All sails set for more of the same: Leaked EU Document on the Operational Coordination Mechanism for the External Dimension of Migration

by L. J., Editorial Office Migration-Control

A new Council cooperation mechanism on the EU’s external dimension is foreseen to be launched in 2022. A leaked document obtained by migration-control.info shows that the mechanism reproduces wider trends that have shaped the EU’s external dimension for years.

Following the 16 December 2021 European Council Conclusions which invites the Council  “to monitor closely the swift and effective implementation of the EU’s external migration policy, and to give further impetus as necessary”, a leaked Council document from 30 December 2021, grants insights into further details of how this will be operationalized. The document foresees the launch of an operational coordination mechanism on the external dimension of migration within the next twelve months and shows that the new coordination mechanism must be placed within wider trends shaping the EU’s external migration policy.

The so-called “Operational Coordination Mechanism for the External Dimension of Migration” (MOCADEM) will ensure the coordination and monitoring of the implementation of the operational nature of the EUs external migration policy. It works under the direction of the Council Presidency and the strategic direction of the Committee of Permanent Representatives (Coreper), which is also in charge of the political control of the implementation of the arrangements which form part of the EU’s operational cooperation on migration. The MOCADEM will prepare and propose operational actions relating to the means and leverages to be mobilized for the EU to reach its migration control objectives vis-à-vis non-EU countries.

If relations between the EU and a third state in the field of migration require coordination and swift action, the Presidency can hold roundtables under the new cooperation mechanism, which brings together various Council preparatory bodies, such as the Working Group on the External Aspects of migration or the Visa Working Group, and other relevant bodies, such as relevant Member States, EU agencies or experts. The roundtables prepare actions which can be proposed to Coreper.

The new mechanism highlights the important role gained by Coreper and the Council, on the backdrop of issues related to migration becoming increasingly contested among EU Member States. MOCADEM is built upon the Council Implementing Decision (EU) n° 2018/1993 which establishes the Integrated Political Crisis Response Arrangement (IPCR). Article 6 (1) of this Decision puts COREPER is at the centre of IPCR coordination mechanisms:

In order to ensure the consistency of the Union’s policies and actions, Coreper shall be the default level at which oversight of the implementation of the IPCR arrangements is carried out. The Presidency shall inform Coreper about the main aspects of the crisis and about the intended procedure without delay.”

Experts on EU institutions have described Coreper as “the place to do the deal.” The Coreper has originated as a diplomatic forum meeting regularly in charge of preparing the Council of Ministers. Amid travel restrictions impacting the work of EU institutions, the role and importance of Coreper has reportedly grown further. Meanwhile, Coreper meetings are repeatedly criticised by civil society organisations for their  lack of transparency and composition, being described as “made up of unelected diplomats or civil servants who (often) meet in private.”

MOCADEM and wider trends in the EU’s external dimension

Beyond this, many of the points raised by the leaked Council document mirror wider trends of the EU’s external migration cooperation. These include the focus on pooling and streamlining leverage and strategies of Member States (MS), an increasing operational focus, the use of other policy fields to achieve migration control objectives, and using legal crisis frameworks in non-crisis contexts.

Pooling leverage and streamlining bilateral migration interests

Strengthening of cooperation among the different actors involved in the EU’s external dimension has been key priority of the different policy frameworks dealing with the EU’s external dimension, starting with the launch of the first comprehensive framework of the EU’s external dimension of migration, the Global Approach to Migration (GAM) in 2005. Under the GAM so-called Mobility Partnerships were launched. These Mobility Partnerships (MPs) constitute an institutional umbrella under which EU Member States bundle incentives and negotiation strategies, mostly to obtain deportation related concessions from a so-called third state.

