Rethinking EU migration and asylum policies: Managing immigration jointly with countries of origin and transit - Stiftung Mercator


Rethinking EU migration and
­asylum policies:
 Managing immigration jointly with
 countries of origin and transit
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Rethinking EU migration and
­asylum policies:
 Managing immigration jointly with
 countries of origin and transit
2019 MEDAM Assessment Report
on Asylum and Migration Policies in Europe

Box, figures and tables                                                                                    5
Preface                                                                                                    6
About the Authors                                                                                          7
Executive summary                                                                                          9
1 Introduction                                                                                            13
2 Public attitudes to immigration and asylum policy preferences in the EU                                 14
3 Cooperation with non-EU countries to manage migration to the EU                                         22
  3.1		 The setting: Gaps in the global governance of refugee protection and diverging interests among
			 countries of origin and destination                                                                   22
  3.2		 Give and take: Areas of cooperation with countries of origin and transit, especially in Africa    24
4 Implementing flexible solidarity                                                                        30
  4.1		 Moving forward on the Common European Asylum System                                               30
  4.2		 An EU budget to support needed change                                                             34
  4.3		 Monitoring implementation of flexible solidarity                                                  38
5 Conclusions                                                                                             41
Abbreviations                                                                                             46
Bibliography                                                                                              47

Box, figures and tables
Box 1          An example scoreboard for EU flexible solidarity on asylum and migration                   40

Figure 1       Average attitudes in EU member states included in all ESS waves, 2002–17                   15
Figure 2       Polarization within Hungary and Germany over time                                          16
Figure 3       Facebook comments on migration-related articles in German regional newspapers, 2012-2017 17
Figure 4       How are attitudes toward immigrants in Europe shaped by regional contexts?                 18
Figure 5       Effects of changes in policy features on the probability of accepting the overall asylum
               and refugee policy (percentage points)                                                     21
Figure 6       Number of asylum applications per 1,000 inhabitants and their dispersion among
               EU countries (coefficient of variation), 1999–2018                                         32

Table 1        Possible values (or ‘policy features’) of the six policy dimensions that make up
               the overall asylum and refugee policy                                                      21
Table 2        Budgetary changes in the MFF 2021–27 compared with the MFF 2014–20                         34
Table 3        Financial compensation based on flexible solidarity                                        36
Table 4        Potential financial compensation in the MFF 2021–27                                        37

Table B1.1     Scoreboard for EU flexible solidarity in asylum and migration                              40

2019 MEDAM Assessment Report

on Asylum and Migration Policies in Europe

        he arrival of more than one million asylum           immigration, and the living conditions and prospects
        seekers in Europe in 2015 exposed serious flaws      of immigrants in countries of destination. Drawing
        in the EU’s asylum system. While the inflow          on our own research as well as the existing body of
of irregular migrants has long subsided, the political       literature, we have explored the resulting opportuni-
landscape and public debate in Europe have been fun-         ties, challenges, and trade-offs and have embarked on
damentally and permanently altered. Multiple efforts         a dialogue with stakeholders at EU and member state
over the years to reform the European asylum system          level on options for more effective internal and exter-
and to make it resilient to possible future surges in ref-   nal policies.
ugee movements have reached an impasse.                         A recurring theme in our research is that migra-
   Since early 2016, the EU has implemented far-reach-       tion must be managed if it is to deliver benefits for
ing agreements with neighboring countries to curb            migrants, countries of origin, and countries of desti-
irregular immigration, including the EU-Turkey un-           nation. Furthermore, to manage migration to Europe
derstanding, the closure of the Western Balkans mi-          effectively and share responsibility equitably for re-
gration route, and support for search and rescue op-         fugee protection, the EU and its member states must
erations by the Libyan coast guard and the return to         cooperate on equal terms with migrants’ countries of
Libya of individuals rescued at sea. However, the EU         origin and transit.
and its member states have not used the respite offered         The new European Commission has an opportunity
by fewer irregular migrants arriving in Europe to ad-        to start afresh to address the persistent challenges in
dress important shortcomings: key provisions of the          asylum and immigration policies. We explain in this
EU-Turkey agreement are not functional, especially           report how allowing EU member states greater flexi-
for the return of migrants from the Greek islands to         bility in how they contribute to the common asylum
Turkey; asylum systems in Western Balkan coun-               system may be one way forward. Furthermore, non-EU
tries are underdeveloped and would be overwhelmed            countries of origin and transit have an overwhelming
quickly if migrant flows were to resurge; and the hu-        interest in expanding opportunities for their citizens
man rights of migrants in Libya are routinely violated.      to work in Europe legally. Cooperation in other areas,
   In 2016—just after the peak of the so-called migra-       including containing irregular migration, would likely
tion crisis—the Mercator Dialogue on Asylum and              benefit from EU member states permitting more legal
Migration (MEDAM) was established to pursue two              labor migration from non-EU countries.
objectives: first, to improve our understanding of the          As the first phase of MEDAM draws to a close, we
interrelated challenges facing the EU and its member         thank Stiftung Mercator for making our work possi-
states in the areas of asylum, migration, and mobility;      ble. We highly appreciate their continuing trust and
and second, to engage European policy makers and             support as we embark on the second phase of MEDAM
civil society in a broad and open debate about compre-       (2020 to 2022) where we will focus on migration from
hensive, implementable solutions to these challenges.        Africa to Europe and on a more nuanced understan-
   Since then, MEDAM researchers have analyzed im-           ding of voter preferences regarding migration-related
portant features of the European migration system            policies.
and mapped out their mutual interdependencies—                  We hope that this 2019 MEDAM Assessment Report
including the drivers of migration in countries of ori-      will stimulate and inform the crucial debate on how to
gin, the decision making of migrants, popular atti-          protect refugees effectively and harness labor migra-
tudes towards immigration and immigration policies,          tion to benefit migrants, host societies, and countries
EU and member states policies for asylum and regular         of origin.

