30 October 2016


These pages inform about the state of the research work on the EU’s response to the crisis that anti-immigration groups and parties triggered in Europe in the last years. They protested against the decade-long permissive immigration policy of the European governments and the growing number of forced, irregular migrants[1] that have been ‘invading’ Europe since 2011. By all means, that immigration policy enabled/s the European economies to fill with cheap workforce the jobs the European workers disdain to do[2]. Against such policy, the anti-immigration groups and parties draw forth the views of the citizens that perceive the migrants as a threat to European goods, interests and values[3]. Accordingly, they called on the governments and the EU to respond to the threat soon and develop urgent crisis management actions. The EU leaders replied to such demand with difficulty, amid controversies, and rather inconsistently up to late 2015. The flop of the plans of relocation of the migrants hosted in Greece and Italy, the narrow rules of engagement of Triton in SAR (Search and Rescue) operations, the few and hard-to-do missions of return and readmission of the irregular migrants to the countries of origin and last transit, and the slow deployment and missing effect of the anti-smuggling CSDP operation are cases in point.

In 2015, the EU governments partially reversed the situation and unanimously approved a set of instruments and actions that are intended to fence the EU and close the southern border to all the migrants. To defuse the crisis, the EU governments made a deal with Turkey for the readmission of the migrants crossing the sea to Greece; offered financial and technical aid to the countries of origin; ruled on the hotspots in Greece and Italy as the main tool for identifying all the migrants and chosing those qualified to asylum; restated the procedure for returning and readmitting the migrants not qualified to the asylum-seeker status; and created the European Border and Coast Guard System.

1 – The crisis management scenarios: Tracing the construction of the crisis management

The above-mentioned and other events and the relevant documents and decisions have been examined to trace the construction of the EU crisis management response. The analysis has brought to light four scenarios of the management building process that developed from 2011[4]. The trace and scenario analysis serves to build knowledge about and also assess the EU leaders’ accomplishment of the tasks that serve the purpose of the effective and legitimate management of migration as a trans-boundary crisis. In brief, the scenarios are

  • The conventional response scenario (2011 – 2013). The populist parties, unopposed by the governments, fed and developed the anti-immigration tendency of the Europeans whereas forced migration did not appear to the EU leaders as a phenomenon to respond to with special actions but the usual instruments of control of immigration[5]. In 2011, the EU policy-making institutions restated this policy in the Global Approach to Migrantion and Mobility (also known as GAMM)[6]. Greece, Italy and Spain were blamed for the loose control of the borders and the permissive handling of the illegal immigrants.
  • The Mare Nostrum scenario (October 2013 – October 2014). The Italian government chose to prioritize the humanitarian dimension and to respond to the tragedies of the Mediterranean migrants with a SAR operation. It met the disapproval of all the EU governments for overlooking the GAMM strategy, endangering the Schengen system, and missing to properly identify the rescued migrants at the reception and identification centres. Many migrants travelled towards the North European countries with alleged no control by the Italian police and justice agencies.
  • The EU-Turn scenario (November 2014–September 2015). A year after the beginning of the Mare Nostrum operation, the European governments and the Commission chose to turn towards a comprehensive approach and to respond to the humanitarian side of the crisis. The frontline states, i.e. Greece and Italy, were recognized as eligible to the assistance of the Union on condition they identified all the immigrants, checked the international protection requisites, and returned the unauthorized migrants to the country of origin. The new approach was contended by the British and Visegrad governments, and elusively accepted by the others. The European governments’ inclination to downplay humanitarian duties, unwillingness to bear the burden of receiving foreign nationals in need of aid, and tendency to unload that burden to the neighbours disrupted the attempt to run the comprehensive approach of crisis management.
  • The Fencing the EU scenario (October 2015 – on). The poor implementation of the humanitarian measures, the relentless arrival of migrants through the Balkan route, and the different preferences of the MS governments made for the new reshaping of the management deal and the resolve to address the control of the EU external borders. The EU called on the countries of transit to keep refugees and migrants in their own territory, and the countries of origin to tighten up border control measures to block the exit of potential migrants. The Council President, Donald Tusk, invited the migrants not to ‘dream’ about Europe. The Commission committed to assist Greece and Italy in managing the hotsposts. In October 2016, the Council and the Parliament approved the regulation of the European Border and Coast Guard service. The endurance of the fencing deal up to the present time, and predictably for long, owes much to the customisation of the common management measures the EU governments do. They either partially or totally execute or flatly reject some or many of the actions and instruments of the management deal to adapt to the preference and expectation of the citizens and voters. In line with the national preferences,

2 – The EU leaders’ management tasks

This section briefly reports about the fulfilment of the trans-border crisis management tasks by the EU leaders[7].

