1. Introduction

Following the outbreak of what has become commonly known as “the Arab Spring,” the European Union (EU) proclaimed its intention to strengthen its external migration policy by setting up “mutually beneficial” partnerships with countries in North Africa ― the so-called “Dialogues for Migration, Mobility and Security.”[1] These Dialogues have been placed at the heart of the EU’s renewed Global Approach to Migration and Mobility (GAMM), the Union’s policy framework encompassing the international relations components of EU immigration policy. A growing body of scholarly literature and policy debates has focused on the GAMM since then. One of the key questions has been the extent to which this new official narrative covering the EU’s immigration-foreign affairs nexus can effectively meet its purported goals of initiating a new phase of EU’s immigration policy not solely by centering on the fight against illegal immigration, but rather by establishing a truly “global” policy coverage and understanding of the issues at stake in human movements across borders and by playing more efforts at establishing legal channels of immigration and protecting migrants’ human rights.

Commentators have signaled the “business-as-usual” approach in the EU’s external relations policy on human mobility, with its continued emphasis on control and surveillance of the EU external borders and capacity building in third countries geared toward “migration management” and the obsession on the so-called “fight against irregular immigration.” This has been the case concerning the EU Mobility Partnerships, one of the principal policy tools intended to translate the GAMM into practice. As a key component of the Dialogues for Migration, Mobility and Security, negotiations on the establishment of Mobility Partnerships are well underway between the EU and certain Southern Mediterranean countries (Tunisia, Morocco, and potentially Jordan and Egypt).

These Mobility Partnerships have been critiqued for their strong insecurity- and control-oriented approach while allowing only restricted, temporary, and highly selective forms of immigration into the Union and henceforth perpetuating the insecuritization of mobility.[2] The partnerships are also driven by a strong conditionality by requiring third states to adopt and show strong commitment to the European security policy on mobility as irregular immigration and, in particular, by concluding readmission agreements with the EU;[3] signing working arrangements with Frontex; cooperating in joint surveillance operations in the Mediterranean sea; and building capacity in other aspects of integrated border management as the sine qua non to access highly provisional “benefits” such as visa facilitation agreements and few labor immigration schemes, flanked by financial measures on “migration containment.” These factors have led to their relabeling in the literature as insecurity partnerships for the coherency and legitimacy of the EU’s labour immigration policy, as well as the liberty and security of the thirdcountry workers.[4]

Little academic attention has been however given to why the current contours of the EU’s external dimensions of migration policy continue to be primarily insecurity- and conditionality-driven and howwe need to understand them in the new inter-institutional setting after the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009. This essay seeks to contribute in explaining the reasons behind the insecurity nature of the EU’s migration policy responses toward the Southern Mediterranean region from a critical sociology approach by examining the EU’s institutional setting behind the GAMM: how do the key institutions and policy actors and their relations drive and shape the decision making processes characterizing EU’s external migration policies? Has the application of the new institutional context introduced by the Lisbon Treaty in 2009 and the creation of a European External Action Service (EEAS) remedied or re-invigorated the insecuritization of mobility?

2. EU Home affairs diplomacy

Over the past decade or so, the two main institutions responsible for the EU Mobility Partnerships, as well as steering the GAMM, have been the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Home Affairs (DG Home) and the Council’s High Level Working Group on Migration and Asylum (HLWG). Both have played the part of “political entrepreneurs” in steering the formidable expansion of the external dimension of migration at European levels.[5] EU Home Affairs policy makers remain very much in the driver’s seat of the external dimensions of the EU’s migration policy agenda, which de facto means Ministries of Interior-like actors playing at diplomats.

In 2011, for instance, DG Home Affairs of the Commission took the lead in drafting the Communication on a dialogue for migration, mobility, and security with the Southern Mediterranean countries, COM(2011) 292 (the Dialogue Communication), while the EEAS was, to a large extent, sidelined in this decision-making process. It is not only in the internal preparation of the Dialogues, but also in the negotiations with third countries that DG Home Affairs has been taking a leading role. It is DG Home and not the EEAS that has led the majority of diplomatic missions abroad to promote and discuss the content of the Mobility Partnerships and the EU’s ‘insecurity approach’ to migration from North Africa.

