Europe still needs a viable migration concept

5 min read

The major political groups in the European Union see the issue of migration very differently, consequently, they have quite diverse proposals for how to tackle it. However, most of them agree that migration to Europe, which has been rising for years, with a new record high year on year, is unsustainable.

Ahead of the European elections, the issue of migration has been used in the parties’ campaign slogans and messages because mass migration and the problems it causes have become a matter of public concern, and no political force seeking a mandate in the EP dares to ignore it, however, there are quite big differences how political parties communicate regarding this question.

Basic views in the EP on migration

The European People’s Party (EPP, European Parliament’s largest political group), just like the European Socialists welcomed the adoption of the new European Pact on Migration and Asylum on 10 April. The Pact which introduces new rules on a number of issues concerning migration, was a clear priority for the Spanish Presidency in 2023: Spain’s Socialist Prime Minister Sánchez worked hard to ensure that the migration dossier was properly elaborated for the successor Belgian Presidency, during which the the European Parliament voted in favour of the new rules, followed by their formal adoption by the Council of the EU on 14 May 2024.

However, instead of making up a fake success story, it is better to look at the facts which indicate that, in many respects, the adoption of the new asylum and migration policy is nothing but a symbolic act, mainly because it only partially lift the burden from EU states more exposed to irregular migration, like Spain or Italy while it shifts the same burden to other Member States, calling it a ’mandatory solidarity’ and ’fair sharing of responsibility’. The fact that migration is still a major campaign issue ahead of the upcoming European Parliament elections clearly shows that, despite the adoption of the migration pact, the question remains unresolved.

Although the New Pact on Asylum and Migration was adopted with a consensus of all the major political groups – it was backed by 322 votes in favour 266 against and 31 abstentions -, it actually reflects the views of the EPP and, it tells everything about the vision of the grand coalition of EPP, Renew (Liberals) and socialists (S&D) on migration and its handling which was described as ’a pact of shame’ by the Left group in the EP. The details of the new regulation reflect the idealistic (unrealistic? infantile?) ideas of these MEPs, but they do not suggest that they are indeed committed to tackle this complex issue. If you look at EPP’s / Socialists’ / Liberals’ European election campaign, you will see that the issue of migration is not given a special focus, it is just one of the many campaign issues.

The alliance of populist right-wing parties at the EP, called Identity and Democracy (ID) thinks tough about migration and sees it from a perspective that liberties in Europe could be threatened by immigration form countries with cultures which are fundamentally different from the European one. From this position, ID would rather tackle migration at its roots. It should be noted that providing significant funds to support the economic development of origin and transit countries is quite popular in EU these days.

By contrast with other parties, the issue of effective management of migration have been placed very high on the agenda of European far-right political forces. ’Remigration’ or ’re-emigration’ is often referred to as a far-right concept, which, according to some definitions, refers to the forced or promoted return of non-ethnically European immigrants.

A brief historical review of remigration

The modern far-right concept of remigration goes back to the 1960s when one of the officials of the Front National (FN) used the expression ’we will send them back’. Almost sixty years later, in 2018, the French National Rally party considered that they would introduce a remigration programme to force immigrants back to their country of origin, in case they came to power.

The concept of remigration accelerated since 2014-2015 and it gained momentum in 2018 and 2019. By now, remigration has become a clear respond of the far-right to mass migration. In 2018 a remigration campaign was launched in Germany which resulted in 2019 that campaign slogan of German far right AfD ’Remigration instead of integration’ spread all across Germany ahead of the European Parliament elections. In 2018, identitarian activists have engaged in the promotion of remigration in the UK. In 2019, a branch of the Austrian FPÖ party announced ’a national call for remigration’.

