation platforms” outside the EU anytime soon. No country is willing to host any, and those who proposed it have been unable to even describe their purpose and function.

EU reception centres already exist, although until now they have been called hotspots. The ones on the Greek islands are horrific places. No EU country would rationally agree to host something as badly run – despite large amounts of EU funding – as Moria camp on Lesbos.

What the EU needs instead of fantasies and the relabeling of an unacceptable status quo is taking its own regulations, standards and values seriously, and to prove it in the Aegean.

In theory centres at the entry points to the EU are a good idea. For them to work these centres need the capacity to process quickly and fairly a few thousand asylum applications per month (following the Dutch model). They also require a coalition of European states to agree to take on a voluntary basis a share of those who will receive asylum. And they require take-back agreements. In the Aegean we have this already with Turkey. In the Central and Western Mediterranean we need these with the most important countries of origin in West Africa to take back those of their citizens that do not receive protection.

For any of this to happen we need an initiative of some EU members like Spain, France, Germany and Greece. They should move quickly to establish such centres, and improve conditions on the Greek islands immediately. They should also appoint a former senior politician to negotiate take-back agreements with West African countries, offering an annual quota of official work and study visas to the EU in return for help on returns.

In this way the EU would control its external borders in line with human rights standards. Less people would try to cross the Mediterranean. Less people would drown. More of those who arrive irregularly would be returned. Others  would be allowed to come to the EU legally.

Andrew GeddesProfessor, Director, Migration Policy Centre, European University Institute

I think that the migration debate is quite active among member states. There is a clear vision being promoted by the Austrian government of asylum and refuge as things that happens outside Europe, such as in non EU member states. This is proposed as an alternative to solidarity and distribution within the EU. A key factor will be the outcome of the 2019 EP elections and their effects on both member states and the EU institutions. Current polling suggests that anti immigration parties could do well. This could have important effects after next summer and give more momentum to the ideas being suggested by governments such as Austria. Fundamentally, the issue is whether the EU maintains a commitment to asylum and refugees on its territory.

Christian Kaunert, Professor of Policing and Security, University of South Wales

You are absolutely correct that there has not been much progress. Two reasons: firstly, there are legal and practical problems implementing these conclusions, which have existed for almost two decades. They will continue to exist for the foreseeable future! Secondly, member states are not as keen either. They want to appear tough to deal with national populists, but the consequences are not always positive. So, I thought it is unlikely that this issue will be solved soon, even though national debates are ongoing and not very positive.



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