Migration policies: between hypocrisy, confusion and instrumentalization

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On 29 and 30 November 2017, African and European heads of state met in Abidjan for an Africa-European Union Summit aimed at "defining future directions for cooperation between the two continents"[1]. Migration issues were high on the agenda, as the summit was an opportunity to follow up on the orientations taken at another summit on migration in Valletta, Malta, in 2015.

By Sebastian Franco (Alter Summit)

With regard to migration, the European strategy can be summed up, on the one hand, by funding the countries of origin or transit (particularly African) responsible for containing immigration in exchange and, on the other hand, by militarized management of migrant flows at borders and within Europe. In the language of the European institutions, we thus speak of the external and internal dimension of migration[2].

The external dimension therefore consists first of all in managing the EU’s external borders through the reinforcement of police and military resources, directly via the budgets allocated to Frontex, the coastguards and other European agencies or indirectly via joint operations between countries relying on European support.

Secondly, this policy is also based on the cooperation and readmission agreements (or any other arrangement having the same effects) that the European Commission and the Member States try to conclude with the countries of origin and transit: these are the infamous agreements signed with Turkey and Libya among others[3].

For several decades, the EU and its Member States have subcontracted part of migration management to neighbouring countries, which has resulted in the setting up of internment camps for migrants on the periphery of European borders[4].

Internally, it is the Dublin III agreements that govern asylum applications and the Schengen agreements as regards the movement of persons within the European Union[5]. The Dublin agreements oblige migrants to submit their asylum applications (and therefore to register their fingerprints in the EuroDac database) in the first European country they reach. This inevitably creates situations of overcrowding in countries of entry (Greece, Italy, Spain for the southern border) which, with financial and technical assistance from the EU, are building identification and registration camps for overcrowded migrants called "hotspots". There is a programme for the resettlement of asylum seekers adopted by the European Council in September 2015, the aim of which is to alleviate the burden on Greece and Italy by distributing 160 000 persons in the other EU countries. This relocation, wanted by the European institutions, is, however, only done in piecemeal fashion because of a lack of political will or because of the blocking of certain Member States. In the field of asylum, the EU and its Member States themselves are creating a crisis; indeed, how can we understand that the richest countries in the world cannot manage the arrival of one million (1.2[6]) asylum seekers on their soil?

This is not a crisis

However, in 2016, Member States issued 3.4 million new residence permits (both asylum and employment permits)[7]. Interestingly, this is the fourth consecutive year that Ukrainians (588 900) are the first beneficiaries of these residence permits. 86% of them (512,000) go to Poland and 82% of their residence permits are employment related[8]. Moreover, Poland is the European country whose nationals use the status of posted workers the most: the country "exports" its own workers to other EU countries and "imports" massively Ukrainian workers to fill the internal labour shortage, one can thus see there a kind of social dumping in chain...

The task of managing undesirable populations, those who do not have access to residence permits ("illegal", "undocumented" migrants), is left to the Member States which apply policies as in Calais in France or more recently in the Maximilien park in Brussels where the objective is to make the presence of migrants unbearable. The conditions of absolute precariousness (no access to water, housing, healthcare or other) are put in place by the authorities to counter the so-called call for air that a dignified reception policy would promote[9].

It is therefore hypocrisy, confusion and instrumentalization that reign on immigration issues. On the one hand, it is claimed that the EU and its Member States fulfil their asylum obligations (Geneva Convention). On the other hand, we are always pushing back further and further those who could claim it or letting them drown by the thousands in the Mediterranean. For those who arrive on European soil, a deliberately chaotic and inhuman reception awaits them - reception, moreover, has become a profitable business for increasingly privatized structures (for example, in Italy, the reception of asylum seekers is subcontracted to cooperatives, some of which do not hesitate to sacrifice the well-being of residents in their quest for profit)[10]. On the other hand, cheap labour is brought in and circulated, reinforcing a process of social dumping at all levels. It is therefore an explosive cocktail that is offered to European public opinion, supported by media sensationalism, and which feeds withdrawal into oneself and xenophobia.

This reality of unprecedented violence does not prevent the various governments and European institutions from talking about human policies or policies that respect human rights and from promoting Europe’s values throughout the world.

In this context, it seems important to us to analyze European migration policies under an even broader prism and to try to understand their complementarity with the other "major policies" of the EU (existing and in the making), namely:

The militarization of the European project (European defense) and the strengthening of security policies increasing intervention both outside and within the EU;

Aggressive and unequal economic, trade and financial policies as well as an ever-increasing submission of development policies to migratory imperatives perpetuating colonial and neo-colonial relations;

A general lowering of living and working conditions for all populations living on European territory through austerity policies (Fiscal compact & Co) and liberalization/privatization leading to the dismantling of many social and political rights.

