E.g., 06/25/2024
E.g., 06/25/2024
EU Mobility Partnerships: Expression of a New Compromise

EU Mobility Partnerships: Expression of a New Compromise

It is often difficult to analyze the impact and viability of policy measures that are in a pilot phase. It is even more so when such measures become part and parcel of a whole policy agenda that has undergone dramatic changes over the last few years.

Nonetheless, it is possible to study the reasons and factors contributing to the adoption of such policy measures while delving into their rationale.

The mobility packages introduced by the European Union in late 2006 are a case in point.

As a result of the November 2006 EU-Africa Declaration on Migration and Development, the European Union and its Member States were asked to reflect on the possibility of implementing circular migration schemes in cooperation with third countries, meaning those countries outside the European Union. In this context, circular migration means allowing migrants to work in Europe for a specified time; to be eligible for a new contract, migrants must first return home.

The European Commission, in a communication dated November 2006, presented mobility packages as agreements made "with a number of interested third countries which would enable their citizens to have better access to the EU."

As the EU executive body, the European Commission (EC) proposes legislation to the European Parliament and European Council, negotiates international agreements, administers and implements EU policies, and enforces EU law jointly with the Court of Justice.

In 2007, mobility packages were renamed mobility partnerships, probably to stress the joint management and ownership of the initiative and the sharing of mutual commitments between the European Union and select third countries.

Mobility partnerships belong to an existing political framework based on a form of quid pro quo, encompassing issues such as development aid, temporary-entry visa facilitation, temporary migration schemes, and the fight against illegal migration.

The European Council, composed of heads of state from each EU Member State, has presented mobility partnerships as a "novel approach" capable of enhancing cooperation with third countries of origin and transit.

A Necessary Compromise

The Global Approach to Migration (GAM), which the European Council adopted during the December 2005 Brussels European Council, resulted from a learning process.

More precisely, it stemmed from the gradual awareness that circumstances, in their broadest sense, and power relations between the European Union and its Member States, on the one hand, and neighboring third countries (including Mediterranean and African third countries), on the other, have changed substantially over the last 10 years.

GAM essentially says that the European Union should increase dialogue and cooperation with African states and neighboring countries across the Mediterranean, as well as strengthen cooperation and action between EU Member States.

Three main factors have been conducive to this necessary compromise: pragmatism, changed power relations, and Member States' concerns.


First, the European Union has taken a more pragmatic approach to migration management by recognizing that "international migration will continue" and that relations with third countries of transit and origin had to be significantly improved in order to induce or persuade them to cooperate more in the field of migration and border management.

This pragmatic vision, based on an array of ad hoc incentives and compensatory measures, is enshrined in The Hague program, which the European Union adopted in late 2004. The Hague program is a five-year plan (2004 to 2009) for strengthening freedom, security, and justice within the Member States.

Changed power relations

The second factor pertains to changed power relations. It can be viewed as a direct (and perhaps unintended) consequence of the aforementioned pragmatic approach.

Whereas cooperation in migration management, particularly regarding the expulsion and redocumentation of unauthorized migrants and rejected asylum seekers, still needs further improvement, the European Union has achieved substantial progress in border management. In fact, various Mediterranean and African third countries have become proactively involved in the reinforced control of EU external borders.

For example, over the last decade, various bilateral and multilateral police cooperation operations aimed at combating illegal migration and controlling borders have been concluded with African and Mediterranean countries. These operations include, among others, the Neptune project, the Seahorse and Atlantis programs, and Frontex Hera and Nautilus operations.

Incidentally, bilateral and multilateral cooperation on border control has led to unprecedented links of interdependence between law-enforcement agencies in receiving, sending, and transit countries.

Moreover, these joint initiatives have not only allowed some Mediterranean and African countries to play the efficiency card in migration talks, they have also placed these countries in a strategic position on which they can capitalize. In other words, some north and west African countries can now act as key and equal players in migration talks, expressing their own views, expectations, and conditions about the strategy the European Union and its Member States plan to adopt on migration management.

