Technocrats and policymakers in Brussels are widely seen as rational, number-driven decision-makers who decide based on cold calculations. To the Eurosceptics’ dissatisfaction Brussels decides while ignoring “the common people.” However prevalent this view is, I would argue that the problem of the EU is sometimes the opposite: designing policy based on national passions instead of rational facts. This is especially true with migration policy and has been true from the inception of common European migration policies.
The European Union’s “solution” to influx of immigrants had been to outsource the problem. In 1999 the Tampere European Council called for dealing with immigration “using all competences and instruments including external relations.” What this effectively meant was “convincing” (read coercing) countries of origin or transition of immigrants to curb emigration on their own borders and accept deported immigrants from the EU. This outsourcing solution to the migrant problem sounded like a good idea but disregarded basic economic facts for migration as well as human nature.
While this policy succeeded in decreasing immigration to the EU, its economic, social, and moral costs deem it irrational. First of all, it did not deal with the problem of illegal trafficking and smuggling. It failed to decrease demand for smugglers since it didn’t address the push factors such as poverty, war, and persecution. Migrants were not deterred by the fact that it was harder to get to Europe on the contrary, the increased difficulty meant that the price charged by smugglers increased too and smugglers profited even more. What the EU failed to understand is that people will still try to enter illegally when facing so strong push factors and a lack of ways to access Europe legally. On top of smugglers profiting more, the moral implications are important as well. Lack of legal ways to access Europe meant people risking their lives to get there. Many have died on their way to Europe and for those who didn’t die physically a return to their countries meant a death of their dreams as they were doomed to live in poverty, war or both. The EU’s policies have killed many people directly but they have killed even more who were never given a chance to escape the death that plagues their countries of origin. Instead of affording these people with an opportunity, the European Union chose to spend billions every year on fortifying its borders. This policy is not only immoral but also irrational. What if this money was used to integrate people who could come to the EU legally? Added on to the savings the EU would have from reduced border controls would be the significant economic benefits of migration which have been proven by academics and history.
What many Europeans fail to understand is that the EU will benefit from immigration. In fact, it might well be that the EU absolutely needs migrants. Almost all European countries today are facing a declining population which all economists agree is detrimental to their economies. On the contrary, the introduction of young, healthy, eager and independent people to the workforce can give a boost to the economy similar to the one the baby boomers’ generation gave it.
Of course there are many challenges with a policy of blind admission of everyone who comes to our shores. Instead the EU should create a system through which everyone who meets certain criteria can apply and be admitted. It is necessary for the EU to allow people to apply for asylum or a migrant visa in its embassies or through the UNHCR in refugee camps. This is will effectively curb smuggling of people while enabling the EU to process applications to ensure national security. Meanwhile, European countries will not have to spend billions of euros annually in the project “fortress Europe” nor rely on ambiguously democratic leaders who seek to use refugees to strong-arm them (read Turkey). Finally, the EU will be able to offer orientation programs, including skill development, cultural training and language teaching, to people waiting their admission.
There are two requirements for this system to function. First of all, applications need to be processed quickly (maximum of a year) and most people who pass the security screening should be admitted (that is an open-door policy). This is necessary to ensure that people will actually wait and not decide to take the smuggler option. Secondly, it needs to be a system planned and implemented exclusively by the European Union whose agencies will review and decide asylum applications. This will guarantee a fair distribution of migrants which is currently not attained. The system can’t work if national leaders sabotage it in the name of sovereignty (read Hungary and Visegrad friends) for their personal political gains.
The unofficial summit of EU leaders in Malta, confirmed that the EU remains committed to the outsourcing approach. The Malta Declaration talks about dealing with the migrant crisis by “strengthening our external borders” and “step up our work with Libya.” However, these tactics only treat the symptoms of the problem and effectively divert the migration routes to different areas while leaving the EU dependent on ambiguously democratic governments. A system of legal admission of more people in an organized manner would benefit the EU significantly economically and demographically. Finally, there is also a moral imperative to help those in need if we want to stay true to our European values. It is time that the European Union designs policies based on considerations of their economic and moral implications instead of being taken hostage by xenophobic national governments. When deciding our policies, we need to replace xenophobia with facts, rationality, and morality.