                                                             Prof. Gabriel Felbermayr, PhD
                                                             President, Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW)
                                                             Senior Project Director, Mercator Dialogue on Asylum and Migration (MEDAM)

2019 MEDAM Assessment Report

on Asylum and Migration Policies in Europe

About the Authors
Mikkel Barslund is a research fellow and head of the     Matthias coordinates the MEDAM project, guiding
Ageing Societies Programme at the Centre for Euro-       the development of MEDAM’s research agenda and
pean Policy Studies (CEPS), a leading think tank in      leading the project’s outreach to stakeholders. He has
Brussels. He is responsible for a range of projects on   consulted widely for national governments and inter-
the economics of ageing societies, migration, and la-    national organizations.
bor mobility at CEPS. Within the MEDAM project,
Mikkel is leading CEPS’ work on EU asylum and mi-        Martin Ruhs is Chair in Migration Studies and
gration policy and has contributed to work on asylum     Deputy Director of the Migration Policy Centre
and legal migration pathways, the situation in the       (MPC) at the European University Institute (EUI)
Mediterranean and integration of refugees. Prior to      in Florence. He is on long-term leave from the Uni-
joining CEPS, he worked as a senior economist at the     versity of Oxford. Martin’s research focuses on the
Danish Economic Councils and as a Research Fellow        economics and politics of international migration,
at KU Leuven. Besides his policy research, he manages    with a strong international comparative dimension.
the European Network of Economic Policy Research         In his role as one of the MEDAM’s academic co-
Institutes and is the CEPS editor of Intereconomics.     directors, he is currently working on key questions
                                                         and dilemmas in public policy making, and the
Matthias Lücke is a senior researcher at the Kiel In-    public opinion on asylum and migration policies
stitute for the World Economy, an adjunct professor      in particular. Martin has provided policy analysis
at Kiel University, and a former senior economist at     and advice for various national governments and
the International Monetary Fund. In his research and     international institutions, published extensively in
teaching, he focuses on migration, development, in-      his field, and has written for the New York Times,
ternational trade policy, and European integration.      Financial Times, Guardian and Irish Times.

2019 MEDAM Assessment Report

on Asylum and Migration Policies in Europe

Executive summary
         he new European Commission will inherit an            EU and countries of origin and transit can all bene-
         impasse in efforts to reform the European asy-        fit from cooperating on border management, refugee
         lum system as well as concerns about practices        protection, and expanding legal labor migration to the
in the management of the EU’s external border that             EU (section 3). Finally, we consider the implications
contradict humanitarian standards and may even                 for cooperation among EU member states and the
be illegal. While the number of asylum seekers who             long-standing plans for reform of the European asy-
­manage to reach EU territory is now lower than in pre-        lum system (section 4).
 vious years, it may be low precisely because of those
 problematic practices, including abuse of irregular           What do the people want? Attitudes and
 migrants along the Western Balkan route, limited
 ­                                                             policy preferences (section 2)
 search and rescue capacity in the Central Mediter-
 ranean, and EU cooperation with the Libyan coast                Insight #1: Attitudes to immigration have re-
 guard even though migrants returned by it to Libya              mained fairly stable across most European coun-
 have been abused.                                               tries, but the perceived importance of migration as
    In this 2019 MEDAM Assessment Report, we pres-               a public policy issue has increased.
 ent insights from MEDAM research and policy dia-
 logue since 2016 to explain how closer cooperation              Insight #2: Attitudes to immigration tend to be
 among EU member states and with countries of origin             more positive in local areas with greater shares of
 and transit can improve outcomes for all stakehold-             migrants. However, this relationship is influenced
 ers. Crucially, short of establishing a new Iron Curtain        by the socioeconomic context: as the socioeconomic
 on the EU’s external border or continuing to tolerate           conditions of local areas worsen (e.g., with higher
 abuses, there is no way that either individual member           unemployment rates and lower incomes per capita),
 states or the EU as a whole can insulate themselves             the positive effects of the share of migrants on at-
 from irregular migrants and asylum seekers. Yet, if             titudes become smaller and they eventually disap-
 crossing the EU border enabled all irregular migrants           pear in the most deprived areas.
 to remain in the EU for good, the integrity of EU visa
 and asylum policies would be undermined.                        Insight #3: Europeans are generally committed
    Thus, close cooperation with countries of origin for         to policies that provide protection for asylum seek-
 the return and readmission of their citizens who have           ers and refugees, but they express support for more
 no right to remain in the EU is crucial. Still, it is typi-     policy controls, such as limits and conditions, in
 cally not in the interest of countries of origin to limit       asylum and refugee policies. There is no evidence
 the mobility of their citizens. Cooperation between             of widespread public support for highly restrictive
 the EU and countries of origin must therefore cover a           policies that eliminate protection and assistance.
 wide enough range of policies to ensure that all parties
 consistently benefit from the policy package and have         A key implication of these insights is that, contrary
 a strong incentive to meet their commitments. We              to the impression created in public debates in many
 emphasize more EU support for refugees hosted by              European countries, it is possible to garner public
 low- and middle-income countries and more legal em-           support for asylum and refugee policies that provide
 ployment opportunities for non-EU citizens in the EU.         protection and assistance. To achieve this, policy mak-
    Rethinking EU asylum and migration policies along          ers need to think carefully about policy design (e.g.,
 these lines requires extensive consultations and nego-        when and how to use policy limits and conditions, and
 tiations among stakeholders in Europe and in coun-            how to distribute refugees across geographical areas)
 tries of origin and transit. Our ‘insights’ are meant to      and about how to communicate their policy ideas and
 inform and stimulate such conversations. However,             objectives to the public. The design of policy needs
 sustainable reforms will come only as the result of           to take into account what we know about the likely
 stakeholders working out the details and developing a         responses from the resident population to various
 sense of ownership of the necessary reforms.                  different policy options. The communication of pub-
    Our first set of insights relates to popular attitudes     lic policies needs to relate to the reasons behind the
 toward immigration and the structure of public pref-          increasing salience of immigration as a policy issue,
 erences for asylum and refugee protection policies            including concerns about a perceived lack of state con-
 (section 2 of this report). Next, we explain how the          trol over immigration.

