EU support for "migration management" in the Western Balkans squarely focused on control measures


An internal Council survey of EU member states' assistance for Western Balkans countries shows that the emphasis is very clearly on migration control measures, with "the majority of bilateral support... provided in two areas, namely border management and combating the smuggling of migrants (over 50% of all MS activities)".

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NOTE from: Presidency to: Delegations: Strengthening migration management capacities in the Western Balkan region - Presidency discussion paper (7896/20, LIMITE, 12 May 2020, pdf)

The results of the survey "also indicate a very low level of general support in the field of integration (2%) and the legal migration scheme (4%), as well as a relatively low level of support in the fields of asylum (6%), reception (8%) and return (7%)," says the paper.

A detailed Annex examines the results of the survey, which received responses from 23 member states. It refers to "joint HLWG/SCIFA discussions" - this is the High-Level Working Group on Asylum and Migration and the Strategic Committee on Frontiers, Immigration and Asylum, two high-level Council working groups.

A meeting between those two groups in February this year apparently concluded that EU support should focus on:

"promoting efficient border management (including through the conclusion and implementation of all EBCG [European Border and Coast Guard, i.e. Frontex] Status Agreements and through alignment with the EU’s common visa policy), increasing capacity for voluntary returns and stepping up support for readmission in countries of origin, combating human smuggling, continuing efforts to strengthen asylum and reception systems, while also building up more political will and ownership of migration actions, efficient exchange of information on irregular movements and migration management capacities among Western Balkan partners and with the EU, funding support."

From transit countries to buffer states

The document makes clear that the EU's aim should be to shift Western Balkans countries from viewing themselves as transit countries for migrants, by helping to increase their ability to control onward migration to the EU:

"Divergences in the development of institutional capacity in the Western Balkan partners may arise because, in the current migration situation, they perceive themselves only as a transit region, in particular with regard to the fact that they are to a large extent affected by irregular secondary movements between EU Member States transiting through the Western Balkans. Enhancing their overall migration capacities - including the asylum system, the reception conditions and return capacities - is essential. To achieve this goal, it is essential to have a partnership based on mutual trust and willingness." (emphasis added)

Currently, 15 member states provide various types of support to states in the region, "through either expert assistance [67% of all support], equipment [16%] or financial assistance [17%]."

Perhaps unsurprisingly, "Member States’ assistance is focused mostly on the partners bordering the EU, i.e. North Macedonia and Serbia (almost 50% of all MS activities)."

The Croatian Presidency's survey of member state activities in the region revealed that there are "a total of 228 activities, with the aim of helping to strengthen the partners’ migration capacities."

What the results show, says the Presidency, is:

"a need for a strategic and comprehensive approach that would result in long-term, sustainable migration management in the Western Balkan region... The support provided by Member States to date reflects their awareness of the geopolitical importance of certain Western Balkan partners, namely those bordering the EU... Member States’ focus is on the prevention of irregular migratory movements to the EU. On the other hand, integration and labour migration schemes are among the least supported areas of engagement. Bearing in mind the overall migration situation, such an approach is both expected and understandable, but may contribute to strengthening the Western Balkan partners’ self-perception as a transit region, which poses a challenge for the further improvement of all aspects of their migration capacities." (emphasis added)

The note remarks some dissatisfaction amongst delegates at the level of information exchange with states in the Western Balkans, as well as potential overlap between the activities of EU agencies and member states.

This "could have the effect of undermining the desired results, as the current approach does not fully enable comprehensive support for the Western Balkan partners".

The Presidency concludes that "Western Balkan partners should be encouraged to assume a more active role in migration management."

This may do little to improve the situation for migrants stranded on the 'Balkan Route'.

NOTE from: Presidency to: Delegations: Strengthening migration management capacities in the Western Balkan region - Presidency discussion paper (7896/20, LIMITE, 12 May 2020, pdf)

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