The issue of migration continues to remain divisive in both European discourse and policy. In this research paper we focus on three key developments related to migration that will pose the greatest threat in the coming years: the inability of the European Union to design and implement effective migration management policies, both internally and abroad, the failure to improve and maintain societal cohesion between the two largest migrant groups (Turks and Moroccans), and the continuous use of migration as a discursive tool for polarization. We also look at the four key developments related to migration that pose the greatest threat to the international order in the coming years: The inability of the European Union to design and implement a reform of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS), migration management policies based on erroneous assumptions and securitization narratives, the disruptive role of the United States, and the unceasing migratory flows driven by poverty, poor governance, climate change and conflict.
When discussing the issue of potential security threats stemming from migration in the Netherlands two main points immediately come to mind: that the Netherlands has been one of the first EU members to experience a surge of anti-migration sentiments and a fair share of violence caused by these sentiments, including no less than two high-profile political murders. The legacy of these bruising events is still strongly felt in the societal discourse on migration. At the same time, the Netherlands may also be one of the first EU countries where migration policies have been relatively successfully brought in line with a broadly defined societal demand and are in fact sometimes suggested as blueprints for resolving some of the key EU migration ailments. Yet the issue of migration, despite what could be described as reasonably strict and successful migration management policies remains divisive in the country’s discourse.
In this research paper the focus will be first on the key developments related to migration that will pose the greatest threats to the Netherlands in the coming 5-year period:
The inability of the EU to design and implement effective migration management policies, both internally and abroad,
Failure to improve and maintain societal cohesion between the two largest migrant groups, Turks and Moroccans,
Continuous use of migration as a discursive tool for political polarization.
While the Netherlands remains firmly in charge of its national migration and asylum systems, this system exists in the broader context of developments within the Schengen zone – a cluster of EU countries that enjoys de facto borderless movement of goods, services and people. The Schengen agreement has been consistently described as the key vehicle for the EU’s prosperity, and within it also Dutch economic growth, fueling its economy by providing vast market for goods and services, and specifically driving one of the strongest engines of Dutch economy, the port of Rotterdam. While in the words of Prime Minister Mark Rutte the EU is Dutch “bread and butter”, this foundational agreement also makes the Netherlands open to arrivals of irregular migrants and (rejected) asylum-seekers from other Schengen countries, making it a part of the connected vessels, with CEAS as the key regulatory mechanism.
The importance of the EU policy landscape for the realities and perception of migration in the Netherlands has been repeatedly stressed in the recent comprehensive foresight report on migration, published by the government’s Advisory Committee on Migration Affairs. This mechanism has come under significant pressure since the Mediterranean crisis, in ways described in greater detail in the Part 2 of this analysis, focusing on the International Order. The two roads it has taken to relieve this pressure are (a) focus on preventing future uncontrolled mass migration flows and (b) reforming the CEAS. The success of this exercise is of great importance for shaping the internal migration landscape in the Netherlands, its national discourse and policies as well as the future development of the national normative framework.
A protracted, rancorous reform process of the CEAS and ineffective migration policies abroad could lead to further erosion of trust in the European Union, which has according to the 2018 Eurobarometer remained at precarious 50%, with as many citizens either already not trusting the EU (42%) or being undetermined (8%). It is highly interesting that while in some other EU countries, reservations against the EU are driven by strong and traditional ideological agendas or may be the consequence of recent financial crises or indeed migration-related pressures, in the Netherlands they appear to be coincide with a relatively high number of citizens concerned about the EU’s ability to influence world events. This has been named the sixth most common concern among the Dutch.
This testifies to both a sophisticated understanding of the importance of the EU for protection the continent’s citizens’ collective interest and the potential consequences for these interests of the Union’s inability to regain such influence. In other words, the Dutch citizens seem to be prone to form their trust of the Union on pragmatic basis – depending on how much of their well-being it is able to protect. While in the words of the Prime Minister Rutte “the Netherlands’ bonds with Europe cannot be broken”, EU’s inability to resolve the internal impasses created by migration may contribute to their weakening beyond the critical 50% trust mark – making the success of the EU’s attempts of migration management an important condition for the Netherlands’ capacity to manage the overall relations EU as the most fundamental of its international agendas.
