Human mobility v. border control: what is at stake with the EU migration policy in the Mediterranean?


Human mobility v. border control: what is at stake with the EU migration policy in the Mediterranean?

Debate lunch with :

  • Hélène Calers, European Parliament – Administrator at the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) Committee
  • Aspasia Papadopoulou, Senior Advocacy Officer at the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE)
  • Marco Stefan, PhD candidate at University of Ferrara – MEDEA

 Wednesday 23th April 2014 from 12:30 to 14:00


Organized with the support of the European Movement Belgium 


Moderator: Geoffroy d’Aspremont (Institut MEDEA).

Intervention of Marco Stefan:

a) Why incorporating a migration and mobility policy in the Euro-Mediterranean relations

It is my understanding that, for a group of States or other larger territorial units (such as International Regional Organizations) that share the same geographical space and mutually partake strong geopolitical and socio-economical ties, human mobility represents an important complementarity factor to address and regulate. If this general postulate holds true, it especially applies to Euro-Mediterranean case.

In fact, a significant number of both structural and contingent factors suggest that far-looking solutions for the appropriate management of the multiple routes actually crossing the Mediterranean are not only required, but also essential. Having to name a few of such factors, I would mention: the EU sui generis nature of a polity that promotes regional integration both within and outside its borders; the proactive role progressively assumed by the Union on the international scene (and in particular towards its Neighbourhood); the European proximity to troubled North African and Middle East countries; the recent increase in the mixed migratory flows to Europe (especially by sea); and the humanitarian issues associated to such mobility trend.

Lately, the tragic rise of the dead toll of third country nationals trying to cross the EU (maritime and terrestrial) external borders; and the difficulties displayed by the reception and protection systems of the EU countries of arrival (with Italy, Greece and Spain as primary landing or docking places), made clear that a common and all-encompassing Euro-Mediterranean migration policy is more than ever needed.

While the political, economic and social context in the region demands for more cooperation between the two shores of the Mediterranean basin, the EU “Global Approach to Migration” mandates the Union to develop its external migration policy through a consistent, balanced and coordinated approach.

In light of the above, it is worth asking what has been done to ensure a coherent response to the challenges and opportunities posed by migration in the Euro-Mediterranean region. Therefore, the following section of the present intervention will try to briefly overview and assess the EU overall contribution to the establishment of a system for migration governance in its relations with the Southern proxies. Let’s then proceed with the second questions, which will try to assess:

b) How migration and mobility were incorporated into the “Euro-Mediterranean system of governance”?

The first comprehensive strategy for the joint management of the mixed flows crossing the Euro-Mediterranean area has been formulated in the “five-years Work Programme”, which added a fourth basket to the pre-existing Barcelona Process’ strategic framework. Launched in 2005 by the Euro-Mediterranean Heads of State and Government, this regional initiative integrated the Euro-Mediterranean relations with a policy dialogue for the development of cooperation on subjects such as legal migration, home affairs and justice. It has to be remembered that cooperation in these fields was not originally enlisted amongst the Barcelona Process’ priorities.

The “fourth basket” of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership not only promoted a more articulated and proactive approach to migration at the multilateral level, but also served to enlarge and revamp the (multi-bilateral) cooperation already conducted under the Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreements. Such normative tools, which constitute the only binding instruments for the regulation of the Euro-Mediterranean relations, globally lack short of detailed provisions concerning human mobility. In as such, thanks to the programmatic and operative stimulus offers by the institutions, projects and mechanisms established in the follow up of the 4th basket of the Barcelona process, migration became an integral part of the whole regional integration process.

At least at the rhetorical level, the creation of new channels for legal migration; the reduction of the level of irregular migration; and strengthening the migration and development nexus at the regional level became integral goals of the EMP.

Nevertheless, the lack of the EMP’s significant result in addressing the root causes of migration at the regional level (namely the absence of economic opportunities, the lack of democratic reforms and the widespread human rights violations), progressively brought to the adoption of further policy frameworks, normative tools and monitoring mechanisms that are now deployed in the organization and management of the migratory flows in the Mediterranean.

Providing a new framework for deeper integration between the EU and Southern Mediterranean Countries, the European Neighbourhood Policy aims at complementing the Barcelona Process, also through the perspective of an enhanced cooperation on migration matters. In its launch phase the ENP offered to the neighbouring a “stake in the internal market”, and thus prospected also to the southern partners the possibility to benefit from the potential extension of the EU free movement of persons. If such revolutionary proposal has been soon abandoned, migration as such remained at the very core of the overall European Neighbourhood Policy agenda.

In fact, the Action Plans prospect the neighbours some opportunity for legal economic migration, offering visa facilitations to the partners that undertake efforts to approximate their domestic legislation to the EU internal acquis in the field of migration and asylum; cooperate in tackling irregular migratory flows directed to Europe; and accept to collaborate for the readmission of their citizens and third country nationals irregularly residing within the EU territory. In order to strengthen its “justice, police and migration” component and consolidate the results obtained by previous programmes for the joint management of migration flows between countries of origin, transit and destination, the ENP encourages contacts, training and assistance at the regional level.

Most recently, upon the conduction of the so-called “dialogues on migration and mobility”, the EU also signed bilateral Mobility partnerships with Morocco, and Tunisia, and similar agreements are currently under negotiation with Jordan and Egypt.

c) Latest initiatives: improvement or status quo?

Despite the conceptual, structural and substantial developments in the external dimension of the EU migration policy towards the Southern Mediterranean countries, problems derive from limited applicability of the conditional and incentive-based cooperative system set up by the ENP.

