Is it Time to Have an Open Conversation on Migration Yet?

04/08/2015 01:25 pm ET | Updated Jun 08, 2015

By Míriam Juan-Torres

The European Student Conference at Yale in February 2015 was an opportunity to have an open and sincere conversation on the current state of affairs in the European Union. It gathered leading students from different parts of the world, mainly Europeans and Americans, policy-makers, professors, and high ranking officials who under the Chatham House rule engaged in visionary debates on the most pressing issues in the European Agenda.

As coordinator of the Borders workshop, which addressed the European Neighborhood Policy, the unification of migration policies, integration of migrants, and securitization of migration, I have witnessed a series of intense debates as I have yet to see in Europe. This raises some main questions: Has the time come to shift these debates overseas? Can the European Union stakeholders (the Council, the Commission, the Parliament, and its member states) have the type of reflective sincerity needed to not just engage with others, but with themselves in conversations of policy impact and effect?

Put bluntly: Migration is necessary in the European Union. Such a statement might be socially unpopular and, perhaps, even politically charged, but EU leaders need to accept the realities of migratory flows and demographic transition facing the region. The demographic challenges of the EU can only be overcome by incorporating migrants in our economies. Yet, this is not only a matter of being able to maintain the welfare state. If we do not invert the population pyramid, many areas in Europe will be nearly deserted and economic progress will remain difficult.

Migration has always existed and will always exist. Still, we cannot rely on the same old ideas and policies. During the debates, we talked about circular migration, brain circulation rather than brain drain, and battled the importance of clear terminology and the long-term impacts embedded in short-term strategies. But there remain several buried discussions that are often kept separate from immigration, in spite of their contribution to migratory flows. For example, if the European Union were serious (and strategic) about reducing migratory flows from Africa, the most effective action would be to get rid of the Common Agricultural Policy.

Similarly, securitizing migration is a trend that we have seen both in Europe and in the United States. And in both regions, it has not worked and it is not likely to work, regardless of how many funds are added to foot the bill. Ultimately, migration remains a predominantly humanitarian issue and it should be treated as such. As participants in the workshop said: Scaling down on the securitization of migration is not equivalent to scaling down on security. It simply means shifting the focus towards human security and human rights. If there´s anything we can take from the perspective of conference participants, it is that military instruments will not solve extremely complex political and social problems.

If the European Union does not address these issues directly -- or rather -- the member states and the relevant organisms, the tragedies of Lampedusa will not be an exception; neither will be Charlie Hebdo or the humanitarian catastrophes that take place in Ceuta and Melilla. So, Europe, let's accept that it's time. Let's have an honest conversation.

Míriam Juan-Torres is an MA candidate at Yale University's Jackson Institute for Global Affairs. She holds a law degree from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. Prior to coming to Yale, she had been the president of an International Relations Association, UNANIMUN and had acquired legal experience in Public Law.