Mobility Partnerships – what impact do they have on legal migration and mobility?

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Mobility Partnerships (MPs) have been promoted as a flagship tool of the EU’s Global Approach to Migration for five years now. They have been signed with Cape Verde, the Republicof Moldova, Georgiaand Armenia– all countries of rather discreet migratory impact on the EU. All the political evaluations to date[1] show that MPs are an effective tool to enhance international cooperation as well as introduce more coherence in the internal governance of migration in the sending country. According to participating governments and the European Commission, the MPs have been critical to get state officials together around one table and force them to think about their migration policies and to cooperate, also on the issues of legal migration and mobility. But what impact do MPs have on legally mobile migrants and migrant workers? On societies? On labour markets?

The expectations for increased mobility have been very high, but they still have not been fulfilled, to the point that in the academic circles this instrument is sarcastically called ‘Immobility Partnerships’. Is the criticism justified? What should we do next with the tool? Can it be saved, and most importantly – should it be?

I. What are we talking about when discussing legal migration and mobility in the EU context?

Legal migration and mobility in the EU policy language, as presented inter alia in the Third Report on Immigration and Asylum (SWD (2012)179 final) is quite a fuzzy concept. It includes such varied phenomena as economic migration, skills recognition, family reunification, integration, and prevention of illegal migration (e.g. awareness raising campaigns, Frontex activities and Schengen governance).

In the Communication on the Global Approach to Migration and Mobility (COM(2011) 743 final) we read that mobility of third country nationals across the external EU borders applies to several categories of people, all bona fide travellers: e.g. students and researchers rarelly migrate, they are just mobile. Mobility is therefore linked to visa policy and can be interpreted as such. Moreover mobility can be enhanced by policies removing obstacles to movement e.g. institutional obstacles (portability of rights, avoidance of double taxation etc.).

II. Legal migration and mobility in Mobility Partnerships to the date

Until now it is quite clear that MPs have focused only on a few aspects of the European Commission’s concept of legal migration and mobility, namely: prevention of illegal migration and border governance. Less attention has been paid to economic migration, portability of rights or skills recognition. Other issues as family reunification or integration in the destination countries have been largely disregarded. Unfortunately the majority of the EU Member States involved in the MPs have not been generous enough to propose real change under this umbrella; instead, many decided to offer already existing legal migration bilateral schemes as their contribution to legal migration part of MPs.

Apart from the fact that the avenues of legal migration have not been really open[2], the institutional changes helping people to be mobile have not materialized either. First, visa policy has not been used fully in this case. Visa facilitation with Cape Verde, initially almost blocked by the EU Member States in the EU Council, has been signed with considerable delay, because inter alia of tough requirements of the readmission agreement. However a Common Visa Application Centre in Cape Verde is another example of facilitated mobility.[3]

III. What is the future of legal migration and mobility in Mobility Partnerships?

If we want to keep the concept, the partners need to decisively improve the component of legal migration and mobility. To achieve this, partners should focus on one major challenge: the value added. In other words – what makes the partnerships a valuable tool over the existing bilateral and multilateral cooperation in the area of legal migration and mobility? What will make ordinary people more mobile?

1) Targeted change in the legal order

The clear value added of a Mobility Partnership on the level of aMember State is when this Member State changes its legal order to accommodate a mobility of a national of the partner third country. There are only two examples to date that clearly illustrate this: (1) a Polish initiative opening its labour market to the temporary labour migration from the countries which signed the MP; (2) the German initiative to offer to its long-term residents the possibility of return to home country for extended periods of time (up to 2 years) without losing the residence rights. These are pretty direct and straightforward initiatives that bring more value into the MPs.

Other mobility enhancers have included agreements on portability of rights. The importance of MPs for completing these agreements is less obvious as it is not clear that they would not have taken place hadn’t it been for the MPs. This leads to the next point.

2) Going beyond the bilateral relations

Bilateral relations are clearly the best setting to solve migration management issues.

