Publications Éditoriaux de l'Ifri

Are Europe's Migration Funds Adequate to Meet Growing Challenges? Actuelles de l'Ifri, September 2014

Europe’s history books have always identified the Mediterranean as a bridge between different civilisations and cultures. Scholars, such as Fernand Braudel, have portrayed the Mediterranean as the bedrock of Western culture from which dialogue, mutual understanding and trade have been promoted since the very origins of our civilisation.


 These days, we are increasingly aware, almost on a daily basis, of the growing number of migrants that leave the coast of North Africa in search of Europe. Many manage to arrive in Lampedusa or Malta on rickety boats, but many others are far less fortunate during the perilous journey across; tragically, this sheer loss of life has reached a new high-- a reality to which Europe cannot possibly turn a blind eye. Since individual EU member states alone cannot cope with this growing challenge, the EU, as a whole, should aim to help those member states currently bearing the brunt of these heart-rending tragedies in order to address and rectify this dire situation. Europe should step up its efforts to further enhance its maritime patrols and search-and-rescue capacities, as well as its support for the treatment of returnees from EU member states in accordance with international law and voluntary return agreements.

 European newspapers and TV programmes have repeatedly called on Europe to help ease the mounting pressure on Italy’s shores and borders. These appeals, while politically justified and legitimate, seldom take account of the volume of funds Europe’s leaders have ploughed into migration, asylum and integration matters. It is also rare to read of any measures and programmes that EU member states can finance with EU funds. This lack of any basic study of EU financial instruments in the Italian press has often given rise to hasty and often ill-advised proposals, which, under existing EU Regulations, cannot be funded.

 EU Regulation No 516/2014 of 16 April 2014 lays down, among other things, the general provisions governing the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF). This Fund, totalling €3,137 million, has been established for the period 2014-2020 for the benefit of 27 EU member states (Denmark having opted out). AMIF’s four primary objectives are the following: (1) developing and consolidating the Common European Asylum System, including its external dimension; (2) fostering legal migration to match Europe’s evolving labour market needs and integration of third-country nationals; (3) implementing return strategies to fight irregular migration; and (4) promoting solidarity and responsibility-sharing among EU member states.

 Multi-Annual National Programmes and Specific Actions

 €2,752 million of the total AMIF’s resources must be allocated to multi-annual national programmes, which are designed to be more flexible in their implementation than the previous four EU Funds covering the period 2007-2013 (i.e. European Refugee Fund, European Return Fund, External Borders Fund and European Integration Fund). This should enable EU member states to adapt their expenditure patterns to their ever-changing priorities. This increased flexibility is further complemented by a thorough monitoring and evaluation process of the results attained with AMIF funds. This exercise will be carried out by both EU member states and the European Commission under shared management arrangements.

Article 15 provides for an additional breakdown of the resources allocated to national programmes, notably €2,752 million. More specifically, €2,392 million will be distributed to EU 27 member states according to certain agreed criteria: people flows and, for Cyprus and Malta only, the specific challenges faced by these two EU countries. In this way, Cyprus and Malta have obtained additional pre-allocated resources (€5 million each). For the period 2014-2020, the top beneficiaries of the pre-allocated resources of AMIF are United Kingdom (€370 million), followed by Italy (€310 million), France (€266 million), Greece (€259 million), Spain (€257 million) and Germany (€208 million).

The remaining €360 million of €2,752 million will be allocated in compliance with “the distribution mechanism for specific actions, notably Union Resettlement Programme and the transfer of beneficiaries of international protection from one member state to another. It must also be stressed that, in the case of a transfer of beneficiaries of international protection, Article 18(1) provides for “an additional lump sum of €6.000 for each beneficiary of international protection transferred from another member state”. It therefore emerges quite clearly that the financial incentives for promoting the Union Resettlement Programmes are less than satisfactory. 

It should also be noted that Annex II, which refers to Article 16 of the EU Regulation No 516/2014, enumerates the list of “Specific Actions”: for example, establishing and developing in the Union transit and processing centres for refugees to support resettlement operations, joint initiatives among member states in the area of integration, assistance programmes for unaccompanied minors, joint return operations for irregular migrants and joint initiatives in the field of legal migration.

Union Actions

The remaining €385 million of AMIF (€3,137 million - €2,752) is to be used to finance “Union actions, emergency assistance, the European Migration Network and technical assistance of the Commission”. However, EU Regulations introduced an additional hurdle for EU member states to overcome by stating that “at least 30 % shall be used for Union actions and the European Migration Network”. Article 20 specifies what are to be considered “Union Actions” and which ones would be eligible for funding. These range from setting up transnational cooperation projects, studies and research on possible new forms of Union cooperation in the field of asylum, migration and integration to information campaigns in third countries to raise awareness about the risk of irregular migration. The European Migration Network (EMN), composed of national experts from EU 27 member states plus Norway (serving as National Contact Points), provides “up-to-date, objective, reliable and comparable information on migration and asylum topics to policy makers (at EU and Member State level) and the general public”, as pointed out in the Home Affairs website. The European Commission coordinates its work.

EU’s External Borders

 Turning to the funds allocated to manage the EU’s external borders (not control, which is still the prerogative of EU member states) Europe’s leaders have set aside €2,720 million for the next seven years. €791 million of this has already been allocated to fund “IT systems”, notably the Entry Exit System and Registered Traveller Programme where EU member states have not yet reached an agreed solution. This leaves EU 26 member states (Ireland and United Kingdom are not members of Schengen) with €1,929 million to face the growing challenges of EU border management to which should be added the “substantial” Frontex budget of €89 million per year. More specifically, 38 per cent of this €89 million, or €34 million, will cover administrative expenditure, including the salaries of 317 staff members, leaving €55 million, or 62 per cent, of Frontex’s total budget to offset the costs of operational activities, in particular Frontex joint operations (€42 million, or 76 per cent, of this figure of €55 million). In this context, two other points should be stressed: (1) the 2014 Frontex budget has been reduced by €4.8 million compared with 2013, a step that at the very least is debatable in the light of growing flows of asylum seekers and migrants; and (2) the new Executive Director of Frontex is yet to be appointed following the departure of the General Illkka Laitinen of Finland.