The predominance of a “home affairs approach” and marginalization of the EEAS goes beyond the European Commission but runs through the institutional structures that frame the development and implementation of the EU Dialogues. The Council working configurations permit officials of the Ministry of Interior of the Member States to play a central role in formulating the Dialogues with the primary site of negotiations in the Council on the Dialogues ― and specifically on the preparation of the Mobility Partnerships — the above-mentioned HLWG, with its origins primarily rooted in Justice and Home Affairs objectives. Although the HLWG reports formally to the Foreign Affairs Council, its conclusions receive little attention in this forum and its de facto line of command is to the Justice and Home Affairs Council. To this we may add the role of the EU External Borders Agency (Frontex) which enjoys a surprising degree of autonomy from the EEAS and Foreign Affairs Council when conveying its agenda and policy priorities in working arrangements with third states’ authorities.[6]

This pluralistic EU institutional setting has therefore propagated an ever-expanding Home Affairs diplomacy, consisting of a matrix of policy actors in a fragmented and competitive field of action (the Commission’s DG Home, certain EU agencies, and the working structures of the Council) showing a predominant insecurity, control, and police-oriented understanding of human mobility. One would have expected that, with the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, the EEAS would have taken the leading role in the overall strategy and priority-setting related to EU’s foreign affairs policies. On the contrary, the turf wars or ideological conflicts between institutions have intensified post-Lisbon.[7] What are the reasons for the continuing dominance of a “home affairs” approach within the post-Lisbon institutional set-up? The following three factors can be highlighted:

First, questions of competence and competition. Indeed, ultimate responsibility for the external dimension of migration still remains with DG Home after the Lisbon Treaty. This is a challenge facing the functioning of EEAS more generally. From the outset it was clear that the creation of the EEAS and the complexity of its tasks would entail a number of portfolio overlaps between the EEAS and the Commission. Despite the need for an effective modus operandi, none has been developed, leaving room for tension. The provisions on the EEAS in the Lisbon Treaty are minimal. This has paved the way for a multitude of turf sensitivities between the Commission and EEAS.[8]

A second factor relates to the internal dynamics of DG Home. The external dimensions have offered a unique opportunity for this DG to ‘Europeanize’ migration policies via a route that does not threaten to directly encroach on national immigration systems and discretion.[9] As member states have shown increasing resistance to European-level attempts to harmonize legal and policy elements of migration-related policies since the 1999 Amsterdam Treaty, DG Home may well have viewed ‘going abroad’ as an alternative means of extending its powers, discretion, and competences. Today, for the DG to cede full or partial responsibility on the GAMM to another institutional actor like the EEAS would be to strip this Commission service of a core competence.

A third factor relates to the interests driving national policymakers. Member state representatives are not only known to use the EU level to project their domestic interests, but political actors may also take the ‘Brussels route’ where they are less encumbered than in national settings by other institutions, governmental ministries and the judiciary, which can act as veto points to policy initiatives.[10] For example, in most member states, the national interior ministries cannot autonomously conduct and implement policy on ‘the external dimensions’ and act like diplomats. Their actions in these domains would require checks and validation by foreign and international development ministries, seriously constraining their leeway. However, as the EU institutional set-up does not yet have a strong “foreign ministry” actor in the EEAS, these restraints are almost absent across the Home Affairs Diplomacy matrix. This search for autonomy and discretionary power has resulted in the highly fragmented character of the GAMM as different institutional actors and member states have pursued separate policies and engaged in various disjointed initiatives on the external dimension of migration.

