European Recap of 2016. EU’s main challenges at a glance

The Migratory Crisis: a test for European effectiveness and solidarity?


Gerald Knaus, ECFR Member, President of the European Stability Initiative, Berlin

Rainer Münz,Special adviser on Migration and Demography, European Political Strategy Centre, Brussels

Vessela Tcherneva, ECFR Programme Director, head of ECFR Sofia Office

Chaired by

Piotr Buras, Head of ECFR Warsaw Office

European Commission Representation in Poland


ECFR Warsaw office, the Representation of the European Commission in Warsaw, the Centre for International Relations and WiseEuropa together organised the “European Recap of 2016. EU’s main challenges at a glance” conference. Within the conference, ECFR conducted a panel debate on the European dimension of the migration crisis. Vessela Tcherneva, ECFR Programme Director and the head of ECFR Sofia Office, Gerald Knaus, ECFR Board Member and the President of the European Stability Initiative in Berlin, and Rainer Münz, Special adviser on Migration and Demography at the European Political Strategy Centre in Brussels, took part, while the head of ECFR Warsaw office, Piotr Buras, moderated the panel.

European migration policy successes in 2016

Although the number of refugees arriving in Europe dropped sharply in 2016, thanks the the EU-Turkey deal, it is evident that managing migration will remain one of the most important tests of EU’s capacity to meet the challenges of the future.

Gerald Knaus highlighted the importance of the EU-Turkey deal for reducing migration over the Aegean Sea (part of the Eastern Mediterranean route). Following the deal the daily migration numbers dropped from 1000-2000 to 50-90 and its success, according to Knaus, proves, that European policy instruments have to be based upon real data, not wishful thinking or emotional political discourse.

Rainer Münz cited the increased competences and operational capability of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (FRONTEX) as another success of the 2016. Thanks to increased financial and material involvement of the member-states, the agency can operate faster and more smoothly on EU’s external borders.

The decrease in the number of migrants coming to Europe is, according to Vessela Tcherneva, a political success, as the EU-Turkey deal helped stem the hysteria brought about particularly by populist politicians in EU member states.

Policy failures in 2016

no push-back – all applicant need to be processed in accordance with the Article 33 of the Refugee Convention);

no indefinite detention on the model of Australian camps in Nauru;

saving lives while undermining smuggling;

European solidarity.

Knaus underscored the lack of solutions analogous to the EU-Turkey deal that would tackle the problem of the second primary migration route – from North Africa to Italy. Effective mechanisms are necessary to sustain the robustness of Schengen Area while respecting the 1951 Refugee Convention.

Rainer Münz, on the other hand, noted that EU institutions are blamed for the failure of European migration policy despite the fact that their competences are severely limited compared to those of the member-states. This misperception has serious consequences: policymakers shy away from taking responsibility, hoping to pass the buck.

The deepening of political divisions due to the refugee relocation procedure was also mentioned as an important setback, as it will negatively impact European cohesion in the coming year.

What's next? Challenges in the coming year

Effective migration policy demands a multipronged approach. The current crisis directly impacts only 5 or 6 countries and the rest is not aware of the long-term effects, but the consequences of the crisis will eventually be felt by such countries as Poland. Even the future of the Schengen Area is uncertain should European solidarity fail to materialise.

The EU-Turkey deal is a project dependent on European solidarity between member states. Currently, the UE is not holding its end of the bargain as it fails to process refugee application in reasonable time. Streamlining this will require political will on the part on member-states since the European Commission has limited competences on this issue. In other words, only if member-states increase their involvement can the refugee applications be processed quickly enough to ensure a full and effective implementation on the deal.

According to Knaus, EU’s migration policy should be based on 4 pillars:

  • no push-back – all applicant need to be processed in accordance with the Article 33 of the Refugee Convention);
  • no indefinite detention on the model of Australian camps in Nauru;
  • saving lives while undermining smuggling;
  • European solidarity.

The stance of origin countries will prove to be a serious challenge for the EU, as it tries to send back migrants whose refugee applications have been denied. Many African origin countries are experiencing a population boom and have no interest in taking back their own citizens or encouraging them not to emigrate. What incentives to cooperate with the EU these countries have are nullified by their dependence on remittances from Europe.

The migration crisis is far from over. Both demographic trends in African countries and political instability in EU’s neighbourhood should convince European policymakers to take comprehensive actions on migration and refugee protection. The international refugee protection regime will no survive without EU’s resolute involvement, which should give halt to politicians contemplating populist ideas of closed borders.