Solidarity and Multilevel Governance

How to face migration emergencies and foster inclusion

The mass inflows of refugees from Ukraine to its neighbours since last February have triggered a deep reflection on Europe’s response to migration emergencies. The activation of the EU’s Temporary Protection Directive has unveiled the drawbacks of the current European migration system as well as potential solutions. IncluCities held a hybrid event in Brussels on 21 June where MEPs, OECD, and local and regional leaders discussed how to improve the EU’s response to migration emergencies.

European governance on migration and integration is a complex chessboard, where any move has to be decided to take into consideration various aspects of the broader picture, which extends from irregular to legal migration, from asylum seekers to labour migrants, from legal constraints to social needs, from member states’ varying positions to the necessity of harmonising rules. As a consequence, the European institutions must find a compromise among various interests, toward a regulatory framework that balances solidarity and responsibility.

This complex chessboard involves various tiers of government – European, national, regional and local – who each deserve a seat at the table. EU legislators are currently discussing the New Pact on Migration and Asylum, which, unfortunately, makes scarce reference to local and regional governments. The New Pact – composed of a host of files and dossiers – is now stuck among member states in the Council, where the main focus is on border control.

A new impulse on this issue is desperately needed to break the deadlock. The essential role that municipalities and regions play on the frontline of migration emergencies has clearly emerged in this crisis, as has the need to think outside the box to find innovative solutions to complex and persistent issues surrounding migration and migrant inclusion. This is why CEMR decided to bring Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), experts and representatives of LRGs together for an engaging and fruitful exchange of views.

The Temporary Protection Directive: successes and challenges

The EU reacted quickly to the Ukrainian refugee crisis by activating the Temporary Protection Directive (TPD) for the first time, to which a significant number of refugees from Ukraine have registered to date. With TPD they receive a residence permit, access to accommodation, health care, employment, education and the right to social benefits. As Thomas Liebig of the OECD, stated: “TPD’s implementation has triggered various questions around double registration or moving from one country to another.” As a result, studies show that there is a significant degree of mobility, both across the EU-Ukrainian border and between EU countries.

Thomas quote

There is great uncertainty regarding mass returns or if prolonged stays will become the norm. Independently from the duration of stay, some measures of early integration are important determinants of long-term inclusion outcomes.

What lessons can be learnt from the Ukrainian crisis?

The migration emergency following the Russian invasion of Ukraine has clearly shown some key elements that EU legislators could take advantage of in order to accelerate the New Pact’s adoption. The exchanges between CEMR’s member associations, MEP Birgit Sippel (S&D, DE) and MEP Damian Boeselager (Greens/EFA, DE), have offered interesting points of reflection.

Firstly, solidarity is fundamental in migration and integration policies. With TPD’s implementation, a solidarity platform was created as an attempt to gradually get more commitments and resources from member states, facilitate open sharing of experiences, and challenges and compare the numbers.

Aside from this specific measure, at the moment, there is no EU obligation to work on distribution and relocation. Merely a form of flexible solidarity has been put in place: national governments have agreed to start implementing a voluntary solidarity mechanism by offering relocations, financial contributions and other measures of support to member states in need, but this solidarity can be withdrawn at any moment.

As a consequence, much of the burden continues to unfairly fall on the country of the first arrival. This is why the European Parliament – unlike the Council – tends to push for binding solidarity. Moreover, the instrument of “relocation with meaningful links”(like family links), aimed at ensuring welcoming solidarity, reducing secondary movements and increasing successful outcomes of inclusion processes, deserves further development.

Birgit sippel quote

Secondly, inclusion takes place within cities and local communities: consequently, local and regional governments need to be further financially supported through direct funds. This would mean that the Commission and member states should be more creative in finding new solutions, going beyond what has been usually done.  As a result, the Commission has decided to direct 30% of the FAST-CARE fund towards local and regional governments and is discussing the introduction of some new indicators in the AMIF programme to ensure local and regional participation.

Thirdly, local and regional governments should be further empowered. How?  The creation of platforms – such as Europe Welcomes – is an interesting way to actualise local and regional potential. The aim is to showcase the potential of welcoming local communities in Europe, bringing in the idea of voluntary solidarity, showing an example of how things can be done and putting pressure on national governments.

Damien quote

Crisis as an opportunity to change the narrative

The Ukrainian refugee crisis is as an opportunity to explore how solidarity among member states could work concretely, how direct funding to local and regional governments and to NGOs can be implemented and how city-to-city collaboration can impact migration management. Moreover, it should serve as a spark to push the EU to accelerate the adoption of the New Pact on Migration and Asylum and to involve cities and regions more consistently.

This crisis not only calls for emergency management but also reminds us of the urgency of better coordinated, more sustainable, far-sighted and human European inclusion strategies. In this framework, systematic communication and coordination mechanisms between different tiers of governments are needed in order to foster the role of local and regional governments.

Platforms like this CEMR event provide good opportunities to evaluate the transferability of experiences linked to migration in the attempt to move forward together: from an emergency-oriented approach to a more sustainable one, from the narrative on integration to the one on inclusion.