In 1999 there were already a number of EU sources on which to draw in the preparation of a common policy on migration. From the 1970s there existed Council resolutions concerning national legislation and the conditions in which migrant workers (both EU and third-country nationals) and their families lived in the member states. In the 1980s the Commission had published guidelines for a community migration policyFootnote 4 specifying a number of areas where Community action could be most effective in managing migration. This had been followed by a Council Resolution in July 1985Footnote 5 calling for greater exchange of information amongst member states about the numbers and conditions in which third-country nationals were received in their respective countries. Then in 1991 a Commission Communication argued that a common response was needed to deal adequately with immigration.Footnote 6 In 1994 a more comprehensive Communication had been published on migration flows and ways in which greater cooperation between the member states could enhance the overall management of migration movements in Europe.Footnote 7 Finally in December 1998 the ‘Vienna Action Plan’ had been adopted by the European Council setting out priorities, including asylum and immigration, for the area of freedom, security and justice, which was to be established the following year by the Amsterdam Treaty.Footnote 8
However, having in 1999 for the first time a legal basis for taking concrete and enforceable measures and setting priorities, it was important to find out as much as possible about national policies in the field at the beginning of the twenty-first century, to see what was common to more than one member state, where the major differences lay and the contexts in which these policies operated. At the time the 15 member states could be divided into broad categories depending on their experience of migration. There were those with a long history of immigration (and often of emigration as well) such as France, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, The Netherlands and the UK. Others had experience mainly of emigration of their nationals – notably the southern countries Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece and also Ireland – a situation which was soon to change. Some had little recent experience of either kind of movement – particularly in northern Europe, notably the Scandinavian countries. The New member states who joined the Union in and after 2004 mostly fell into this latter category.
For European Commission officials to obtain detailed information about the migration policy of the member states was not always easy since much was contained in legal texts in the national language and if more general policy documents were available they were also mostly in the national language. Information could always be requested from senior officials in national administrations via questionnaires and relevant statistics could be collected but this was time-consuming for all concerned and was not a very realistic option given that about 6 months were available for the preparation of the Communication including the consultation procedure within the Commission and the time needed for translation.
Some very valuable comparative information was, of course, available from international sources, notably the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the United Nations (UN) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). Since the establishment in 1985 of the IGC (the Inter-Governmental Committee on international migration) there had also been an exchange of information amongst a number of European countries, the USA, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. The European Commission participated in these discussions. Comparable statistics, however, were extremely difficult to obtain and it was not until the adoption of a Regulation in 2007 that common definitions and standard topics were agreed by member states for the provision of data to Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union.Footnote 9
A very important information avenue at that time was, therefore, that of academic research. In this first phase the Commission developed an active policy of seeking out research which would provide reliable evidence on which to base detailed policy. Research findings were especially useful when they were objective and included comparative analysis of the impact of national policy both in the EU and in other parts of the world. However, in the early 2000s there was very limited comparative information available and certainly very little which gave an overview of all or even a number of the then fifteen member states. Relevant research was often difficult to access. Bibliographical searches took time – search tools were not as advanced then as they are now – and in particular it was difficult to quickly unearth what was relevant to policymaking from research results, which were often very detailed and limited in scope.
At the same time research carried out under the EU Research Framework Programmes largely covered immigration from a socio-economic point of view since these were the areas of most interest for EU policy at the time, particularly for DG Employment and Social Affairs. It should be remembered that the topics for the Calls for Proposals made within these programmes were decided in general terms by the Commission to reflect the needs of the different DGs, but there was then an open competition for the allocation of resources and specific proposals within the general guidelines were made by those applying. There was, therefore, scope for researchers to develop their own ideas within the overall strands. It was only with the Amsterdam Treaty that it was possible for the Commission to include a wider range of issues and to promote the development of comparative study in broader research programmes on different aspects of immigration and asylum. Such research has since become a very valuable source of information to inform policymaking with procedures in place to evaluate results and to bring policymakers and academics together in seminars and conferences to examine the results.Footnote 10
After 1999 other sources of funding were also available to DG JHA to commission more focused research with shorter deadlines and precise specifications arising from specific and immediate policy needs. These were open to the research community, usually via restricted tender proceedings, and were invaluable methods of obtaining information to inform some of the early legislative and policy proposals. The drafting of most of the initial migration and asylum legislation, for example the EU directives on family reunification and those on asylum, benefited from analyses resulting from a specific research contract, usually including a comparative survey of existing national legislation. Commissioned research was also an important element in the early work on the formulation of integration policy. There were studies for example on the use of benchmarking to evaluate integration policies and practices and feasibility studies such as on the possibility of setting up a European Migration Observatory.