Back to 2024

As mentioned above, the respective messages on migration of the various parties engaged in the campaign for the EP elections in June 2024 are quite different. In EU’s key member state, Germany, the far-right AfD which is a dynamically growing opposition party, has been able to bring migration to the forefront, that did not please everyone: the term ’remigration’ has been named Germany’s ’non-word’ for 2023, according to a jury of linguists. According to the jury, the word itself was not problematic but the way it was used to promote far-right policies was. They said it was used as a euphemism for forced repatriation.

Disregarding the ’verdict’ of the linguistic jury, in 2024, the AfD has taken its 2019 European campaign handbook, with an almost unchanged content. This is remarkable because officially, the AfD rejects the principle of remigration , though they make no secret of their views on it. Moreover, the AfD issued a remigration action plan, promising that those who have committed crimes in Germany and who have extremist views will be sent home first. According to their concept, those who import their home country’s conflicts into Germany and those who are not self-sufficient should also leave Germany.

As Germany is much more than an ordinary EU Member State, it is worth looking a little deeper into the root of the problem to find an answer why Germany is not a safe state anymore.

The presentation of the annual crime statistics report by German Interior Minister in April provoked strong reactions across the country after it revealed that violent crime climbed to its highest level since 2009 and the number of foreign suspects of violent crimes increased by 14.4% compared to 2022. As for violent criminal incidents – those resulting in serious injuries, robberies, and various sexual crimes – the German authorities registered 214,000 total cases in 2023, which is a 8.6% increase and, a 15-year high. According to further statistics, among the people without German nationality who were charged, 402,514 were described as refugees, asylum seekers and those who entered the country illegally. In Germany, 352,000 people sought asylum in 2023.

After these figures came to light, the AfD was not the only party which said that radical turnaround in migration was needed but CDU/CSU spokesman spoke similarly, announcing that ’we need a correction to the current open traffic light migration policy.’

Remigration is not necessarily a dirty word

Interestingly, there is an EU Member State which government runs a special agency to inform people about the benefits of remigration. ’If you currently live in the Netherlands and are moving back to your country of birth, you may be able to receive remigration benefit’ – reads on the website of a Dutch organisation, which encourages visitors to contact The Netherlands Migration Institute for further information and advise.

In Eastern Europe, remigration is a widely known phenomenon. ’Returning migrants have been involved in post-socialist transformation processes all across Eastern and South-Eastern Europe. Engaged in politics, the economy, science and education, arts and civil society, return migrants have often exerted crucial influence on state and nation-building processes and on social and cultural transformations’, the editors of the study ’Remigration to Post-Socialist Europe’ conclude.

It is also worth mentioning the Baltic states, where an increased focus on remigration can be observed as remigration has emerged as a topic of national interest due to previous mass emigration. According to a relevant study, ’the increased focus on remigration is not unique to the Baltics. After Central and Eastern European countries’ accession to the EU and the financial crisis that motivated people to leave their countries for work or educational reasons, their return has been identified as a way to reverse brain drain and turn migration into a source of brain gain.

What’s next?

According to Frontex, there was a significant increase in irregular border crossings in 2023 while Eurostat reported that the number of asylum seekers had reached 1,048,900 in 2023. Given that irregular migration to Europe has been rising stadily in recent years and seems unstoppable by any old or new pact on migration and asylum, Europe undoubtably needs a viable migration concept. In addition, a hard line migration stance would be crucial. The figures of the German crime statistics report clearly indicate a failure of the country’s left-liberal traffic light coalition’s pro-mass migration policies.

Existing models suggest that returning migrants are seen as valuable human resources in their home countries, as they bring innovation to the political, cultural, business and other fields, they speak languages, have working experience and useful contacts in a foreign state. Study of good examples that already exist and acquisition of positive attitude could contribute to avoid remigration being immediately rejected and labelled as something far-right and therefore, evil. Most importantly, however, resources should be invested in the promotion of positive experiences. Remigration may not be the best option for everyone, but it may become a viable solution, if supported by appropriate education. All that would be needed is to finetune the idea, peel off the far-right rhetoric and appeal to common sense.

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