The EU perspective on the Global Compact for Migration

Starting from 2011, the migratory flow coming from Africa and the Middle East and directed towards the European continent has assumed such proportions as to become one of the main subjects of public debate, as well as one of the major political problems for the European Union and for the governments of the member countries. This prominence has also materialized in the centrality that migration has taken on for the United Nations agenda.

From February 2018, in fact, migrations have been at the center of a series of intergovernmental negotiations. The goal is the adoption of the Global Compact for Migration (GCM), a document aimed at creating a global framework for safe, legal and regulated migration. For the European Union, which has decided to negotiate as a single block, the one for the GCM is expected to be an extremely complex multilateral negotiation, on a very sensitive and mixed competence subject (that is to say on a matter in which Brussels and the Member States share decision-making power). The outcome will not only influence European and global migration policies, but will also contribute to testing Europe’s capabilities as a single international actor.

EU has a complex approach to the GCM

On the one hand, the European position promotes a positive view on migration, where attention to human rights and inclusion of a gender perspective are recognized. On this front, the report received the praise of the EU, as it reflects the European narrative that recognizes migration as a natural characteristic of the human race, therefore free from any unmotivated demonization. However, the report is also a matter of concern for Brussels, due to the lack of some key topics. For example, the report would overlook the imperative of national security, which guarantees each country the right to decide who to admit or expel from its territory. The text, in fact, does not explicitly mention the obligation of the countries of origin to collaborate with the countries of destination on repatriation. Furthermore, the document would focus too much on the legal means of solving irregular migration, without giving due weight to its root causes of origin.

The next round of negotiations will take place from 14-18 May 2018 in New York, US. The ‘Draft Rev 1’ text reflects deliberations from the first and second rounds of intergovernmental negotiations, Key changes of the first draft include elimination of language differentiating between migrants and refugees and elimination of a previous request to the Secretary-General to align the set-up of the UN system on migration with ongoing management and development system reforms. The revised draft also includes changes related to implementation and follow up and review, including language on a Regional Migration Review Forum.

The GCM negotiations are expected to be complex and, up to a certain, extent conflictual. The European Union has been the target of harsh criticism on a variety of areas, from the accusation of encouraging xenophobia to that of promoting exclusive migration policies[1]. These criticisms, respectively, denounce the nationalist rhetoric of some European parties and the limits of the legal migration routes to Europe. The leaders of movements such as the German AfD (Alternative for Germany), the French National Front and the Italian Lega Nord (now Lega) make no secret of their opposition to more open migration policies, often depicting the phenomenon of migration in a negative light. According to the detractors of the European approach, the current legislation and the main initiatives in force (such as the Blue Card Scheme) would favour skilled workers at the expense of migrants with fewer skills. It is foreseeable that these issues will be raised in future negotiations, where the Union will have to defend its position.

Internal divisions on Migration

A further internal challenge is added to these external difficulties: every European move must pass the scrutiny of its 28 member states, which must approve it unanimously. This can become problematic when, as in the case of immigration, the European Union is divided. In fact, while the southern European states like Italy and Greece are hoping for a long-awaited relief from the enormous pressure that the massive arrival of migrants has on their reception capacities, it is not clear whether Northern States will be willing to take on more onerous burdens than the current ones. Furthermore, the United Kingdom, which is close to Brexit, could adopt an independent approach from the start of negotiations, giving priority to its national interests and thus restricting the basis of agreement for a common position. Already in its early stages, Hungary has been undermining the cohesion of the European bloc: after the publication of the “Making Migration Work for All” report (which has been prepared by the UN Secretary General as an input to the zero draft of the GCM), Budapest has threatened to leave the negotiating table if the first draft of the GCM had not been radically different. For now, the zero draft seems a starting point that can satisfy all Member States, but it is undeniable that the prospect of Hungarian defection has a tangible impact on the European approach to GCM, throwing a shadow of precariousness on the figure of EU and its work. Europe is therefore faced with a double negotiation: one internal and one external.

Paradoxically, however, the external divergences could prove useful for strengthening the European position. The recent evolution of migratory flows, in fact, has transformed countries traditionally of origin into destinations of transit and / or final destination. Thus, uniform blocs such as the African continent have become fragmented, developing different interests, some in line with European ones. Niger is an emblematic example of this evolution: also by virtue of its border with Libya, this Sub-Saharan State is one of the major transit countries for the Central African and Western routes. According to data from the International Organization for Migration, more than 91,500 people passed through Agadez between February and August 2016[2]. These characteristics have made Niger a valuable ally of Europe, which has allocated a large part of the funds allocated to the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa to fight irregular migration[3]. As a result, Niger has currently extensive cooperation with the European Union, and this is likely to translate into solidarity support during the negotiations.

From Family Reunification and Blue Card to the Global Compact for Migration

From this picture emerges a European Union ready to seize the opportunities offered by legal migration channels, as shown by the recent Directives on family reunification and initiatives such as the Blue Card Scheme for highly qualified migrants. At the same time, it also shows a Europe determined to achieve a balanced GCM, which provides for a clear sharing of responsibilities for migration between countries of origin and destination. Otherwise, the risk is to encourage the formation of antagonistic North / South blocks, which would prevent the achievement of a truly global agreement.

The sum of these factors makes the development of the GCM negotiations more unpredictable, but not less promising. In the agreement, there is so much at stake for the EU: its internal balance, its external coalitions, and, not least, its role as an independent international actor. For this reason, the negotiations are certainly a great challenge to be tackled with caution, but also as a potential turning point to seize the opportunities.


References

Adams T, (2018, May 6), The Displaced;Migrant brothers;lights in the distance – reviews, The Guardian, Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/may/06/the-displaced-migrant-brothers-lights-in-the-distance-book-reviews

Barana L. (2017, December 20),  The EU Trust Fund for Africa and the Perils of a Securitized Migration Policy, Retrieved from http://www.iai.it/it/pubblicazioni/eu-trust-fund-africa-and-perils-securitized-migration-policy

Samuel Hall (2016) Selling Sand in the Desert, The Economic Impact of Migration in Agadez, a study commissioned by IOM Niger, Retrieved from http://samuelhall.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/IOM-The-economic-impact-of-migration-in-Agadez.pdf

Vimont P, (2016, September), Migration in Europe – Bridging the solidarity gap, Carnegie Endowment, Retrieved from https://carnegieendowment.org/files/Vimont_Migration_fulltext.pdf

Notes

[1] Adams T, (2018, May 6), The Displaced;Migrant brothers;lights in the distance – reviews, The Guardian, Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/may/06/the-displaced-migrant-brothers-lights-in-the-distance-book-reviews

[2]Samuel Hall (2016) Selling Sand in the Desert, The Economic Impact of Migration in Agadez, a study commissioned by IOM Niger, Retrieved from http://samuelhall.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/IOM-The-economic-impact-of-migration-in-Agadez.pdf

[3]Barana L. (2017, December 20),  The EU Trust Fund for Africa and the Perils of a Securitized Migration Policy, Retrieved from http://www.iai.it/it/pubblicazioni/eu-trust-fund-africa-and-perils-securitized-migration-policy