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In Europe’s interest

What the UN Global Compact for Migration really means for Europe.

Markus Grabitz, 10.12.2018
UN-Migrationspakt: für geregelte, sichere Zuwanderung
UN Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration © dpa

That wasn’t to be expected: Before it was adopted in Marrakesh at the United Nations (UN) intergovernmental conference, a fierce debate broke out in Europe on the new “Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration”. The vehemence of the discussions has taken the negotiators, diplomats and representatives on the various committees responsible by surprise.

Anyone reading the 24 pages of the document will find no proof of the objection raised by the critics that the Compact would tempt more migrants to head for Europe. Rather, the talk is of “common understanding and shared responsibilities” of all UN member states. The objective is to “reduce pressure on the receiving countries” and create conducive “conditions for people to return to their countries in safety and with dignity”. In times in which more people than ever before are refugees, the UN Global Compact on Migration serves to formulate an exemplary model of orderly migration for which the countries of origin, transit and destination pull together as one.

Although the heads of state and government of the EU unanimously agreed on these objectives at various summits, EU member states such as Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, and Slovakia have refused to support the Compact in Marrakesh.

What does the UN Compact for Migration mean for the EU?

Leading EU representatives have championed the document. The EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid & Crisis Management, Christos Stylianidis, stated in November when speaking before the European Parliament that he is convinced the Compact is “the best instrument for tackling migration and for achieving a global solution to the problem.”

The UN Global Compact on Migration is not legally binding. However, if the just short of 200 signatory states uphold these guidelines for migration, this could have an indirect impact on Europe. The signatories agree to minimum standards for healthcare, education and the material support of labour migrants and refugees. These passages refer not to the classic destination countries such as Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden, as these standards already apply there. Rather they focus on the living conditions in destinations within Asia and Africa. If migrants there were to live and work under better conditions, Europe’s attraction would dwindle.

The dispute within the EU does not address the actual topic

For Europeans, the controversy surrounding the UN Global Compact on Migration has more consequences at the political level. The fault line within Europe on the issue of refugee policy has got even deeper. Countries such as Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, which back during the refugee crisis of 2015 already refused to accept refugees and ease the burden on the especially hard-hit countries of Greece and Italy, are now also refusing to sign the Global Compact. The old dispute within the EU arose over the distribution of refugees within the European community. There is no word of any of this in the UN Global Compact. Many of the passages of the final draft focus on combatting the causes of migration, on dialogue with Africa and on supporting refugees in returning to their countries of origin. These are all matters on which there is a consensus in Europe. This has been lost from sight during the debates.

The EU partners have to date not yet acted as one as regards the UN Global Compact on Migration. Member states that have broken rank weaken Europe’s weight in the world. Yet the Compact with its multilateral approach is precisely the idea on which the EU itself rests: that many challenges are too great for an individual nation state to be able to tackle alone.


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