 The recent initiative Frontex Plus, which was discussed at the end of August 2014 by Minister Angelino Alfano and EU Commissioner Cecilia Malmström, also warrants comment. First, it will be called Triton, not Frontex Plus, as indicated by Frontex officials during a meeting with the European Parliament on 4 September 2014. Second, Triton must be funded with fresh money coming either from EU member states or the European Commission (estimated cost: €3 million per month). Third, Triton operation will replace both Hermes and Aeneas, which are ongoing Frontex joint operations covering Sicily and Apuglia and Calabria respectively. It is clear that the scope and depth of the new Triton operation will be smaller than those of Mare Nostrum, which will be phased out gradually. Fourth, at the time of writing, it is not yet clear the starting date. Most probably, Triton would start on 1 December 2014 following the end of Hermes joint operation, which is envisaged on 30 November 2014.  Fifth, despite rather heated political discussions, there is not yet agreement among EU member states on the final destination of the refugees and migrants who would be rescued by the ships taking part in the Triton operation. This implies that all refugees and migrants will be taken to Italy as some EU member states have already made their participation in the Triton operation conditional on this point. On the basis of these considerations, should the Triton operation be considered a success in terms of burden-sharing and solidarity among EU member states? 

 The handling of the Visa Information System, the Schengen Information System II and the EU Asylum Fingerprint Database (EURODAC), which are vital to the successful implementation of EU migration, asylum and border policy, has been made quite complex by political wrangling. While the networking, maintenance and security of these three systems are funded by the European Commission via a dedicated budget line, their operational management is conducted in Strasbourg with a back-up facility in Austria. The EU Agency for large-scale IT systems (EU-LISA) itself, which was established in 2011, is in turn located in Tallinn. No further comment is necessary.  


 It should be acknowledged that the area of Home Affairs has obtained an astonishing increase of 25% if the total resources of the four funds for the period 2007-2013 (roughly €4 billion) are compared with the new resources for the period 2014-2020 (roughly €5 billion). This is all the more surprising in a budgetary context that has recorded a net decrease in EU budgetary appropriations for the first time in EU history. However, the total amount of EU Home Affairs, including resources to combat human trafficking, organised crime and terrorism, and to promote police cooperation, is a mere 0.9% of the total EU budget or €9 billion. Of this, asylum, migration and integration receive slightly more than €3 billion or 0.33 per cent of the total EU budget. This is clearly nowhere near enough to cope with the growing and increasingly diverse challenges thrown up by migration, integration and asylum issues.

 On the vexed issue of the funding of the external dimension of EU migration and asylum policies, Article 3(4) and (5) of EU Regulation No 516/2014 offers a glimmer of hope. In particular, some actions in relation to third countries can be “supported through Union instruments”, which are managed by the Home Affairs Directorate General in close coordination with the Development and Cooperation Directorate General (DEVCO) and the European External Action Service (EEAS). Although Article 3 lays down specific criteria to be upheld in conducting these actions, the novelty is that actions with third countries also need “to serve the interests of the Union’s internal policies and be consistent with activities undertaken inside the Union”. However, the budgetary appropriations allocated to the EU Home Affairs for actions of this kind are far too meagre to even be mentioned. This implies that the external dimension of migration and asylum policies continues to be significantly underfunded, as was already the case for the period 2007-2013.  

 To improve the chances of turning this glimmer of hope into reality, I welcome the proposal put forward by Emma Bonino on 21 August 2014 on the need to have a Commissioner for the Mediterranean in the Juncker Commission. To enhance foreign policy coherence and increase EU influence on its neighbouring countries, Ms Bonino contends that the remit of the new Commissioner should encompass “trade, humanitarian assistance, development, migration, asylum and even foreign policy…while leaving high-level politics in the hands of the EU’s High Representative.” She also added that “a security-oriented migration Commissioner cannot be the only face that Europe presents to our neighbours”. I feel that a Commissioner for the Mediterranean endowed with significant resources to promote EU policies and programmes would be a step in the right direction to address the majority of migration and asylum issues currently faced by EU member states. For example, a Commissioner for the Mediterranean could advance the Global Approach to Migration and Mobility (GAMM), the framework within which the EU external migration policy is promoted. As a matter of fact, GAMM has four main priorities: (1) organising legal migration and facilitating mobility; (2) preventing and curbing irregular migration; (3) fostering synergy between migration and development; and (4) improving the external dimension of asylum.

 The designation of Mr Dimitris Avramopoulos as the new EU Commissioner for “Migration, Rights and Internal Affairs”, pending confirmation by the European Parliament, is a noteworthy political step in the right direction. However, a degree of scepticism can nevertheless be justified since the current financial instruments made available to the Home Affairs Directorate General have proved inadequate to deal with migration and asylum issues successfully, in particular with regard to the external dimension of these two areas. Europe should also be concerned about preserving the history of the Mediterranean, which is rapidly turning into a graveyard for thousands of desperate asylum seekers and migrants. The European Union needs to urgently react to this challenge. The next twelve months will certainly tell us whether migration and asylum issues have become a key priority for the Juncker Commission. 

Stefano Bertozzi is a Senior Adviser at the European Bank for Development and Reconstruction. The ideas and comments are entirely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.