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Beyond Stockholm: overcoming the inconsistencies of immigration policy. Elizabeth Collett (European Policy Centre Working Paper 32)

This text is a brief summary outlining the key points of Elizabeth Collett’s publication Beyond Stockholm: overcoming the inconsistencies of immigration policy (December 2009), which critically considers the current direction of EU migration policy following the approval of the new Stockholm Programme for Justice and Home Affairs. Elizabeth Collett is a Senior Policy Analyst at the European Policy Centre (EPC), and this paper appears as part of the EPC Working Papers series. Collett’s study appears originally on the European Policy Centre website.

In assessing the current state-of-play of European migration policy, and the possible direction it might take in the future, Collett’s publication singles out the obstacles to an ambitious policy and suggests certain ways around them. The paper looks at what progress followed the big ideas of Tampere, a decade ago, considers what can be learnt from the limited implementation of the Hague Programme, and addresses the broader challenges to the creation of an integrated European policy beyond Stockholm.

The Stockholm Programme, the new 5 year EU programme for Justice and Home Affairs was adopted in December 2009, coming at the time of the most significant economic downturn since the Second World War. Also coinciding with the inauguration of a new European Commission and Parliament, and some long awaited institutional reform, this is a busy and unpredictable time for Europe.

Stockholm follows the Hague Programme of 2005-9, which Collett claims to have suffered from the same obstacles that perennially blight coherent debate and policy: national political taboos and vulnerabilities on the one hand, and the empirical complexity of European migration on the other. Institutional infighting and jurisdiction questions have also slowed progress, as has the insufficiency of cooperation between member states, whose differing priorities would not even allow consensus on the issue of labour migration in demographically aging Europe. This publication also singles out the post 9/11 security climate’s impact on the perception of migration as a threat, and the unfortunate blurring of the security agenda with that of migration or of fundamental rights and liberties. Given these factors, Collett characterises much of the action on the Hague Programme as little more than box-ticking with little real impact.

The paper also addresses the suitability of Justice and Home affairs as the policy area under which to make progress on migration issues. With the various policies and goals under the unwieldy justice, freedom and security (JLS) portfolio, migration can be sidelined. In practice, from the Hague Programme, this policy area has developed links with other portfolios, such as education and culture, employment and social affairs, external relations, development and trade, and some member states have already moved immigration and asylum away from internal affairs and justice. There is a risk in this: that policy coherence will be jeopardized by rivalries between portfolios or directorates-general. However, the paper asserts that a multi-faceted, holistic approach is useful in engaging the most relevant actors. This is certainly an area on which Stockholm could build, though now is no auspicious time for it.

Indeed, Collett is not optimistic of much. Stockholm is recognised as a necessary, but insufficient framework for future immigration policy planning, and the Lisbon Treaty as offering the opportunity for greater policy coherence. However, the fact that member states will often only take action for short term political gains and that some of those members (UK, Denmark) are uninterested in an ambitious migration policy makes a positive outlook difficult. While the EU Immigration Pact affirms a common vision and a continued commitment to a common policy, quick fixes and interim measures are the order of the day. This is exacerbated by economic uncertainty.

More broadly, this publication criticises the EU’s tendency, as exemplified by the EU Immigration Pact, to focus on illegality rather than the more difficult question of providing access to European shores for labour migrants and asylum seekers. It also asserts the need to embed rights and citizenship in the thinking and policy on immigration, and simultaneously distance it from the security agenda. In keeping with the prescribed holistic approach, it calls for the links between migration and development to be considered, leading to coherence between immigration policy and foreign policy.

Ultimately, this paper calls on JLS policymakers to learn from the problems of implementing the Hague Programme, especially recommending that the Commission be more assertive in its role as the guardian of EU common interest. It calls on the EU to take on a more agenda-setting role in migration debate and policy, including integration. Beyond Stockholm concludes that the Stockholm Programme reflects the fact that the EU has reached the outer edges of political cooperation on immigration and asylum. However, it affirms the need to strengthen this, looking beyond this five year programme to long term objectives.

Summary: James Matthews

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