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The links between EU migration policy and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

The preparation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development coincides with the peak of the “migrants’ crisis” in Europe. Even though the Millennium Development Goals barely referred to migration, several European Member States pushed for the inclusion of migration in the new development agenda underlining the need to support the development of migrants’ regions of origin with the aim of stopping the incoming migration flows.

Consequently, target 10.7 was included into the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, encouraging Member States to commit to cooperate internationally in order to facilitate safe, orderly and regular migration. This political commitment was materialised by the signature, in 2016, of the New York Declaration calling for the adoption of two compacts, one for refugees and the other for migration. Meanwhile, the European Union put forth a communication establishing a new Migration Partnership Framework (MPF) with third countries under the European Agenda on Migration, stating the importance of addressing “the root causes of irregular migration and forced displacement and to provide capacity building to the host communities and relevant institutions”. A key component of the MPF are the EU Compacts. EU Compacts resort to “all means available” to fight irregular migration and externalise the reception of migrants and refugees to third countries.

Christina Boswell argues that it is the unsuccessful control of migration flows through European migration policies that led EU Member States to cooperate with third countries. She distinguishes between two ways of implementing this cooperation. First, through “outsourcing” migration control and, second, by addressing the root causes of migration hoping that migrants will be less willing to come to Europe. In order to address these root causes, the MPF, and several EU programme before that, aims at fighting against poverty, ameliorating living conditions and access to the national labour market, deterring conflict and building up democracy.

Ernst Georg Ravenstein already looked at the “root causes” of migration in 1885. He was one of the first scholars to argue that the major causes for migration are economic and therefore migration and development are two inseparable concepts. Based on Ravenstein’s work, the push-pull theory has been developed. The push-pull theory looks at the context in the country of origin (root causes) and the context in the country of destination in order to explain migration from one country to the other. The MPF seems to follow the push-pull theory, which states that some factors are determining whether people will migrate or not. The “root causes” addressed by the MPF and EU Compacts correspond to the push factors according to the push-pull theory.

Ronald Skeldon as well as Stephen Castles, Hein de Haas and Mark J Miller criticise this theory. They argue that the push-pull theory is unsuccessful in explaining situations such as return migration or parallel emigration and immigration from and to a country. Despite the criticisms in the academic literature, the belief according to which development of the country of origin can stop emigration seems to be vivid in policy makers’ minds and is recurrent in the developments of EU’s external migration policy till today. Sheldon and Castles et al. also claim that the push-pull theory is too simplistic and that it does not take several other factors into account such as migrants’ agency. They also declare that push factors such as demography or environment should not be taken separately from other factors that can influence the living conditions of prospective emigrants by giving the example of Eastern European Country where despite a negative population growth there is still a high emigration rate. In this regard, the approach taken in the Global Compact is more complete as it takes these different factors into account and considers migrants not only as beneficiaries but also as concrete actors playing a role in shaping migration.

We can express concerns about the fact that with the MPF and EU Compact development aid is being used as part of a broader strategy to deter migration. This approach risks to misinform the public about the positive relationship between development and migration. With the Global Compact, the idea is to humanise the migration phenomenon, without encouraging it. Instead, the Global Compact can be a chance to frame migration and development relationships between countries as shared and reciprocated, under a global framework, without seeing migration as a phenomenon that should be fought against but rather as a phenomenon that will remain and therefore should be managed inclusively.

Author: Dr Fanny Tittel-Mosser

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