In the early part of this century, the societal breach that has been forming between the migrant population of Moroccan and Turkish origin, fueled by the events of 9/11 and the fallout political violence in the country, has focused on two major issues: the perceived incompatibility between welfare state and migration, and the cultural differences, perceived and interpreted as essentialist by part of the society and political spectrum.
Following the logic of Milton Friedman’s statement that ‘it’s just obvious that you can’t have free immigration and a welfare state’ the proponents of this argument claimed that the welfare state is an institution that mainly exists within national boundaries and that is based on solidarity between the inhabitants of that country, while migration is on the other hand is mainly transnational, and therefore unable to create – or even destructive – to the kind of solidarity that is necessary for welfare state. The fact that many Moroccan and Turkish immigrants of the first and even second generations did draw significant welfare benefits went to support this.
The culturist agreement went to explain that the fundamental cultural differences between conservative Muslim immigrants deliberately selected in the 1970s for their low education level were incompatible with the core liberal values of the advanced democracy such as the Netherlands. This argument has structurally been used by the Dutch populist right for already 15 years and is still present in the national discourse.
Dutch migration policies have been shaped in reaction to both arguments, with significant limitations and stricter demands around to marriage-based migration, which was one of the main ways in which migration continued through 1990s and 2000s from both Turkey and especially Morocco. Funding and political effort has gone into ensuring increased social cohesion in urban settings across the country perceived as particularly troublesome.
That said, the current state of migration points at an increased fragmentation of the ethnic structure of migrants – something that the Netherlands Social-Cultural planning Bureau (the SCP) recently named as fertile ground for renewed tensions between ethnic and societal groups – albeit without making predictions about whether these tensions will in fact escalate. The SCP is however somber in it visions of ways in which ethnic differences will develop in the future and is also concerned about the unease among Dutch residents with a low socio-economic position, which is fed by the increasing uncertainties in their lives, caused by globalized and increasingly automatized economy.
Research being published in the past years also opened the new ways of thinking about the welfare state in times of migration, including for instance the idea of the 'contribution state', in which social security is, to a certain extent, individualized and social rights of migrants are based more on the individual contribution they make. The same research has also found out that migrants themselves also considered such a form of reciprocity to be reasonable. This line of argumentation claims that it is not necessary to choose between the welfare state and migration, but that it is possible to make the welfare state migration-proof.
The level of threat that the Dutch society will face in the coming years in the face of continuous migration depends to a large extent on how it will manage to create social cohesion in the face of the real or perceived challenges posed by the two cleavages described here, as they are likely to keep determining the debate and policies – but also shaping the perception of the policy outcomes.
Closely link to the above threat is the continuous use of migration pessimism as a divisive tool in the Dutch politics, regardless of the actual policy outcomes. Following the charged migration debates and dramatic political events of the early Noughts, the Netherlands has systematically re-hauled its migration system, sharpening criteria for family reunification, which was one of the highest sources of net migration from non-EU countries, and tightening its asylum procedures. At the moment the refugee status determination procedure in the Netherlands takes 28 days, with extension possible for up to 6 months, with provisions for rights protection. While these provisions have been criticized as insufficient by the human rights group, they have at the same time been hailed as offering the perfect balance between efficiency and protection by some of the more publicly prominent policy entrepreneurs in the sphere of EU migration - and even proposed as the blueprint for the RSD model for the Mediterranean countries.  The number of migrants may have grown, but the average of just over 43,000 annually in the past decade is not too far away from the post-WW2 average or even remotely close to the genuinely dramatic rise in migration experienced by some other EU countries (see below).
