2. Schengen and the European Migration Crisis

Public disquiet about immigration is intensified by the perception that immigration is out of control.

In his  stimulating article Mario Nuti considers Schengen area migration policy under three headings: 1). Free internal travel requires strong external controls; 2). Free internal travel requires convergence of living standards within the area  (including welfare provisions); 3)  Any attempt at a fair redistribution of immigrants among countries requires the re-establishment of national borders.

He points out that the fair redistribution of immigrants, as demanded by Germany and the Pope, is inconsistent with free travel as laid down by the Schengen agreement. This may not be such an important issue, since the Schengen agreement may be on the verge of collapse.  According to a new survey by French pollster IFOP, 72% of French, 66% of Germans and 60% of Italians are now in favour of repealing the Schengen agreement and reintroducing border checks at least temporarily (Süddeutsche Zeitung, 5 April 2016).   Even if the agreement is not formally repealed, it may become a dead letter as more states unilaterally re-introduce border controls.

Nuti also makes the point that effective control of EU external borders requires the cooperation of neighbouring countries, such as Turkey.  Where this cooperation is not forthcoming effective control may be impossible within normal moral and legal constraints. This is most evident in the case of Libya, where the state is too weak to prevent the departure of migrants to Italy and the country is too unsafe to permit the return of rejected immigrants.  In my own country, the UK, the control of immigration relies heavily on support from nearby countries. The reason we do not get flotillas of migrant boats heading for our shores is not because the UK is hard to reach by sea – it is only 33km from France = but because nearby countries prevent their departure.   The future ability of the EU to control immigration from poorer countries will depend on the ability of the Union to gain and retain the cooperation of its neighbours in North Africa and the Middle East.

Immigration controls, like all forms of legal constraint, involve either compulsion or the threat of compulsion.  Immigrants who have no legal right to remain must be either persuaded to leave or forcibly deported. Failure to remove them will only encourage others.  This is why amnesties are counter-productive.  The need for removals is inversely related to the difficulty of illegal entry.  The easier it is to gain physical entry, the greater must be reliance on removals. This is not a message which liberal-minded people want to hear. As Nuti points out, rejection and forced repatriation are unpleasant and sometimes brutal. But they are a logical consequence of excluding people who have a strong desire to live in Europe.

The feasibility of repatriation depends on the ability to identify the country of origin of a prospective deportee. It also depends on cooperation of the country of origin. Legally speaking, a country is supposed to accept its nationals who are deported from another country, but this may not always be the case in practice. Thus, it will be important in the future to gain the cooperation of the countries to which migrants are to be repatriated,

The recent agreement with Turkey involves the compulsory return of all migrants entering Greece from Turkey, who are not applying for asylum or whose application is judged to be unfounded or inadmissible. This policy may be illegal under international law but the EU is powerful enough to disregard this provided its own internal courts acquiesce. If it works, the agreement with Turkey may act as a template for future agreements regarding the control of migrant flows and repatriation.

Nuti cites an interesting analysis by Branko Milanovic in Social Europe  (May 2015).  This analysis indicates the difficulty of coming up with a workable policy towards migration from poor to rich countries.  Milanovic calls for a coordinated quota system for allocating would-be migrants between emitting and receiving countries.  He concedes that such a system would not be able to deal with random events such as the war in Syria, but he argues that it should be able to deal with economic migration: “With an orderly quota system, a person from Mali who is considering migrating to France may prefer to wait several years and get an official permission to settle there rather than to pay a people smuggler for an uncertain entry to France”.

Although at first sight plausible, this proposal does not address the central issue, which is the potential scale of migration under such a scheme. If a quota scheme is to deter illegal migration, the expectation of getting a permit must be high and the expected waiting time must be relatively short. This means that the number of permits given out must be roughly commensurate with the number of people wishing to migrate. The suggested scheme might deter illegal migration but it would be unlikely to reduce the total number of migrants.  Indeed, the scheme might actually encourage migration by eliminating the need to rely on dangerous and costly modes of travel.

To implement even a slimmed down version of the scheme proposed by Milanovic it would be necessary to change public opinion. Even before the refugee crisis, there was widespread concern in Europe about large scale immigration.  According to an international poll taken in the period 2012-14 some 52% of Europeans thought that immigration should be reduced.  Only 8% thought it should be increased (How the world views migration, IOM 2015). The British Social Attitudes Survey reports that immigration has been consistently amongst the five most important topics of concern.  In 2013 of those questioned 56% thought that immigration should be reduced a lot and a further 21% thought it should be reduced by a little.  Such concerns have been around for a long time, but have been ignored by politicians.  However, politicians are now being forced to respond to public disquiet by the rise of anti-immigration parties.

Public disquiet about immigration is intensified by the perception that immigration is out of control. It is not simply a belief that the present level of immigration is too high that motivates this disquiet, but also a fear that the government has no means of cutting back on immigration should the need arise. In countries like Australia, where the government has a firm grip on migrant flows and can raise or lower them as the need arises, the public is willing to accept a high level of immigration.  If Milanovic’s quota scheme is to be politically acceptable, it will have to be accompanied by effective enforcement. Even then, it will be an uphill task to persuade Europeans to accept immigration on the implied scale.

Robert E. Rowthorn

Emeritus Professor of Economics in the University of Cambridge (England)