Incoming European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen: How might she shape the future migration policy of the EU? | Photo: EPA/Olivier Hoslet
Incoming European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen: How might she shape the future migration policy of the EU? | Photo: EPA/Olivier Hoslet

The European Union’s new Commissioners take up their posts on December 1 2019. So how will the EU’s future migration policy shape up under Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and her team. InfoMigrants takes a look at what might come to pass in terms of migration to Europe.

Future predictions are always difficult, even more so when that future is dependent on policies, laws and pronouncements from a notoriously unwieldy entity such as the European Union. With 28 countries, currently, a Commission, a Parliament, several headquarters and many different political parties and blocs there is not just one EU policy towards migration. However, there are already some indications of the direction of travel for the EU in the coming months and years.

How might new Commission President Ursula von der Leyen shape things?

Ursula von der Leyen is a seasoned politician in Germany’s ruling Christian Democrat (CDU) party. Most recently, she served as defence minister under Angela Merkel until she was slated to be the European People’s Party candidate for commission president this summer.

Even before taking office, she gave hints as to how her commission would approach migration. As the European Parliament confirmed her appointment on November 27, von der Leyen promised that she would make migration a “core topic” of her presidency.

  • She is targeting a “new Migration and Asylum pact” by February 2020.
  • In the new migration pact, scheduled for February 2020, von der Leyen wants to reform the Dublin treaty (which governs that migrants should seek asylum in the first EU country they enter).
  • Von der Leyen also wants to modernize and create a “truly common EU asylum system;” update the current return policies and create a “more sustainable approach to search and rescue; moving from “ad hoc solutions to a permanent system.”
  • She has also promised to expand the European Border Force Frontex by 2024. That means more money and personnel -- 10,000 new border agents. (This is earlier than the originally proposed 2027 for this target).

  • She wants more agreement on sharing out the migrants who are still arriving on Europe’s borders but has, so far, ruled out forcing quotas on countries which don’t want to participate.
  • According to Germany’s right-leaning daily newspaper Die Welt, she might try and push for a policy suggested by the German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer (CSU – Bavarian Christian Union), that is to send back anyone arriving in Greece, Spain or Italy who has no chance of obtaining asylum, as quickly as possible.
  • She has also promised tougher punishments for anyone found to be abusing the asylum laws; or attempting to seek asylum in several EU states; and quicker deportations for those who break the laws.

As she was forming her commission, von der Leyen was criticized for creating a Commission Vice-President post entitled “Protecting our European way of life.” This post was handed to the Conservative Greek New Democracy politician Margaritis Schinas. After much protest that she was playing to far-right rhetoric, this post was finally changed to “Promoting the European way of life.”

Margaritis Schinas – ‘Promoting the European way of life’European Commission Chief Spokesperson Margaritis Schinas is to be the new migration commissioner  Photo Imago

Schinas is another seasoned politician who began his career in the European Commission in 1990. Most recently he has served as chief spokesperson for the Commission, a post he has held since 2014. According to the European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS) in a briefing paper, part of Schinas’ new brief will be: To oversee “well-managed legal migration [and make sure there is a] smooth integration of migrants and refugees; [as well as finding] common solutions on migration and security based on European values and responsibilities.”

  • Schinas will be in charge of coordinating a wide range of policies including integration, migration and security.
  • Migration management “will remain high on the European agenda,” stated the EPRS briefing paper.
  • Schinas has been tasked with creating more pathways to legal migration in order “to attract the skills and talents that the European economy and labor market need and lack.”

The European Parliament

According to the EPRS briefing paper from October 2019, the European Parliament has “repeatedly called for an ‘ambitious and targeted’ revision of the Blue Card Directive to enhance rules on entry and residence of qualified third-country nationals.”

Like von der Leyen the parliament has been pushing to reform the Dublin Agreement and create a centralized EU asylum system.

Ylva Johannson EU Commissioner for Home Affairs

Ylva Johansson is a Swedish politician who will be taking on the EU Commission’s Home Affairs portfolio. On November 27 she was busy briefing the European Parliament “on the migration and security challenges ahead.”

  • Even before she takes up her post she has been tweeting on issues related to her new agenda. 

  • She has promised that integration will be an important pillar of her approach to migration.

Johansson is no stranger to the issue of migration and integration. She has served in a number of ministerial roles in Sweden. According to an October briefing by EPRS, in 2014 she was appointed Minister for Employment and Integration in Sweden. In her introductory speech to the European Parliament she pointed out that she had also been in charge of integration and migration in 2015 in Sweden. That year, she pointed out was the year “Sweden received more refugees than any other member states accorded per capita.” She said that she is “proud that Sweden could give shelter to so many refugees during this time.” She added that she was also proud “that many of them now are integrated into society and contribute to the economy.”

  • Johansson has been a member of the Social Democratic Workers’ Party (SAP) since 1992. She is affiliated to the Socialists and Democrats bloc in the European Parliament.
  • In a hearing with the Civil Liberties Committee in the European Parliament in October 2019, Johansson stressed that she would be pushing to create legal and safe pathways to the EU for migrants.
  • Her aim, she said was to return to “a fully functioning, internal border control-free Schengen area.”
  • Asked by a French Republican party politician, Nadine Morano, a member of the EPP bloc, about what she would do about all the migrants who do not receive asylum in the EU, Johansson replied that: “We need to step up returns,” and make sure that the system functions better than it does right now. Johansson noted that “only one-third of those who had been refused asylum at the moment were actually returning [to their home countries].” She reminded the parliament, however that “the Commission is not the one to return people, it is the responsibility of member states.”
  • Johansson also agreed that the Commission needed to help member states sign more ‘readmission’ treaties with African countries so that more failed asylum seekers could be repatriated to their countries of origin without delay.
  • She concluded that she wants to “find a new way forward” on migration. “One which works and which is true to all of our values.” Johansson added that migration and security were among the top three issues that European citizens most cared about.
  • Johansson mentioned that her portfolio was about “protecting European external borders and ensuring security.”

Funding key to future EU migration policy

A report in October 2019, about the EU's policy and progress on migration over the term just finishing, said: “The EU is continuing to bring protection to migrants and refugees, to help member states under the most pressure, to build a strong external border, and to work in-depth with partners worldwide. All this work has made the foundations of EU migration policy much stronger than when the crisis broke in 2015.”

  • It said funding was key to a future policy. The report underlined that it had proposed to "almost triple funding" in this area in the next financial framework.
  • The replenishment of the EU Trust Fund for Africa is crucial in 2020 for continuing current migration policies.
  • Returns, readmission and reintegration "require more work," read the report.

The report concluded: “The right basis is now in place in order to complete the work of putting in place a strong and effective European migration and asylum system, respecting solidarity and responsibility and delivering results.”


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