The EU Approach to Migration


In light of the European Union’s (EU) recent rebuff of “Arab Spring” migrants arriving by the thousands on the Italian island of Lampedusa, we must ask "how can a region of liberal democracies be so exclusionary?" 

While the EU has porous interior borders, it has held an “exclusionist” interior policy for two decades. Through the use of regional and international institutions, the EU has been able to set restrictive migration policies not only out of their jurisdiction, but also outside national legislative, judicial, and populist scrutiny.

If you crossed the Berlin wall before November 9th, 1989, you were a hero. 

However, among the ruins and masses of reunited Germans, European policy makers saw something more sinister. Without the totalitarian might of the USSR to control the populations of Eastern Europe, the eastern border would become the new "threat" to the continent. Heroes would become security threats, the parasites of the modern welfare state. 

Therein lays the essential contradiction; how can liberal democracies (that are also UNDHR signatories) cross the legal, judicial, and political quagmire necessary to enact exclusionary policies?

For the EU it has been through the use of Regional Consultative Processes (RCPs). 

RCPs are collections of states, international institutions, NGO’s, and other various kinds of partners. The focus of an RCP is to formulate and enact policy within an area to achieve a particular effect on migration in that region. Migration includes any and all movement of human beings from purposes of economic immigration to sex slave trafficking.

The EU is involved with several RCP’s. The Budapest Process for example was a reaction to the collapse of the USSR. It was set up in 1991 and facilitated by the ICMPD. The forum brought together several states represented by bureaucrats to sit down and work towards drafting common policy on how to stem the flow of migration from former USSR Europe/Russia. Its mandate would expand throughout the 90s and 21st century, coming to consider migration in broader regional terms.

As its mandate expanded, so did its list of partners. Non-state actors add particular value to the EU as they can provide flexibility in operations that states may not be able to engage in. Consider FRONTEX who, though being an “intelligence based” EU agency, ran naval exercises in the Mediterranean earlier this spring. What came to be known as “Operation Hermes” was certainly a broad extension of FRONTEX’s mandate to streamline EU border-guard education and operation. While an EU “army” is certainly something that European policy makers have toyed with theoretically, issues of nationality and other political considerations have placed it far down the docket. FRONTEX, however, offers an interesting opportunity to be an EU-run “border patrol” without having to delegate trust to non-EU states on the border.

It is critical to highlight that the policies made by these RCPs are done so by bureaucrats and policy experts, not elected representatives. These policies are also introduced into the EU but over its respective national legislative and judicial systems.

Consider the Dublin Regulation. It stipulates that asylum seekers can only apply for asylum in one EU state at a time and that they can only do so at their state of arrival (asylum can only be claimed at the border of an EU state like Poland, and not , say, Switzerland). 

This policy definitely grinds against the UNDHR Articles 13 & 14 which grant people the right of mobility. As Article 14 (1) demonstrates, “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” Though member states are not obligated to accept seekers unconditionally, by setting a regional policy the EU has avoided a certain human rights issue being fought out at in the parliaments and courts of its respective members.

Setting policies via RCPs is simply a manuever to allow the EU greater flexibility and capacity in the implementation of potentially "controversial" migration policies.

Photo Credit: Magharebia