Crossing Borders: How the Migration Crisis Transformed Europe’s External Policy

 

Between 2014 and 2017, Europe saw its largest influx of migrants in decades, with 1.9 million arrivals to the continent (and thousands of lives lost at sea during the dangerous crossings of the Mediterranean Sea) and 3.6 million first-time asylum applicants across the 28 EU member states. The European Union and its member states have struggled to absorb this large influx of migrants and refugees and to manage the European Union’s external borders. As migration management has remained principally a national mandate, a delicate balance had to be found between the European Union and its member states to process asylum seekers, manage borders, and address the drivers of migration and instability in Europe’s neighborhood through policy and funding. This led to what is now called the “European migration crisis” of 2015 and 2016.

A delicate balance had to be found between the European Union and its member states to process asylum seekers, manage borders, and address the drivers of migration and instability in Europe’s neighborhood through policy and funding.

This crisis and the lack of preparedness forced European policymakers to make short-term decisions rather than seek long-term, durable solutions. These policy choices were reflected in budgetary and funding decisions (reallocation of funds, increased budget lines, use of budget reserves) that attempted to provide humanitarian aid, development assistance, foreign policy action, and security-related missions in the European Union’s neighborhood, principally in countries of origin or transit for migrants. Border protection also received significant funding increases. Such decisions emphasized not only Europe’s focus on the drivers of migration in these countries, to incentivize people to stay at home, but also its need to push the crisis as far away from its borders as possible.

This report assesses these budgetary shifts as a quantifiable reflection of policy priorities as they relate to the external dimension of migration and the shift in these policies in the past few years. We conclude that addressing migration has become a top priority in development budgets, particularly in priority countries, in an effort to reduce incentives to emigrate. Humanitarian, development, and asylum budgets have experienced budget shortfalls in already-tight national and EU budgets. Funding has increased for security and stability efforts in key origin and transit countries, such as capacity-building missions for the security sector. Budgets at the EU and national levels have been repeatedly amended in an effort to contribute more funds to actions that could keep migrants away from Europe’s shores.

Funding decisions for the external dimension of the crisis emphasized not only Europe’s focus on the drivers of migration in these countries, to incentivize people to stay at home, but also its need to push the crisis as far away from its borders as possible.

It is clear that the scale of the crisis has forced policymakers to make decisions that carry long-term consequences, and at times, risk jeopardizing the European Union’s stated development goals as well as its international, rules-based approach to migration. As internal reform to asylum rules continue to stall, all efforts are placed on borders and the external aspect of migration. The next seven-year budget negotiations are now in full swing, and migration continues to occupy policymakers’ minds. A better understanding of the chronic nature of migration, as well as the impact of current development and security efforts, is needed. Funding and policy shifts imply trade-offs, and the European Union and its member states must now decide if these are worth the costs.

Heather A. Conley is senior vice president for Europe, Eurasia, and the Arctic and director of the Europe Program at CSIS. Donatienne Ruy is a research associate with the CSIS Europe Program.

This report would not have been possible without the generous support of the Smith Richardson Foundation.

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Donatienne Ruy
Director, Executive Education and Abshire-Inamori Leadership Academy

Heather A. Conley