A step in the wrong direction
Marino Varricchio // 16 December 2020
In September the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs held a debate on the New Pact on Asylum and Migration. The New Pact aims at establishing a framework to mitigate the tensions between the rights of member states to determine their own immigration system and EU-based approach to immigration policy. The priority is to establish a quick arrival and return system to deal with two problems: first, to ensure that the rejected applicants for international protection are returned home – every year only a third does. Second, to minimize illegal border crossings, whose number has substantially decreased, from 1.82 million in 2015 to 142 000 in 2019. To address these issues, the New Pact foresees the introduction of a compulsory pre-entry screening at external borders to determine the status of and the procedure applying to the claimants.
Whether this procedure is consistent with the equal treatment of asylum seekers is debatable. In fact, the screening foresees that asylum claims coming from country with low recognition rates “should be examined rapidly without requiring legal entry to the Member State’s territory.” This proposal has two severe weaknesses. First, if the country of origin is the main factor in determining the outcome of applications, then immigrants from countries with low recognition rates are ex ante very unlikely to receive protection. They will be immediately returned to their home countries, which in some cases are places plagued by systemic political instability, human rights violations, and pervasive violence . In light of this, prioritising accurate assessments over quick procedures is important to ensure a fair treatment of asylum claimants, as contextual factors seem far more important than the recognition rate of the country.
The second weakness is that the EU provides countries of dubious democratic legitimacy with conspicuous funds for externalizing border management. Since 2015, the EU Emergency Fund for Africa has sent more than 455 million euros to Libya for migration-related projects. Predictably, the Associated Press found that huge sums went to militias and human traffickers. The official Communication of the European Commission foresees that broad partnerships with key third countries will be established or reinforced for fighting migrant smuggling. However, experience shows that exactly those partnerships proved to be part of the problem. The opportunity cost of the funds mobilised for projects in Libya is very high. Investing parts of those sums in creating legal pathways, improving refugees’ social inclusion, and setting up capacity building and training to facilitate refugees’ entry into the labour market could be a more productive use of money.
Despite being simple, these proposals are not politically cheap to implement. A larger influx of refugees would likely be met with resistance by some of the Member States. In this regard, the EU’s communications strategy can make the difference. Immigrants and refugees should be viewed not as the object of European solidarity, but as an opportunity to produce wealth and fill labor shortages. To conclude, the New Pact’s proposed measures seem unsatisfactory. The underlying strategy of externalizing the border management is at odds with the European liberal values of solidarity and free movement. The Pact’s prioritisation of a quick arrival and return system for asylum claimants may come at the expense of efficiency, since quicker procedures could mean more avoidable mistakes and less mutual enrichment opportunities.
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