In a context of growing distrust of the European populations towards the "European project", the EU sees the creation of a European Defense Union[11] as a good means of relaunching its integration as well as a certain industrial and economic policy. The Brexit allowed a breakthrough in the field, the United Kingdom having always been opposed to this military integration. In practical terms, military expenditure by member countries could be excluded from the Stability Pact, a privilege not enjoyed by expenditure on health or education. We will therefore be able to invest as many billions in armaments as we wish without suffering the wrath of the European Commission.

Using its prerogatives in trade matters, the EU has become an ardent defender of free trade, negotiating and signing a large number of bilateral agreements that protect the economic and strategic interests of its great historical powers (France, UK, Germany) and the major European transnational corporations.

Yet it is these same neoliberal policies implemented for four decades by international organizations that have contributed to worsening the living conditions of African, South American and Asian peoples. Living conditions that the EU says it wants to improve in order to reduce the causes of migration... it is the snake that bites its tail...

The populations living and working in Europe are also paying the price for these aggressive policies of grabbing/deprivation/privatization, since the logic of profit no longer accommodates the social systems present in many EU countries, which are accused of being too generous, costly and inefficient. Austerity and liberalization policies thus fundamentally attack the institution of "social security" and public services, i.e. all the social rights historically conquered by the workers movement (health, education/research, retirement, unemployment, public transport, energy). The EU’s legislative and political framework imposes the logic of privatization, liberalization and commodification with most Member States taking over[12].

Both external and internal immigration (posted workers) are skilfully used here to undo existing protections (undocumented workers without rights, lower minimum wages for asylum seekers than for the rest of the population) and undermine labour regulations through social dumping.

This bleak picture seems to condemn the illusion of a European Union at the service of European populations, their prosperity, peace or respect for human rights. The Union is a regressive project both economically and in terms of political and social rights, and its interests are contradictory to those of the working and popular classes throughout the world.
On the other hand, however, we should not oppose the European Union with a national capitalism that would be "by nature" more civilized. The EU draws its power from the Member States. The policies implemented are based on consensus between the various levels of government.
So what do we have left? What perspective could we embrace? That of a broad transnational social movement?
The Communist Party Manifesto said 170 years ago: "Workers have no homeland". This is even more true today, as Capital is increasingly freeing itself from national borders, which are becoming physical and mental prisons for the working classes. It is therefore in the alliance between the "damned of globalization"[13] that the key to a change of course lies. An alliance between workers and farmers here and there, an alliance for the right of peoples to dispose of themselves, their resources and to live in peace, an alliance for access to fundamental social, civil or cultural rights in a struggle against private interests (and their political relays) that deprive them of their rights.

[1] http://www.consilium.europa.eu/fr/meetings/international-summit/2017/11/29-30/
2] See for example: https://ec.europa.eu/home-affairs/sites/homeaffairs/files/what-we-do/policies/european-agenda-migration/20171207_communication_on_commission_contribution_to_the_the_leaders_thematic_debate_on_way_forward_on_external_and_internal_dimension_migration_policy_en.pdf
3] https://eeas.europa.eu/sites/eeas/files/20170906_fifth_progress_report_on_the_partnership_framework_with_third_countries_under_the_eam_en_0.pdf
4] See map: http://www.migreurop.org/article2746.html
5] The Dublin and Schengen agreements do not concern all EU countries and include other non-EU countries, such as Switzerland or Norway for example.
6] In 2016, 1.2 million asylum applications were lodged in EU countries, just over half of which (according to averages) should result in a residence permit https://asile.ch/statistiques/europe/
[7] http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Residence_permits_statistics
8] For comparison, Poland refuses its quota of asylum seekers to be relocated. In December 2017, it had not received any despite a promise to make available...100 places... http://www.rfi.fr/europe/20171207-union-europeenne-quotas-refugies-pologne-hongrie-republique-tcheque
9] No serious study confirms this theory of air draft. For an alternative vision, see http://www.lalibre.be/debats/opinions/migrants-voici-dix-raisons-d-ouvrir-les-frontieres-55d6040335708aa4379f81c9
10] See for example http://fr.euronews.com/2016/04/08/centres-d-accueil-des-refugies-en-italie-la-grande-escroquerie
[11] More information http://www.consilium.europa.eu/fr/policies/defence-security/
12] In the health field, for example, see https://corporateeurope.org/power-lobbies/2017/06/creeping-privatisation-healthcare
13] To paraphrase Frantz Fanon, "Les damn├ęs de la Terre", 1961. More information on CISPM https://csp75.wordpress.com/la-csp75-est-membre-de/la-cispm/