European Migrant Crisis: Decisions

As covered in the last post, European policymakers adopted three broad approaches to handling the migration crisis: using regional gatekeepers like Turkey, further improving and integrating EU systems for processing asylum and refugee applications, and working over time to improve conditions in the countries migrants are fleeing. While many other in-the-moment courses of action have been necessary, such as addressing specific paths for migrants when they become more popular, the next migrant crisis may well involve entirely different origins. It is too limiting to focus solely on the geographic factors at play.

Of the three focuses for the future then, I find the second to be the only credible long-term path forward for EU policymakers. Moving forward will require a mixture of requirements for EU countries to take in migrants and penalties for refusal to do so, and incentives to make countries more willing to comply of their own accord.

The EU Parliament in Strasbourg, courtesy of Wikimedia user Diliff.

The Stick-Quotas

Refugee and migrant quotas have been a hot-button issue in the EU since the beginning of the migrant crisis. Although it was only this year that the European Court of Justice ruled that Poland, Hungary, and Czechia had violated their treaty obligations, it has been clear since 2015 that these countries (and several others) were doing everything possible to avoid taking in any more migrants. While the applicability and enforcement of EU law has generally become its own issue, a key part of creating and enforcing consistent member-state requirements must be stronger mechanisms for punishing recalcitrant countries.

The EU’s 2015 quotes for migrant settlement by member state. Source: The Economist

The broader conversation among member-states over the scope of integration aside, EU policymakers should work to develop ironclad requirements for honoring quotas and obligations, if need by tying precious development funds to compliance. Although it is easy to make much politically of sticking it to Brussels (or at least being seen to do so), it is much more difficult to justify refusing a few thousand asylum applications when the alternative is the loss of millions of euros in crucial funds. Given that development funds often target left-behind or disadvantaged sub-national polities, for political reasons care should be taken to ensure that threatened funds are not those going to specific, needed projects.

The Carrot-Incentives

Incentives for states to take in refugees and asylum applicants are not a new idea, but the level of their priority in the overall policy discussion has never been higher. The European Commission just last month proposed doing away entirely with the quotas passed in 2015, in favor of a direct subsidy of 10,000 euros for each adult a country takes in. This proposal does have some issues-it still fails to address the problems posed for countries like Greece & Italy by the Dublin Regulation and leaves them still handling a massively outsized share of the burden. The proposal also provides nothing for accepting applicants under 18, despite the fact that-as we noted earlier-they make up hundreds of thousands of the arrivals since 2015.

To properly incentivize recalcitrant countries, then, I would argue that EU policymakers need to think more ambitiously and provide separate subsidies for the processing of initial claims. The subsidy regime should also be extended to cover those under 18, and would ideally be structured to incentivize member states to fully integrate their new residents.

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