The territorial dimension of EU Migration Policies: An ally for the future of the European project

By Maruxa Cardama, Adviser to the CPMR Secretariat on Global Agendas

“More than ever (…) we must express our solidarity and speak out together to take Europe forward on the path of its values!”
CPMR Solidarity Campaign “We are all Mediterranean” – May 2015


Two weeks ago, in this Web Forum, we published a call for a stronger role for regions in the EU’s response to migration from the perspective of the regional government of Valencia. In this follow-up post we provide some more information on the work that the CPMR and its member regions are undertaking in this area, which will feed into our reflection on the future of Europe. 

Against the backdrop of the complex humanitarian crisis around migration experienced in the European Union over the past years, and at the request of its Intermediterranean Commission, in 2015 the CPMR launched a Taskforce on Migration, led by Sicily and the region of Skåne. The Task Force has focused mainly on sharing experiences and political views between regional authorities and some cooperation projects. Underpinning this is the desire to strengthen cooperation and partnerships that add value, are innovative and enable more effective migration management and governance, and to demonstrate the effectiveness of a multilateral and multilevel governance approach to the EU and international organisations.

In May 2015, under the auspices of the Intermediterranean Commission, representatives of European Mediterranean regions launched the ‘We are all Mediterranean’ campaign, which received more than 1400 signatures, mainly from political representatives, gathered the full support of European Parliament President Martin Schulz, and an award from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean, delivered in 2016 to the former IMC CPMR president Michel Vauzelle.

Given the scandal of thousands of children, women and men who are drowning in the Mediterranean, fleeing war, persecution, poverty and extremism, this awareness-raising campaign aimed to reiterate the humanistic values of solidarity, intercultural and interreligious dialogue, socio-economic integration, active citizen participation and cooperation, the fight against racism, ethnocentrism and xenophobia on which the common European project is founded.

What is presented as a migration crisis in Europe – oblivious of the more demanding and further complex migration movements that other countries outside the EU are living – has placed regional and local authorities, particularly (although not exclusively) those with external EU borders, on the front line of responding to this humanitarian crisis without having sufficient means.

As CPMR regions have stated, local and regional authorities often bear the human, financial and technical responsibility of saving lives and supporting migrants in their economic and social integration regardless of their religion, skin colour or origin.

But there are things that local and regional authorities cannot approach within the remit of their competences and that any reflection of the future of the European Union must seriously address. CPMR members have underscored that Europe must, on one hand, be a protagonist in the peace process in the Mediterranean and tackle all organised crime networks (trafficking of arms and human beings etc.) and, on the other hand, it must respond to the humanitarian situation, ensure rescue operations at sea and welcome the migrants properly, in dignified conditions.

Europe must strengthen its efforts to develop its police and judicial cooperation with countries in crisis areas, their immediate neighbours and transit countries for migration flows; whilst promoting socio-economic cohesion and cooperation on the ground to support Mediterranean populations in their quest for development (for instance territorial and decentralised cooperation which could have a special impact on the ground).

Furthermore, the CPMR’s regions have urged the EU to take long-term pragrammatic approaches to address the root causes of illegal, forced migration. Instruments such as the European External Investment Plan (EIP) must be solidly linked to the European Neighbourhood Policy (which includes a pillar addressing the root causes of migration), Development and Cooperation Instruments, the Agenda for Migration, the European Fund for Sustainable Development, the European Trust Fund for Africa, and European Territorial Cooperation programmes involving regional and local authorities.

At the same time, any reflection on the future of the EUmust equally identify solutions to redress situations in which the will of regional and local authorities to be actors of positive change in the life of migrants, and to collaborate with their national governments in loyalty and complementarity, is hampered by legal and policy frameworks out of their remit. Priority in the reflection also needs to be given to ensuring adequate financial resources are made available to support management of migration at EU level.”

