Ten things to look out for in 2020 2020 will be another challenging year for EU migration policy. Below is a non-exhaustive list of trends and developments that will be high on the agenda of decision-makers and analysts alike.
1. The situation in main countries and regions of origin As with previous years, 2020 will again see the migration situation in the wider European region shaped by developments in the conflict areas in the Near and Middle East and in African regions. In addition, the major displacement crisis in Latin America, which started to affect Europe in 2019, will continue to do so this year. For 2020, most geopolitical outlooks expect continued or growing instability in these regions. Consequently, there is no reason to believe that migration pressures towards Europe will decrease this year.
2. Irregular migration as the main theme of the European debate Again in 2019, the migration debate in Europe was dominated primarily by issues surrounding irregular migration and asylum and this picture will not change this year. At the same time, the effects of demographic ageing are increasingly felt on European labour markets and employers have started to push for more openings on labour migration. European governments will face the challenge of drawing a clearer distinction between skilled and other types of migration and of communicating more clearly why the former might be needed in the future.
3. Secondary movements towards Europe 2019 has seen an increase in irregular and asylum migration, particularly of Afghan nationals towards Turkey and the EU. Thus, many of these migrants are not moving from their home country but from countries in the region hosting large refugee populations. Iran for instance hosts about 3 million Afghans. Their economic situation has deteriorated significantly due to the sanctions imposed on the country. The Turkish government’s plan to establish a safe zone in Syria to resettle Syrian nationals might also prompt secondary movements to the EU. These trends will continue in 2020 and pose additional challenges for EU asylum and return policies.
4. The prospects of a peace process in Libya The European migration situation always depends on the situation in Libya as a main point of departure for asylum seekers and irregular migrants from African countries but also other regions headed towards Europe. The recently initiated peace process gives some hope to believe that the EU 2 – Libya cooperation on migration control will hold again in 2020, limiting the number of departures to Europe via the Central Mediterranean Route.
5. The Eastern Mediterranean Migration Route as the main hotspot Last year saw a further shift in irregular migration routes towards the Eastern Mediterranean. Given the situation in the main regions of origin of related flows and assuming that cooperation agreements will hold along the Western and Central Mediterranean Routes, the Eastern Mediterranean Migration Route will be the main hotspot for migration management for the EU and its partners in 2020.
6. The migration situation in Turkey and Greece Both countries faced mounting pressures in 2019 linked to the large numbers of refugees and displaced they already host and the increasing numbers of refugees and migrants crossing their territories with the aim of reaching the Northern and Western Member States of the EU. In 2020, the EU will have to provide the greatest possible support at all levels and by all means to Turkey and Greece to prevent them from being overburdened and to preserve the EU – Turkey Statement.
7. Secondary movements within the EU The movement of asylum seekers from the first Member State where they submit their application to others Member States is a general problem for the European system. Last year saw a peak in applications of nationals from Latin American countries in the EU. Thus far, about 90 % of these applications were submitted in Spain. Given the bleak outlook in the Latin American countries of origin, forced migration from these countries to Europe is likely to continue. A saturation of the Spanish labour and housing market could prompt secondary movements of Latin American nationals to other EU Member States.
8. The new EU Pact on Migration and Asylum The new Commission plans to present the outline of the new Pact for the European Summit in March. The Pact envisages ambitious agenda items, amongst others the development of a truly European Asylum System. Member States are, however, far apart on the issues of solidarity, burden sharing and a mechanism for the distribution of asylum seekers. It remains to be seen whether the Commission can overcome the stalemate around these issues and bring Member States closer together again. If this difficult goal can be achieved, the Pact could start showing real effects next year. 3
9. The German proposal on asylum screening at the external borders. Germany has proposed an approach that could re-launch intra-EU cooperation on asylum issues and irregular migration. The idea is to screen asylum applications at the external borders, return inadmissible cases immediately and distribute the remaining applicants among Member States based on a yet to be agreed distribution key. Access to an asylum procedure and to social benefits would be available only in the responsible Member State. If built up gradually, a system of this kind could indeed incentivise EU cooperation and de-incentivise irregular arrivals. 2020 will show whether the plan can gather support from a enough Member States to go beyond declarations of intent and include credible commitments towards the Member States at the external borders.
10. Brexit and the status of EU and UK migrants 2020 will preserve the current status quo. The real change will come in 2021 when free movement is slated to end for EU and UK citizens. Nonetheless, the post-Brexit status of these migrants might turn into a bargaining chip in the Brexit negotiations already this year and divide the EU Member states who attach different levels of significance to the issue. Thus, the new Commission might face some challenges to preserve unity among all Member States over the issue.