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Roundtable discussion on migration and borders

Written by Alessandro D’Alfonso and Wouter van Ballegooij (*),

EPRS round table discussion - Roadmap for the future of Europe: Migration and borders.The European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS) hosted a discussion on ‘Migration and Borders: Roadmap for the future of Europe’, including a keynote address from Claude Moraes (S&D, United Kingdom, Chair of Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE)) on 19 March 2019.

Following a welcome by EPRS Director General, Anthony Teasdale, Claude Moraes identified migration as the critical issue for the upcoming elections and for the work of the soon-to-be-elected new European Parliament. In his speech, he called for a comprehensive European approach to asylum and migration, including stronger legal migration possibilities, but also stressed the difficulties that the European Parliament has faced in finding a common ground on this topic with the Council.

The lack of progress made on the ‘asylum package’, as well as on the reform of the EU blue card, is a particular issue for Claude Moraes; even a simple revision of this instrument, limited to high skilled migrants, was blocked by the Council because of Member States’ opposition to any measure featuring the word ‘migration’. This opposition stems from the negative connotations surrounding migration based on fear of migrants as a threat to national identity. Moraes highlighted that, to the contrary, the analyses presented in the Parliament’s studies on the cost of non-Europe in the area of asylum and legal migration shed light on the opportunities offered by further European integration and attracting labour migrants.

Claude Moraes (S&D, United Kingdom, Chair of Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE)

Concerning the long-term budgetary aspects of migration, Moraes noted that the proposal for the next multiannual financial framework (MFF) 2021-2027 included greater EU spending on this issue. However, he deplored the preference given to border management over support to asylum systems, legal migration and long-term integration policies. In its first-reading positions on the Asylum and Migration Fund, Internal Security Fund and Integrated Border Management Fund, Parliament had insisted on a balanced allocation of resources between these objectives to address the unwarranted focus on returns and security-related measures. Parliament has also ensured that the money will primarily be spent within the EU and not abroad, to help frontline Member States who deal with the majority of new arrivals into Europe.

During the Q&A session following the discussion, Claude Moraes was asked whether he was pessimistic about future developments in the migration domain and where one should draw the line in the debate between valid concerns and positions fed by racism and xenophobia. He responded by stating the need for a change in the narrative on migration, towards one highlighting its opportunities, while tackling the identity concerns, racism and xenophobia head-on.

The debate continued with a roundtable discussion moderated by Fabia Jones, which was based on the presentation of three studies analysing budgetary, legal and economic aspects of EU policies on migration and borders. Alessandro D’Alfonso presented his study on external border control and asylum management as EU common goods: A budgetary perspective, recently published by the European University Institute, Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies. He explained that the removal of internal border controls across most of the EU has triggered the emergence of various EU common goods in the fields of borders, asylum and migration. The EU budget has an important role to play in the effective provision of such common goods, based on the Treaty of Lisbon, which sets the guiding principle of solidarity and fair sharing of responsibility for these policy areas, including the financial implications, between the Member States. The presentation highlighted the institutional and budgetary challenges that led to a limited pooling of financial resources prior to the refugee crisis. Up to 2015, common expenditure on external borders, asylum and migration within the EU accounted for well below 1 % of the EU budget. The EU was obliged to resort to the flexibility tools of the MFF for the financing of measures designed to help tackle the refugee crisis inside the Union. Focusing on the proposals for the post-2020 MFF, Alessandro D’Alfonso highlighted elements that could increase the contribution of the EU budget to the application of the principle of solidarity and fair sharing of responsibility, such as higher resources, more flexibility and allocation parameters that take into account evolving needs.

The next speaker, Wouter van Ballegooij, focused on the cost of non-Europe in the area of migration and borders, based on a number of his publications stemming from a project requested by the LIBE Committee, notably in the area of asylum and legal migration. The main gaps in EU action and cooperation in the area of migration and borders relate to the lack of enforcement of democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights and secondary EU legislation already adopted, and a lack of legal pathways for asylum seekers and certain labour migrants to enter the EU. This lack of enforcement contributes to the ongoing tragedy of loss of lives in the Mediterranean, among other fundamental rights violations. It also leads to inefficiencies in EU and national spending and lost tax revenue. A cost of non-Europe report on organised crime and corruption drawn up by EPRS estimated the cost of corruption to the European economy in terms of GDP as between €218 billion and €282 billion annually. The cost of remaining with the status quo in the area of asylum is estimated at approximately €48.3 billion annually (of which the estimated cost of lives lost is around €12 billion). Income losses for third-country nationals already within the EU at individual level, and lost tax revenue at societal (aggregate EU) level due to discrimination, are estimated at €29 billion annually. Furthermore, shortages in the EU labour market and the effects of demographic change are not addressed. In addition, the potential to boost innovation and growth remains untapped. Beyond the introduction of an EU pact for monitoring and enforcement of democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights, options for further EU action and cooperation in the spirit of solidarity and the fair sharing of responsibility are the introduction of an EU humanitarian visa scheme, and an immigration code covering all third-country nationals.

The final speaker, Lina Vosyliute, presented a study prepared for the Parliament on ‘The cost of non-Europe in the area of legal migration’, feeding into the relevant Cost of non-Europe report (see Annex I). Lina Vosyliute described the current state of play as a circle of ‘minimum harmonisation’ approach, since the EU Member States retain a certain leeway as to how to implement EU legislation governing migration. This results in a high degree of fragmentation and complexity in the EU, and a low use of EU schemes (e.g. the EU blue card for high-skilled workers), as national migration schemes are preferred by some countries, which in turn leads to the EU wide scheme having low perceived impact. Moreover, third-country nationals face a number of obstacles related to differential treatment of the different migratory groups as regards equal treatment, entry and re-entry conditions, work authorisation etc. These problems also result in income loss at individual level and lost tax revenue at the aggregate EU level. Vosyliute recommends the policy option of a legally binding immigration code as proposed by the European Commission in 2001 in line with international labour and human rights standards as a solution. However, while this would have key benefits and low cost, it is politically difficult to implement.

(*) With special thanks to Sophia Stutzmann, trainee with the EPRS Budgetary Policies Unit, for preparing a draft report of this event.


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