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What Next for European Migration Policy? Part 2



The first part of this blog discussed the decline in irregular migrant arrivals in Greece and assessed the EU-Turkey migration deal. This part looks at the European Commission’s proposals to reform the Dublin asylum rules and at Europe’s aid pledges to stem migration.

Reforming the Dublin Asylum Rules

As discussed earlier on RealTime, the European Commission is proposing to overhaul the European Union’s failed “Dublin Framework” for allocating responsibility among member states for receiving and processing asylum seekers. The Commission is proposing a host of generally sensible detailed changes to the current system, but the most politically explosive is the proposal to implement a new “fairness mechanism” to start if a member state faces high levels of asylum seeker inflows. If a member state receives more than 150 percent of its reference share of asylum seekers over a 12-month rolling period (determined by a 50-50 weighting of the member states’ GDP and population), the fairness mechanism will redistribute refugees to other member states. The Commission further envisions letting member states unwilling to accept refugees make a €250,000 payment per asylum seeker per year to another member state.

This proposed mechanism is certain to prove controversial, as it could see some member states either facing having to accept to receive substantial number of refugees or pay large amounts of money to avoid it. The 160,000 asylum seekers the EU members agreed to redistribute from Italy and Greece have only resulted in approximately 1,500 being relocated from these two countries. In principle, had this lack of implementation taken place under the new proposed system (e.g., if 158,500 eligible asylum seekers had not been relocated), Italy and Greece would be in line for payments of almost €40 billion annually from other EU countries. Faced with a Hobson’s choice of accepting asylum seekers “though a Brussels diktat” or paying a hefty amount in compensation, European members states are likely to rebel.

The proposed fairness system seems likely to work only if overall refugee inflows continue to decline to a level low enough to not cause political difficulties. There is no guarantee of that happening, of course.

Stemming Irregular Migration to Europe with Pledges of Money and Investment

The European Commission in 2015 established the €1.8 billion European Union Emergency Trust Fund for stability and addressing the root causes of irregular migration and displaced persons in Africa. As the name implies, the intent was to stem the flow by addressing some of the causes of migratory flows in the countries of origin in Africa. To further this end, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of Italy recently called for an upgrade of this initiative by the launching of a European Strategy for Africa aimed at stemming the inflow of migrants from here through increased aid and investments.

However praiseworthy it is to improve economic growth and conditions in Africa, the goal of reducing refugees is certain to fall short. The reality is that there is absolutely no correlation between the amount of development and other aid a country receives and the country’s population’s propensity to migrate towards more affluent countries for a better life. Indeed, inflows into Europe recently would suggest that the correlation is a positive one, so that the more aid and development a country has received, the more mobile its population tends to become as diaspora links to and knowledge of Europe increases.

For example, Afghanistan is the second-largest nationality (after Syrians) sending immigrants to Europe in 2015–16, 20 to 25 percent of the total. Yet as the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction has found in a report to Congress, Afghanistan from 2002 to 2014 received U.S. reconstruction aid worth $104 billion in 2002-14 from the United States alone, not counting aid from other countries. That sum, adjusted for inflation, exceeded the value of the US Marshall plan for Europe from 1948 to 1952. 1 Now, obviously the size of the US economy today far exceeds US GDP of the late 1940s, so in terms of the scale of the US financial commitment to Europe, the burden of the Marshall Plan for the United States far exceeded that of the aid going towards Afghanistan today. And unlike US aid to Afghanistan, the Marshall Plan did not include the costs of building and sustaining host-country armies and national police, though aid giving to stabilize African countries would be certain to have to also include such types of security related aid. The fact that the sums given to Afghanistan had no impact on migrants should be a cautionary tale for Italy’s “Strategy for Africa.”

European Migration Policy Going Forward

If crises produce opportunities for dramatic changes in policy, the lower political temperature over immigration in Europe has rendered the most ambitious migration reform plans impossible. All the best policy options for reform are off the table, including my own Mobility and Migration Union plan last year and other calls for EU Refugee Bonds. At the same time, the likely failure of the deal with Turkey and continued immigration pressures are likely to persist. Europe must not lose focus on this issue. Workable second-best policies are needed.

A first necessary step would be to raise additional resources to fund a credible common external border control and jointly funded refugee reception and integration efforts. A multibillion euro increase in the EU budget could help. 

Member states and the European Parliament establish the annual budget spending limits, with revenue coming from customs levies, sugar duties, value-added-tax-based contributions from member states and miscellaneous other revenue. As a final plug, they tap revenues based on each country’s gross national income (GNI) when other sources of revenue fall short of the agreed spending targets. These GNI-based revenues are capped at 1.23 percent of EU GNI, however. In the most recent budget year 2015, €104.5 billion of GNI-based resources were raised for a total EU budget of €141.2 billion. But GNI for the 28 EU countries in 2015 is estimated by Eurostat to have been €14.6 trillion. The maximum 1.23 percent would thus amount to €179 billion, providing resources for up to almost €75 billion in 2015 alone for the EU budget. But to tap that money, member states must agree on the new common tasks—such as migration-related issues— it should fund.

Several issues would have to resolved first, however.  Relying on GNI-based revenues imply that revenues from all 28 member states would be tapped. But not all EU members are included in the borderless region known as Schengen. Arrangements would thus have to be made to compensate non-Schengen members contributing to such a project. In addition, the contribution of some member states might have to be adjusted to get an agreement—for example, asking Germany to pay more for the “European refugee solution” that Angela Merkel has so often called for.

The European Union already routinely grants member states individual budget rebates, so such a step should not be impossible to take. A sizable expansion—say an annual €20 billion—of the EU budget earmarked for new common migration related tasks could be agreed at relatively short notice. Investing in border control and resettlement would certainly be a better use of European resources than wasting them on a huge investment drive to try to keep would-be migrants at home.


1. The SIGAR Report estimates, deflating by the year-end GDP deflator the total net present value of the Marshall Plan to be $109 billion in 2014, whereas 2002–14 Afghanistan appropriations total $103.4billion in real dollars.

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