This emphasis of bringing together Member States in cooperation with so-called third states was a recurring feature in other policy instruments, such as Common Agendas’ on Migration and Mobility (CAMM), launched under the Global Approach to Migration and Mobility in 2011, as well as the so-called Migration Compacts, introduced under the New Partnership Framework with third countries, following the so-called migration crisis of 2015. The migration compacts aimed to enable a more concerted effort within the EU’s external dimension by pooling together the different leverages of the EU Member States to achieve a joint strategy with 16 long term and five short term priority countries. Overall, these compacts aimed tomaximise the synergies and leverage of the Union’s internal and external policies.” At the same time, the post of the EU Migration Liaison Officer (EMLO) was launched. The EMLO is based at EU Delegations and coordinates the different Member States in their migration initiatives. Notwithstanding, these efforts, the need to enhance cooperation among the EU Member States was again reiterated in the 2020 New Pact, the latest EU migration policy framework, which states:

“EU level engagement alone is not sufficient: effective coordination between the EU level and Member States is essential at all levels: bilateral, regional and multilateral. Consistent messaging between the EU and Member States on migration and joint outreach to partners have proven to be critical to showing the EU’s common commitment. The EU should in particular draw on the experience and privileged relationships of some Member States with key partners – experience has shown that the full involvement of Member States in the EU migration partnerships, including through the pooling of funds and expertise via the various EU Trust Funds, is key to success.”

Hence, the launch of the MOCADEM must be placed within the EU’s continuous efforts to build a more coherent and streamlined strategy among its Member States. This is considered not only important as this is envisaged to lead to more leverage vis-à-vis a so-called third state, but also, because EU Member States, through pursuing their bilateral interests, have in the past curtailed EU’s initiatives, most importantly in the field of negotiations on deportations. This has for example occurred in the case of Senegal, where the failure of the EU’s efforts to conclude a Migration Partnership in the wake of the Canary Island Crisis has been well documented.

Operational Focus

The emphasis of the MOCADEM on facilitating operational activities marks another trend in the EU’s external dimension. Since the conclusion of the infamous EU Turkey Deal in 2016, which is a non-binding political agreement in the form of a press statement, informal migration cooperation became the new modus operandi, especially in the field of deportations. Here, any form of bilateral and multilateral cooperation is often highly contested within so-called third countries, hence informal and opaque agreements are easier to reach as civil society and social movements often remain uninformed. Following the EU Turkey Deal, the EU has entered into operational informal return agreements with a number of states, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, The Gambia, Guinea, and Ivory Coast. The latest cooperation on so-called voluntary return with Iraq for persons stranded at the Belarusian Polish border sets another dangerous precedent with regard to the risk of opaque return cooperation, violating the Union’s own legal safeguards against push backs.

While the EU Turkey Deal gained widespread criticism for undermining democratic legitimacy, lacking human rights guarantees and downgrading protection standards, informal return agreements have also been criticized more broadly. The European Parliament, which adopted a report in 2021,  found that informal return agreements result in:

“(…) the absence of adequate operational reporting, monitoring, evaluation and accountability mechanisms to track individual cases and respond to potential violations, as well as the lack of effective judicial remedies for persons whose rights have been allegedly violated. The rights of asylum seekers are inherently dependent on having human rights violations assessed by a court, MEPs point out”.

Meanwhile, a focus on operational cooperation has moved beyond return cooperation. Building on the New Pact, the EU’s Action Plan against Migrant Smuggling, which was adopted in 2021, states that so-called Anti-Smuggling Operational Partnerships should be concluded.

According to the Action Plan, these partnerships should form an integral part of the EU’s “comprehensive migration partnerships with countries of origin and transit.” Anti-Smuggling Operational Partnerships will include some or all of the following elements: legal capacity building, ensuring implementation of legal frameworks by developing policies, strategies and action plans at national, regional and continental level, capacity building of national and local authorities, building or reinforcing coordination centres, building border management capacity of partner countries, provision of operational support to law enforcement and judicial cooperation, strengthening cooperation with third countries on identity and document fraud, launching awareness raising campaigns, support to address security concerns linked to migrant smuggling, as well as continuous dialogue and coordination on what is considered here “the new phenomenon of state-led instrumentalization of migration.”

Increasing leverage by politicising humanitarian aid?