In this context, in autumn 2015 the Intermediterranean Commission addressed European Commission President Juncker proposing the use by Regions of unspent Cohesion and Neighbouring Policy Funds of the 2007-2013 programming period to address the current humanitarian crisis. Since 2015, the CPMR Secretariat has organised joint sessions between its Task Force on Migration and the European Commission (DG REGIO, DG HOME), members of the European Parliament and several public events to enable the debate on the flexibility that the European Commission would allow on the use of European Structural Investment Funds for migration priorities.

The CPMR, through the Intermediterranean Commission, officially represented by Catalonia and Western Greece, has also contributed to the work of the the Euro-Mediterranean Regional and Local Assembly (ARLEM) on migration. Details of the work involved – from political positioning, to dialogue facilitation and intervention projects – is available here. One pioneer action that the CPMR is promoting, with the leadership of Catalonia and the participation of regions from the southern and northern Europe is the “MIPEX Regions” project. This innovative action intends to set the ground for monitoring the integration of migrants at regional level, based on the successful MIPEX project that has been widely implemented in the EU at National level.

Many CPMR Regions recognise the positive contribution of migration on development from demographic, social and labour market points of view. They have also taken on responsibilities in human rights and, in particular in international protection. And they have taken concrete steps to welcome refugees, contrasting with the very slow implementation of the EU mechanism to relocate migrants and refugees across Member States. Such efforts should be recognised and supported at European level.

Building upon previous political declarations by the CPMR’s Intermediterranean Commission, Islands Commission’s and General Assembly since 2015, and gathered at the 44th CPMR Annual General Assembly in Ponta Delgada (Azores, Portugal) in November 2016, the CPMR’s regions urged the European Commission and the EU national governments to end the territorial-blind nature of the current EU Migration policies and European Neighbourhood Policy.

The same should apply to the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund. Policies and instruments like these should better consider territorial dynamics or implications and be possibly re-adapted, increasing the participation of regional and local authorities in the decision-making, management and implementation on the ground (e.g. mirroring the Cohesion Policy model).

The CPMR has underscored the point that local and regional authorities could acquire increasing responsibilities on policies of reception and integration, in line with the principle of subsidiarity. Among possible practical solutions, the CPRM has called on the European Commission to encourage the Member States to facilitate increased responsibilities for the interested local and regional authorities, in particular concerning the reception procedures. Based on the principle of shared multilevel governance, the CPMR has also called for regional and local authorities to be allowed to establish complementary mutual agreements concerning reception and integration measures for asylum seekers and refugees and the implementation of humanitarian corridors on the ground.

For instance, in February 2016 two CPMR member regions, Valencia and the South Aegean, signed a Memorandum of Understanding in which the regional government of Valencia agreed to facilitatethe transfer of 1.100 refugees from South Aegean islands covering all costs; the reception in Valencia and offered to cover their healthcare and education.

The CPMR has equally underlined the fundamental supporting role that local and regional authorities – including those at Europe’s southern borders such as certain outermost regions –  could play in setting up concrete actions under the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa around socio-economical policies, integration and the prevention of radicalisation.

As regards the new tailor-made compacts with third countries related to the Migration Partnership Framework, the CPMR has underlined the importance of involving regional and local authorities alongside the national level; especially European regional and local authorities with diasporas from the countries covered by the partnership.

Two years after the launch of the CPMR Task Force on Migration, the Secretariat is bringing in the high-level expertise of several external researchers and policy experts in the field of migration, to support the joint work of the regions in their quest to improve their action on migrants’ reception and integration, as well as their influence on decision making at EU level.

Over the coming months, the evidence-based work of the CPMR Task Force will include a mapping exercise on the experiences, the needs and the potential for migrants’ reception and integration at the regional level. This evidence-based approach will nourish the formulation of key political messages showing how regions can and must play a central role in the overall EU’s migration policy.

The human scale of the migration crisis and the tragic impact this has on the lives of children, women, men and families fleeing war, persecution, poverty and extremism, requires action at European Union level.

Now is the moment for the European project to re-anchor itself in its fundamental humanistic values. Values that cannot be waived but must be enforced in the face of indiscriminate terror; that cannot be diluted but must be strengthened during this period of reflection.

Regions are ready and able to support this initiative, and can help provide solutions as part of a multi-level, multi-dimensional European response.