Matteo Renzi’s ‘Migration Compact’ proposals: a step closer to a viable and comprehensive solution to the EU migrant crisis?

Since the outset of the EU migrant crisis over two years ago, countless proposals have been tabled by EU and national authorities, civil society and independent policy exponents to address some of the most salient causes and impacts of this unprecedented crisis. To date, most of the proposals that have been converted into actual policy and that have benefited from EU budget support have consisted primarily of emergency, piecemeal and intra-EU measures. These have related, in particular, to the strengthening of external border controls, including through an expanded role for Frontex and the development of the Smart Borders Package, as well as to the establishment of the largely unpopular EU Relocation Plan.

EU initiatives to actively involve non-EU source countries in the pursuit of viable solutions to the migrant crisis have only recently started to materialise, most notably with the signing of the EU-Turkey agreement on 18 March 2016, However, while the agreement appears to be impacting the level of irregular arrivals to Greece since its launch a few weeks ago, it is clearly not able to account for the fact that Turkey is only one of the main migratory routes to Europe. Concerns are therefore mounting over Libya’s gradual ascent as the next mass migration time bomb, especially in the absence of any viable government and stable institutions, as well as over the development of new entry points to the EU, particularly in Italy and in Bulgaria, since the adoption of the EU-Turkey agreement.

New initiatives, and comprehensive and operational strategies, are therefore still needed to capture the full range of persisting causes and impacts of the on-going EU migrant crisis.

One such strategy, albeit still in very embryonic form, has just been tabled by the Italian government. In a letter sent to Presidents Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker on 15 April 2016, attaching a short ‘non-paper’ titled “Migration Compact”, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi outlined a strategy for enhancing cooperation with countries of origin and transit, redirecting already earmarked EU funds and launching new sources of funding through “EU-Africa bonds” and “Common EU Migration Bonds”.

While not majoring exclusively on first-hand proposals, a number of concepts in this four-page document are novel and worthy of consideration. This is especially true in view of the positive initial reactions already expressed by many EU member states, including in the Visegrad region, as well as by the European Commission. At the EU Foreign Affairs Council of 18 April 2016, Federica Mogherini, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, stressed in particular that ‘most of the Italian proposals support the EU’s ongoing work and activities and constitute a positive political contribution’.

The main thrust in Renzi’s proposals is on the development of, and increased support for the EU’s external action strategy on migration, including through a more active involvement of key non-EU partner countries and through a better use of all existing instruments in the field of external action, particularly those directed at key African countries of origin and transit. In this respect, the idea of modulating cooperation according to partner country, through the development of a matrix reflecting each country’s migratory features and other characteristics such as economic and social trends, security and, climate change, is particularly auspicious. While the European Commission and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have been producing national ‘Migration Profiles’ since the mid-2000s, the integration of such profiles into core EU policy development is certainly a step in the right direction.

But one of the most engaging proposals in the ‘Migration Compact’ paper no doubt relates to the identification of new methods of financing the migrant crisis, which are clearly aimed at supplementing the EU’s over-stretched disbursements in this policy area, as well of course as addressing the increasing reluctance of most member states to inject or divert additional resources in response to the lingering migrant crisis.

In particular, Renzi’s proposals relating to the launch of “EU-Africa bonds” and “Common EU Migration Bonds” are enlightening, even if similar ideas had already been aired by the Italian government in their paper on ‘A Shared European Policy Strategy for Growth, Jobs, and Stability’ in February 2016, calling for the launch of a mutualised funding mechanism to address the migrant crisis. The exact modus operandi of such a scheme of course remains to be invented and the idea of EU migration bonds will also need to face strong opposition in key member states such as Germany, which has always rejected the idea of Eurobonds. This was reiterated by Chancellor Merkel’s spokesperson on 18 April 2016, who stressed that “the German government does not see any basis for a common funding of debt for member states’ spending on migration”.

The notion of Common EU Migration Bonds, however, merits further examination. It could even draw on the lessons learned from the issuance of national solidarity bonds and debt sales to individual investors in the past. Such schemes have been tested, in particular, in Ireland, Italy and Spain, enabling individuals to easily buy government debt, including online. They appear to have facilitated the absorption of a decent size of the debt requirements, especially in Italy where household savings rates are high. Some of Spain’s autonomous regions have themselves issued “bonos patrióticos” to their citizens in the early 2010s, covering, in the case of Catalonia; over 70% of the region’s funding needs. Other examples abound, including in the United States where patriotic bonds were issued during World War II. While solidarity and empathy towards the on-going migrant crisis appear to be declining within the EU population, the launch of EU bonds that would clearly aim to reduce migratory pressures in Europe would no doubt attract interest among many segments of society. The notion of crowdfunding to support specific projects to derive from Renzi’s non-paper could also be examined, particularly in view of the size of established Syrian and Iraqi communities in a number of member states.

The interest generated by Renzi’s document since its publication a few days ago therefore appears to be justified. While some of the Migration Compact proposals, for example those relating to further cooperation on returns/readmissions, resettlement schemes and the fight against trafficking in human beings and smuggling of migrants, have been upheld in a number of EU initiatives and Communications over the past ten years, and while it is unlikely that discussion of this document will result into any concrete measures in the near term, Renzi’s initiative is potentially a momentous one.  By aiming to involve third countries of origin and transit to such an unprecedented extent, and through such win-win modalities, the Migration Compact proposals can certainly be referred to as a “fair grand bargain”.


Posted: 20 April 2016

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