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Three Years On, Global Compact for Migration Negotiations Illustrate Europe’s Ongoing Divisions over Migration Governance
Press Release
Thursday, January 20, 2022

Three Years On, Global Compact for Migration Negotiations Illustrate Europe’s Ongoing Divisions over Migration Governance

WASHINGTON — In the final days of 2018, the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) became the first global agreement in the field of migration governance. Yet its negotiation and adoption process gave rise to unprecedented political tensions for a United Nations agreement—ones that continue to resonate today in the European Union. EU Member States remain deeply divided on migration issues and Europeans have failed to make progress towards a common migration and asylum policy framework.

A new report for the Migration Policy Institute’s (MPI) Transatlantic Council on Migration explores how the negotiations triggered an institutional and political crisis in the European Union. European institutions had initially been a driving force behind the compact, but the negotiations increasingly became a proxy for broader debates about how external EU migration policy is decided. Drawing from interviews with policymakers from EU institutions and EU Member States, the study also questions the narrative that the negotiations unraveled only weeks before the compact’s adoption in December 2018.

The report, The Winding Road to Marrakech: Lessons from the European Negotiations of the Global Compact for Migration, finds that intra-EU divisions over the 2018 compact can be in part attributed to the following developments:

  • Internal divisions over migration and asylum policies pervaded external EU migration governance. The roots of the dispute in Europe over the compact can be traced back to broader ambiguities over the governing of external EU migration policy. Amid divergent policy positions, the European Union and its delegation at the United Nations faced questions about its mandate to speak on behalf of EU Member States.
  • Lingering mistrust over a migration agreement at the juncture of different policy areas. The compact’s vision of setting out a comprehensive approach to migration and balancing priorities on mobility, development, returns and other key issues became entrenched in longstanding coordination issues and mistrust across EU institutions and national ministries. In some interior ministries, a narrative took hold that the compact had essentially been negotiated by diplomats blinded by their UN bubble and that it was not sufficiently aligned with home affairs priorities.
  • Ongoing struggles to develop strategic communication around the global compact. The “keep it quiet and hope for the best” communications strategy of European supporters of the compact backfired as populist voices dominated the conversation.

“By December 2018 and the Marrakech conference, the political price for supporting the compact had risen well beyond what many European policymakers initially calculated,” the report’s authors, Lena Kainz and Camille Le Coz, write.

These divisions have not just hurt the European Union’s credibility on multilateralism and migration management on the global stage, the authors note. The lack of unity among Member States has limited the role that the European Union can play in the pact’s implementation and raised broader questions about the spending of EU resources abroad to achieve compact objectives.

Read the report here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/european-negotiations-global-compact.

For more work from MPI's Transatlantic Council on Migration, visit: www.migrationpolicy.org/programs/transatlantic-council-migration.

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The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at local, national and international levels. MPI’s Transatlantic Council on Migration is a unique deliberative body that examines vital policy issues and informs migration policymaking processes across the Atlantic community.