An Assessment of the EU`s Role in the Developing World in Relation to Migration

Abstract – The aim of this article is to analyse the EU`s role in the developing world in relation to migration. To achieve that reasons behind the migration from developing countries to EU countries are discussed and the impact of migration on the development of poor countries is analysed. The common migration policy of the EU is introduced and EU`s policies to manage the migration flows are presented. The main argument of this article is that despite some attempts of the EU to manage migration relations between developing countries and the EU in favour of both sides, the Union still has a long way to go.

Key Words: European Union, Developing Countries, Migration, Development

Journal of Global Analysis | Vol. 1 | No. 1 | 2010


The movement of people around the world and increased migration to Europe are inevitable results of globalisation and migration has been viewed as the human face of globalisation. People are migrating from their countries to others for various reasons and no country can isolate itself from the challenges of migration. As a result of its welfare and stability, Europe is one of the most attractive places for immigrants from developing countries. While migration affects EU countries and developing ones differently, unmanaged migration has negative effects on both sides.

The paper can be divided into two main parts. In the first part, reasons of migration from developing countries to EU member states and the impact of migration on poor countries through brain drain and remittances will be examined. In the second part of the paper, the EU`s attempt to make migration a common issue of member states and its policies to manage the migration flows will be presented.

Push and Pull Factors behind the Immigration to the European Union

Poverty, injustice and armed conflict cause millions of displaced people across the globe. In the last 30 years, the number of international migrants reached to 191 million worldwide.[1] These include economic migrants forced to move, refugees and internally displaced persons and victims of human trafficking. The majority of these immigrants are economic migrants who have no reason to stay in their countries of origin. It is expected that there are between 30 and 40 million undocumented migrants worldwide who compromises nearly 15–20 percent of the world’s migrant population.[2]

The factors which influence migration should be taken into account by effective migration policies to tackle migration problem in the world in favour of migrants, their families, and sending and receiving nations. First of all, these factors which influence people` decisions to migrate should be known. They were divided into two groups as push and pull. Push factors are the forces which influence people’s decisions to move. Poverty, insecurity, poor working conditions, high unemployment rates, low wages and low expectation for dignified employment are the most significant push factors.[3] Nearly 550 million people with jobs are living on less than $1 a day and 2.8 billion workers earn less than $2 a day.[4] This reality is one of the main reasons that forces people to migrate to developed countries such as European ones.

On the other hand, pull factors are the forces which make other destinations more attractive for migrants. The ageing of European population and low fertility rates are two of the main pull factors driving immigrants into Europe. The limited labour forces of European countries with large demand and capital is another reason for migration. “The global labour force will rise from 3.0 to 3.4 billion in the period of 2001 to 2010 (40 million yearly).  Some 38 million of that annual growth will come from developing countries, and only two million from high-income countries.”[5] Unlimited intra-European mobility, expectations of better living standards, higher salaries, better working conditions or the prospect of family reunification are the other significant pull factors for immigrants.[6]

The European Union is the largest area of freedom, democracy and social progress and it is accepted as one of the most powerful economies in the world. According to the World Bank, the GDP of Eurozone was $9,984.1bn in 2005 while the GDP of Sub-Saharan Africa was $621.9bn in the same year.[7] It is a daily reality for European people but it is a goal for hundreds of thousands of people. Hence, people who live below the poverty line or have suffer war conditions seek to leave their countries and to live in Europe.[8]

Income inequalities between the sending and the host country are not the only reason of migration. Geographic closeness and historical links such as colonial ties and common language are other factors which determine between 20% and 30% of bilateral migration flow between EU countries and their partners.[9]

In recent years, the EU has taken a global approach to these push and pull factors which means that the member states are attempting to bring all migration relevant policy areas together. These areas cover combating illegal entry, supporting overseas development, managing demand for skilled labour, and taking action against traffickers. The priority is given to Africa and non-EU countries in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe for the global approach. The main aspect for the European Commission is to cooperate with governments of countries in the region, to train border guards and immigration officials and to negotiate easier visa regimes.[10] However, the strategy is seen as an objective rather than a reality. Because the responsibility of these issues belong to the member states and it is not easy for individual governments to allow the EU to bring its various policies together to follow strategic objectives. Additionally, the Commission needs to persuade African countries to take their undocumented migrants back by offering aid and visas.[11]

After explaining factors that influence people’s decisions to migrate from developing to developed countries, how migration affects developing countries through brain drain and remittances will be presented in the next part. Moreover, the EU`s attempt to prevent brain drain and contribute to the development of poor countries through remittances will be discussed.