3. Home vs. Foreign Affairs? The Deficits of the GAMM Revealed

What is the impact of Home Affairs Diplomacy behind the scenes of EU’s immigration policy? EU home affairs and national level interior ministry officials tend to have different substantive interpretations, points of reference, and priorities when formulating policy agendas on human mobility compared to diplomats and foreign ministry actors. The latter tend to approach questions related to mobility within a wider approach encompassing social, economic, development, and environmental policy challenges, and one that is informed by the overall negotiation agenda they undertake with third states. A “foreign ministry” outlook of the EEAS on the GAMM could be hopefully expected to better allow for a more “global” understanding and less insecurity-focused approach to circulation of people. Within the overall framework of the new European Neighborhood Policy (ENP),[11] migration issues are situated within the context of a wide range of priorities and measures designed to promote economic growth, employment, and social cohesion; reduce poverty; and protect the environment.

Ideally, the migration-related policies and initiatives pursued by DG Home should aim to exploit synergies within this wider range of objectives. However, DG Home’s outlook on migration from the Southern Mediterranean during the outbreak of the Arab Spring was summarized by one EU official as “thinking from Lampedusa,” perceiving migration through a narrow lens: namely its expected short-term effect on EU and member states’ security. The result is a restrictive stance on human mobility policy, in which the overriding concern is to stem irregular immigration.

Reports from EEAS officials indicate that migration management activities and capacity building measures in third countries can often clash with wider foreign policy goals. “Return” and readmission actions have been found to be in tension with development goals in certain African countries.[12] The main concern is that the home affairs-centered Dialogues divert attention from the process of wider economic and political reform to “the fight against illegal immigration.” Indeed, the two policy processes could even stand in contradiction if the Dialogues encourage third states to enact migration and border control-oriented policies that endanger human rights.

The EU’s “more for more” approach under the renewed ENP focuses funding on democracy promotion and “common values.” The EU states in its Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity[13] that this framework should be “rooted unambiguously in a joint commitment to common values” including democracy, human rights, good governance, and rule of law. Thus caution must be taken with any parallel policy agenda that seeks to engage third states — some of which have been considered “democracies in transition” or are not signatories of key international human rights instruments protecting asylum seekers — in readmission agreements or funds capacity-building in border controls and asylum which ultimately creates incapacity building in human rights protection.

4. Conclusions

The external dimensions of EU’s immigration policy reveals the complex picture of an EU institutional setting riddled with struggles for autonomy and authority to control the policy agenda within the GAMM. The Lisbon Treaty has not halted the trend of an ever-expanding Home Affairs diplomacy, propounded by the Commission’s DG Home, certain EU agencies such as Frontex, and the working structures of the Council, which continue to dominate policy formulation on the external dimensions of EU migration policies. On the contrary, it appears to have been reinforced and diversified. The EU’s responses during “the Arab Spring,” which mainly verged around the intensification of border controls and surveillance and pressure on the new authorities of North African states to fight against irregular immigration, have made more manifest these deficits and dilemmas affecting Europe’s immigration policies. The main risk is that the GAMM will remain trapped in the logic of insecurity and borders controls. This would only contribute to a business-as-usual scenario in the Southern Mediterranean where political reform and human rights are sidelined while issues such as containing migration continue to dominate the EU’s policy and actors’ agendas to the detriment of the rights of individuals on the move.

Sergio Carrera, Senior Research Fellow and Head of the Justice and Home Affairs Section of the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS). Joanna Parkin, Researcher in the Justice and Home Affairs Section of the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS). Leonhard den Hertog is Marie Curie PhD Fellow, of the Universities of Cologne & Edinburgh (EXACT Project on EU External Relations). This essay builds upon the research conducted in the paper Sergio Carrera, Leonhard den Hertog and Joanna Parkin, EU Migration Policy in the wake of the Arab Spring, What prospects for EU-Southern Mediterranean Relations? MEDPRO Technical Report No. 15, (Centre for European Policy Studies, CEPS: Brussels, 2012), which fell in the framework of the MEPRO (Mediterranean Prospects) project funded by the 7th Framework Programme of DG Research of the European Commission.[1] Sergio Carrera, Senior Research Fellow and Head of the Justice and Home Affairs Section of the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS). Joanna Parkin, Researcher in the Justice and Home Affairs Section of the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS). Leonhard den Hertog is Marie Curie PhD Fellow, of the Universities of Cologne & Edinburgh (EXACT Project on EU External Relations). This essay builds upon the research conducted in the paper Sergio Carrera, Leonhard den Hertog and Joanna Parkin, EU Migration Policy in the wake of the Arab Spring, What prospects for EU-Southern Mediterranean Relations? MEDPRO Technical Report No. 15, (Centre for European Policy Studies, CEPS: Brussels, 2012), which fell in the framework of the MEPRO (Mediterranean Prospects) project funded by the 7th Framework Programme of DG Research of the European Commission.