Detection. Until the last quarter of 2014 the EU leaders did not detect irregular, forced migration as a threat but as the voluntary violation of the immigration law by persons that should be stopped at the frontiers by using the existing border control means. But in Autumn 2014, they detected the migrant flows as a humanitarian emergency and chose to replace a comprehensive approach to the conventional response. This was far from being a turning point of the crisis management. The comprehensive approach did not come into existence. In the early 2016, the EU leaders re-detected the phenomenon as mainly a case of irregular migration and prioritized again the control of the EU borders. In March, they signed a deal with the Turkish government to make the control of the persons the effective measure of the management of the crisis. In September they approved the European Border and Coast Guard regulation to coordinate the border and coast service of the Member States.

Sense-making. The delayed detection and re-detection of the crisis are explained by the conception the EU leaders have of immigration and irregular migration. They have not weighed the information about the unemployment, overpopulation, and violence conditions that force a large number of people to overlook the rules of regular border crossing in leaving the home country. The EU documents that explain why the leaders made sense of the Mediterranean migration as the unauthorised movement of economic migrants are the above-mentioned 2011 Global Approach, the 2015 European Agenda for Migration that recognized the humanitarian emergency in the Mediterranean but restated the EU’s external migration policy as the primary response tool for managing the crisis, and a small number of documents released since the Autumn 2015. In these documents, the EU leaders chose, among other responses, the strict compliance with the international and EU laws about the control of the persons that have no permit of entry in the territory of a member state as the essential condition for keeping intact the Schengen system of the free circulation of the persons; the fight against the migrant smugglers to reinforce the external migration policy (but the forced migrant first escapes and later trusts any person who can take him/her to the end of the journey); the financial and thecnical aid to groups of countries, especially in Africa, to respond to the causes of the growth of migration like civil and international wars, structural unemployment, bad governance, corruption, and climate change.

Decision-making. All the heads of government and the ministries and public officials of the Member States that are involved in making and acting the management have been the parties that worked up the Union response. The European Council, the top decisional body, has addressed to the Council and the Commission the guidelines of the management that have been prepared in talks and negotiations between the Commission and the national administrations. Before the European Council meeting, the heads of government of the states that are less inclined to the common management of the crisis presented to the media their discordant views. Following important decisions like those on the relocation plans, some governments overlooked totally or partially the Conclusions of the European Council even though during the meeting they did not oppose to the approval of the measures on the agenda. Briefly, the leaders decide the crisis management and do not refrain from frustrating the management objectives by tailoring the management actions to the national preferences.

Coordination. The EU leaders look for collaboration with local authorities and civil society organizations to cope with the problems of the reception of the migrants. The Council and the Commission work mainly to build a network of partners external to the EU in compliance with the diplomatic pillar of the external migration policy. They want the governments of third countries take on themselves the task of blocking the travel of the migrants before they reach the EU territory. In 2015 and 2016, the two EU institutions have addressed the building of partnership with (a) the governments of the Non-EU Balkan countries to convince them to refrain from dropping the migrants on the neighboring Non-EU and EU countries and to seal the border to the migrants to match the deal with Turkey; (b) the governments of Africa to back them in building the capacity of curbing irregular migration; (c) the Turkish government to keep the Syrian refugees in Turkey and accept the readmission in Turkey, as the last transit country, of all the migrants currently in Greece; and (d) the governments of Lebanon and Jordan to support their capacity to manage the refugee camps, which were populated mainly by the Syrian refugees.

Coordination with the external partners is a good message to the citizens who want to see irregular, forced migrants remain in their own country. But, the effectiveness of coordination depends on the true sharing of the goals by the third country governments and their real capacity to accomplish the coordination agreement. These conditions are difficult to achieve because of the low efficiency and corruption of the public administration of many countries of origin and transit. Last, financial and technical assistance to the countries of origin and transit does not solve the present problems of the forced migrants and overlooks the well-known failure of the aid to developing countries in the past 60 years.

