London: The EU could adopt a “carrot and stick” approach to repatriating migrants to non-EU countries and stopping illegal immigration, applying economic and diplomatic pressures to other nations in a bid to stem the flow of people to Europe, leaked documents suggest.
EU countries received 159,410 people across the Mediterranean alone in 2022, according to the UN Refugee Agency, while 179,600 people were given notice to leave EU member states for their home countries. In total, just 33,600 did so.
Pressure has been building in Europe, especially in Sweden, which took the most refugees per capita of any EU state during the 2015 migrant crisis and which assumed the rotating EU presidency this month, to find a way to alter the one-way traffic of people from Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.
A draft communique ahead of a meeting of the 27 EU leaders in Brussels next month, seen by The Guardian, suggested the EU could tie aid payments to the readiness of non-EU states to accept their citizens being sent home in future, with the bloc to assess ways of reducing illegal migration by “all relevant EU policies, instruments and tools, including development, trade, and visas as well as opportunities for legal migration.”
A meeting of interior ministers in Sweden’s capital Stockholm this week will also look at ways to reform Europe’s policies on migration, including focusing on other European, non-EU states that facilitate migration, with Serbia high on the agenda.
Serbia currently does not have visa requirements for many countries from which migrants travel, making it “a hub for illegal migration” to the EU, according to a cross-party group of Dutch lawmakers in December.
The intervention of the Dutch politicians aimed to persuade Brussels to apply pressure on the Balkan state, which is an EU membership candidate, to change its visa policy to fall in line with its EU neighbors or risk having its application rejected.
This week, the Dutch government called on the European Commission to use all tools at its disposal to dissuade migrants and return failed asylum seekers, including utilizing trade agreements and development aid.
Sweden’s Ambassador to the EU Lars Danielsson, meanwhile, called for a “carrot and stick” approach to migration in Europe.
Speaking to reporters recently, he said: “Haven’t we come to a time where we need to use both the carrots and the sticks a bit more efficiently than we have so far? The carrots are always easier, but we also need to look more carefully … at our sticks.”
However, there are fears that using development aid as a weapon to cajole other countries into complying with the EU’s wishes could have a detrimental effect on the countries that need aid most, and where many of the migrants the EU wishes to repatriate originate from because of poverty, instability, and other factors.
Evelien van Roemburg, head of Oxfam’s EU office, told The Guardian: “The EU’s obsessive focus on externalizing their migration responsibilities is not in line with their continued statements of equal partnership with non-EU countries. Instead, the EU bullies them into meeting their narrow-minded political objectives.
“Aid is meant to assist people to get out of poverty not to stop migration.”