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The New EU Migration-Related Fund Masks Deeper Questions over Policy Aims

Commentary
May 2018

The New EU Migration-Related Fund Masks Deeper Questions over Policy Aims

Sébastien Bertrand

The European Commission recently called for an overhaul in spending on migration, but beyond that topline announcement it is far from clear how its proposals would work in practice.

EU officials want to increase funding for border management and boost investment in countries outside the bloc to curb irregular migration. To do this, they want to combine funds from several policy areas, including development.

Part of the thinking behind this is to minimize the impact of any failure to agree to reform of the Dublin rules that outline responsibility for asylum claims—a battle that is set to come to a head in June.

But the European Commission still needs to answer big questions over its migration funding plan, not least who will take charge of the money, and how will it be spent?

Unspinning a Complex Spending Web

As the migration crisis began to unfold in 2015, the European Union ramped up its spending, not only in Member States on the front line, but also in countries outside the bloc. The main aim was to reduce irregular migration, whether through reinforcing European borders or creating jobs in far-off nations.

But finding more resources to spend on migration proved to be a logistical headache.

The European Union’s various budget ceilings are set years in advance, so policymakers had to tap emergency reserves and piece together resources from funds covering topics such as development, accession, and humanitarian aid. By 2016, the emergency reserves were exhausted, and the European Union was dangerously exposed.

Between 2015 and 2016, new instruments such as the Facility for Refugees in Turkey and the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa were initiated. Policymakers could pool resources from these funds, which helped to coordinate spending and deliver money more quickly. But their creation added yet another layer to an already complicated set-up for spending money in countries outside the European Union.          

More Money, Fewer Pots

The European Commission’s proposed Multiannual Financial Framework (2021-27) seeks both to reinforce the commitment to investing in non-member countries and to simplify the complex funding landscape. At the heart of the proposal is a new Neighborhood, Development, and International Cooperation Instrument, which will combine 12 different pots of money. Under the European Commission’s plan, the instrument would be worth 89.5 billion euros, roughly 15 billion more than was pledged for the 12 funds under the previous budget.

The new instrument is designed to give policymakers greater flexibility in how they spend. It includes a large reserve of unallocated money and has a rapid-response mechanism to circumvent regular procurement processes, which can take months or even years to complete.

Merging some EU external assistance into one instrument will make it easier to coordinate spending, especially in countries such as Turkey, which received money from 18 different EU entities in 2016. But it remains unclear who will administer the new fund, as it combines resources that are managed by different EU Directorates General with different mandates. The European Commission will need to convince them to cede authority.

Combining these funds offers opportunities to streamline monitoring processes. But ensuring proper oversight of large-scale investments in countries with weak institutions and endemic corruption will inevitably be quite an undertaking. These combined funds have different rules and objectives, making it difficult to set common priorities. Among the most fraught issues will be reconciling the European Union’s growing focus on migration management with development actors’ mandated focus on poverty alleviation.

This issue already came to the fore during the crisis, when development funds were called on to finance much of the EU response. For example, the European Development Fund, which disburses billions of euros in development aid to African, Caribbean, and Pacific countries, provided nearly 3 billion euros of the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa’s 3.8 billion-euro budget.

This use of development money to curb irregular migration is deeply problematic as plenty of evidence suggest that migration brings development benefits, such as the role of remittances in lifting households out of poverty.

The European Development Fund is one of the dozen earmarked to be absorbed into the new overarching fund, in effect bringing development resources into a fund that identifies migration management as a top priority. This is likely to exacerbate tensions.

89.5 Billion Euros Will Not Change the World

More broadly, the new instrument helps to clarify the limits of EU resources.

In the scramble to commit more money for migration during the recent crisis, the European Union tended to double- or even triple-count funds, for example including its contribution to the Facility for Refugees in Turkey as part of its pledge at the Syria conference later that year. This generous approach to counting suggested the bloc had greater resources than was the case.

Greater centralization would make any such double-counting much more obvious.

Policymakers need to be realistic about their ability to curb irregular migration. Building the capacity of countries to manage migration is a huge undertaking. Boosting funding is part of the solution, but it also hinges on addressing broader structural issues ranging from weak governance and extreme poverty, to the devastating consequences of civil wars.

The new fund—even with its larger budget—remains a drop in the ocean compared to what would be needed to address irregular migration and its causes. The European Union will need to justify its growing investments in distant countries, even as it struggles to measure progress on some of its more intangible or ambitious goals, such as tackling the “root causes” of migration. How many fewer arrivals at Europe’s borders would constitute success? When would the European Union be able to declare “mission accomplished?”