Politique et immigration

What policy should Europe implement in terms of immigration and asylum?

Go No Go, Les Frontières de l'Europe 1998-2002. Post-landing inspection on the passenger gangway. Schiphol Airport, Netherlands, 1993.  Ad Van Denderen / Agence Vu'
Go No Go, Les Frontières de l'Europe 1998-2002. Post-landing inspection on the passenger gangway. Schiphol Airport, Netherlands, 1993. Black and white silver print on baryta paper, 60 x 80 cm. Musée national de l'histoire de l'immigration © Ad Van Denderen / Agence Vu'

Between the need for labour and the fight against illegal immigration

Europe must face up to the ageing of its population and the structural shortages of labour, which are the two main factors in pursuing immigration policies in all European countries. However, controlling migration flows and fighting illegal immigration – carried out since 2004 by the Frontex agency – continue to be the priorities, under pressure from a section of national public opinion who view immigration as a threat to their society and to what remains of the benefits of the Welfare state. Each European country has tried to process these two contradictory tensions in its own way, whereas the construction of the European Union encourages them to harmonise their migration policy.

Implementation of a common migration policy

European countries have gradually converged towards a common migration policy. They started by adopting a series of measures:

  • The 1985 Schengen Agreements, which removed borders inside the Union (with the exception of the United Kingdom, Ireland and Denmark) while strengthening external borders.
  • The 1990 Dublin Agreement, which established the conditions for examining asylum requests. Since 2013, the European country through which the asylum seeker entered is responsible for processing their request, whether or not this entry was legal (Dublin system). The only exception is when the asylum seeker has a family member in another Member State. The Dublin system places countries on the European border (Italy and Greece) at the outposts of migrant arrivals.
  • The 2004 Hague Programme attempted to harmonise the push-back against irregular immigration by toughening conditions for entry and visa delivery (creation of a visa information system and a biometric database), through policies of returning, relocating and readmitting migrants (creation of a “European Return Fund”), and through outsourcing controls.
  • In 2020, the European Commission presented its new Pact on Migration and Asylum. The initiative came after the crisis of 2015 where more than a million refugees arrived in Europe (i.e. 0.2 % of the European population), after the controversial agreement signed in 2016 with Turkey to limit the arrival of asylum seekers, and after the fire and destruction at the Moria camp in Lesbos and, lastly, in a context in which several European countries (Visegrád group) were rejecting policies of relocating asylum seekers in Europe (aimed at a balanced distribution of asylum seekers between the European countries).
  • The goal of the Pact on Migration and Asylum was to bring some order to a system “that is not one” according to a statement made by Margaritis Schinas, Vice-President of the Commission in charge of migrations. It aimed to make Member States more supportive of each other and to avoid a concentration of immigrant populations in certain countries. It adopted the goals of the previous treaties: strengthen the fight against illegal immigration and accelerate the return of people in an irregular situation. It proposed decriminalising rescues at sea.
  • Since January 19th  2022, it has been the task of the European Union Agency for Asylum (EUAA) to coordinate the reception, application processing and return of migrants on a European level. For 2022, it had a budget of 172 million euros of EU funding.


What remains to be done

The Europeanisation of immigration and asylum policies is still incomplete since many European countries have set themselves timelines for the implementation of certain treaties.  
Better still, The Pact on Migration and Asylum (2020) stipulates that each Member State remains free to choose the way in which it applies the solidarity principle (receiving asylum seekers or financial contribution to the return of migrants in an irregular situation to their country of origin). Should a Member State be subjected to strong migration-related tension, the other States are supposed to assist it. Not only do the penalties remain to be worked out in detail, but content-wise, the 2020 Pact does not call into question the general rules of the Dublin Agreement. Consequently, the project is not viewed unanimously: the countries subject to heavy migration flows (Greece, Italy) continue to demand more solidarity whereas the countries in the Visegrád group are refusing.
On the solidarity side, there is still a long road ahead. Especially since Member States retain sovereignty in terms of granting asylum seekers the status of refugees, delivering visas or residence permits, the conditions in which migrants are received, etc, even if this means contravening the international agreements signed or respect of the basic rights due not only to asylum seekers and migrants in general, but to any human being.
This “Europe à la carte” indirectly bolsters illegal immigration, illegal unemployment and the number of rejected asylum seekers within the Union.
Moreover, issues with ageing populations and labour shortages (2005 European Green Paper) are inciting some countries to set up implicit or explicit quotas to attract the most qualified migrants to their country. The Covid health crisis only underlined the fact that each country uses migration as a tool to suit its own needs and emergencies: delivery and extension of temporary residence permits or regularisation of undocumented individuals…

Disunion and European solidarity crisis (marked by the reestablishment of borders and rejection of the so-called quota policy on receiving asylum seekers) demonstrate the dynamics at work. The other characteristic of European policy aims to strengthen borders. A large share of the Pact on Migration and Asylum relates to the protection of borders delimiting the European space. “We are no longer Europeans, except through a tacit agreement on a policy of let them survive and, often, let them die, at the doors of Europe”, writes François Héran regarding the reception given to refugees in 2015, and “the gap” between Angela Merkel and the European leaders – “France and the United Kingdom included” – which “has grown, and Germany has had to double back to stay in line with Europe’s sad passions. Angela Merkel has come out of this trial with full honours. The same cannot be said of her European counterparts”. Should we compare European migration policies with the values of the old continent?

Mustapha Harzoune, 2022