This empowerment has become more and more perceptible in Euro-African migration talks, particularly since the two Euro-African ministerial conferences, held in Rabat in July 2006 and Tripoli in November 2006.

For example, during the July 2006 Rabat conference, Morocco called on the European Union to negotiate additional readmission agreements with other transit and origin countries in the Maghreb region and sub-Saharan Africa, instead of "externalizing its actions towards one country under the pretext that the latter is the last country of transit for migrants en route to the European coasts."

Morocco's official statement would have been hardly acceptable and justifiable to the European Union had Morocco not acquired a strategic position in migration talks and in the fields of bilateral police cooperation and border controls. This statement reflected a form of reversed conditionality that the Moroccan government has determinedly defended over the last few years.

Member States' concerns

A complete picture of the need for a new compromise cannot be limited to pragmatism and the empowerment of some third countries.

In addition, various Member States started to express growing concerns about the European Commission's progress in fighting illegal migration.

Simultaneously, some Member States questioned the EC mandate to negotiate community readmission agreements with some third countries, owing to the slow negotiation process.

Member States have demonstrated their concern in numerous ways regarding the capacity of the EU institutions to deal effectively with unauthorized migration:

  • Founding the G5 in 2003 (G6 since 2006), which brings together the interior ministers of France, Spain, the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, and Poland.
  • Signing the Prüm Treaty on May 27, 2005. The treaty is aimed at stepping up cross-border police cooperation and exchanges between Member States' law enforcement agencies to combat organized crime, terrorism, and illegal migration. Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Spain are signatories. Some provisions of the Prüm Treaty, particularly those dealing with police cooperation and information exchange on DNA profiles, were incorporated in the European Union's legal framework in June 2007.
  • Writing an open letter in September 2006 to the then Finnish Presidency of the Council of the European Union, calling for reinforced common concrete actions to counter mass arrivals in southern Europe. The letter came from the heads of state of Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal, Slovenia, and Spain.
  • Delivering a document to the former Czech Presidency of the Council of the European Union that pressed for the conclusion and effective implementation of community readmission agreements. The document, dated January 2009, came from Cyprus, Greece, Italy, and Malta. These four countries formed the Quadro Group during the French EU Presidency (July to December 2008) to keep illegal immigration on the EU agenda.

Considering both the perceptible empowerment of some third countries and Member States' concerns, the European Union started to perform a balancing act between security issues at home and some strategic third countries' pressing expectations. The European Union needed to find a workable compromise with those strategic third countries.

The Rationale for Mobility Partnerships

To some extent, mobility partnerships were conceived as a response to the abovementioned changes, while forming an integral part of the Global Approach to Migration.

Tailor-made for each third country, mobility partnerships are doubly selective. First, they address those third countries once certain conditions are met, such as cooperation on illegal migration and the existence of "effective mechanisms for readmission." Second, they are limited to specific categories of migrant workers; these categories are listed in the agreement.

The European Union's attempt to link mobility partnerships with cooperation on readmission reflects how this issue has become a central component of its immigration policy. This conditional link is also stressed in the European Pact on Immigration and Asylum, which France sponsored and the 27 EU Member States endorsed in October 2008. The pact lays out the European Union's commitments in five areas: legal immigration, illegal immigration, border controls, asylum, and partnerships with origin and transit countries.

However, additional factors explain this conditionality. First, readmission is all the more central for the European Union and its Member States as control of external EU borders and border restrictions affects the fluid and back-and-forth movements inherent in human mobility.

The European Union and its Member States understand that because of border restrictions and the difficulty of accessing labor markets in destination countries, migrants might be tempted to overstay their visas.

Second, the resilient differentials in standards of living, economic development, working conditions, welfare, and political governance between origin and destination countries cannot be overlooked.

Third, countries of origin might not respect their commitment, particularly when it comes to readmitting and redocumenting their own nationals. This explains why the parties involved evaluate mobility partnerships on a regular basis.