2019 MEDAM Assessment Report

            Cooperation with countries of origin and                       opportunities, skill partnerships, study visas, etc.,
            transit on border and migration manage­                        can make support for involuntary returns politi-
            ment, as well as legal labor migration                         cally sustainable in countries of origin and provide
            (section 3)                                                    a viable alternative to individuals who might other-
                                                                           wise contemplate irregular migration.
              Insight #4: Limiting irregular immigration into
              the EU while safeguarding refugees’ access to pro-           Insight #9: Contrary to earlier studies, our empir-
              tection (either in Europe or in regions of origin) re-       ical research indicates that income growth in low-
              quires close cooperation not only among EU mem-              and middle-income countries of origin tends to
              ber states, but also with countries of origin and            reduce emigration, as does development assistance
              transit. Yet, countries of origin, transit, and desti-       for better public services and social infrastructure.
              nation may have diverging interests with respect to          Nevertheless, the reductions in emigration due to
              border and migration management. Therefore, co-              higher income or development assistance are too
              operation needs to cover a sufficiently wide range of        small to render development cooperation an effec-
              policy areas so that all parties can be sure to benefit,     tive tool to manage emigration.
              and the underlying agreements become politically
              sustainable and self-enforcing.                            Thus, the new European Commission faces the key
                                                                         challenge of making a fresh start in its cooperation
              Insight #5: If the EU wants to enforce its visa pol-       with countries of origin and transit, with a focus on
              icy and control the inflow of non-EU nationals into        listening to stakeholders and taking their interests
              the EU, it needs to work with neighboring coun-            on board. This is the first step towards negotiating
              tries toward limiting access to EU territory to those      self-enforcing agreements with partner country gov-
              non-EU citizens who have valid travel documents.           ernments that lead to effective return and readmission
              Otherwise, particularly if there are no restrictions       of non-EU citizens, which remains a precondition for
              on irregular travel along the informal Mediterra-          effective and humane management of the EU’s exter-
              nean migration routes and on subsequent entry              nal border.
              into the EU, large numbers of asylum seekers might
              overwhelm reception capacity in EU member states.          EU and member state policies and
              Still, given the ongoing abuses at the EU’s external       ­cooperation (section 4)
              border, it must be emphasized that border and mi-
              gration management must be in line with humani-              Insight #10: The start of the new European Com-
              tarian standards and migrants’ rights.                       mission’s mandate provides an opportunity to re-
                                                                           consider the approach taken towards the reform
              Insight #6: Low- and middle-income countries                 of the Common European Asylum System. The
              host most of the world’s refugees. As a matter of hu-        current package approach—whereby agreement
              manitarian principle and to discourage secondary             is sought on all legislative files simultaneously—
              migration to the EU, the EU should share actively            means that the contentious proposal for reforming
              in the responsibility for protecting these refugees          the Dublin Regulation is blocking any further pro-
              through adequate long-term financial and technical           gress. Pursuing a file-by-file approach and moving
              support and by working with host countries to facil-         forward on those individual legislative proposals
              itate the refugees’ economic and social integration.         where there is broad agreement among member
                                                                           states can break the present deadlock.
              Insight #7: Whatever the level of external finan-
              cial support, small host countries may simply be             Insight #11: Only a few small EU member states
              overburdened by a large number of refugees. In               are currently overburdened by a disproportionately
              such cases, the EU should participate actively in re-        high number of asylum applications (mainly Cy-
              settlement schemes for vulnerable refugees.                  prus, Malta, and Greece). Given continuing disa-
                                                                           greement over the feasibility and extent of a manda-
              Insight #8: The integrity of the EU asylum system            tory relocation scheme for asylum seekers, it should
              depends on effective procedures for the return and           now be a priority to establish working procedures
              readmission by their countries of origin of non-EU           for a coalition of willing countries to relocate asy-
              citizens who have no right to remain in the EU. Yet,         lum seekers rescued in the Central Mediterranean.
              many countries of origin find it politically difficult       Such procedures would go a long way to relieve the
              to support the involuntary return of their citizens.         few countries that are truly overburdened.
              Despite many agreements on the books, cooper-
              ation on return and readmission is often less than           Insight #12: Negotiations on the EU’s 2021-2027
              smooth in practice. The EU should explore with               Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) offer an
              countries of origin how additional legal migration           important window for strengthening financial sol-

on Asylum and Migration Policies in Europe

idarity among member states with respect to asy-          In sum, efforts to reform the EU asylum system have
lum and immigration. A dedicated budget line that         been deadlocked since 2016. The new Commission
compensates member states for each asylum seeker          can start afresh by adopting a new approach to asylum
received (possibly above a threshold) would be one        and migration policy that emphasizes the common
effective tool to ensure more solidarity. The same        interest of EU member states in managing the EU’s
mechanism could be used to support the voluntary          external border effectively and humanely and helping
relocation of refugees among member states.               to protect refugees world-wide as signatory states of
                                                          the 1951 Refugee Convention. At the same time, this
Insight #13: The next MFF should also increase            approach would allow member states to contribute to
support for other important elements of European          the common tasks in line with their capacities: Finan-
migration and asylum policies. The EU Asylum            cial contributions would go through the EU budget
and Border and Coast Guard Agencies should be           and member state shares would be the same as for the
put in a position to provide additional assistance to   overall budget. More flexibility would be allowed par-
member states as needed. Likewise, the EU budget        ticularly in the hosting of asylum seekers, recognized
should support programs aiding resettlement from        refugees, or refugees resettled by UNHCR.
third countries (insight #7), humanitarian visas            The proposed monitoring mechanism would en-
(when warranted), and labor migration schemes           courage transparency and constructive debate among
(insight #8). Additional funding for refugees hosted    member states on how responsibility for implementing
by non-EU countries is also warranted on humani-        EU asylum and migration policies should be shared
tarian grounds and to discourage secondary migra-       fairly; how member states should contribute to closer
tion to Europe (insight #6).                            cooperation with countries of origin and transit, in-
                                                        cluding by expanding opportunities for legal labor
Insight #14: To move the EU’s asylum and mi-            ­migration; and how member states should contribute
gration policy forward towards more solidarity           to refugee protection worldwide through humani-
among EU member states and with non-EU coun-             tarian and development cooperation and by hosting
tries that host refugees, we recommend that the new      refugees resettled by UNHCR. Well-designed and
Commission establish a monitoring mechanism (or          ­carefully coordinated actions are required in these di-
scoreboard) to collect information on each member         verse policy fields to overcome the current deficiencies
state’s exposure and contribution to all elements of      in the management of the EU’s external border and
asylum and migration policy (irrespective of area         build the capacity of the EU asylum system, both at
of competence). The scoreboard would support an-          the EU and member state levels, so that the EU can
nual discussions on voluntary relocation and other        respond a­ dequately to future refugee situations as they
instruments of solidarity.                                may arise.

