Berlin, Florence, Brussels, Vienna, Budapest, and Warsaw: In recent weeks, MEDAM researchers have travelled extensively to discuss the conclusions of their ‘2018 MEDAM Assessment Report on Asylum and Migration policies in Europe’. The report analyses how a comprehensive European strategy for refugee protection and migration can be based on the concept of flexible solidarity. Dialogue with all EU member states is crucial to reimagine the EU asylum system—and overcome the current deadlock.
With the European Council and its end-of-June deadline to reform the so-called Dublin rules fast approaching, it has become obvious that none of the existing reform proposals can break the two-year deadlock over reforming asylum rules. While fewer irregular migrants are now arriving in the EU, this is largely due to measures that have important shortcomings and may not be sustainable without a major overhaul, including the EU-Turkey agreement, the closure of the Western Balkans migration route, and cooperation with the Libyan coast guard and other problematic actors in Libya.
While this lack of progress has arguably benefitted populist political movements across Europe, even they cannot afford to leave the challenges of asylum and immigration unaddressed. Their voters expect them to deliver solutions that do not call into question the benefits that voters enjoy as EU citizens. Attempts at “national” solutions, such as higher fences and more closed ports (as in Italy), will not deter irregular migrants as long as the incentives for irregular migration still outweigh the dangers of those journeys along even the deadliest migrant routes.
The challenges faced by the EU are inter-connected and require a comprehensive approach supported by all member states. Policy instruments such as agreements with third countries of origin on development assistance, readmission, and legal migration opportunities are more effectively negotiated by the European Commission than by individual member state governments. At the same time, however, member states are affected by immigration in substantially different ways, and the political preferences of policy makers and voters also vary widely. Yet, even countries that are now adamant they will not take in any refugees will require labor migrants from third countries to sustain their economic growth. They may consider opening up alternative channels for migrants, including refugees, through employment opportunities, student visas, and family reunification.
When we presented our 2018 MEDAM Assessment Report to policy makers from diverse countries and across the political spectrum, along with academics, civil society representatives, and other stakeholders, we found that many policy makers seek sustainable solutions that involve the European Union, but have different expectations regarding its role. It is now key to keep the dialogue open and collaborate on solutions to which EU member states can contribute in line with their preferences and capacities.