Migration Focus: EU Mobility Partnerships

The Dutch Permanent Representation to the EU in Brussels hosted a policy debate on 18 January on the topic of EU Mobility Partnerships. The debate was organized by Maastricht University and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The aim of the debate was to discuss the state of implementation of the EU’s Mobility Partnerships. These partnerships are a framework for cooperation between the EU and non-EU countries on migration issues. The debate brought together academics and policy-makers from the EU member states, the European Commission, and non-EU countries.

During two panel sessions and a plenary debate participants spoke of the successes and challenges experienced during implementation of the Mobility Partnerships. The major conclusions of the day were that: the EU needs to communicate the aim and content of the partnerships more effectively; there needs to be better coordination between the partners involved (the Commission, the member states and the non-EU countries); and there needs to be more balance within the partnerships between encouraging legal mobility and preventing illegal migration.

All participants agreed that Mobility Partnerships have the potential to add real value to the existing bilateral cooperation with these non-EU countries, and an upcoming evaluation (to be carried out by the Commission) should help to unlock this potential.

The policy debate was organized in the framework of the IS-Academy cooperation on Migration and Development. The IS-Academy partners are Maastricht University (coordinated by the Graduate School of Governance), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the European Institute of Public Administration, the European Centre for Development Policy Management, and the International Centre for Migration Policy Development. A summary of the main conclusions of the policy debate will be made available on the IS-Academy website, which can be accessed at http://mgsog.merit.unu.edu/ISacademie/

Natasja Reslow, Maastricht University

The Year 2011

Not the most imaginative title in journalistic history, but who can argue with BBC News Magazine‘s headline of 19 December 2011:

‘2011: The year when a lot happened’

The Year 2011 was the year of the Arab Spring and the European Winter. A year marked by protest, revolution, and conflict; a year that saw the toppling of dictators – from Ben Ali to Mubarak to Ghadaffi. And the toppling, ideologically, of big banking and the idea that unfettered and global finance can only be a good thing (at least in some quarters…).

If any single moment can be identified when the Arab Spring started it has to be when the young man Mohamed Bouazizi set himself alight. His death on 4 January 2011 sparked within two weeks a ‘Jasmine’ Revolution that overthrew Tunisian despot Ben Ali.

Quick on its heels followed similar protests – driven by passionate young men and women utilizing in an unprecedented manner the technology of the social media – in Egypt, Libya, Syria and Oman, and more recently in Russia.

The Year 2011 will also be remembered as the European Winter – perhaps the European and US winters – a year wherein growing unemployment, troubling government debts and fiscal austerity measures and heralded (exaggerated) announcements of the imminent collapse of the Euro; A year wherein rightwing parties moved into the political ascendency amidst greater intolerance and xenophobia – even in traditionally more liberal and tolerant societies. As in Arab countries, protests led by predominantly youthful men and women took place across Europe as well as in the US – including a walk-out by the University of Harvard’s economics 10 class.

Yes, 2011 was a year when a lot happened. Many have asked whether it will be in retrospect as a historically decisive year as was for instance 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell. Will the Arab Spring, like the protests in the former DDR and Soviet Union that ended the Cold War eventually contribute towards global socio-political stability?

As I write this on Sunday 22January 2012 I cannot but think that comparison with an earlier ‘historical’ year may perhaps be more apt – and more ominous: The Year 1905.  Sunday 22 January 1905 was a Black Sunday. On that day the Imperial Guard in Tsarist Russia opened fire on peaceful protesters in St. Petersburg. It was to be a fateful day, one that eventually sealed the fate of the Tsar and the Russian ruling class as it paved the way to the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the establishment of the Soviet Union.

Amongst those who were amongst the protesters in 1917 were the 11 year old Dimitry Shostakovich, who was witness to the brutal hacking to death of an unknown young man, who was accused of having stolen, out of hunger, an apple. Like the Arab Spring in the year 2011, the Russian Revolution of 1905/1917 was kindled in the poverty, desperation and  the blood of the youth.

The eventual Russian Revolution of 1917 was with the benefit of hindsight one of the most significant events shaping the rest of the 20th century. It led to the rise and fall of the Soviet Union, the Cold War, the  nuclear arms race, proliferation of nuclear weapons (see Pakistan and Iran), and the conflict in Afghanistan (of which the consequences are still shaping geo-political affairs).

How different would the developing world have been if these countries had gained their independence in a world where there was no Cold War? In many of these countries communism and the backing of the Soviet Union contributed to  large scale predation of human and natural resources – often accompanied by ‘leaders for life’ through the cult of the ‘big personality’ – as exemplified by Stalin. The latter cult of the personality became almost de rigueur in many poor countries, and continues to this day in ‘strongmen’ such as Al-Assad, Mugabe, Museveni, Castro, Chavez, Obiang and others.

So how will we judge the Year 2011 in a century’s time?  Will the protests ignited by the Arab Spring and European Winter eventually lead to a more equal and prosperous global society, the type of society that many expected to follow in 1989 but did not happen? Or will it in unimaginable ways lead to even more terrible horrors than we witnessed in the 20th century?

Humans have throughout history far underestimated the sweeping power of demography. And what we are witnessing now is nothing but momentous demographic changes in the form of a growing, and largely youthful and much more mobile and connected world population. Many of whom are unemployed and marginalized.