2019 MEDAM Assessment Report

on Asylum and Migration Policies in Europe

1 Introduction
         he new European Commission, like its prede-          ropean voters want? Specifically, does the rise of right-
         cessor, faces interrelated challenges in the areas   wing, anti-asylum, anti-immigration parties in several
         of border management, irregular immigration          EU countries indicate a broad shift by the EU popula-
to the EU, and asylum policy—all set within the larg-         tion toward more skeptical attitudes on immigration
er context of EU relations with migrants’ countries of        and asylum? We paint a more nuanced picture that
origin in the European neighborhood and beyond.               indicates a broad popular desire for state authorities to
Although far fewer irregular immigrants are entering          be able to control borders and the inflow of migrants,
EU territory now than in 2015, this is in part the result     but also support for carefully regulated refugee protec-
of EU policies and practices in border management             tion (section 2).
that may not be sustainable without significant addi-            Second, we discuss how control over the external
tional effort (e.g., the EU-Turkey agreement) or may          EU border and immigration can only be exercised in
even be incompatible with humanitarian standards              close cooperation with countries of origin and transit
(e.g., the treatment of irregular migrants at some na-        (section 3). At the same time, it is often not in the eco-
tional borders in the Western Balkans).                       nomic or political interest of countries of origin and
   Hence, the challenge remains of designing policies         transit to help the EU restrict irregular migration—
for border management and asylum that align with              neither at the economy-wide and nor at the individual
humanitarian principles, enjoy the support of Euro-           level. In the absence of legal migration opportunities,
pean voters, and lead to a fair sharing of responsibility     irregular migration may be better than no migration
for refugee protection among EU member states and             at all for migrants, the recipients of their remittances,
with host countries in the rest of the world. In this         and countries of origin. To address this conundrum,
2019 MEDAM Assessment Report, we identify and                 we discuss possible elements of a comprehensive ap-
discuss key insights from our research and dialogue           proach to cooperation, which would extend not only
with stakeholders since 2016 to inform the design of          to border management and the return and readmis-
policies under the new Commission. We emphasize               sion of non-EU citizens who have no right to remain
the interdependence of policies in areas as seemingly         in Europe, but also to support for refugees in low- and
separate as border management and refugee integra-            middle-income countries, development assistance,
tion in low- and middle-income countries. Above all,          and legal employment opportunities in the EU. We
we explain how cooperation with migrants’ countries           emphasize that effective cooperation must start by
of origin and transit in different policy areas is key to     listening to the concerns of stakeholders in countries
effective and humane policies on asylum and immi-             of origin and transit, and then jointly developing pol-
gration and on border management.                             icy packages that benefit all parties and are therefore
   A process of rethinking asylum and migration               ‘self-enforcing.’
policies in Europe must begin with conversations                 Third, attempts to impose cooperation among EU
on a wide range of migration-related policies among           member states on asylum and other migration-related
stakeholders in Europe and, equally, in countries of          policies by majority vote have failed in the past and,
origin and transit, especially in the European neigh-         in our view, are unlikely to succeed in the future. Yet,
borhood and in Africa. The European Commission                refugee protection is in important ways a public good
plays a key role in the design of many relevant pol-          at the EU level and requires coordinated actions by the
icies and is therefore well placed to advance the de-         Commission and member states to be effective. We
bate. The insights that we present in this Assessment         discuss how the new European Commission can make
Report demonstrate how the current impasse in EU              a fresh start on the long-standing legislative reforms of
asylum and migration policies can be overcome and             the European asylum system; how common actions in
how politically sustainable, humane, and effective            asylum and migration policy should be costed in the
policies can be developed. In this process, while our         2021–27 Multiannual Financial Framework; and how
‘insights’ suggest directions, actual policies will be        a monitoring system for member states’ contributions
shaped by conversations and negotiations among                to asylum policy can help to combine the necessary
stakeholders.                                                 flexibility for member states regarding their contri-
   In this Assessment Report, we address three broad          butions with the fundamental need for responsibility
topics. First, what asylum and refugee policies do Eu-        sharing and solidarity (section 4).

2019 MEDAM Assessment Report

            2 Public attitudes to
            ­immigration and asylum policy
             preferences in the EU                                                                                                      Lead Author: Martin Ruhs

                     key goal of MEDAM is to identify the oppor-                                    Many of the asylum and migration policy changes
                     tunities for, and obstacles to more effective and                           proposed or made in EU member states in recent years
                     sustainable common EU policy making in the                                  have been explicitly based on the argument that these
            area of asylum and migration. We argue that a better                                 new policies are needed because ‘the public wants
            understanding of Europeans’ public attitudes to im-                                  them’ and ‘they are necessary to win back public trust
            migration and asylum policies—how they vary across                                   and confidence’ in national governments. For example,
            individuals and countries, how they have changed over                                the Austrian-Danish vision paper published in 2018
            time, and their causes and consequences—is of critical                               proposed to reduce radically opportunities to apply
            importance to promoting more cooperative and effec-                                  for asylum in Europe in order to restore public trust
            tive policy approaches among EU member states.                                       in government.1 It is an important task for research to
               There are at least three interrelated reasons why it                              scrutinize these arguments made by politicians in dif-
            is important, from a policy perspective, to study pub-                               ferent EU member states, and to provide greater clarity
            lic attitudes to migrants and public policy preferences                              on what the available data on public attitudes do and
            vis-à-vis asylum and migration policies. First, public                               do not say about public concerns related to migrants
            attitudes and policy preferences can—and often do—                                   and refugees.
            play an important role in the politics of migration,                                    One specific issue that remains poorly understood,
            and in public policy making more generally. We know                                  but which is particularly important for policy debates
            from existing research that migration and other pub-                                 and policy making, is what people think about asylum
            lic policies are not only determined by ‘interests’ (such                            and migration policies. All asylum and migration pol-
            as the economic interests of employers) and ‘institu-                                icies are multidimensional in the sense that they re-
            tions’ (such as national parliamentary systems and                                   quire multiple policy decisions, on different aspects of
            welfare states), but also by ‘ideas,’ including people’s                             the overall policy package, at the same time. For exam-
            fundamental normative beliefs, values, and public atti-                              ple, asylum and refugee policies are not only about ad-
            tudes. Understanding public attitudes is thus essential                              mitting ‘fewer or more refugees’ but also about other
            to help both explain current and past migration poli-                                matters:
            cies, and identify realistic opportunities for achieving
            more cooperative policies on migration across mem-                                   • how to regulate the assessment of asylum applica-
            ber states within the EU, and also between the EU and                                  tions;
            other countries.                                                                     • what employment and welfare rights to grant to asy-
               A second and related reason stems from the political                                lum seekers and recognized refugees;
            legitimacy and sustainability of public policies in lib-                             • what to do with people whose applications for asy-
            eral democracies. There can be many legal and moral                                    lum are refused;
            reasons—such as the requirements of existing interna-                                • whether and how to help first countries of asylum
            tional laws or a perceived moral duty to offer protec-                                 near conflict zones;
            tion to people in need—why public policies should not                                • the admission of refugees who are resettled directly
            always follow public attitudes. It is also clear, however,                             from conflict zones; and
            that sustainable asylum and migration policies require                               • the role of the EU in all these processes and deci-
            at least a degree of public support. Misunderstanding                                  sions.
            the characteristics and causes of the public’s support
            or opposition to different types of migration and mi-                                  Most existing research focuses on public attitudes
            gration policies, especially of their (alleged or real)                              to migration rather than migration policies. As a con-
            changes over time, can contribute to policy responses                                sequence, we know very little about people’s attitudes
            that do not actually deal with the real issues driving                               to the various different components of asylum and
            public views and that, therefore, may ultimately prove                               migration policies, which policy aspects generate the
            unsustainable.                                                                       most support or opposition, or about how they would

