European Migration Policy – A Moving Target by Brad Blitz

9781781955833Following the meeting in Brussels on Monday 7th March, the European Union Member States put forward a plan intended to end irregular migration to the EU. The President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, went as far as to say that the days of irregular migration to the EU are over, just as the European Union bent to the demands of Turkey and held out the promise of visa-free travel within the Schengen area by the summer. Brad Blitz goes on to discuss further.

Tusk’s statement is plainly farcical and ignores the scale of flows into the European Union. In spite of claims of a war on migrant smugglers, the number of migrants arriving continues apace. In 2015, Europe experienced the greatest influx of migrants since the Second World War — more than 1 million, by International Organisation for Migration estimates. Most of these arrivals were refugees fleeing persecution in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Within nine months, over 800,000 migrants had descended on the Greek islands. Another 150,000 breached the Central Mediterranean from Libya, the longer and more dangerous route, before being intercepted and transported to Italy.

In response to these inflows, almost all European Union states sacrificed the EU ambition of internal free movement and reintroduced mobility controls. Some states sealed their borders using razor wire fences while others were more subtle and simply introduced multiple passport checks on trains. Yet, in spite of these efforts the number of refugees and other migrants arriving has not stalled; rather people have collected at border points — Calais, Dunkirk, Idomeni — where they have been forced to sleep in tents, in muddy fields, and subject to infectious diseases such as measles and scabies. In addition, new routes have opened up and many now anticipate that migrants will now move towards Albania or transit via the Black Sea as they move northwards.

For months, the European Union has failed to arrive at an effective and collective position on the management of migrant flows. Proposals for the mandatory relocation of refugees according to a distribution key were initially rejected, only to be followed by voluntary offerings and a lacklustre commitment to relocate 160,000 people that has only seen some 800 resettled across the European Union. However, the latest statement from Brussels signals perhaps the most important attack on humanitarian protection yet. In spite of the quid pro quo where the European Union and Turkey have agreed that for every Syrian returned, the European Union would resettle one taken from locations within Turkey where refugees are currently receiving protection, the proposed plan is fraught with complications.

There is an immediate legal challenge as a result of Turkey’s non-compliance with international refugee law, notably the geographical restrictions to non-Europeans who may not quality for protection. Further, the relocation scheme only applies to Syrians and is contingent on Syrians being returned, as well as the good will of states in the European Union to receive new refugees, a prospect roundly rejected by some EU Member States, notably Hungary.

Until very recently, one could speak about the simultaneous tension created by the hardening of the European Union’s external border and the softening of the internal borders through the expansion of Schengen and the creation of visa-free travel. Yet, the events of the past year expose the EU’s inability to manage the external border and, as we are witnessing, present an existential challenge to the liberal framework characterised by the ideals of free movement, solidarity, and responsibility-sharing.

In addition to the current challenges, we note that within the European Union, states are reinterpreting their obligations regarding the free movement of people. Along side the reintroduction of border controls and attempts to curb entry to third country nationals, there is increasing division in the treatment of EU nationals. Indeed, this has been a major point of contention in several countries, above all the UK, which prompted David Cameron to negotiate the introduction of time limits before benefits may be enjoyed by migrant EU nationals. Arguably, both the European Union treaty framework and the European Convention on Human Rights face greater attack, most vocally from the United Kingdom where the threat of ‘Brexit’ – the departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union – now looms over the political landscape.

The above events speak directly to the central argument of my book, that freedom of movement does not necessarily translate into settlement, even for EU nationals, and that the exercise of one’s substantive rights appears increasingly delineated on the basis of mobility. Even if the European Union states sign off on Tusk’s proposal, the promise of visa free travel for Turks will not go unchecked. In the meantime, there is a growing humanitarian emergency that calls for immediate attention. Let’s not be distracted.

Brad K. Blitz is Professor of International Politics at Middlesex University and author of Migration and Freedom: Mobility, Citizenship and Exclusion (new in paperback)

The first chapter of Brad’s Migration and Freedom: Mobility, Citizenship and Exclusion can be downloaded for free on Elgaronline.


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2 Comments on “European Migration Policy – A Moving Target by Brad Blitz”

  1. mdxminds Says:

    Reblogged this on Middlesex Minds.


  2. alessiodangelo Says:

    Reblogged this on Evi-Med.


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