Effects of migration on developing countries

Brain Drain

Brain drain is a large emigration of specialized workers as a consequence of conflict, lack of opportunity or political instability. Migration of individuals with technical skills or knowledge has a negative effect on the development process of the developing countries.[12] If a poor country loses its best and brightest people, its economy can not develop and it will cause future migration flows of the unskilled or illegal migrants to the EU or other developed countries.[13] Central America and the Caribbean Islands, South West Asia, East Europe and the Balkans and Sub-Saharan Africa are the regions with high rates of brain drain and the EU is one of the most preferred destinations for the highly skilled of these regions.[14]

According to the World Bank, each year nearly 70.000 skilled Africans migrate to European Union countries and the USA.[15] “It is noteworthy, however, that immigrants from Africa consist primarily of highly educated individuals (about 95,000 of the 128,000 African migrants)”.[16]  For instance, every year nearly 90% of the nurses and doctors migrate from Kenya to Europe and the USA. Between 1980 and 1991 years Ethiopia has lost 75% of its skilled professionals. Migration of medical and health service professionals make meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) more difficult in health programmes. Brain drain is conceived as a threat to the quality of medical care and the capacity for medical education and research. According the Africa Health Strategy, brain drain has a ‘devastating impact’ on health systems in Africa.[17]

While EU governments want skilled immigrants to fill the gaps in their local markets, they also try to prevent brain drain which affects developing countries negatively.[18] Some EU and national officials think that if national immigration and visa regimes are adopted, they can allow for circular migration which may be an alternative to long term settlement. The possibility of creating routes for migrants to enter, leave and re-enter took part in the Commission`s 2007 Communication on circular migration and mobility partnerships.[19]

It is believed that seasonal and temporary work arrangements that promote circular migration could maximise the gains of both the sending and host countries. On the one hand, labour shortages of the EU would be met and labour markets would be more flexible. On the other hand, skilled workers would go back to their countries regularly with money and ideas, African and other developing countries would not lose their skilled workers and they would maximise their gains from migration.[20] In this way, migration can shift from brain drain to brain gain. Additionally, these people return willingly to their countries if they know they would be allowed to come back. As a result, the number of illegal immigrants would decrease in EU countries. [21]

On the other hand, while the EU tries to prevent brain drain in developing countries by promoting circular migration, EU countries` policies that lack of principles of ethical recruitment cause brain drain. For instance, the UK is known as a country which applies unethical recruitment policies to attract highly skilled personnel in critical sectors such as health services.[22] Hence, this shows that EU’s attempts to prevent brain drain is high in rhetoric but low in practicality.


The main impact of migration on development comes through remittances which migrants send to their families and relatives in their country of origin. In developing countries remittances contribute to the balance of payments and they are a main source of foreign exchange.[23] Development experts think that remittances play an important role to alleviate poverty and to promote the development of poorer countries.[24]

Eurostat launched a survey on flows to and from the European Union of remittances. According to this survey, non-EU migrants sent € 17.0 billion in 2005 and € 19.1 billion in 2006 to their home countries from EU countries. In 2006, € 5.6 billion was sent by non-EU migrants residing in Spain which is the biggest remitting country. The United Kingdom, Italy, Germany and France followed Spain and 85 % of total EU remitting outflows were sent from these five countries.[25]

Remittance is generally seen as a positive link between migration and development. It is defined as “an important and stable source of development finance” by World Bank.[26] However, remittance could affect developing countries negatively by causing inflation on local market. Additionally, low-skilled or semi-skilled migrants generally transfer their money while most highly skilled professionals do not because they reside permanently in the country of destination. Moreover, one of the main questions that needs to be answered is whether remittances can balance the negative impact of brain drain or not. When a Nigerian ICT expert sends 300 USD per month to his family, this means that s/he contributes 40 times more to the UK economy and its development. Because for every 300 USD remittance send to Africa, this person produces (in service) 120000 USD to the EU market.[27]

The high costs of transferring remittances from EU countries to developing countries are a significant problem of immigrants which also affects development of poor countries negatively. The Commission believes that public administration in hosting countries may be helpful to transmit these funds to developing countries cheaply and legally[28] because more than 40% of the total money can be creamed off by companies and governments when it is being sent. Moreover, Brice Hortefeux, France’s immigration minister, proposed the establishment of an International Bank for Remittances. He argues that it would enable migrants to save and send money home by paying small cost.[29]

In sum, while remittances generally contribute to the development of developing countries, some regulations should be adopted to make remittances more effective in the development of poor countries. In the next part, the historical development of the Common Migration Policy of the European Union and the EU`s attempt to make migration an issue of common interest and to regulate migration effectively will be introduced.