              See Austrian Ministry of the Interior and Danish Ministry of Immigration and Integration, “Vision for a Better Protection System in a Globalized World,” Vienna and
            Copenhagen, October 2018,

on Asylum and Migration Policies in Europe

view trade-offs and prioritize between competing pol-                            and proposals by Austria and Denmark to limit se-
icy objectives.                                                                  verely the right to apply for asylum in Europe). This
   A third reason why a better understanding of public                           has further deepened divisions and raised profound
attitudes and policy preferences is critical to improved                         questions not only about the meaning of ‘solidarity’
policy making relates to the challenge of designing sus-                         in Europe but also about the future of the EU and its
tainable common migration policy approaches across                               ability to find common ground on a fundamental and,
the EU. Almost five years after the large inflows of asy-                        some would argue, existential policy challenge.
lum seekers and other migrants during the ­so-called                                To find an effective and sustainable new EU policy
refugee crisis in 2015–16, member states ­remain deeply                          approach to asylum and migration we need to un-
divided about how to reform and rebuild Europe’s asy-                            derstand how and why public attitudes to migration
lum, refugee, and migration policies. Some member                                and migration policies differ across individuals and
states see the solution to the immigration challenge as                          countries, and what role these differences play in
lying in ‘more Europe’ (e.g., through centralization of                          the politics of migration across EU member states.
the EU asylum system) and ‘greater solidarity’ among                             Cross-country differences in attitudes that are due to
member states (e.g., through redistribution of refugees                          underlying structural factors that cannot be changed
across countries). Other member states appear to have                            in the short run can have notable implications for how
given up waiting on EU policy reform and instead                                 to design common EU policies on asylum and migra-
pursued national or transnational policy responses,                              tion. ­Arguably, policy debates in recent years have
involving just a few ‘like-minded’ EU member states                              not paid enough attention to these potential varia-
(e.g., joint measures by Austria and nine Balkan states                          tions across EU member states, or the implications for
in 2016 to help ‘close down’ the Western Balkan route,                           ­common policy making.

Figure 1 Average attitudes in EU member states included in all ESS waves, 2002–17

    Weighted average                             Belgium                                       Finland                                       France

    Germany                                      Hungary                                       Ireland                                       Netherlands

    Poland                                       Portugal                                      Slovenia                                      Spain


                                                                                             06 5

                                                                                                                                           06 5

                                                                                             04 3

                                                                                                                                           04 3

                                                                                             08 7

                                                                                                                                           08 7















    Sweden                                       United Kingdom
6                                                                                                                               The country's cultural life
                                                                                                                                is undermined by immigrants
4                                                                                                                               Immigrants make the country
3                                                                                                                               a worse or better place to live
                                                                                                                                Immigration is bad or good


 06 5

                                               06 5

 04 3

                                               04 3

 08 7

                                               08 7










                                                                                                                                for the country's economy






Source: Ademmer and Stöhr 2018a.
Notes: The sample is restricted to those states that are EU members as of 2018 and have been surveyed in each European Social Survey (ESS) wave to prevent EU averages from being
skewed by the accession of new member states. Averages are calculated using ESS weights to control for the probability of being sampled for the survey within an individual country and
the population size of the country. The averages are thus representative of the population distribution within the country and the population of EU countries covered here. The answer
scale runs from 0 to 10, where 10 indicates the most positive assessment. Some EU countries are not covered in the graphs because the question has not been continuously asked in them.

2019 MEDAM Assessment Report

               Insight #1: Attitudes to immigration have re-                                On average, people are rather agnostic about the
               mained fairly stable across most European coun-                              ­overall impact of migrants on their economies and
               tries, but the perceived importance of migration as                           societies.
               a public policy issue has increased.                                             While there has been no widespread turn against
                                                                                             immigration, in some EU countries public attitudes
            There is a common perception in policy debates that                              have become more polarized. In other words, many
            the large increase in the numbers of asylum seek-                                people now hold stronger views about immigration
            ers and other migrants arriving in Europe during                                 and its impacts than they did in 2002. This is the case,
            2015 and 2016 has led to a marked change in public                               for example, in Germany and Hungary (see figure 2).
            attitudes to immigration across EU member states,                                   Another significant change in attitudes to immigra-
            making them more negative. This alleged change in                                tion that has occurred over the past few years relates
            public sentiments toward migrants and refugees has                               to the salience of immigration as a public policy issue.
            frequently been used to justify changes to asylum and                            Salience is not about positive or negative views on a
            refugee policies at both national and EU levels.                                 particular issue, but about the relative importance of
               There is no evidence to support the idea that Eu-                             the issue to respondents. Public opinion data suggest
            ropeans have turned against immigration in recent                                a rapid increase in the salience of immigration during
            years. Attitudes have been surprisingly stable and                               2015–16 in many European countries and research
            turned more positive toward migrants in many EU                                  suggests that this surge has positively affected electoral
            countries, with few exceptions. As shown in figure 1,                            support for populist right parties (Dennison 2019;
            survey data from the European Social Survey (ESS)                                Dennison and Geddes 2018). The growing salience of
            for 13 EU member states suggest that Europeans as-                               immigration suggested by data on public attitudes is
            sess the impact of immigration on their country and                              confirmed by MEDAM analysis of how migrants and
            its economy and culture in a more positive light than                            refugees are discussed in social media. Social media is
            they did in 2002—even in the aftermath of the 2015                               ever more used as a platform for immigration debates.
            refugee inflow. Hungary is a prominent exception.                                The so-called refugee crisis dramatically multiplied
            Public perceptions of the impacts of immigration                                 the number of people discussing migration issues on-
            vary relatively little across these EU member states.                            line (see figure 3).

