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The Formation of the European Migration Regime, 1947-1992

October 6, 2015

comteEmmanuel Comte (MW Fellow 2014-2016) was awarded by the French Ministry of Social Affairs the Prize of the Committee for the History of Social Security for 2015 for his PhD dissertation on “The Formation of the European Migration Regime, 1947-1992”.

The Formation of the European Migration Regime, 1947-1992 investigates how a regime designed to govern international migration movements has been formed in Europe since World War II. Border checks, difficult access to employment, limited residency rights, reduced social security benefits outside the employment country, and the absence of civic rights for migrants characterise international migration regimes in most parts of the world. The European migration regime displays instead openness, easier access to employment, recognition of qualifications, exportable social security benefits, and certain civic rights for migrants within Europe; closure towards migration from outside Europe is also a characteristic feature. The management of migration flows has taken on paramount importance in European and global governance. Studying the formation of the European migration regime not only creates better understanding of a key aspect of European politics today, but also helps to identify in which other strategic regions there exists a capacity to develop other open migration regimes. This, in turn, could play a role in regulating the global migration system and in reducing global tensions. This research thus contributes to reflection on a central and highly topical issue.

My research reveals how German geopolitical and geo-economic strategies shaped the formation of that original regime. Previous studies have implied that the European migration regime formed as a result of repeated requests on the part of the governments of Italy and other emigration countries. I move the focus from emigration states towards immigration states, in particular West Germany. By doing so, my research helps elucidate why the migration regime has taken a different course in Europe, showing how the specificity of the German strategy explains its unique characteristics. Moreover, the research covers all aspects of migration between and towards European countries; it deals with unskilled migrant labourers, skilled professionals, self-employed workers, and with migrants’ family members, examining both their access to economic activity and their social and political rights. I take into consideration both flows between European countries and flows between Europe and the rest of the world when these are subject to negotiations at the European level. Finally, The Formation of the European Migration Regime embraces a large time frame, showing how this regime was formed mainly between 1947 and 1992. In addition to implementing previous decisions, the main development after 1992 has been the extension of a regime first formed in Western Europe to Central Europe, along with more developed policies to stop immigration in the Mediterranean.

The research demonstrates that the regime was part of a German strategy to stabilise and unify Western Europe diplomatically and militarily vis-à-vis the USSR and then Russia. As a result, the regime matched German preferences. Indeed, the regime limited the migration opportunities available to European populations. An open migration regime in Europe for independent and skilled employed workers also helped German companies to penetrate foreign markets. The magnitude of the West German labour market stabilised the regime and brought about the agreement of other immigration states. Other German concessions in the field of the Common Agricultural Policy and the European Monetary Union were also essential to produce French consent. The regime weakened when the West German economy went through difficulties in the 1970s and early 1980s. French and British immigration policy influenced the guidelines of the regime only to some degree. From this point of view, the regime sanctioned a distribution of gains associated with migration in accordance with dominant interests in immigration countries; the access to independent professions remained more difficult and downward pressure on wages as a result of immigration was prevented. Moreover, in principle, immigrants should not benefit from social transfers.

The research ends by proposing, on the basis of the findings, a new theory of the formation of open migration regimes. This theory defines the favourable conditions and factors that encourage a state to support such a regime. Theoretically, I show that the factors of the formation of an open migration regime pertain to the interests of a hegemon to unify a certain number of states vis-à-vis an external threat, and, to a lesser extent, to favour the penetration of the area covered by the regime by its enterprises.

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