The Commission and the Council consider also partnership at the region level as a form of cooperation useful to achieve the objective of coordination. Multilateral collaboration has the advantage of creating sinergies and reducing costs. But the existing multilateral schemes like the Rabat Process, which is now 10 years old, and the two-year old Karthoum Process have not yet produced notable results. Last, the network of the EU partners covers international organizations like the UNHCR and the IOM, and humanitarian non-governmental organisations.

Meaning-making. Generally, the citizens support the crisis management if the messages of the leaders about the threat and the management response convince the citizens about the leaders’ abilities to bring the crisis to an end. In the EU case, the 28 member governments, the European Council and the Commission may release and, in fact, release messages to make sense of what the threat is to them and what they like the management achieves. Normally, the messages of the individual government to the national audience have been different from the ones of the European Council. The different messages realesed by the leaders made the citizens aware of the lack of a common perspective about the migratory phenomenon and the nature of the threat. This frustrates the citizens’ trust on the leaders’ ability to control the threat and manage the crisis.

Communication. The national leaders have made use of all the mass media and the social to inform the citizens about their concern and the actions for managing the crisis at the national and European level. The citizens have been informed also about the problems of matching the different views and coordinating the priorities of the member states for achieving the goal of the common response to what all of them acknowledged to be a transnational crisis. The messages of the President of the Commission and the President of the European Council, the main EU communication sources, are very much the same in content. The President of the European Council, more than the President of the Commission, has sent messages to the migrants inviting them not to travel to Europe because Europe has not the opportunities they are looking for, and not to try to enter Europe with no permit because the European countries do not accept the violation of the rules of border crossing. On occasion, the President of the Commission has addressed the member country governments expressing disappointment for the frustration of the crisis management that is caused by the missing compliance with many decisions of the Council by the member states.

Accountability. Generally speaking but with national differences, the EU governments have been cautious and reluctant to debate the management strategy in institutional, especially parliamentary, fora, and submitt the response choice to the deliberation of the citizens. In the European Parliament, irregular migration has been far from turning on conflict between the party groups. In general, the EP members trusted the approach and the management choices of the European Council and the Commission. The debates in the national parliaments restrained from causing problems to the national governments and, likewise, no government wanted to risk a conflict with the national parliament on the migration issue. The mainstream political parties did not exhibit views very much different from that of the anti-immigration movements, did not stress the humanitarian and legal duty of receiving refugees and forced migrants, did not exacerbate the existing contrast by listening to the opinion of the groups favorable to humanitarian aid, and did not back any argument favourable to the integration of the migrants. Yet, despite the parties in charge chased the anti-immigration parties by sending messages to the voters against receiving the migrants, at the national elections the voters have punished the government parties for not being firm in blocking the migrants at the borders.

3. The public opinion feedback (the legitimacy issue)

Time has to go to assess with a reliable level of confidence the effectiveness of the management instruments chosen by the EU leaders, namely the reduction of the number of irregular immigrants and/or the removal of the (perceived) migrant threat. For this reason, the analysis of the effectiveness of the management will be made in the third year of the TC Project. In the current, second year, the research work is devoted to analysing the legitimacy of the management while this is underway, in particular to analysing the opinion of the Europeans on the management response[8].

The opinion of the Europeans on immigration and immigrants has been studied by social scientists for a long time now. The object of the present analysis, mainly of EuroBarometer survey data, is to uncover the feedback of the European citizens to the management the EU leaders have developed to remove the immigrant threat. In particular, it wants (A) to test whether the two arguments of the unsustainable costs of the reception of the immigrants and the defense of the European cultural integrity have shaped the European citizens perception of the current migration movements and constructed their demand to the policy-makers to remove the migrant threat. If (A) is positively ascertained, the EU leaders management is supported by input legitimacy. The analysis wants also (B) to know about the output legitimacy of the management, i.e. whether the citizens recognize that the EU leaders’ management has removed the migrant threat should the threat go in the future[9].

At the present early stage of the analysis, only the analysis of the opinion of the Europeans about the salience of the immigration issue is shortly presented.

