The German Council Presidency – Migration Policy Expectations

On 1 July, Germany takes over the EU Council Presidency and faces a major agenda. [Part 3]

Hardly any other topic has been as intensely debated in recent years as the future of the EU’s asylum and migration policy. The refugee crisis of 2014 and 2015 has clearly demonstrated the need for pan-European solutions for all parties involved. Yet despite this acknowledgement, the Member States have still not been able to agree on a fair and effective distribution key and clear responsibilities within the reform of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS). During its Presidency, Germany should therefore devote a great deal of political capital to disentangling the positions that have been deadlocked for years.

Migration and asylum policy is a policy field in which the expectations for Germany are particularly high. First of all, Berlin has to wait for the Commission’s European Pact for Migration and Asylum, initially promised in spring, but which has slipped further down the political agenda because of the Corona pandemic. However, it is unlikely to include completely new proposals. Anyway, there is no lack of them: With seven (!) legislative proposals, after the crisis of 2015, the European Commission has developed ambitious ideas for a European asylum and refugee policy, based on solidarity. Now it is time to finally make progress and take steps towards implementation!

Ensuring the protection of the EU’s external borders is a prerequisite for a successful European asylum and refugee policy. However, there is an ongoing deadlock in the Dublin and Asylum Procedure Directives, particularly by the Visegrád states, which are opposed to a binding distribution key based on economic power and population size. In the absence of an EU-wide solution, 11 EU Member States, including Germany and France currently form a “coalition of the willing” for the reception of minor refugees from Greece. Such a mechanism represents a pragmatic solution but should in any case remain open to other Member States and be backed up by sufficient reception capacities to mitigate the completely disproportionate burden on the external border states. In addition, states which are not willing to receive asylum seekers and refugees or do not engage in securing the external borders must contribute financially to a greater extent.

Migration Policy is not a One-Way Street

Besides the question of how to distribute refugees within Europe, Germany should consider its Council Presidency as a window of opportunity to further shape not only its asylum policy but also its external migration policy.

With regard to the deportation of asylum seekers, cooperation with countries of origin must be strengthened. This is crucial for a successful implementation of a European readmission policy. Depending on the country of origin, the EU could offer specific package deals which, in addition to cooperation in joint border management via Frontex and EU border guards, are tailored to each country. Legal migration pathways are an important lever, especially for countries from whichmigrants with little prospects of permanent stay originate.
Both Germany and the EU as a whole, benefit as business locations from migrant labour. Germany should breathe life into its Skilled Workers Immigration Act, which came into force in March 2020, by concluding targeted agreements with partner countries in suitable key sectors. Within the framework of transnational vocational training partnerships, the interests of both German companies and countries of origin with high migration pressure could be taken into account. Germany in particular has already had good experience with its development policy commitment in this area, which can be drawn upon in a European context. A network of companies, to identify labour shortages in the Member States, could be another option in order to generate EU-wide added-value.

Finally, the EU Member States should coordinate their efforts more closely in order to combat the causes of displacement in a sustainable manner and, by creating jobs in the main countries of origin, offer migrants without prospects of permanent stay real alternatives to irregular migration. In order to reduce future refugee movements, the EU must adopt a more integrated approach to its foreign, security and migration policy and use all civil and, if necessary, military means to contribute to peacebuilding in conflicts. Germany can take the lead in this respect by providing impetus for a stronger joint approach on the separate aspects of migration by prioritising it on the policy agenda.