Yet none of these – and many other- evidence-based arguments has managed to dispel a sense of moral panic in the face of migration that characterized the turn of the century. Much like then, migration debates continue to contribute to polarization in political discourse and the erosion of the Dutch political center. The enduring strength of right-wing radical parties, as witnessed by the latest parliamentary elections, has further strengthened this culture-pessimistic turn - not least because mainstream political parties have adopted this one-sided and sometimes factually incorrect framing of migration as a threat.
A full-blown sociological analysis of this phenomenon foes way beyond the scope of this research. The trend however is clearly named in all major policy researches on migration published in the past years and used as the basis for this overview - reports that have been published on this topic in recent years by the WRR, SCP and AZVC, and which depict a much more nuanced view of the actual impact of migration, which does not manage to balance out the more culturally pessimistic narrative.
The Netherlands is one of the few countries whose politicians and policy-makers have at their disposal formidable analytical and research machinery. And while migration is one of the prime issues that show how politics does not drive on facts and analysis alone, it is to be hoped that government fortunate enough to have such powerful analytical support will make ample use of it in order to shift the public discourse and remove the threat of framing migration solely as a threat.
It has by now become a common wisdom that the global international order on managing human mobility has in the past years come under significant stress. This was due to an increase in refugee numbers across the world – currently standing at around 25 million people, as well as an increase in unregulated mixed migration flows, comprising of prima faciae refugees, irregular economic migrants, and individuals whose status needs more complex deliberation. These flows have had a strong societal impact across Europe, North America and in the countries where most of the migrants to these regions come from. They have created or contributed to a sense of loss of control of national borders, disrupted the national debates and policymaking across most of the western world, and contributed to the rise of populist politicians across the world. The western populist right has especially thrived in recent years by playing up the moral panic caused by migration, and has continued gaining momentum on the back of this narrative even as the number of new arrivals to Europe or North America have fallen. This moral panic has also re-ignited the debates on the extent of national sovereignty in the increasingly interconnected world and raised serious questions around the viability of many important normative and legal frameworks and institutions, including the European Union (EU) and the key UN treaties and conventions.
In this part the focus will be on the four key developments related to migration that pose the greatest threats to the international order in the coming 5-year period:
The continuous inability of the EU to design and implement a satisfactory reform of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS), leading to erosion of trust, legitimacy and increase instability of the Union,
Migration management policies based on erroneous assumptions, one-size fits all approaches and securitization narratives, leading to localized negative outcomes.
The disruptive role of the United States in the global normative order on displacement and migration,
Unceasing migratory flows towards economically most developed parts of the world driven by poverty, poor governance, climate change or conflict.
It is, however, our main contention that the extent to which these threats will materialize depends not just on the actual migration-related developments, relevant policies or their outcomes, but also on the choice of narratives that will be created around this phenomenon by all the political actors involved.
The sudden increase in the influx of mixed migration showed that the European policy framework, including the Common European Asylum System (CEAS), was not built to cope with a sudden arrival of high numbers of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants in the EU. It has also revealed the deep interdependencies between the EU member-states in the field of migration and asylum, where decisions of one member state have proven to have a direct effect on the situation of others, causing deep political rifts across the Union.
The basic mechanism at play here is the interdependency between the key element of the CEAS, the Dublin Regulation, putting the burden of processing asylum requests in an EU member-state on that state, and the Schengen Agreement, which allows for free movement of goods, services and people across the borders between the EU member states. Even before the 2015 crisis, the prospect of countries reneging on the Dublin obligations and allowing unprocessed migrants with temporary residence permits to travel freely form their country of first arrival to any other country within Schengen has led to temporary closures of internal EU borders – bringing to life a prospect of “Schengen a la carte”. Moreover, with these fears being played up during the 2016 Brexit campaign and strongly reflected in the UK position in the on-going Brexit negotiations, the prospect of the failures of the EU migrant and asylum processing systems undermining the stability of the Union has moved from a theoretic worst-case scenarios to a tangible threat.
