A CEPS lunchtime seminar held at the University of Maastricht’s Brussels campus shed light, from different angles, on the recently released European Agenda on Migration by critically examining some of its features, including the Commission’s plan to distribute asylum seekers across the EU Member States, the use of military power to combat people smugglers, and managing different types of migration. Overall, the Agenda’s narrow take on migration complicates achieving the vision of universal access to healthcare for everybody living in Europe, regardless of their status.
In his opening presentation, Marc Richir of the European Commission’s DG Home Affairs described the European Agenda on Migration as a turning point in EU migration policy, stating that it offered structural solutions to structural problems that went far beyond the Mediterranean crisis. It heralds a new thought process involving responsibilities for Member States and for citizens. The planned ’distribution key’ that would relocate 40,000 migrants from Italy and Greece is seen as a principal tool for encouraging solidarity, to be discussed at the June European Council.
Richir explained that the Agenda takes a comprehensive approach, as arguably it was also designed to improve legal migration channels in parallel with combating people smuggling and facilitating the return of irregular migrants . He pointed at the revision of the EU Blue Card Directive as an initiative to make legal migration less burdensome for qualified international professionals.
Kris Pollet of the European Council for Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) expressed his disappointment that safe and legal migration was not really at the forefront of the Agenda, which continued Europe’s ’protection lottery’. He said that obligatory resettlement would be difficult to accept for migrants with pre-existing links to a given country. He suggested that the idea of mutual recognition of asylum coupled with a Single Asylum Decision Making Process should be discussed.
In addition, Pollet expressed doubts that the proposed redistribution scheme could work in practice as it might lead to duplication of work and confusion for migrants, and it would only apply to individuals from countries with unusually high recognition rates (e.g. Syria, Eritrea).
Eugenio Ambrosi of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) noted that the debate was not purely political any more; it should be guided by fundamental values. He argued the Commission’s measures were primarily control-driven and narrow, focusing on return, detention, identification and fingerprinting, military deployment, etc. A more global perspective on migration flows, including a better understanding of economically motivated migration and transnational networks, while recognising Europe’s ageing societies’ growing need for steady migration, could have triggered a more logical and proactive Agenda.
Leonhard den Hertog (CEPS) focused on the consequences of applying metaphors of war to the current migrant situation, explaining that such language reinforced established notions of migrants as ’victims’ and ’criminals’, while legitimising the use of force. Boundaries between smuggling and trafficking, and between different categories of migrants were blurred, thereby widening the European ’knowledge gap’ about migration. He also pointed out serious problems pertaining to accountability and governance that come with strengthened external border control activities.
To these concerns EPHA has added in its Press Release that the Migration Agenda’s solidarity element is weak and flawed, as it does not sufficiently focus on individuals and their needs, including their health needs. In an Open Letter to Health Ministers released with Medecins du Monde, PICUM and other organisations, EPHA has also warned that divisive discourses about (different categories of) migrants represent a stumbling block for the vision of universal access to healthcare.
Moreover, the latter is far from being a problem only for migrants, but increasingly also one that divides Europe into ’rich’ and ’poor’, with many unemployed and working individuals unable to receive healthcare and/or pay for their medicines and treatments.