[1] European Commission, Communication, A dialogue for migration, mobility and security with the Southern Mediterranean countries, COM(2011) 292, 24.05.2011.

[2] Didier Bigo, Police en Réseaux: L’expérience européenne (Paris: Presses de Sciences Po, 1996), pp. 258–266. See also Didier Bigo, “Security and Immigration: Toward a Critique of the Governmentality of Unease,” Alternatives: Global, Local, Political, Vol. 27, Special Issue (2002), pp. 63–92.

[3] Readmission agreements aim at imposing a reciprocal obligation on the contracting parties to readmit, upon application and without any further formality, their nationals if they do not or no longer fulfil the conditions for entry, presence or residence in the territory of the requesting state. This obligation covers non-nationals or stateless persons (or persons of another jurisdiction) if it is proven that they hold (or at the time of the entry held) a valid visa or residence permit issued by the requested state, or that they entered the EU after having stayed on or transited through that state. Refer to Nils Coleman, European Readmission Policy: Third Country Interests and Refugee Rights (Leiden: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2008).

[4] Sergio Carrera and Raül Hernandez, “Mobility Partnerships: ‘Insecurity Partnerships’ for Policy Coherence and Migrant Workers’ Human Rights in the EU,” in Rahel Kunz, Sandra Lavanex and Marion Panizzon (eds), Multilayered Migration Governance: The Promise of Partnership (London: Routledge, 2011).

[5] Sarah Wolff, “La dimension mediterraneenne de la politique justice et affaires interieures,” Cultures et Conflits, Vol. 66, (2007), pp. 77–99; Patrick Pawlak, “The External Dimension of the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice: Hijacker or Hostage of Cross-Pillarisation?,” Journal of European Integration, Vol. 31, No. 3, (2009), pp. 25–44.

[6] Elspeth Guild, Sergio Carrera, Leonhard den Hertog, and Joanna Parkin, “Implementation of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and its Impact on EU Home Affairs Agencies,” Study for the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (2011). See also Didier Bigo and Elspeth Guild, “The transformation of European border controls,” in Bernard Ryan and Valsamis Mitsilegas (eds), Extraterritorial immigration control: legal challenges, (Leiden: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2010).

[7] Sergio Carrera, Leonhard den Hertog, and Joanna Parkin, EU Migration Policy in the wake of the Arab Spring, What prospects for EU-Southern Mediterranean Relations? MEDPRO Technical Report No. 15, (Centre for European Policy Studies, CEPS: Brussels, 2012).

[8] Edith Drieskens and Louise Van Schaik (eds), The European External Action Service: Preparing for Success, Clingendael Paper No.1, (The Hague: Netherlands Institute of International Relations, 2010).

[9] Sandra Lavenex, “Shifting up and out: The foreign policy of European immigration control,” West European Politics, Vol. 29, No. 2 (2006), pp. 329–350.

[10] Virginie Guiraudon, “European Integration and Migration Policy: Vertical Policy-making as Venue Shopping,” Journal of Common Market Studies, Vol. 38, No. 2, (2000), pp. 251–271.

[11] European Commission, Delivering a New European Neighborhood Policy, JOIN(2012) 14 final, Brussels, May 15, 2012.

[12] Philippe Fargues and Christine Fandrich, Migration after the Arab Spring, MPC Research report 9/2012 (Florence: Migration Policy Centre, European University Institute, 2012).

[13] European Commission, High Representative, Joint Communication, A Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity with the Southern Mediterranean, Brussels, March 8, 2011, COM(2011) 200 final.