A selection of experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the foreign and security policy challenges shaping Europe’s role in the world.


Silvia ColomboSenior fellow in the Mediterranean and Middle East Program at the Italian Institute for International Affairs

The EU’s response to the unprecedented migrant and refugee crisis in the Mediterranean has so far not lived up to expectations in terms of striking a balance between security and solidarity. The member states’ halting, scattered response has undermined effective policy implementation and squandered goodwill and resources. All this dithering—at the expense of a more robust commitment to welcoming refugees and to managing irregular migration flows—does not bode well for Europe’s future.

This is one of the most crucial tests that lie ahead for the survival of the EU’s integration project, as mobility entails both an internal and an external dimension, which are closely intertwined. Although the current migration crisis has put the spotlight on immediate, external needs, it has also revealed much about the structural, internal limitations of the EU’s migration policy and, more broadly, the member states’ ability to agree on the tools and policies to tackle it.

This is an opportunity for the EU’s capitals to act pragmatically and send a clear message to their citizens that migration can be managed only collectively through comprehensive and inclusive means. Only in this way can the EU stand up against the rise of xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiments among European populations and move toward a more sustainable and, at the same time, more secure migration policy.


Caroline de GruyterEuropean affairs correspondent for NRC Handelsblad

Well, it should! EU member states know exactly what to do. All the elements of a comprehensive asylum and immigration policy have been on the table since the early 2000s. The influxes of Bosnian refugees and of Asian and African migrants made governments realize that without internal border controls in the Schengen Area, the EU needed common policies to manage the flows. But governments shelved those proposals. Now they are paying the price: smugglers, not EU authorities, are in control of Europe’s immigration. This is a management crisis. The chaos scares citizens, understandably. Populist parties exploit it.

The only way to stop illegal immigration is to legalize and regularize it. First, this means letting refugees apply for asylum in their home region, then letting them come in a regular way by ferry or plane. They should be distributed fairly across member states: the EU should decide the destination. Smugglers would soon be unemployed. Second, the EU needs to open legal routes for migrants. Europeans should agree on how many workers they need, and which ones. Europe should open legal application possibilities across the world. Few migrants will take an illegal route across the Mediterranean if they can come legally. Third, the EU needs unified asylum rules and strong protection of its external border.

The EU’s refugee deal with Turkey reached in March 2016, however imperfect, contains some of these elements. To master the problem, governments need to go much further. This takes courage, which, alas, is in much shorter supply than good solutions.


Denis MacShaneFormer UK minister for Europe

No. Immigration is a sensitive question of national identity. To begin with, there is no common definition of an immigrant. In Poland or Slovakia, the term “immigrant” refers to refugees from Syria, Iraq, or Libya. In Britain, an immigrant is a Pole or a Slovak.

Many EU nations have a specific category of immigrants based on history. No Irish citizen is an immigrant in the UK. All Russians who can claim a historical German bloodline can become German citizens. Spain has its own relationship with immigrants from South America.

Europe should uphold existing international conventions. Arguably, the nations that have destroyed other states—as the UK (with the United States) did in Iraq and France and the UK did in Libya—should accept more responsibility for the refugee flows caused by these unilateral, non-EU interventions. When states are destroyed, their citizens flee for sanctuary.

At best, the EU can deliver ad hoc realpolitik responses such as the approach Germany insisted on when hundreds of thousands of refugees came up via the Western Balkans from the war zones created by those who supported civil war in Syria or who destroyed the Iraqi state. But an overall immigration policy that is accepted, endorsed, and implemented by all EU states is a chimera.


Jonathan PrenticeDirector of the London office and senior adviser for advocacy at the International Crisis Group

The EU can agree on immigration—but only if it gets its act together.

Europe needs to be clear about the challenge it faces. It is not one of security. Nor is migration an invasion: migrants moving from South to North constitute 1 percent of the global population. Human history, demographics, economics, climate change, and conflict suggest migration will stay. To assert otherwise is to follow in the footsteps of Canute’s courtiers beseeching their king to hold back the tide.

The link between conflict and flight—a key dimension of current mass movement—must be forcefully made. In September 2016, the world convenes in New York to discuss large movements of refugees and migrants. Europe should lead with ambition: through radical rethinking of how best to treat refugees (Are camps fit for the twenty-first century?); through considerably ramping up support to frontline states; and through recommitting to those institutions—the UN Security Council and the office of the secretary general—best placed to manage the prevention and effective resolution of conflict.

The tragedy of death—over 2,500 in the Mediterranean so far in 2016 alone—and dubious deals to keep migrants at bay weaken Europe’s leadership and fray the international legal order: a heavy price for an unattainable goal. Managing, not preventing, should be Europe’s strategy. That means creating safe pathways and common asylum policies, upholding international law, and committing to burden sharing.


Antonio VillafrancaResearch coordinator and head of the EU Program at the Italian Institute for International Political Studies

After nearly two years of arguing and wrangling among EU member states, there is now a clear sense of which policies are urgently needed to make migration flows toward Europe sustainable in the long run. The EU needs a new common asylum policy, with a credible and automatic emergency relocation mechanism. Asylum seekers must be allowed to work sooner in destination countries, and to better integrate there. And the EU needs a targeted approach toward countries of origin and transit in Africa and the Middle East.

The problem is not policies, but an utter lack of political will in many European countries. Migration has become a hot topic, and the electoral calendar is further complicating the mishandling of migration issues for short-term political gains. Poland’s and Austria’s recent elections speak volumes about the growing risk of populism. The 2017 French and German elections are fast approaching as well.

In this context, policies may be agreed on, but they will tend to be watered down. Moreover, they will always risk failing at the implementation phase. Look at the relocation of asylum seekers: since the initial resettlement agreement reached in mid-2015, EU countries have relocated around 1 percent of the numbers to which they originally committed.


Pierre VimontSenior associate at Carnegie Europe

The EU has already agreed on immigration with its decisions in March 2016 to close the Western Balkan route, which had been used by most refugees and migrants entering the EU, and to strike a deal with Turkey to reduce the influx of people. By taking such a course, the EU has gone back on many of its former illusions and opted for a solution it had rejected only a few months before. But the reality is there: what at the start of this whole ordeal was considered anathema—the closure of borders and the strict limitation of the number of refugees allowed in through resettlement schemes—has today become mainstream policy for the EU.

Then what about the Central Mediterranean migration route, which is currently being reactivated by the smuggling industry? It may be more complicated for the EU to tackle this new challenge than it was in the case of Turkey, as Libya is a country with fewer state capacities and a still very fragile political situation. Nevertheless, one can expect the EU to revert to the same recipe as with Turkey by introducing increased border controls, strict and swift asylum procedures, more returns of rejected asylum seekers to countries of transit or origin, and a somewhat vague commitment to some resettlement scheme.

Will this work? It is far from certain, and this new test may well put the EU under heavy strain. But there is little doubt that Europe is about to see more of this brand of tough migration policy, if only to respond to the growing concerns and frustrations of public opinion all over the continent.