The Common Migration Policy of the European Union

The desire to achieve the common migration policy has begun in late 1980s as a response to the changed nature of migration to EU countries and as a consequence of EU integration. Then, in 1985 the Schengen Agreement was signed by 5 members of the European Communities: Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. It was supposed to abolish border controls between the signatory states and create a zone of free-movement called as the “Schengen Area” without controls. This means that the citizens of these states may move freely inside the territory of the signatories. However for such freedoms to be fully enjoyed, it was also known that effective control of EU’s external borders and cooperation between member states on issues such as cross-border crime, police and judicial cooperation are necessary. [30]

Schengen Implementing Convention (1990) followed the agreement and came into force on 26th March 1995. The Convention includes specific provisions which were essential for the implementation of the Schengen ideas. The drive to cooperate in migration issues within the EEC provided the Single European Act. It was signed in 1986 by the EEC member states and came into force in 1987. The main goal is set as to create a frontier-free Europe within which people, services, goods and capital could move freely.

Immigration became an issue of common interest for the EU with the Maastricht Treaty in 1993. [31] Maastricht Treaty created an intergovernmental pillar of the EU dealing with Justice and Home Affairs. Then in 1997 with the Amsterdam Treaty, the Schengen agreement on borderless travel joined to immigration and asylum issues within a new Title IV of the Treaty. However there was anxiety among EU states towards a Community approach to migration and asylum policy. Denmark has decided to opt out of Title IV of the Treaty hence the common immigration policy does not apply to Denmark. The UK and Ireland also decided to keep their involvement optional in EU programs related to borders, immigration and asylum.[32] With this agreement, border and immigration cooperation between member states became legally binding but unanimity is still a requirement.

Shortly after the entrance of the Amsterdam Treaty into force, a list of objectives for EU asylum and immigration policies were prepared by EU leaders under the heading of the Tampere Programme. The programme outlined the framework for common migration and asylum policies with four main elements which are partnership with countries of origin, a common European asylum system, fair treatment of third country nationals and management of migration flows.[33]  In 2004, new goals were added by the governments and its new name became the Hague programme.[34] This programme outlines the actions of the EU in security, freedom and justice areas for the period 2005-2010 and it calls for a common European asylum system on  legal immigration; integration measures; partnerships with third countries; a fund for the management of external borders and the Schengen information system.[35] The first stage of the Common European Asylum system is complete. The Commission is invited to adopt second phase instruments of the Common European Asylum System by the end of 2010.[36]

In the Commission`s communication of 2008 ‘A Common Immigration Policy for Europe, Principles, Actions and Tools’, the Commission commented on the realities and implications of supranational competence:

“Immigration is a reality which needs to be managed effectively. In an open Europe without internal borders, no Member State can manage immigration on its own. We have to deal with an area without internal borders that, since 20 December 2007, includes 24 countries and almost 405 million persons, as well as with a common visa policy. The EU economies are profoundly integrated, although many differences in the economic performance and in the labour markets still subsist. Moreover, the EU has become an increasingly important player on the global scene, and its common external action is constantly enlarging to new domains; immigration is one of this. All of this means that policies and measures taken by Member States in this domain do no longer affect only their national situation, but can have repercussions on other Member States and on the EU as a whole”.[37]

The treaty of Lisbon was signed by EU member states on 13 December 2007 and entered into force on 1 December 2009. The ratification of the treaty by all EU member states means EU decisions on asylum, immigration and integration will be taken by qualified majority voting. However, under the Treaty an exclusive right belongs to member states to determine how many foreign nationals can be admitted to their respective countries. Moreover, in most EU legislation related to immigration, borders and visa, the European Parliament already has an equal voice with national ministers and under the treaty, the European Parliament will be more powerful in legal and illegal migration measures.[38]

Despite some problems on migration issues that EU members faced, attempts of EU member states to develop a common migration policy still continue. After this background information about the common migration policy of the EU, the EU`s policies to manage migration flows from developing to European countries will be examined in the last part of the article. The impact of cooperation with the country of origin in controlling illegal immigration, following of preventive policies, the adoption of the blue card and the establishment of the Frontex will be discussed.

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