What is different this time around – compared to 1905 – is the availability of vastly superior technologies than before; technologies that have already left their mark on the planet’s climate; technologies than can cause incredible destruction and enable new forms of slavery and control. As Luc Soete stressed in his 2011 Tans Lecture not all innovation is successful or socially desirable.

For some historians The Year 1905 was actually an annus mirabilis. This is because on 27 September 1905 Albert Einstein published one of the most significant single scientific articles ever – an article in the journal Annalen der Physik (under the title “Does the Inertia of a Body Depend Upon Its Energy Content?”).  The article laid the foundations of the theory of relativity which led to quantum mechanics. It facilitated some of the most powerful technologies humans have ever encountered – from lasers, CDs to nuclear power.

It is interesting and ironic then that on 22 September 2011 scientists reported that they had recorded sub-atomic particles travelling faster than the speed of light. If confirmed, this would be overthrowing, in a year when a lot of overthrowing happened, an important cornerstone of modern science. And perhaps open a Pandora’s Box of unimaginable future technologies. The demography-technology cycle continues.

Wim Naudé, Professorial Fellow, UNU-Maastricht

Coffee House Economists

One of my favourite articles from The Economist in 2011 is entitled ‘Back to the Coffee House’ (7 July 2011). The piece is not (at least directly) an ode to the world’s most coveted beverage, but rather a recognition that information and communication technology has now made communication more sociable, direct, open and integrated into daily life. Much as the situation was 300 years ago before the rise of printed newspapers.

Then, as The Economist writes “news travelled by word of mouth or letter, and circulated in taverns and coffee houses in the form of pamphlets, newsletters and broadsides”. Today, with the circulation of printed papers declining, news is travelling increasingly via Twitter, Facebook, blogs, email, texts, and internet sites.

How and what we communicate through these social media and other high-tech pamphlets, newsletters and broadsides have in 2011 been major topics of conversation in our virtual coffee shops, from the Arab Spring, the Wikileaks media leaks, to the News of the World hacking scandal.

Even academics seem to have caught on in 2011, with Jason Priem writing on the LSE’s Impact of Social Science’s Blog that scholars are slowly but surely undertaking “a great migration to online publishing”.

For economics, this can only be a good thing. Following the global financial crisis, the economics profession itself came in for stinging criticism. Academic economists have become, locked in their academic ivory-towers, largely out of touch with policy and practice.

Mark Thomas calls this the ‘Great Disconnect’, remarking that “as the ties between academic economists and the practitioners who use the models and techniques they produce have diminished, the questions economists ask have drifted away from the questions of most interest to society. To a large extent, economics has become separated from its real world users and applications”.

Social media offer economists opportunities to re-connect with society. Despite the growing popularity of a number of economics blogs there is still an undersupply of good economics blogs — and on average only 1 in 40 scholars is on Twitter (see Jason Priem).

This is the conclusion from Berk özler and David McKenzie from the World Bank, who having studied the impacts of 50 economics blogs found that a blog can “transform attitudes about some of the topics it covers”.

Transforming attitudes is a good start if one wants to influence policy and practice. Let us welcome more and more economists – and other scientists for that matter – back into the coffee house in 2012.

Wim Naudé, Professorial Fellow, UNU-Maastricht

Migration, Development and Sharing Research on ‘Transnational’ Life

To what extent do migrants stay in touch with family and friends in their countries of origin? How do their experiences in destination countries influence their capacity and desire to stay involved with their homeland? What are the links between integration processes, transnational activities and return migration? These were among the questions of a workshop co-organized by UNU-Maastricht (UNU-MERIT / MGSoG) and Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) on 14 December 2011.

Speakers included Masja van Meeteren (EUR, Post Doc), who presented her research on how irregular migrants are involved in transnational activities. Her work adds value because the experiences of irregular migrants remain at the periphery of migration research, even though their precarious situation demands much more attention.

By contrast Marianne van Bochove (EUR) focused on migrants who are socioeconomically successful in Belgium and The Netherlands. Her innovative approach expands our understanding of transnationalism because she combines transnationalism literature with urban sociology literature to study the transnational activities and identifications of migrants.

Linda Bakker (EUR) then presented early results of her research into the integration of refugee groups from a transnational perspective based on the SING survey conducted among major refugee groups in The Netherlands. Linda has done a tremendous amount of work even though she is just at the beginning of her PhD research. Her project is promising and definitely one to follow, as it focuses on refugees’ transnational involvement, a subject that is only recently attracting more attention in The Netherlands.

Last but not least, representing UNU-Maastricht, I presented my paper on the compatibility between migrants’ integration processes in The Netherlands and their engagement in social and economic transnational activities, based on data we collected for the IS Academy, ‘Migration and Development: A World in Motion project’. I was very happy to receive many useful and constructive comments on my paper!

Beyond the workshop itself, Professor Godfried Engbersen (EUR) gave a lunchtime lecture on ‘Labour migration patterns among Central and Eastern European migrants’ and spoke with our migration coordinator Melissa Siegel in a brief video interview (see window above).

Özge BILGILI, PhD Researcher on Migration & Development, UNU-MERIT / Maastricht Graduate School of Governance