Since late 2007, the Council has invited the Commission to launch pilot mobility partnerships with a number of countries. Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries and highly dependent on remittances, and Cape Verde, a high-emigration island nation off the coast of west Africa, were selected as pilot countries in 2008. Additional mobility partnerships are currently being negotiated with Georgia and Senegal.

There is no question that mobility partnerships have acquired great political importance. As stated in an October 2008 EC communication, mobility partnerships are expected to mark a paradigmatic "shift from a primarily security-centered approach focused on reducing migratory pressures to a more transparent and balanced approach." This shift is based on reciprocal commitments and concrete steps to strengthen the link between migration and development.

However, the reciprocity of commitments does not mean that the contracting parties benefit equally from mobility partnerships.

Preconditions for Effectiveness

Mobility partnerships have generated high expectations from both Member States and third countries.

At the same time, the European Union and its Member States know that securing the effective cooperation of strategic third countries will require accompanying measures. These measures, clearly considered in the October 2008 EC communication, pertain to the development of mechanisms matching the supply and demand of labor; portable pension rights; and vocational training and skills development.

Mobility partnerships constitute a new generation of temporary labor-migration schemes. Their effective implementation is not only contingent on enhanced cooperation with select third countries. It also depends on the extent to which such partnerships will respond to labor migrants' aspirations for better employment opportunities, increased incomes, skills acquisition, equal treatment, and rights.

In turn, responsiveness to these issues will determine the developmental impact of mobility partnerships, as well as their durability and replicability in other systems.

Similarly, a rights-based approach to integrating and reintegrating temporary migrant workers who will benefit from mobility partnerships will soon become critical. Moreover, labor unions and employers' representatives should be involved. By definition they are key actors in the practical and sound development of such partnerships.

Most importantly, reintegration — the process through which migrants take part in the social economic, cultural, and political life of their home countries — is mentioned as a core issue in the current development of mobility partnerships.

However, effectively reintegrating migrants will require a revised approach to return and reintegration. Indeed, since the early 2000s, the return policies of the European Union and its Member States have been predominantly, if not exclusively, viewed as instruments with which to fight unauthorized migration.

Because of this security-oriented approach, return has been narrowly defined as the end of the migration cycle — and therefore not the concern of the country where the migrant temporarily lived and worked.

This vision has been detrimental to exploring the link between return and development. It disregards the fact that migrants' patterns of reintegration and their capacity to contribute to development back home, in terms of financial and human capital and skill transfer, are equally shaped by the type of migration experience, duration of the time lived abroad, and conditions in the home country.

As they stand now, mobility partnerships still view reintegration as a lasting, rather than temporary, stage in the migration cycle. This explains why measures to support migrant workers' social and occupational reintegration have been virtually overlooked so far.

Promoting a two-pronged approach would certainly foster the development impact of these new agreements. The approach would be based on the interrelationship between integration in the host country and temporary reintegration in the home country. Mobility partnerships will need to include this strategy to ensure the European Union's desired shift toward transparency and balance in reducing migratory pressure.

Jean-Pierre Cassarino can be reached at [email protected].


Commission of the European Communities. 2009. Third Annual Report on the Development of a Common Policy on Illegal Immigration, Smuggling and Trafficking of Human Beings, External Borders, and the Return of Illegal Residents. SEC(2009) 320 final, Brussels. (Source: Statewatch)

Commission of the European Communities. 2008. Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions: Strengthening the Global Approach to Migration: Increasing Coordination, Coherence and Synergies. COM(2008) 611 final, Brussels.

Commission of the European Communities. 2007. Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament: On Circular Migration and Mobility Partnerships between the European Union and Third Countries. COM(2007) 248 final, Brussels.

Commission of the European Communities. 2007. Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions: Applying the Global Approach to Migration to the Eastern and South-Eastern Regions Neighbouring the European Union. COM(2007) 247 final, Brussels.

Commission of the European Communities. 2006. The Global Approach to Migration One Year On: Towards a Comprehensive European Migration Policy. COM(2006) 735 final, Brussels.