The EU has adopted a double-pronged approach to dealing with this threat: (a) it has tried to ensure that the situation of sudden uncontrolled arrival of mixed migration flows does not repeat itself through a series of externally-focused policies: border security measures, financial incentives and specific migration management agreements with countries of migrant origin or transit, and (b) it has attempted creating a temporary burden-sharing system mechanism the EU, while simultaneously reforming the CEAS.
The CEAS reform has been stalled at June 2018 EU Council, with tensions flaring up between the “frontline countries” that insist on solidarity-based responsibility-sharing between member states, and countries such as V4, Germany or Sweden that fear secondary migration movement and oppose attempts at burden-sharing. The comprise solution was found in the idea of “regional disembarkation platforms”, to be explored “in cooperation with third countries”, opening doors to exterritorial processing of migrants and asylum seekers.
While the future of this idea is uncertain, it is indicative of the EU’s inability to confront and resolve its internal problems prompting some analysts to describe the solution as “outsourcing” of migration reform. They are also the only compromise that seemed available EU member states whose political elites are both responding to – and in many cases also creating – domestic political demand for tougher immigration policies. These partially real, partially artificially created domestic demands are too complex for this brief overview, but their measurable outcome an impasse in the reform of the CEAS, which further erodes European solidarity. They are also not in line with the sentiment of the EU citizens, whose attitudes towards migration are more nuanced – the recent Eurobarometer pointing that only 6% of EU citizens list migration among their top concerns. But they have a significant disruptive capacity, which is a powerful political tool in a body built around the premise of consensus.
The political acrobatics around the CEAS reform stems from a deeply seated concern that the issue of migration has the power to undermine the free movement of people, goods and services, which is one of the European Union’s most fundamental achievements. Fueling an $18.8-trillion-worth economy, free movement is an essential engine of EU’s welfare and the one whose vitality is crucial for EU’s economic and political survival. Therefore the challenge of CEAS reform has the potential to create more than just normatively doubtful solutions and bitter taste among the various countries’ political elite. It can also undermine the very foundations of the continent’s peace and prosperity – which, normative judgement withheld, also happens to be one of the key pillars of the existing international order.
The political struggle for a CEAS reform is therefore an important threat the Union’s long-term security. The fact that it is heating up at the time when the actual numbers of irregular migrants disembarking on the EU shores have dropped by 95% in comparison to the 2015 peak testifies also to the fact that its outcome depends as much, if not more, on the actions and words of EU politicians as it depends on the actual reality of migration flows.
The key internal EU-drivers of this threat are:
Continuous strength of nationalistic, insular and illiberal sentiments in governments, which does not have its roots in the migration crisis. Migration is instead being leveraged by politicians in power in order to shore up their claims to legitimacy.
Continuous rise of right-wing populism in frontline countries such as Italy, Greece and Spain, as well as in some in western and north-western member-states including the Netherlands.
Lack of political vision and courage by EU institutions and non-populist parties in EU countries to push back on populist narratives and create policy solutions that respond to justified concerns of the EU citizens, without damaging the Union’s normative framework or undermining EU’s stability.
Continuous erosion of political center across EU member states. While already more than 15-years old, this trend is set to continue as is clearly visible in the dissipation of the CSU and SDP voters in the latest election in Bavaria.
The absence of agreement between the EU member states on how to establish an effective, solidarity-based asylum system in the EU has shifted the focus of EU policies towards the “external” element of the problem, e.g. management of migration influx. Responding to the growing influx of migrants in 2015, the EU policies were focused on (a) stemming this flow and (b) creating the conditions in countries of migrant origin and transit that would prevent the similar-scale events form happening. These policies came in two main forms: migration partnership agreements, concluded mainly with countries of origin and transit of irregular labor migration, and the so-called Refugee Compacts, focused on assisting the refugee hosting countries in Europe’s neighborhood to host the large number of refugees currently on their territory.