 The leaked document on the establishment of the new “Operational Coordination Mechanism for the External Dimension of Migration” highlights the importance of using other policy fields as leverage to achieve migration control objectives towards non-EU countries. The document describes “operational action” to include:

any action which may contribute to the attainment of the objectives of the EU in its relations with a non-EU country in the field of migration, including: a political or diplomatic approach, an action in support of the third country concerned, including in the area of capacity building or humanitarian aid, the mobilisation of any available leverage, for example financial support, or the tools of visa policy or any other policy.” (Emphasis added)

The use of different policy areas to achieve migration control objectives towards so-called third states has been integral part of the EU’s external dimension of migration since the 1999 Tampere Council which, during the Kosovo crisis, highlighted that a ‘comprehensive’ approach to migration, also needs to address political, development and human rights issues in so-called ‘partner countries’. However, what is new and highly concerning in the leaked MOCADEM document is that for the first time, humanitarian aid is explicitly mentioned as an action which may contribute to the attainment of EU policy objectives.

While in the aftermath of the so-called 2015 migration crisis a renewed emphasis was set on using non-migration policy areas, this explicitly excluded humanitarian policies. For example, the 2016 New Partnership Framework states: “Even though considered potentially effective, and building on their positive impact on migration, neighbourhood, development and trade are not the only policies that are relevant to support the compacts. No policy areas should be exempted from this approach.” Meanwhile, the same document clearly highlights in a footnote that humanitarian policies are excluded from this conditionality in line with humanitarian principles.

Equally, the 2020 New Pact proposes to formalize some of the leverage mechanisms obtained by linking migration to other policy areas, but explicitly excludes humanitarian policies from migration deliberation. The New Pact foresees the launch of two formalized bargaining mechanisms. The first is the annual EU Commission visa assessment in line with the EU Visa Code, through which restrictive and favourable visa measures can be proposed depending on the degree of deportation cooperation. The second, proposed in the New Pact and further outlined in the Asylum and Migration Management Regulation (RAMM), foresees a Commission analysis which, could, in case of unattained EU deportation objectives with a given non-EU country, suggest measures towards the country, including an overall reconsideration of relations. Importantly, the New Pact again clearly highlights that humanitarian assistance should be excluded from conditionality. It states: “The EU’s work to address emergency and humanitarian needs is based on principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence.” Hence, on paper this paradigm shift constitutes a dangerous precedent which further undermines humanitarian principles and must be followed closely. Overall, it falls in line with the trend that more and more areas of bilateral cooperation are subordinated to EU migration control interests.

Long term frameworks build by “crisis” frameworks

Finally, the MOCADEM mechanism is built upon the EU’s integrated political crisis response mechanism, as outlined in the Council Implementing Decision (EU) n° 2018/1993. However, the leaked Council document equally stresses that the MOCADEM differs “in its purpose, insofar as the new mechanism is intended to deal with relations with third countries in the field of migration”, – and not with crises.

This is not the first time that within the context of migration, crisis instruments have been mobilized outside of their intended purpose to bend legal frameworks towards political and strategic interests. Another striking example constitutes the adoption of the European Trust Fund for Africa, which, reportedly relied on the (“legal”) invocation of “crisis” within 26 African countries for the whole duration of its implementation. Only this evocation of this legal fiction made the launch of the EUTF legally possible.

To make sense of how crisis is used, both legally and discursively to build routine practices of control and containment, the words of the scholars Julien Jeandesboz and Polly Pallister-Wilkins are useful:

“When we work through spectacles of crisis and routines of control, we find that the two, crisis and routine, are more fruitfully conceived as relational notions with coinciding repertoires of practices rather than discrete epistemological commitments in the study of security, migration and border politics.”

The relational notions of crisis and routine become once more evident here: Legal frameworks dedicated to respond to “crisis”, have been used to allow for the operationalisation of everyday external migration governance, which paradoxically produces multiple crises for those affected by it, both on personal and collective scales. These routine practices of the EU’s external dimension, relies on multiple building blocks, which have been reinforced over time, including those discussed here.

The first Presidency of the Council of the EU which will make use of the MOCADEM is France, who took the role in January this year. A document published by Statewatch summarizes the migration priorities of the country for the duration of its presidency. France strongly pushes for a more security centred approach embracing managerial logics of containment and centring relations with third states around matters of return and readmission. Hence, the MOCADEM mechanism, is likely to function as another tool for all sails set for more of the same:  an effort to build concerted routine practices of racist containment.

 

Photo credits: (CC) Megan Trace and (CC) Christiaan Colen

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