The missing link in the EU’s migration evolution


For centuries, demand for solutions to migration and asylum questions has created its own supply in the realm of politics and, comparatively lately, in the social sciences. Today, the push-and-pull factors that have been theoretically identified as causes for migration have become an instalment of “the European Crisis”, a recurring drama with a plot in the spirit of the zeitgeist. The storyline centres on the inflow of refugees seeking shelter from the atrocities in their homeland. While their motives are widely acknowledged, many policymakers throughout Europe are all too ready to stylise the situation into yet another threat to the continent.

The challenges, or “crises”, the European Union has had to face since its earliest days are many and diverse, but none of them was able to take it down. The EU has instead become the blockbuster among political systems, attracting new members who, even though pace and enthusiasm have differed, engaged in the process of further integration. The method through which the EU has kept proving the doomsayers wrong is as simple as it is ingenious, and begs the question why a similar approach is not being employed to tackle Europe’s newest ‘crisis’.

The method through which the EU has kept proving the doomsayers wrong is as simple as it is ingenious

Although some of the EU’s challenges have been homemade – such as what has become known as the ‘European Financial Crisis’ – and some struck as exogenous shocks – one may think of the turmoil in Ukraine – a clear pattern in the European response is visible. Financial measures prevail as the tool for immediate relief, which allows for two-stages of institution building to follow. To stabilise the situation in the medium term, makeshift institutions are created such as the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), which was set up to aid financially-struggling EU members, or existing institutions are realigned such as when the common external policy stepped aside to make way for nation-based diplomacy over Ukraine. In the slipstream of such an interim remedy, long-term solutions like the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) are searched for and, once found, are likely to take the form of what in economics is called a pareto-improvement – a change that makes no one worse off while benefiting some if not all. In the spirit of Sir Karl Popper, one may remark that nothing has yet been capable of proving this strategy wrong, so why change a winning formula?

The present stream of migration into the European Union and the tragedy of refugees are predominantly dealt with in the frames of external relations and economic development. European efforts, especially with regard to Mediterranean neighbour countries, have been restricted to attempts at finding the silver bullet for war, repression and poverty. These have ranged from various sorts of neighbourhood policies to secret case-based diplomacy to air strikes. Not only do some problems plainly lack a fast solution, but moreover need a common foreign policy mandate beyond the rather limited range of the European External Action Service (EEAS).

Tradeable immigration quotas seem to be tailor-made to providing the missing link

EU member states do not yet seem ready to mould their national egos into a Common Migration Policy. The reason for this is a missing link in the European decision-making architecture rather than any lack of willingness from Europe’s voters. The financial and organisational features of short-and-medium-term migration solutions, though often controversial, have so far not posed any obstacle to European problem-solving that could not be overcome by intergovernmental negotiations. But the question remains of how the EU might govern migration and coordinate integration in the longer term?

The European Union may seek inspiration from Ronald Coase, whose Nobel Prize-winning theorem states that if the costs of bargaining are sufficiently low, the trade of the externality in question – meaning an outside influence a party did not choose to be affected by – will bring about an efficient outcome. Tradeable immigration quotas seem to be tailor-made to providing the missing link in the form of an incentive structure. After all, the European Union can draw on a successful track record of institutionalised negotiation, the financial ability to limit humanitarian costs with economic relief as well as the organisational flexibility to allow for stability-providing solutions. Against this backdrop, the current ‘crisis’ begs for a truly European solution entailing relief first, a European Migration Facility second and a European Migration Mechanism at long last.

Track title


Stop playback
Video title


Africa initiative logo