            Figure 2 Polarization within Hungary and Germany over time

                      Germany, 2002/2003                                   Germany, 2014/2015                                   Germany, 2016/2017
            40 %

            30 %

            20 %

             10 %


                      Hungary, 2002/2003                                   Hungary, 2014/2015                                   Hungary, 2016/2017
            40 %

            30 %

            20 %

             10 %

                     0                 5                10                0                  5                10               0                  5                10
                                                                                                  Immigrants make country worse or better place to live

            Source: Ademmer and Stöhr 2018a.
            Note: Respondents were asked whether immigrants make a country a better or worse place to live in. The answer 0 indicates “much worse,” 5 “neither worse nor
            better,” and 10 “much better.” Survey responses adjusted for sampling probability.

on Asylum and Migration Policies in Europe

 Figure 3 Facebook comments on migration-related articles in German regional newspapers,

 a. Facebook user comments under articles on                                                                b. Number of unique Facebook commenters under
 ­migration and asylum posted by German regional                                                            articles on migration and asylum posted by German
  newspapers on Facebook                                                                                    regional newspapers on Facebook

                                                                         New Year's Eve 2015                                                                      New Year's Eve 2015
  Absolute number of
comments per month

                                                                                                          Absolute number of
                                                                                                        comments per month
                                                            Height of
                                                            the inflow                                                                                                 Height of          Terrorist attack
                                                                                                                                                                      the inflow              in Berlin
                                                                                                                                                           Foundation of
                       40,000                                                  Terrorist attack                                20                             Pegida
                                                                               in Berlin

                                                                                                                                    First larger inflows
                                                       Foundation of                                                                of Syrian refugees
                       20,000                             Pegida                                                               10
                                First larger inflows
                                of Syrian refugees

                           0                                                                                                   0
                                 Jan          Jan           Jan            Jan        Jan                                                 Jan               Jan        Jan          Jan           Jan
                                2013         2014          2015           2016       2017                                                2013              2014       2015         2016          2017

 Source: Ademmer and Stöhr 2018b.

    What are the implications of these changes for na-                                            expectation and thus constitute a counterproductive
 tional and EU policies on asylum and refugees? First,                                            policy strategy).
 although public attitudes to immigration have not
 become more negative in recent years, the increasing                                               Insight #2: Attitudes to immigration tend to be
 salience of the issue and the polarization of attitudes                                            more positive in local areas with greater shares of
 in many countries have compounded the policy con-                                                  migrants. However, this relationship is influenced
 straints for policy makers. A basic but key implication                                            by the socioeconomic context: as the socioeconomic
 is that, to respond effectively to changes in public atti-                                         conditions of local areas worsen (e.g., with higher
 tudes over the past few years, policy makers need to be                                            unemployment rates and lower incomes per capita),
 focused on the actual changes that have taken place,                                               the positive effects of the share of migrants on
 i.e., changes in degrees of polarization and salience                                              ­attitudes become smaller and they eventually dis-
 rather than in sentiments toward migrants. In par-                                                 appear in the most deprived areas.
 ticular, there is an urgent need to consider the causes
 of the increasing salience of immigration as a policy                                            How are people’s attitudes to immigration linked to
 issue, especially among those parts of the population                                            the share of migrants in the local population of a par-
 with negative views on immigration. The rising scale                                             ticular area? Does an increase in the physical presence
 of immigration is likely to be a factor, but so is the per-                                      of migrants—on the streets, in the neighborhoods,
 ceived loss of control over borders during 2015–16. It is                                        at work, on the bus, at school—exert a positive or a
 also important to reflect critically on various processes                                        negative effect on how the majoritarian populations
 of politicization of migrants and refugees in domestic                                           perceive migrants? These are important questions not
 policy debates.                                                                                  only for research but also for public policy debates
    A second, related implication concerns political                                              about, for example, whether and how asylum seekers
 narratives and communication. Politicians who wish                                               or refugees should be distributed across different local
 to respond to the growing salience of immigration, in-                                           areas within and across EU countries.
 cluding among people with negative views of migrants,                                               In theory, the impact of the presence of migrants on
 need to use words and language that are relevant to the                                          attitudes to immigration in a particular area may be
 values and beliefs of people holding those views (see                                            shaped by two potentially competing forces. On the
 Dennison and Geddes 2018). Increases in the salience                                             one hand, a higher share of migrants in the local pop-
 of immigration often coincide with periods when there                                            ulation may promote greater contact with pre-existing
 is a perceived loss of control over immigration. Policy                                          residents and thus encourage mutual understand-
 narratives need to include the language of ‘control’,                                            ing and more positive attitudes toward immigration
 but without suggesting that all aspects of immigra-                                              (‘contact theory’). On the other hand, a higher share of
 tion can be controlled (which would be an unrealistic                                            migrants may create feelings of increased threat asso-

