European Conference: from Tampere 20, to Tampere 2.0

Date Publish: 
Tuesday, November 5, 2019 - 08:15

IOM Director General Antonio Vitorino, Remarks for Opening Panel, Helsinki, 24 October 2019

Good morning and thank you for the invitation to be here today for a discussion on the Tampere Programme’s 20th Anniversary, and particular thanks to the Odysseus Network, the European Network on Migration, and the European Policy Centre. As I was present at the inception of Tampere in 1999, once more with the Finnish Presidency of the EU, I am now wondering if I also qualify for a 2.0 software upgrade.

That this conference is timely goes without saying. But we are also having this conversation in the aftermath of an existential crisis for the European Union with respect to many of the lofty goals of the Tampere Conclusions, that has strained the concepts of solidarity and responsibility-sharing, and the relationships between many Member States and institutions.

Three years after the arrival of a large -- unmanaged -- number of refugees and migrants across the Eastern Mediterranean, and a series of emergency midnight European summits culminating in the EU-Turkey statement, there are signs that Europe is now slowly emerging from the trauma of that experience, and reflecting upon the lessons learned. Lessons that will be important for the new incoming Commission and the European Parliament. This conference will be, I hope, an opportunity to draw deeply on that learning.

But the EU should not be complacent. The situation today on the Syrian border with Turkey demonstrates the fragile nature of displacement that still affects millions in the region and may yet have implications for Europe. The same can also be said about Libya. While it is difficult to see a resumption of the large numbers of 2015-2016, it will sadly not take much to recreate a sense of crisis across Europe, and a real crisis in terms of reception capacity in Greece, already struggling to manage current arrivals.  

Has the EU managed to learn lessons over the last 20 years? Or have we drifted apart? And where might the dynamics of the next five years take us?


Then and Now

Two decades ago, it was easy to be ambitious. We had a blank page, upon which we could set out goals without – yet—having to address the realities of realising them, or dive into the details.

Every decade has its own tone and topic of conversation with respect to migration. In the aftermath of the Balkans conflict, there was a strong recognition that some form of common approach would be needed for the EU to respond effectively to humanitarian crisis in its neighbourhood. This was cut through by concerns that so-called “asylum shopping” was taking place.

In the last years of the twentieth century, few countries had established the comprehensive immigration systems that exist today. Germany, now a leader in this regard, had not yet convened the Independent Commission on Immigration. And the European Union was a smaller collective of states, awaiting the accession in 2004 and 2006 of a dozen new members. Our understanding of what it means to build systems that can respond to changing needs, shocks, and competing interests was far less sophisticated than it is today.

But many of the conversations were eerily similar to those we have today. As the background papers for this conference highlight, and the Tampere Programme attests, the importance of strong partnerships with third countries, the value of creating a robust space for adjudication of asylum claims, and the need for consistent legal means of migration. Little has changed concerning the chapters of immigration and asylum policy we discuss. And -- rhetorically, at least, the EU28 (27) -- still believe in solidarity.

The changes are, instead, about the means through which these policies are achieved. 20 years ago, Justice and Home Affairs was an island as much as an area, using legislation to expand the common space. Today Justice and Home Affairs is part of a broader network of actors working on migration – though not always in agreement. Legislation, while still critical, is just one tool in the toolbox. Policymakers have learned that law, in the absence of adequate resource or operational capacity, is rendered meaningless to those it is intended to serve and protect.

And effective responses to migration challenges (and opportunities), require the whole of government. Ministries need to work together within countries, as well as across them. The European Union has also been on a sharp learning curve with respect to diplomacy. Understanding that migration is an integral part of foreign policy is still a work in progress, but essential.

Tampere was a statement of recognition that no state can manage migration without international cooperation. At the end of 2018, the world, including many states within the EU, made a similar statement of recognition through the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. The Compact is different in that it is entirely state-led and non-binding. But many of the ideals espoused in Tampere can also be found there.

But, the devil is in the detail. Many of the Tampere phrases that have now become apocryphal, were used then with little explicit interrogation. What does solidarity mean in practice? How does Dublin link to Schengen? Many of these concepts and interlinkages were discussed in Tampere on the basis of a strong, yet implicit, common understanding between states. And sometimes a gentle recognition that avoiding specifics is useful!

Today, the drafters may regret the decision to leave some things unsaid. The ideas in Tampere mean different things to different Member States today, which is a challenge to the foundations of the JHA space. But this is also due to very real experiences at the external borders of Europe. Migration and asylum dynamics today are very different from those in 1999. And so are the concerns. That Tampere holds as well as it does, in terms of goals and priorities, speaks to its universality.

The last five years have been a particular challenge for the European Commission. Rather than building, many officials have been engaged in a battle to prevent backsliding. But in doing so, have also created new tools and opportunities, not least the renewed mandate of agencies such as EASO and Frontex. 

There is the belief amongst some in Brussels, and the capitals, that with some breathing space, there is an opportunity regroup, rebuild trust that has been lost between Member States, between EU institutions, and with publics, and continue the work of Tampere. And, one hopes, avoid the tragedies of the past years. And I must confess here I am not envious of the task ahead of the incoming Commission.

But as Director General of IOM, I have some suggestions, and some warnings, about the next phase of policy development.

  • Do not wait for breathing space. There will never be a perfect moment to undertake this work, but efforts to build stronger common standards and protections require forward momentum. Volatility – both political and empirical, will become part of the global, and European, agenda.
  • Budget is important, but it is not the only concern. Gaps in funding will leave some mobile populations vulnerable across the world, and we should not be driven solely by proximity of those movements to Europe. But money alone does not solve problems. There is a need to constantly evaluate and review progress.
  • Do not assume the status quo today will be the status quo of tomorrow and design policies accordingly. The drivers affecting mobility are constantly evolving. These can include for example lack of jobs, lack of rule of law, and insecurity or terrorism. Policies will need to be flexible enough to adapt, or they will break. And this requires constant evaluation, monitoring, and review.

  • Do not assume public sentiment is influenced by flows and legal status alone. There is a strong pride amongst populations in Europe that the respectful and dignified treatment of all people, including refugees and migrants, is a core part of the European identity and values. While EU Member States have the sovereign right to manage borders, our treatment of people should always respect fundamental rights, regardless of migrants’ legal status.

  • Consensus on policy in Brussels is just the first step: finding ways to translate text into impact on the ground will be key, and particularly for vulnerable groups. And it is particularly important to close the gap between rhetoric and action. All governments agree on the advantages of legal migration, and expanded pathways for migrants.