In fact, only those partners that are more politically stable and interested in deepening their relations with the EU (like Morocco and Tunisia) concretely benefit from the advancements in cooperation on migration and human mobility issues. To the contrary, the ENP schemes, tools and programs do not apply to countries such as Syria and Libya, which at the present time respectively represents an extraordinary source and hub of irregular migration in the Euro-Mediterranean region.

This explain the actual need for the EU to focus on control and surveillance of EU external borders and on capacity building for the fight against irregular immigration in the Southern Mediterranean Countries, as the last Justice and Home affairs Council confirmed.

To the contrary, a highly restrictive framework governing legal migration to the EU has left very few channels allowing mobility for purposes of employment, training or education between the two shores. Equally, the promotion of “brain circulation”, the facilitation of remittances flows, and the portability of social security rights, have not developed in recent times.

Since the most recent EU policy cooperation and normative initiatives seem to focus on the regulation of external border management, and the protection of migrants’ rights constitutes an obligation binding the EU and its Member States, the following intervention will cover such specific aspects of EU migration policy in the Mediterranean.

d) What is lacking/ could be done to improve the overall system for the management of common Euro-Mediterranean migratory challenges? –

EU migration policies and cooperation with the SEMCs should be re-focused on the central aim of opening and supporting legal channels of mobility, including for employment and education.

To this end, the potential window opened by the recognition of EU competence to legislate on ‘the internal dimension’ of labor immigration policy in the Lisbon Treaty could be explored as a means for the EU to engage more actively (on grounds of implied external competence) in the domain of labor immigration with third countries.

Intervention of Hélène Calers:

I would like to underline that my presentation today reflects my personal views and not those of the European Parliament, nor of the European Institutions.

I will focus on the latest developments in EU legislation as regards external borders management and how the EU institutions, and in particular the EP, have tried to strike a balance between security aspects and the protection of fundamental rights of the migrants.

The first point I would like to underline is that border control (ie. border checks and border surveillance) is under the responsibility of Member States. But the EU has adopted legislation at EU level, to coordinate action between Member States.

*        Schengen borders code

It establishes rules governing border control of persons crossing external borders. It was adopted in 2006 and modified 6 times, including in 2013, when it was amended following the evaluation report of the Commission to improve its practical application.

The EP insisted that the issue of fundamental rights be specifically introduced:

– Article 3a on fundamental rights

– Re-enforce special attention to vulnerable groups (art.6)

– Rules on access to international protection in case of shared border crossing points (Annex VI)

*        Frontex

It is the European agency for the management of operational cooperation at the external borders of the Members States of the EU. The agency was set up in 2005. After 5 years of existence, the Commission proposed to amend it, to improve its functioning, including:

– Contribution in personnel and equipment from Member States

– Financing and co-financing rules

The Parliament insisted on some points:

– More democratic scrutiny by EP

– More solidarity

– More attention to fundamental rights, this includes:

  • Creation of fundamental rights officer, consultative forum on fundamental rights as well as fundamental rights strategy (art. 26a)
  • Code of conduct laying down procedures for the respect of fundamental rights (art 2a)
  • principle of non refoulement highlighted (art. 2(1a))
    + reference to International law (art. 1(2))
    + obligation to take into account special needs of vulnerable groups (art; 2(1a))
  • Training in Fundamental Rights and access to international protection (art. 5)
  • Operation suspended or terminated in case of serious violation of fundamental rights (art. 3(1a))
  • Monitoring of return operations and code of conduct (art. 9)

*        Rules for surveillance of external sea borders in Frontex operations

Adopted in the European Parliament and in the Council, the Regulation will be published in the Official Journal by the end of June. It replaces a Council decision of 2010 establishing rules on interceptions and guidelines for search and rescue and disembarkation annulled by the Court. The new rules, which are compulsory, reinforce:

– Principle of non refoulement by setting specific rules on situations in which persons cannot be disembarked in a 3rd country and what must be done when third country nationals are intercepted

– Obligations on Member States as regards search and rescue.

*        EUROSUR

It is the European Border surveillance system. It entered into force on 2 December 2013, it was developed as a pilot project since 2008. It is a system of systems, enabling the exchange of info collected by Member States between Member States. EP insisted:

– One of the objectives be to ensure protection and saving the lives of migrants, together with the fight against illegal migration and cross border crime

– Compliance with fundamental rights when applying regulation with priority to the needs of vulnerable persons.

– Timely exchange of information on situations presenting a risk to the lives of migrants, with all authorities, including search and rescue, asylum and migration.

– No exchange of information with third countries if there is a risk for the third country national of being identified or if there is a risk of violation of their fundamental rights.

Intervention of Aspasia Papadopoulou:

There is no official statistics of migrants death toll. To find a solution, a consortium of journalists have well documented it since the beginning of the century. They have reached the number of 23 000 people. This number is a shame for the Member States of the EU.

The countries of origin of those migrants are various: people from Eastern Mediterranean countries try to escape from conflicts, in particular since the outburst of the Arab Spring. There are risks to life: Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea, war-torn Syria…

What could be a solution? Why do they take this boat? Syrians in 2013 represent ¼ of irregular crosses of the borders. The number of refugees is very high now, and the EU has not a common strategy on the issue.

There is a need for capacity-building in Mediterranean, a comprehensive action plan for sea-crossing. The problem is the Member States don’t want to share responsibility. We forget too often that those migrants are picking our oranges in Spain, Italy or Greece and that we are eating.

Syria is an exceptional case, because the conflict has started in March 2011. It is too recent for a issue that has lasted for decades now. Germany and Sweden have already reserved a good welcome to the Syrians, providing them visas for asylum, working and finding a location to live in the country.