2019 MEDAM Assessment Report

                                                                    ciated with the development of different types of fears,                                                                                 To shed light on these crucial questions, MEDAM
                                                                    such as intensified competition for jobs and more                                                                                     research (Hoxhaj and Zuccotti 2019) has investigated
                                                                    pressures on public services (‘threat theory’). Given                                                                                 whether and how the relationship between the pres-
                                                                    these potentially counteracting forces, the actual re-                                                                                ence of migrants and individuals’ attitudes toward
                                                                    lationship between the concentration of migrants and                                                                                  migrants is influenced by the socioeconomic charac-
                                                                    attitudes to immigration is a central question for em-                                                                                teristics of the area (as measured by local unemploy-
                                                                    pirical research.                                                                                                                     ment rates and income per capita). In line with the ex-
                                                                       Most existing studies have found that individuals                                                                                  isting research literature, this new research finds that
                                                                    who reside in neighborhoods or small areas (i.e., prov-                                                                               individuals who reside in areas with a higher share of
                                                                    inces or small regions) with a higher migrant concen-                                                                                 migrants have, in general, a more positive attitude to-
                                                                    tration have, in general, more positive views toward                                                                                  wards them (figure 4 illustrates the positive estimated
                                                                    immigration compared with individuals who live in                                                                                     effect of the migrant share when unemployment is low
                                                                    areas with a lower concentration. These findings are                                                                                  or per capita income high). However, this estimated ef-
                                                                    typically explained with reference to contact theory.                                                                                 fect is conditioned by the socioeconomic context: The
                                                                    Yet, with few exceptions, most of these studies have                                                                                  positive marginal effect of the migrant share on atti-
                                                                    disregarded the complexities of the environment in                                                                                    tudes decreases as socioeconomic conditions worsen.
                                                                    which individuals live, including the socioeconomic                                                                                      Nevertheless, even in areas where one would ex-
                                                                    context in which contacts with migrants occur.                                                                                        pect threat mechanisms to occur to the greatest ex-
                                                                       It is important to ask whether and how the socio-                                                                                  tent—i.e., areas with the poorest socioeconomic con-
                                                                    economic characteristics of an area might affect the                                                                                  ditions, where competition for public services and jobs
                                                                    relationship between the share of migrants and atti-                                                                                  is probably the highest—an increase in the migrant
                                                                    tudes to immigration. In practice, contact and threat                                                                                 share does not significantly worsen individuals’ atti-
                                                                    might coexist but the extent to which one of the two                                                                                  tudes towards migrants: When the unemployment rate
                                                                    theories prevails is likely to be related to the conditions                                                                           is above 12.5 percent (panel a) or log GDP per capita
                                                                    under which such contact or exposure occurs. While                                                                                    below 9.5 (€13,360; panel b), the ‘zero line’ lies within
                                                                    an increase of immigrants in poor areas does not nec-                                                                                 the boundaries of the confidence intervals around the
                                                                    essarily mean that attitudes toward immigration will                                                                                  estimated effects, meaning that the estimated effects
                                                                    worsen, poor socioeconomic conditions may discour-                                                                                    are not statistically different from zero.
                                                                    age the development of positive attitudes. Conversely,                                                                                   These new research findings have implications for
                                                                    contexts where social exchanges occur with less com-                                                                                  national and EU debates and for policy making on
                                                                    petition for resources are more likely to enhance posi-                                                                               migration, especially related to policies that aim to
                                                                    tive attitudes to immigration.                                                                                                        distribute asylum seekers and refugees across different

     Figure 4 How are attitudes toward immigrants in Europe shaped by regional contexts?
                                                               a.                                                                                                                                         b.

                                                                                                                    1 1.5 2 2.5 3 3.5 4 4.5 5

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             1 1.5 2 2.5 3 3.5 4 4.5 5
                                                                                                                                                Marginal effect of ShareMig
     Marginal effect of ShareMig

                                                                                                                                                                              -.005 -.0025 0 .0025 .005
                                   -.005 -.0025 0 .0025 .005

                                                                                                                      % of observations

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               % of observations
                                                                                                                    0 .5

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             0 .5

                                                               0    5     10     15    20    25        30     35                                                                                               5   6     7       8    9     10    11    12
                                                                               Unemployment rate                                                                                                                             Log GDP per capita

     Source: Hoxhaj and Zuccotti 2019.
     Notes: This figure shows how local socio-economic factors such as unemployment (Graph 1) and GDP per capita (Graph 2) influence the relationship between the share of
     immigrants and attitudes to immigration. The negative (positive) inclination of the bold line in Graph 1 (Graph 2) indicates that the worst the socio-economic conditions of the
     NUTS 3 area, the lower the positive effect of the immigrant’s share on attitudes to immigration. The effect of socio-economic conditions is relevant mostly in better off areas
     (significance intervals presented by the dashed lines are both above the 0 line).
     ShareMig = share of migrants in the local area population.
     NUTS 3: Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics (NUTS), are standardized geographies that are often used for the elaboration and presentation of cross-national
     ­statistics in Europe The definition of NUTS3 includes areas with a size between 150.000 and 800.000 inhabitants.