Due to the division of competences, the EU cannot address the most common requirements which have been put forward by prospective partners: economic migration channels, skills recognition, or integration policy. These are domains of the EU Member States. And thus the Mobility Partnership must be in this case a sum of offers of participating Member States. To the date, all 27 have never signed up for one MP. This is often seen as a weakness of the instrument, but is it really? When a Tunisian official wants economic migration channels to the EU, he surely does not mean sending Tunisians toBulgariaorLatvia, rather toFranceorItaly. Does he need a MP to do this? Certainly not. Of course, one may argue, there is a rationale for including bilateral agreements into the MP – when a bilateral legal migration scheme withFrancewill makeTunisiacooperate with other EU Member States on the issues of illegal migration. However, usually illegal and legal flows tend to end in the same destination.

To give the MPs more value added, the legal migration and mobility should go beyond bilateral relations. Participating Member States should think about multilateral initiatives, which bring a real EU dividend. These can be proposed by two actors: by a group of the cooperating Member States and by the European Commission

3) Legal migration and mobility of Mobility Partnership country nationals – what can the EU Member States do?

One idea would be the creation of partially-open labour markets created between two or more EU Member States, where the nationals of a Mobility Partnership country could find employment in specific sectors (e.g. seasonal workers harvesting different crops throughout the season), and could be jobseekers freely circulating across the borders to this end. The system could be created on the basis of a multilateral treaty between the involved EU member States and the Mobility Partnership country. In addition, these mini-zones would assure that all the rights acquired in different MSs add up and can be taken with the migrant to his/her next EU destination or back home.

Another way of changing the status quo and rewarding the partner country would be to introduce, besides EU preference, a Mobility Partnership preference on the labour market.

4) Legal migration and mobility of Mobility Partnership country nationals –what can the European Commission do?

The EU should bring what it has at hand: mobility understood as visa policy. It has been clearly proposed in the Global Approach to Migration and Mobility and this should be supported. Especially visa liberalisation is a highly worthwhile tool creating a real partnership. The experience of Visa Liberalisation Dialogues withMoldovaandUkraineshows how some countries can implement the EU requirements for secure environment and thus cut short the worries about the negative consequences of enhanced mobility.

When visa liberalisation for all is impossible, it should be considered for certain categories of people. Again, one can say that with the development of the EU Registered Traveller Programme the obstacles to mobility will hopefully diminish. However, this solution is devised for all the countries in the world and hence, there needs to be something extra for the MP countries in it.

Another possibility is to follow the already established path for coordination of social security systems between the EU and Associated Countries[4] and offer the same solution to the Mobility Partnership countries, e.g. while testing the proposed EU Social Security Agreements.[5]

IV. Concluding remarks

Mobility Partnerships are still the tools-in-the-making and we need to give them time, as it usually happens in international cooperation. It would be unfair to sentence MPs right now. But it is reasonable to expect that they keep on improving and developing in the right direction with more elements that fulfil their main promise: more mobility to the ordinary people. This includes more of special treatment of the nationals of the partner third countries: more innovative visa facilitation instruments, more visa liberalisation, and more real labour migration.

Agnieszka Weinar, Scientific Coordinator of CARIM East and MIGMEDCIS

The views expressed by the author are not necessarily the views of the Migration Policy Centre.

[1] Commission (2009). Mobility Partnerships as a tool of the Global Approach to Migration. SEC (2009) 1240.

[2] The few examples include small circular migration schemes betweenCzech Republic andGeorgia,Portugal andCape Verde orFrance’s programme for young professionals – all involving relatively limited number of people (the data on how many exactly is not publicly available).

[3] E.g. an applicant does not need to travel to another country in order to apply for a visa even if the Schengen state he/she wants to travel to is not represented in his home country.

[4] See e.g. 2010/697/EU Council Decision of 21 October 2010 on the position to be taken by the European Union within the Association Council set up by the Euro-Mediterranean Agreement establishing an association between the European Communities and their Member States, of the one part, and the Kingdom of Morocco, of the other part, with regard to the adoption of provisions on the coordination of social security systems. Other draft proposals available in the OJ of the EU, L 306, Volume 53, 23 November 2010.

[5]  As proposed by the European Commission in its Communication on the External Dimension of the EU Social Security Coordination. COM(2012)153 final