While both sort of agreements have the capacity to create both positive impact and negative fallouts, the speed with which they were designed, the reactive nature of these policy instruments and in some cases the visibly weak EU negotiating position have led to policy instruments of dubious quality, often based on erroneous assumptions about the root causes of migration, inability to tackle the drivers of forced displacement and in some cases creating serious tensions in countries of origin and transit. Many have also lead to public erosion of EU normative stance, where rights of vulnerable migrants and refugees took the back seat to calming the fears of European public.
Two years into the implementation of these policies and structural criticism they were subjected to by migration experts, and which is being borne out by emerging body of evidence, the EU policy-makers seem to be ready to consider adjusting or reviewing some of these external policy instruments, albeit only those based on “soft-power”. The recognition of the inadequate evidence-base for these policies has also been articulated in the draft Global Compact on Migration, which states “strengthening the global evidence base on international migration” as its first objective, including “coherent and evidence-based policy-making and well-informed public discourse,” as well as “effective monitoring and evaluation of the implementation of commitments over time.”
The key assumption that is likely to find itself under scrutiny in the coming period is the one on development as a key tool in removing drivers of irregular migration. Questioned by some of the leading authorities in this field, this paradigm risks not creating unrealistic expectations among politicians and general public alike further increasing societal fallout of migration along the migration routes.
While the assumption that increased development will lead to decreased migration for the countries of origin drives a lot of funding and programming in these countries, the latest research point that migration flows are at least initially likely to grow as a result of increased development in the major countries of origin. Also framing the migration/development nexus in this singular way may be fundamentally at odds with how countries of origin perceive it. In fact, a significant number of countries of origin in sub-Saharan Africa see migration as a tool of development, as it were, “outscoring” social protection to remittances-sending migrants. Findings ways in which these social protection function of migration could be replaced or their loss mitigated would be of great importance for the success of migration management policies.
The second type of risks is related to the steady erosion of the normative framework related to migration and displacement, caused by policies aimed almost solely at stemming the migration flows. A growing body of evidence and legal analysis points at the damage to the international refugee and human rights law, created by the EU-Turkey agreement, as well as by ideas and practices of exterritorial asylum-claims processing centers. The cornerstones of law such as the principle of non-refoulement have come under severe pressure in the Middle East, partially in reaction to pre-existing pressures and partially in response to the EU-Turkey agreement. Similarly, the EU partnership policies are leading to increasingly problematic migrant return policies both in Europe and in North Africa and the US has been on its own path of undermining the rights of migrant through recent policies of family separation at the border. Such slow erosion of normative framework in relation to non-citizens has a potential of eroding the domestic normative agendas as well, increasing the possibility of de-humanizing narratives around migrants, which present a danger to any society regardless of the object of de-humanizations.
While in the interconnected world of today no single country has a power to create a new international order, some specific actors have the power to throw the existing orders in disarray. Such disruptive influence of the current policies of US nationalism could be felt in many different areas, from peace and security in the Middle East to climate to global trade – and have had a visible impact also on the global human mobility regimes.
Starting from the presidential campaign in 2016, remembered for his inflammatory discourse accusing Mexicans of being “rapists,” promising to build a wall to prevent irregular crossings and increasing border patrols, US president Donald Trump has contributed to making immigration one of the most prominent “single issues” in US politics. By uncritically amplifying the views of a significant minority of Americans in favor of stricter immigration controls, he created the space for significant and controversial policy changes, both domestically and internationally, including several that have drawn accusations of inhumanity.
Among the most high-profile are: (a) Trump’s travel ban executive orders, which restricted entry to the US for citizens of a half-dozen mostly majority-Muslim countries, (b) the zero-tolerance policy of criminally prosecuting anyone caught illegally crossing the southern border, which resulted in the forced separation of children as young as a few months old from their parents.
The administration has also slashed the number of refugees the US will resettle to a 40-year low, withdrew funding for the UN agency in charge of Palestinian refugees, failed to pledge funding to Syrian response at the key donor conference in April this year, and demonstratively withdrew form Global Compact on Migration.