The number of the citizens concerned with immigration at the national and EU level blew up once the Italian government chose to carry out Mare Nostrum. Since October 2013 the number of the citizens that declared themselves concerned at the EU level has been higher than the number of the citizens concerned at the national level. The awareness and also anxiety of the citizens caused by the news about the effects of the controversial Italian decision on the spread of irregular migrants all around Europe and in particular in the Schengen area and the risk of restricting the free circulation of the persons is a reasonable explanation of the gap existing between the concern at the national and European level. The gap widened after the European Council chose to take on the SAR operation from Italy. It reached the widest in November 2015, i.e. at the time of the European Council’s contested approval of the Commission’s second plan on the relocation of the migrants that were hosted in Greece and Italy, and after the summer flooding of migrants through the Balkins. But the May 2016 survey shows that the number of the Europeans concerned at the national and European level declines. Presumably, a good number of them were reassured by the deal with Turkey and the Commission’s reports about the closing of the Balkan route.

The citizens that declare to feel themselves concerned with the personal impact of immigration, instead, form a much smaller group than those of the citizens concerned at the national and European level. Remarkably, the former group continued to be small also since 2014, while the latter groups have been growing in number considerably. Exposure to the anti-migration messages of the politicians and the mass media is the reasonable explanation of the existing gap between the personal concern and the national and European ones. In other terms, a few citizens feel affected by immigration personally. Most of them feel affected collectively. This is consistent with the sociotropic concern argument, as the opinion analysts remark, and the priority of the cultural threat on the economic threat in the opinion of the citizerns about immigrants.

Data (not presented in this paper) show also that in all the countries, the Visegrad countries included, but Malta and the United Kingdom (and in these countries not all over the time period) the number of the citizens concerned with immigration at the EU level is higher than the number of the citizens concerned with immigration at the own country level.



Bertelsmann Stiftung (2016), From Refugees to Workers Mapping Labour-Market Integration Support Measures for Asylum Seekers and Refugees in EU Member States, Migration Policy Centre (MPC), Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies of the European University Institute in Florence (EUI). http://www.migrationpolicycentre.eu/

Crépeau François and Anna Purkey (2016), Facilitating Mobility and Fostering Diversity.Getting EU Migration Governance to Respect the Human Rights of Migrants, Brussels, CEPS Paper in Liberty and Security in Europe No. 92.


[1] Forced migrants are all the persons that are constrained to leave their homeland for escaping persecution, starvation, deprivation and the risk of death. Irregular migrants are all the persons that cross an international border lacking the visa of the state they enter in.

[2] The unemployment level of the European labour markets has been high in past years while jobs continued to be available (Bertelsmann Stiftung, 2016). The sectors that have low profit margins and cannot be delocalised to countries of cheap labour are in need of foreign workers. These sectors are especially the agriculture and fishery sector, the constructions and extractions sector, and the care, cleaning and hospitality sectors (Crépeau and Purkey, 2016).

[3] The citizens oppose immigration for two reasons, the economic and cultural one. Hosting a large number of immigrants increases the public expenditure and affects the stability of the national economy. The cultural argument consists in considering the sharing of life with the ‘other’ and the ‘diverse’ as an intolerable condition.

[4] In the present research, a scenario is the configuration, in a definite period of time, of the conditions, actors and events of a system that is researched to check the state of a matter of interest, namely the building process of the EU management of the migration crisis.

[5] The usual instruments are the border police and coast guard operations of control and surveillance, and the cooperation with the countries of origign and transit to curb the irregular movement of persons.

[6] The Global Approach to Migration and Mobility describes the EU’s external migration policy. It defines migration as an economic phenomenon that rewards the receiving and sending countries should the governments of both cooperate with one another on the mobility of the migrants, i.e. on the migrant’s entry in and departure from the country of destination at the time respectively of the start and end of the employment contract.

[7] The detailed presentation of the management tasks is in the TransCrisis Analytical Framework published on the Projec website http://www.transcrisis.eu

[8] The analysis of the parliamentary legitimacy, i.e. the European Parliament feedback to the management, is also the objective of this WP programme to be filled in during this year of research work.

[9] It is apparent that the EU leaders rely mainly on the input legitimacy as they share the anti-immigration theme of the populist parties that the majority of the people seem to accept. The EU leaders also expect the legitimacy of the management to come from the output, namely from the decline of the migration pressure and the citizens’ recognition of removal of the immigrant threat. The management decisions, instead, seem to have been made with few regard for the throughput sources of legitimacy.

This paper can be cited as: Attinà Fulvio and Rosa Rossi, EU and the migration crisis. An interim report, TransCrisis H2020 Project. 2016.

Corresponding author Fulvio Attinà, attinaf@unict.it