IEP Lunch Debate with Beate Grzeski, Commissioner for Refugees and Migration, Federal Foreign Office: “Migration: Major Task for Germany and Europe”

Mittagsgespräch Beate Grzeski - Institut für Europäische Politik 1

On Thursday, 23 March 2017, the IEP Lunch Debate was held with a lecture by Mrs. Beate Grzeski, Commissioner for Refugees and Migration, at the Federal Foreign Office on the topic “Migration: Major Task for Germany and Europe.” The event was moderated by Prof. Dr. Mathias Jopp, Director of the Institute for European Politics (IEP). An introduction was given by Richard Nikolaus Kühnel, Representative of the European Commission in Germany, in which migration was referred to as a major task. Despite all the criticism of the EU, one should not forget about the recent improvements made in the saving of human lives in the Mediterranean Sea. However, expanding possibilities for legal migration to Europe and including third countries via agreements was also said to be of great importance.

Mrs. Grzeski began her speech by quoting William Lacey Swing, director of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM): “Migration is not a problem to be solved but a challenge to be managed”. This quote underlined the importance of not immediately seeing migration as a problem, but rather to refer to it as a challenge which also creates opportunities. This is also the approach that the Federal Foreign Ministry has followed in its migration policy. It was noted that even though the numbers of arriving refugees have decreased dramatically compared to 2015, challenges still remain. In this respect, similar migration flows especially from Africa due to flight and expulsion, among other reasons, would have to be expected. In view of the first anniversary of the EU-Turkey Agreement, the Federal Foreign Ministry did not expect the agreement would be terminated by the Turkish government.

In the remainder of her speech, Beate Grzeski referred to lessons learned not only from the current crisis, but also from previous refugee crises. She identified four measures that would be crucial for improving migration management: A modernization of development policy, a higher degree of interconnection between EU Member States, a departure from merely seeking readmission agreements towards establishing package deals through partnerships potentially including conditional financial contributions, and more solidarity within the intra-European approach. With reference to the latter point, the agreed redistribution of 160,000 refugees among the EU member states was mentioned as being of great importance; all member states should take an active part in this process, if necessary also in a flexible manner. Grzeski showed optimism here that decreasing numbers of refugees would enable EU member states to take into account alternative solutions as well.

Overall, it should be noted that the EU has worked more effectively in the past months. Fundamentally, a distinction should be made between refugees and irregular migrants. Those entitled to protection must be provided with necessary protection, whereas individuals without a right to remain must be returned to their countries of origins with respect to international standards. However, the repatriation process is considerably complicated by the fact that identifying documents are often missing. In this respect, comparing biometric data was long used as a solution. A long-term solution, however, would depend on third countries, which must be included through closer partnerships and positive incentives.

The crisis was said to have also led to a certain reorientation of development policy in Europe, focusing on strengthening the fight against causes of migration by, for instance, increasing opportunities for investment in Africa. Grzeski pointed out however that such change should not lead to an “Aid Industry,” but rather to the promotion of the self-led initiatives of migrant-sending countries. The topic of refuge/migration has become an important component of foreign policy, which represents a novel development in comparison to prior migration crises such as those of the 1990s. In this context, the European Union was said to serve as catalyst with its coherent approach, setting the fight against causes of migration, the promotion of legal migration as well as the protection of refugees as its top priorities. To effectively put this approach into practice, Grzeski highlighted the upmost importance of the linkage of migration with development as well increasingly the linkage between migration and security.

Author: Petra Fischer