Many more to come? Reflections on migration to Europe & migrant policy responses 2015-2019

Published 17 September 2019 / By Sarah Spencer

Back to Articles

The latest COMPAS Seminar was led by Professor Rainer Münz, adviser to the President of the European Commission, and took place at Kellogg College, Oxford on 12 September 2019.

Listening to Professor Münz reflect on his experience next to the helm of the European Commission for the past four years was always going to be a whirlwind tour. His tenure covered  a period which saw European migration policy dominated by the need to respond to unprecedented arrivals across the Mediterranean. Joining President Juncker’s staff on September 1st, 2015, just days before Angela Merkel opened Germany’s border to refugees, he was witness to the EU decision making process at a turbulent time and as the outcomes of those decisions unfurled.

Professor Rainer Münz with Michael Keith and Sarah Spencer of COMPAS

Recounting the evolution of policy from an initial humanitarian response to successive measures to limit arrivals, Professor Münz identified trade-offs, inconsistencies and unintended consequences which are a familiar hall-mark of migration policies, but were particularly evident in this highly politicised crisis; a crisis  which the EU found itself, in many respects, ill-equipped to resolve.

The differing interests of Member States made securing and implementing agreements difficult. The strength of public opinion and the political orientation of the European Council could marginalise the place in the decision making process for evidence on the causes or likely outcomes of interventions. Citing the perceived link between migration and terrorism, the assumption that development aid and investment will soon limit emigration from Africa, and family policy as examples, Professor Münz observed:

‘It is difficult to argue against the mainstream. Sometimes the urge to do something is so great that research evidence is no help; or the intervention that is needed will take so many decades to bear fruit that for politicians with short term horizons it is not an option’.

New data showing the extent to which public concerns have shifted from migration to climate change may provide more space for rational decision making on migration. It may allow for a re-focusing of attention to areas of migration policy, such as legal channels for labour migrants, that were decoupled from the politics reacting to the Mediterranean migration and refugee crisis.

In the end, Professor Münz reminded us, it should not be overlooked that since 2017, irregular arrivals across the Mediterranean only accounted for 5-8% of total arrivals of 3rd country nationals in EU28.

Rainer Münz is adviser on migration and Demography at EPSC, the in-house think tank advising the President of the European Commission. Prior to joining EPSC he was head of research at Erste Group, a Central European retail bank, and had an academic career teaching as full or visiting professor at different universities including Bamberg, UC Berkeley, HU Berlin, CEU Budapest, HU Jerusalem, Frankfurt, Vienna and Zurich. He also worked as fellow at the macroeconomic think tanks Bruegel (Brussels), the Hamburg Institute of World Economy and the Migration Policy Institute (Washington DC).