The full impact of such policies on international order is hard to gauge precisely at the moment, but such dramatic disregard of basic norms of solidarity and human rights can have has especially negative effect on the international order when coming from one of the key countries that has until recently been at the forefront of creating key human rights instruments as well as funding the major refugee responses. While the Global Compact remains on track and family separation has not yet caught up as a universal response to irregular border crossings, the policies are creating a normative climate decidedly less conducive to demarcating and respecting migrant rights globally.
Whether this inference will continue beyond 2020 elections depends partially on their outcome, and partially on the concerted effort by US policy-makers to balance the current administrations’ narrative by practical backdoor support for key institutions and existing international burden-sharing mechanisms. But the US policies on migration and the administration’s contributions to burden-sharing of global displacement crises remains a potentially serious threat to international order.
The fear of receiving communities of the impact that mass uncontrolled migration could have on their social structure, economic wellbeing and societal agreements are not unjustified nor are they always exaggerated. The ethical claim of communities to deciding on the norms, institutions and relations by which they will be governed is a morally and politically well-argued and the international order has always been strongly supportive of it. Mass and especially uncontrolled migration does pose serious challenges to receiving political communities that have often been brushed away by appeals to the inevitability of globalization or benefits of multiculturalism. The violent and protracted counter-reaction to these concepts that has been taking place in European democracies for over a decade, and is affecting even the countries whose very foundational myth is based on diversity of origins, such as the US or Australia, testifies to the depth of these resurgent sentiments.
The wealth of evidence available shows a complex pattern of positive and negative impacts of migration in any number of countries in the world – and also the extent to which migration policies of individual countries shape the outcomes of human mobility. But regardless of any publicly available evidence base, migration – especially if mass - can pose real challenges to any political community’s sense of controlling its own destiny. These sentiments are part of the fiber of human societies just as much as migration is, and will continue to shape policy answers to migration as long as there is migration.
The current predictions of youth bubble and ensuing high-level poverty in sub-Saharan Africa, comprised with scenarios of climate changes driving mass cross-continental population movements show that mass migration can re-emerge as a future challenge to territorial, economic and societal security of better-off countries in their immediate or near-immediate neighborhood. But even if none of these more dramatic scenarios materialize, it is hard to imagine that migration, including irregular migration, will cease to exist.
It is likely that managing migration will continue to go hand in hand with strengthening the importance of nation-states in the eyes of their citizens, and their expectations of states to protect form the worst fallouts of changing international order. While this is not a threat per se, this on-going re-emergence of nation states can lead to erosion of the global normative frameworks and political institutions that could help mitigate some of the push factors of mass migration – climate change, extreme forms of poor governance, extreme aspects of wealth inequalities within and between societies.
But revived nation states may also have the beneficial effect of restoring the citizens of recipient states a sense of control and decision-making, thereby stabilizing societies and hopefully bringing about a renewed openness towards cooperation. Finding the new ways to balance national sovereignty with the need for large-scale collective actions on some of these key issues of our time, while accepting the permanent nature of migration as a human phenomenon, is the main challenge of the coming period both for countries where irregular migrants originate and those where they are headed to.
The opposite of irregular migration is not a total migration ban and de-humanizing of migrants, or even less so the usage of migration to avoid other problematic conversations within the host community. It is reinstating to the members of the receiving communities a sense of control, without damaging the very normative fiber of these communities and undermining the capacity for collective action.
Maintaining this complex balancing act will be the greatest challenge of the coming period, in which the politicians and policy-makers across all countries affected by this phenomenon will be called upon to tailor new migration order that understands the seriousness of the drivers of human mobility as well as the fears of the receiving community and accepts that migration may be one of the more permanent facets of the new world. Managing these challenges will require political skills, evidence base and analytical depth as well as maturity of political discourse that politicians, policy-makers and other participants in this important public will need to cultivate in years to come.