on Asylum and Migration Policies in Europe

local areas within countries, or among EU countries.        overall policy. The methodology facilitates analysis of
One basic but important implication is that any pol-        how specific policy features affect both support and
icy promoting the spatial (re-)distribution of refugees     opposition to the overall asylum and refugee policy.
should consider the socioeconomic characteristics of           The new MEDAM study defined an asylum and ref-
the areas in which they will reside. MEDAM research         ugee policy in terms of six underlying policy dimen-
suggests that placing refugees in areas with better so-     sions that regulate the following aspects:
cioeconomic characteristics is more likely to promote
migrants’ acceptance by the local population than           • the right to apply for asylum;
placing them in poorer areas (as many countries cur-        • the resettlement of already recognized refugees to
rently do).                                                   the EU from non-EU countries;
                                                            • the return of asylum seekers whose applications for
  Insight #3: Europeans are generally committed               protection have been unsuccessful;
  to policies that provide protection for asylum seek-      • family reunification for recognized refugees;
  ers and refugees but they express support for more        • the role of the EU in the governance of asylum and
  policy controls, such as limits and conditions, in          refugee issues; and
  asylum and refugee policies. There is no evidence         • financial assistance to non-EU countries hosting
  of widespread public support for highly restrictive         refugees.
  policies that eliminate protection and assistance.
                                                            Each of these six policy dimensions takes on two or
Despite the growing prominence of asylum and mi-            three possible values, which are all listed in table 1 be-
gration in public policy debates in Europe, we know         low.
surprisingly little about the types of asylum and refu-        The aim of the research is to establish what types
gee policies that Europeans support or oppose. While        of policy changes would generate the most public
there is a lot of research literature on public attitudes   support or opposition. We concentrated on studying
to immigration and individual immigrants in Europe          support and opposition to fundamental policy prin-
and other high-income countries (e.g., Hainmueller          ciples rather than very specific policy options. So, for
and Hopkins 2014), there has been considerably less         example, we asked about ‘annual limits’ to asylum ap-
research on attitudes to asylum seekers and refugees        plications in order to explore support for moving away
(but see Bansak, Hainmueller, and Hangartner 2016),         from the current status quo (‘no limits’), not because
and very limited work on asylum and refugee poli-           we wanted to assess support for a very specific policy
cies (exceptions include Bansak, Hainmueller, and           option. We used the idea of an annual limit as an ex-
Hangartner 2017). A notable limitation of the exist-        ample of a control measure in this policy dimension.
ing studies that do deal with public preferences on         The different values in the other dimensions should
asylum/refugee policies is that they focus on isolated      be considered and interpreted in a similar way, e.g.,
policy questions rather than taking a comprehensive         as illustrative examples of policy changes that would
approach that considers the inherent multidimension-        imply a fundamental change in the underlying policy
ality of the policy issue. Consequently, we have a poor     principles.
understanding of the policy features and changes that          The key results of the study are shown in figure 5.
would generate the most public support or opposition        The figure shows the effects of changes within policy
to the overall asylum and refugee policy.                   dimensions on the probability of accepting the over-
   To address this gap in existing research, and to con-    all ‘asylum and refugee policy’ relative to the reference
tribute to ongoing policy debates about how to reform       category. In each policy dimension, the first value (i.e.,
national and common refugee policies in Europe,             the policy feature listed first) serves as the reference
MEDAM researchers conducted a new study (Jeannet            category. For example, introducing an annual limit on
et al. 2019) that involved ‘conjoint survey experiments’    the number of asylum applications increases the prob-
with 12,000 people across eight European countries,         ability that an individual would support the overall
including Austria, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy,         asylum and refugee policy by just over 5 percentage
Poland, Spain, and Sweden (1,500 online survey inter-       points, while not allowing any family reunification for
views with a nationally representative sample in each       recognized refugees reduces the probability of accept-
country). Conjoint experiments are particularly useful      ance of the overall policy by just under 5 percentage
for studying public attitudes toward multidimensional       points. In the context of a conjoint experiment, these
(policy) issues.                                            effects are quite large.
   Rather than asking respondents to assess and rate           Figure 5 shows that, compared with the respective
certain policies independent of one another, conjoint       reference categories within each policy dimension, in-
experiments require respondents to make a series of         troducing an annual limit on the annual applications
constrained choices between pairs of policy options         for asylum, having a resource requirement for family
that differ across several ‘dimensions’ making up the       reunification, and conditioning financial assistance to

2019 MEDAM Assessment Report

            Table 1 Possible values (or ‘policy features’) of the six policy dimensions
            that make up the overall asylum and refugee policy

              Policy dimension             Randomly allocated values in experiment

              Applications for asylum      1. Anyone can apply for asylum in [YOUR COUNTRY] with no annual limits.
                                           2. Anyone can apply for asylum in [YOUR COUNTRY] until an annual limit is reached.

               Resettlement of             1. No resettlement of United Nations-recognized refugees to [YOUR COUNTRY]
              ­recognized refugees         2. Low resettlement of United Nations-recognized refugees to [YOUR COUNTRY]
                                              (1 person per 10000 citizens per year, i.e. [ country-specific population]).
                                           3. High resettlement of United Nations-recognized refugees to [YOUR COUNTRY]
                                              (2 or more persons per 10,000 citizens per year, i.e. [country-specific population]).

                                           [country-specific population]: For Italy (60 million) in 1b) “6,000”, in 2b) “more than

              Return to danger             1. Refused asylum seekers are never sent back to countries where they could face
                                              serious harm
                                           2. In some cases, refused asylum seekers can be sent back to countries where they
                                              could face serious harm.

              Family reunification for     1. A recognized refugee can always bring his/her spouse and children
              recognized refugees          2. A recognized refugee can bring his/her spouse and children only if the refugee
                                              can pay for their cost of living
                                           3. A recognized refugee cannot bring his/her spouse and children

               Decisions on asylum         1.  Each EU country makes its own decisions on asylum applications within its
              ­applications                   ­territory.
                                           2. A centralised European Union agency decides applications for asylum for all EU

              Financial solidarity         1. [YOUR COUNTRY] provides unconditional financial assistance to non-EU
                                              ­countries that host refugees.
                                           2. [YOUR COUNTRY] provides financial assistance to non-EU countries that host
                                               refugees only if they help reduce asylum seekers coming to Europe.
                                           3. [YOUR COUNTRY] provides no financial assistance to non-EU countries that host

            Source: Jeannet et al. 2019.

            non-EU countries hosting refugees on their efforts to          patterns of Europeans’ policy preferences are broadly
            reduce migration to Europe would increase Europe-              similar across different countries, although there are
            ans’ support for asylum and refugee policies.                  cross-country differences when it comes to resettle-
               On the other hand, public support would be reduced          ment, the role of the EU, and financial assistance to
            by a high rate of resettlement, sometimes sending              non-EU countries hosting refugees. For example, in
            failed asylum seekers (whose applications for protec-          Hungary both ‘low’ and ‘high’ rates of resettlement
            tion have been unsuccessful) back to dangerous places          have negative impacts, while in Spain they both in-
            (e.g., violating the principle of non-refoulement), never      crease acceptance of the overall asylum and refugee
            allowing family reunification for refugees, having an          policy. Italy is the only country where having a central
            EU agency rather than national governments assess              EU agency assess and decide on asylum applications
            and decide on applications for asylum in Europe, and           does not decrease public support.
            unconditional assistance to non-EU countries hosting              Overall, this research suggests that Europeans sup-
            large numbers of refugees.                                     port additional controls and conditions on various
               While there appears to be a widespread perception           ­aspects of asylum and refugee policies. The results
            that public attitudes to immigration and immigration            also suggest, however, that highly restrictive meas-
            policies differ considerably across European countries,         ures that would imply moving away from funda-
            the new MEDAM research finds that many of the key               mental principles underlying current policies, such
            features of the public’s preferred asylum and refugee           as sending people back to dangerous places (non-­
            policies are remarkably similar across countries. The           refoulment) and abolishing family r­eunification

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