However, because time was short, a more direct approach was taken with respect to the 2000 Communication, through consultations with the research community on a formal and informal basis, as individuals and via the establishment of expert groups. Contacts were made through colleagues in the Commission and via senior civil servants, members of relevant Council committees, who advised on their national experts. A selection of immigration specialists from across Europe, including input from researchers from North America and elsewhere, was brought together on a number of occasions to discuss preliminary ideas and to advise on the different policy options which were under consideration within the Commission at the drafting stage. A particularly important seminar took place at the Luso-American Foundation in Lisbon in the spring of that year where some of the early ideas were analysed and discussed with a number of leading researchers. At the same time European Commission officials participated themselves in academic conferences to pick up information and to make contacts in the academic world across the member states.
The history of this Communication also illustrates a very important element of immigration policymaking and that is the influence of research from outside Europe, which had a major impact on the drafting of the publication. Early in 2000, the UN published demographic forecasts of changes expected in the world’s population in the twenty-first century. These highlighted for Europe a dramatic decline in population in the EU, a significant increase in people over 65 and a decrease of those of working age. They were extrapolations based on different scenarios concerning death rates, birth rates and immigration but they showed that whether one took the high, medium or low possibilities, significant changes were to be expected and the report, published in March, suggested that migration could be one of the ways to deal with declining and ageing populations.Footnote 11 The press seized on the results when the report was first published – and they created considerable interest all over the world, but particularly in the EU. The significance of immigration, the need for immigrant workers to take up the jobs created by a shrinking work-force, coming at a time when job shortages were beginning to be felt in a number of countries – notably in the much publicised, although it turned out also exaggerated, IT industry – caught both politicians’ and the general public’s attention.
This created an opportunity to abandon the cautious position taken in the early drafts of the 2000 Communication, of migrant flows and how they might impact on EU policy, and to take a much more pro-active position stressing the need for economic migration and consequently for management at the European level. The climate created, in terms of the acceptance of the economic value of immigration by business leaders and by the media and their impact on public opinion, has never been so propitious. In this context the emphasis in the new draft could be placed on identifying best practice and on taking an objective and long-term view of the kind of policy that would best meet the future economic and social needs of the EU. As outlined above, the role of the research community in this endeavour was considerable.
The Communication was adopted without major comment from the member states and it was also given a favourable reception by both the European Parliament and the Economic and Social Committee to which it was referred for an opinion. It was, of course, only a document setting out and giving justification for the proposed common policy and it contained no specific issues on which decisions had to be taken. However it created the framework for the EU approach to immigration, which has served as the basis for the wide-ranging policy we see today. It was a founding document for a new policy field and the Commission and policymakers had drawn extensively on the research community. The influence of the latter was probably greater then than it has been ever since.
There was less influence from other policy areas within the Commission and from national governments since the likely impact of migration and of the policy options that had been put forward were perhaps not fully appreciated at the time. The period of grace was not to last long as discussions about how far migration issues should be mainstreamed into other policy areas at national and European level and to what extent and for how long they should have a special status became more important. The impact of migration policy first on employment and then on external affairs and trade was quickly recognised by the relevant DGs. Issues of national sovereignty became stronger as national officials became more involved in the decision-making process at the EU level.
The proposals subsequently put forward for a coordination procedure for member states’ migration policies were not accepted and the drafts for specific directives concerning the approximation of the legal status of immigrants were either withdrawn (as was the case for the directive on the admission of labour migrants) or adopted after long months of discussion and amendment by the Council. The publication of the Süssmuth report in Germany in 2001Footnote 12 and the subsequent constitutional challenge of the proposed policy options put forward by the German government had the effect of slowing down on-going discussions in the Council. This was particularly important with respect to the directive on the admission of labour migrants – an extremely sensitive issue for many member states in spite of the fact that the Commission’s proposals concerned only the status of those who might be admitted but had no impact on the number to be selected which was to remain a decision taken by the member state concerned. The absence of a common position on labour migration to the EU is still today a major defect of the common policy. With the accession of the New member states in 2004 and the rapid growth of mobility within the EU, public opinion hardened against migration, the subject shot up the political sensitivity agenda and has remained there ever since, making progress with the development of EU policy on migration ever more difficult.
The slightly laissez-faire days of the early 2000s together with the very close links between policy and research are now in the past. However, the overall blue-print which was accepted then has remained in place as the basis of EU policy even though subsequently it has been influenced in tone and in direction by an increasingly negative public opinion and in recent years by rising unemployment in Europe and the financial and economic difficulties resulting from the banking crisis of 2008.