On the scale of human history, human mobility is not a new phenomenon. In recent years though, migration and asylum policies have been discussed hotly both in Switzerland and the EU. Following the increase in migratory flows in the 2014-2016 biennium, the Common European Asylum System suffered a paralysis, which resulted in tensions and a political and institutional crisis at the EU level. In 2020, the European Commission presented its new Pact on Migration and Asylum. While it is still being debated, the New Pact is a policy instrument meant to deeply reform the common asylum policy. A high degree of exchange, solidarity, and unity is needed for a constructive migration policy debate. Join our workshop in Zurich on the 29th of September and have your say on the matter!


What’s the state of play in Switzerland and the EU? 

Switzerland is a signatory to a number of the EU’s agreements on migration and asylum. Examples include the Dublin agreement (which is currently being renegotiated) and the Schengen agreement. At the wider EU level, there are a number of policies regulating migration, and more are being reformed or are currently being discussed. At the national level in Switzerland, the foreign policy on migration is built upon the Report on International Cooperation on Migration, which was approved by the Federal Council in February 2011. Asylum policies are regulated by the Swiss Asylum act, which defines the conditions to obtain asylum. 

Comparing Swiss and European policies with regard to migration policies and the state of affairs is not straightforward. Nevertheless, while Switzerland is not a member state of the EU, it is part of the Schengen area, allowing freedom of movement within EU borders. In recent years, following the sudden increase in migration flows through the EU’s external borders, the Schengen area was put under extreme pressure. With the pandemic, shortcomings in the system came to the surface (such as member states’ uncoordinated management of internal border controls, opening, and closures). In response to that, the European Commission presented a New Pact on Migration and Asylum in 2020, as well as a new Schengen strategy in June 2021, proposing measures with a focus on enhancing police cooperation between member states, reinforcing external border management, and strengthening Schengen’s governance. 

In our workshop on the 29th of September in Zurich (register here), we will focus on 4 important aspects related to the future of migration policy in Europe: 

  1. Labour migration
  2. Coordination of border opening/closure
  3. Solidarity mechanisms within Europe in times of crisis
  4. Integration and intra-European mobility for non-EU migrants


How did we get to today's policy discussions?

In general terms, migration can be defined as the process of “moving” within a country or across borders, voluntarily or involuntarily. Following the increased migration flow that began in 2015, and was mainly caused by war and persecution, the EU’s migration system policy was put under extreme stress and proved to have a series of deficiencies and issues, which led to tensions and an institutional crisis. Today, a New Pact on Migration and Asylum is being debated. 


Why the debate on the future of migration policy is relevant

Forced migration is the outcome of a conflict, changes in the political system and natural disasters while voluntary migration usually has an economic background. These influxes usually bear perceived negative or positive connotations depending on a number of factors. Nevertheless, migration’s impact on a state or region’s security depends strongly on the management of migration policies applied. Because of the intrinsic nature of the EU, cooperation between states is extremely important to achieve a positive impact on migration. 


The Common European Asylum System (CEAS)

Because of increased migratory flows in the 2014-2016 biennium, this system suffered a crisis, which in 2020 resulted in the proposal of a new Pact on Migration and Asylum. Before discussing the latter, it is useful to introduce its predecessor, which set out asylum management standards for cooperation between member states through five legislative items and one agency. It is currently undergoing reform, mainly to improve the sharing of responsibilities between member states and promote the principle of solidarity. 

This agreement is the most famous of the five legislative instruments of the CEAS, because it caused a great strain in the relationship between member states, particularly between the north and south of the EU, with southern member states complaining of an unbalanced share of asylum-processing responsibilities. The agreement currently states that asylum seekers must have their fingerprints taken in the first European country of arrival, which also has the responsibility to hear their application. In case of travel to other EU/EFTA countries, a further disposition in the agreement states that they should be sent back to the first country of arrival. This clearly put a strain on member states, causing issues with the correct intake procedure which might lead to internal security issues. Furthermore, the system has also been criticised for causing negative outcomes for asylum seekers, both at the humanitarian and systematic levels. There is a concerning lack of safety for undocumented migrants that might end up exposed to human trafficking or organized crime groups. Because of these issues, the Dublin agreement is currently undergoing renegotiation, with the aim to find a common ground under a common European migration policy. 


The new Pact on Migration and Asylum

The new Pact was presented in 2020 by the European Commission with the goal of deeply reforming the common asylum policy. By addressing member states’ interdependence in relation to migration policies and decisions in the long run, the proposed new framework is meant to provide increased certainty, clarity and decent conditions to individuals arriving in the EU. 

This new Pact introduces 9 instruments aimed at improving the system. In particular, the aims of this deep reform are to introduce a solidarity mechanism that member states can rely on, in order to fairly distribute the responsibilities and take charge of asylum seekers. This is also seen in the reform of the Dublin Regulation. The importance of introduction of solidarity mechanisms like this will be an extremely relevant tool to avoid blockages of the system should there be other migratory crises in the future. 


The Schengen area allows for the free flow of people, goods and services between states, removing the need for internal border control between Schengen states. During the pandemic, issues with the management of borders and lack of coordination between member states with the opening and closure of borders came to the surface. As a result of that, the European Commission presented a new Schengen strategy in June 2021, whose aim is to improve police cooperation between member states in order to enhance internal security and reinforce external border management while improving the overall Schengen governance. Regarding the external borders of the EU, the new Pact on Migration and Asylum will help to regulate the screening process of asylum seekers crossing borders, making the system more efficient.

EU Labour Migration Policy

Member states often find it difficult to agree on common policies to adopt with regard to labour migration and the intra-European mobility of non-EU migrants. While nationals of Schengen states benefit from full freedom of movement between states, the movement of third-country nationals is regulated under a separate scheme. The rules concerning this scheme are not as generous as the Schengen area and are limited to long-term residents, highly skilled workers, researchers and students. New agreements and regulations are needed to address future challenges that might arise but are extremely difficult to discuss, also due to the political situation of a number of European states. 


Spotlight on Switzerland's migration policy: the Report on International Cooperation on Migration

This report seeks to address migration to Switzerland through a number of instruments such as international and regional dialogues, bilateral migration partnerships with other countries, readmission agreements and finally programmes aimed at strengthening the protection of migrants in their regions of origin. This framework promotes cooperation between various departments, which coordinate their efforts under an interdepartmental structure for international cooperation on migration (ICM structure). 


Future developments 

While the migration crisis is no longer at its 2014-2016 peak, it is impossible to predict what to expect in the years to come. A number of issues must be taken into consideration: climate change and human displacement due to unpredictable extreme weather conditions might be one of the leading causes of future migration flows through, from, and internally to the Eurozone. States need to address these issues and continue the debate and revision of migration agreements.