The European Union’s Latest Migration Deal Offers Vague Answers To Pressing Issues

After nine hours of negotiation, leaders of the EU struck a “vague” migration deal announced June 29 in response to growing tensions surrounding illegal migration. The deal has been labelled a “compromise”, and in an effort to appease all members, much of the deal remains abstract.

The timing of the deal is political. EU Migration totals have actually dropped as much as 90 percent since 2015. Despite the drop in numbers, populist, anti-immigrant movements are gaining traction across the EU. Their sudden appeal may stem from the fact that the real impact of the massive migration surge in 2015 is just beginning to be felt in many European countries.

Illegal migration attempts have been in the news, adding to public awareness. A popular Mediterranean smuggling route drew attention when over 100 migrants died after a ship capsized in an attempted crossing on June 2nd.

Commentators believe that the EU migration deal is a means to pacify anti-immigrant groups. At risk right now is an EU policy which allows free travel between 26 European states, an area called the Schengen zone. This policy of free movement is considered a fundamental right for EU citizens. Tensions over migration have countries opting to strengthen border control policies, placing free travel in jeopardy.

Key elements of the deal:

 Limit migration along popular smuggling routes

  • The EU will continue to tighten policies with the intent to “stem illegal migration on all existing and emerging routes”. Specifically, the EU will decrease the rate of migration on the Central Mediterranean Route and other popular routes. According to the deal, the EU, “will step up its support for the Sahel region, the Libyan Coastguard, coastal and Southern communities, humane reception conditions, voluntary humanitarian returns, cooperation with other countries of origin and transit, as well as voluntary resettlement.” The EU has come under fire recently for reports that migrants detained by Libyan Coast Guard for attempting to cross the Mediterranean into the EU have been forced into cycles of human trafficking and abuse.

Develop Control Centers

  • The EU announced plans to fund the creation of control centers at undecided locations to process incoming migrants seeking asylum. As of now, the EU does not have official rules for granting asylum. The control centers may be a way to establish some sort of collective policy for distinguishing between “irregular migrants” and “asylum seekers”, although participation in the control centers will not be mandatory for EU partners. The concept of funnelling illegal migrants into closed centers to process their asylum requests could be difficult because the centers may have contrasting policies to that of the EU state they reside in.

Give financial support to countries of origin and transit

  • The EU also plans to support countries where they see the highest amount of outward migration like Turkey and Morocco. The deal reads, “In the light of the recent increase in flows in the Western Mediterranean, the EU will support, financially and otherwise, all efforts by member States, especially Spain, and countries of origin and transit, in particular Morocco, to prevent illegal migration.”

Tighten external borders

  • The EU agreed to tighten external borders, reaffirming a previous commitment to decrease illegal migration from external sources. Support for stemming migration along external borders will most likely aid countries that have seen a recent uptick in illegal migration, like Italy.

Tightening internal borders

  • The EU acknowledged the practice of illegal internal migration in which migrants enter the EU illegally through one member state and move to another. In response to concerns about this practice, the EU deal included a clause which reads, “member States should take all necessary internal legislative and administrative measures to counter such movements and to closely cooperate amongst each other to that end.”

Political influences played a large role in the timing and wording of the deal:

Italian Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, was seen as the catalyst for the deal. He leads the new populist government introduced on June 1. Conte vowed to block progress on any other EU agenda items until a migration deal was reached. Post-deal, the Prime Minister referred to it as a win and said Italy was no longer alone in dealing with the migration crisis.

Germany’s prime minister also felt pressured to make a deal, regardless of the outcome. Germany accepted around 1.4 million immigrants between 2015 and 2018, a move that pushed German Prime Minister, Angela Merkel’s, conservative counterparts to call for border closure, according to The Guardian. Some have tied Merkel’s political lifeline with the implementation of stricter immigration policies. The deal on Friday offered Merkel a way to appease the far-right with its promise to allow member states to legislate means to limit illegal internal migration.

Politics always play a role in policymaking, but something like a migration deal should not have hinged on political tactics in prominent countries.

What this deal means for EU migration:

The migration deal revealed a deep divide within the EU. The vague language and voluntary nature of several key points speak to the EU’s inability to come up with a definitive plan of action that does not pit liberal and far-right interests against one another.

As a result, the deal is a stop gap and offers EU leaders a way to stave off the anti-immigrant political opposition. It does not, however, provide any actual solutions to concrete issues of human trafficking along popular trade routes. Tightening external borders will only lead to a rise in illegal, life-threatening border crossings. Frontex, the border control agency of the EU, warned as much back in February when the EU tightened asylum laws.

Contributing more money to Frontex is not a way to deter illegal crossings. Frontex relies on coordination and cooperation with other countries. The agency outsources migration control by funding coast guards of countries like Libya, where migrants returned to the shore often become victims of human trafficking. Instead, the EU should push Libya to crack down on smugglers and support the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) mandate. This means ending the arbitrary, lengthy, and sometimes torturous, detention of illegal migrants. This push from the EU may come in the form of sanctions or political pressure.

Migration is already down dramatically from the levels experienced in 2015. Instead of strengthening borders, the EU should reaffirm its commitment to aiding those fleeing from violence and persecution. This reaffirmation should not come through a single sentence in an aspiration document, but through comprehensive, detailed policy implementation to help asylum-seeking refugees.