The number of migrants applying for asylum in Europe has returned to the levels experienced in 2014, a recent report by the EASO announced. As the May elections loom, and migration remains a focal point of many political platforms, these well designed fact sheets have been published as a tool to combat unfounded, populist speculation being disseminated through “alarmist rhetoric”. It is clear why the Commission has felt a document like this is needed as analysts and MEPs alike are warning of the growing threat that populism and nationalism poses for May.
Regarding the findings in this report, European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos, emphasized that that does not mean the work of managing European migration flows is done. He acknowledged the significant decreases in irregular arrivals through much of the European external border countries but was sure to identify the remaining weak points in the European frontier, namely Spain, and called for further unification in the EU migration management strategy. Vice President of the European Commision, Federica Mogherini, also emphasised the success of cooperations with countries in the external European neighbourhood and the African Union and United Nation in addressing global migration trends. These statements show a drive from those in the core of the European political process to create a broader, more global, migration management system.
Pillars of the current strategy
The report itself reasserts the EP’s focus on quick, safe and effective returns through both temporary measures and the implementation of sustainable, long term systems through the reform of the Dublin mechanism, which attempts to manage member state responsibility for the vetting and resettlement of asylum seekers. However the process of reform that all of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS), of which the Dublin mechanism is a core aspect, has been stymied for years in dissonance between the south-eastern border countries and northern Europe.
Of the current strategy, two of the four pillars of the new European Agenda on Migration are centred around return processes. Overall the fact sheet reasserts the EU’s attitude of resolving conflicts in the surrounding neighbourhood in situ, and continuing to harden its external borders through the intention to create a standing corps of 10,000 border guards at the disposal of member states. In response to the argument that the EU is working to create a “Fortress Europe” the report presents information about the acceptance of over 50,000 asylum seekers through “a safe and legal pathway” since 2015, and the resettlement of over 720,000 refugees throughout Europe, boasting a number thrice the number of refugees taken in by Australia, Canada, and the United States combined over the same period. This claim rings somewhat hollow though as these three countries are much more geographically removed and have notably had their political discourses deeply affected by anti-migration fervour.[7,8]
A “Future-Proof” plan for migration?
What seems to be overlooked by this approach to harder borders and problem solving ‘on the spot’ is that it does not allow the EU to lead the rest of the world in preparations for climate change and the subsequent migrant flows. In July 2018, the United Nations Security Council qualified climate change issue as a “threat multipliers”, meaning it exacerbates the political, social and economic tensions where it has concrete tough local consequences. Academics and experts have been developing the approach of the climate change issue as a security threat since the 80’s[10,11] : drought, desertification, land degradation, and food insecurity constitute the main threats that impact local populations. Yet, there is an urgent need for the European Union to tackle global warming as a driving force for future migration, as long as its consequences will inevitably exacerbate local conflicts by spoiling local economic infrastructures and crippling individuals’ ability to sustain themselves.
As Europe moves into the May elections we are sure to see further developments in the discourse and rhetoric around the European strategy towards migration. Mirroring the sentiments of Mr. Dimitris Avramopoulos in his speech on the European agenda on migration, a strong and unified vision of the EU migration strategy is essential in creating a sustainable, “future-proof” plan. But whose vision of the future will be guiding this strategy remains to be seen.