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Europe

Opening slowly

by Steffen Angenendt

In depth

Moldavian emigrants queue for visas outside the Romanian consulate in 2010. Moldova is one of the four countries with which the EU has agreed  a pilot Mobility Partnership.

Moldavian emigrants queue for visas outside the Romanian consulate in 2010. Moldova is one of the four countries with which the EU has agreed a pilot Mobility Partnership.

EU member states are struggling to better manage immigration and to adopt a more coherent common policy. The most recent migration policy instrument of the EU are the so called “Mobility Partnerships”. They are intended to reconcile migration policy with development policy. The approach offers opportunities, but there is room for improvement. By Steffen Angenendt
“Because of the employment situ­ation, most EU members refuse to open doors wider for migrants.“

In May 2007, the European Commission proposed a new instrument for migration policy: EU Mobility Partnerships are supposed to take into ­account development concerns and make policies more effective in both policy areas.

From a formal viewpoint, Mobility Partnerships are no more than political declarations of intent or institutionalised dialogues between one or more EU members and a third country. Each EU member decides for itself whether it participates, and which measures it wants to introduce. This approach ensures that partnerships remain flexible and can be adapted to partners’ needs.

Basically, Mobility Partnerships are supposed to  help partner countries curb irregular emigration, improve border controls and take action against the forgery of documents and visas,

  •  open up possibilities for legal labour migration within the EU,
  •  reduce the risk of brain drain (the exodus of well-trained professionals), and
  •  help countries of origin with the re-integration of returning migrants.


Mobility Partnerships are coordinated and evaluated by a task force consisting of officials from EU members and the European Commission. Member states’ embassies and EU delegations abroad, moreover, are involved in so-called cooperation platforms in partner countries. A “scoreboard” will ensure that all parties involved get regular information updates on initiatives, jurisdictions, contact points, evaluation indicators, implementation deadlines and available funding.

Pilot partnerships have been established with four non-EU countries: Cape Verde, Moldova, Georgia and Armenia. More partnerships are to follow, especially in North Africa. The EU Commission states that Mobility Partnerships are “the most innovative and sophisticated” migration policy tool. However, a close look at the pilot projects reveals they are not problem-free.
Problematic politics

To start with, there are obstacles at the political level. The irony is that Europeans would actually have good reasons for encouraging more immigration. As in many industrialised countries, the number of pensioners is rising across the EU, and the working population is becoming smaller.

In some member countries, the labour force will shrink by up to a third over the next two decades. To avoid negative economic and social conse­quences, it would make sense for the EU to open its doors wider.

Nonetheless, most EU countries are not prepared to do so. Fears of wage dumping and tougher competition for jobs are popular, and so far, leaders have not mustered the political will to stem such worries. As a result, EU migration policy so far hardly serves countries of origin in any meaningful way, which hampers successful cooperation and flies in the face of the intended Mobility Partnerships, as
a few examples will illustrate:

  •  The EU is currently not creating substantial new immigration opportunities. Instead, border controls are being stepped up. The consequence will be more irregular immigration, which tends to go hand in hand with exploitation and infringements of human rights, and thus undermines development-oriented policies.
  •  Since the 1990s, the EU member states have
  • adopted an asylum policy that minimises access to asylum. In recent years, all of the EU’s neighbouring countries have been declared “safe third countries” and many more have been classified as “safe countries of origin”. This trend is extremely problematic from a humanitarian viewpoint, and it puts pressure on transit countries. The EU’s unwillingness to share these countries’ refugee burden and to participate in the protection of refugees hinders cooperation with countries of origin and transit.

Countries of origin and transit are increasingly unwilling to act in the interests of EU members. In the past decade, EU members basically expected third countries to curb migration on their own. Unless Europe takes partner countries’ interests more into account, successful cooperation will be impos­sible. Partner countries are interested in reducing restrictions on mobility and enhancing the developmental impacts of migration.


Pilot projects

Apart from these political obstacles, the four pilot projects have revealed other challenges for implementing Mobility Partnerships.

Choice of partner countries: According to the European Commission, partner countries are to be selected on the basis of four criteria. There must be a geographical balance of southern and eastern neighbours; countries must be relevant for migration to Europe; they must be prepared to cooperate with the EU; and the respective EU members must be interested in cooperating with them. If one of these criteria is not met, the Mobility Partnership is deemed to offer little prospect of success. Even the pilot projects, however, did not meet all criteria. Cape Verde, Georgia and Moldova never submitted written declarations of interest. Indeed, Moldova only declared its candidature in an unofficial letter to the Commission. In the future, existing criteria should be more stringently observed, and more criteria should be added. For example, preference should be given to countries in which Mobility Partnerships can drive development most effectively. Such countries have lots of young adults with a good formal education, but cannot offer them commensurate employment, so migration would benefit all sides.

Unclear objectives: EU members often fail to communicate their expectations and priorities clearly. Partner countries, on the other hand, have been very clear in this regard. Moldova entered into a partnership primarily to secure support for migrants returning from the EU, and Cape Verde sought a relaxation of visa restrictions and other concessions to secure greater mobility for its own citizens. The EU members stated that they wanted to prevent irregular migration, but they failed to make it clear what priority that goal had in relation to other goals.

Weak content: One advantage of Mobility Partnerships is certainly that the content of each partnership can be determined flexibly. The emphasis can be on legal labour migration or the re-integration of skilled returnees for example. Inherent in that flexibility, however, is the risk of existing co­operation projects merely being “re-labelled” and registered as new Mobility Partnership schemes. This actually happened in the cases of Cape Verde and Moldova.


Possible improvements

Despite such shortcomings, the pilot partnerships can be commended for strengthening the links between development and migration policies in at least three respects:

  •  They improved cooperation between EU members because contact points were created in all relevant institutions, regular reports were demanded, and member states’ priorities were monitored.
  •  They deepened cooperation between member states and the European Commission, especially thanks to the EU task force and the central contact points.
  •  They intensified exchange between the European Commission and partner countries, primarily as a result of annual meetings as well as due to new cooperation platforms at the local level.


Mobility Partnerships are certainly an important component of EU migration policy. But their developmental content needs to be strengthened. The EU should also pay more attention to which partner countries it chooses. They need to have a genuine interest in cooperation. The EU, for its part, needs to make offers that are attractive enough to ensure that partner countries abide by agreements. Finally, the EU must bear in mind that third countries need to be given real incentives, such as migration programmes or the relaxation of restrictions on ­mobility.

The truth, however, is that, because of the employment situation, most EU members refuse to open doors wider for immigrants. They are not even engaged in a strategic debate on a possible opening in the future. If they want to retain their economic clout in the face of demographic change, however, they must think again. Without such a rethink, it will be impossible to design Mobility Partnerships that serve the purposes of both development and migration well.