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Oct 30, 2014

Assessing the Mobility Partnerships between the EU and Moldova and Georgia

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Raül Hernández i Sagrera

Mobility Partnerships (MPs) are the most representative policy intrument of the nascent external dimension of the EU labour migration policy. The Partnerships, a soft law policy tool that foresees intergovernmental cooperation between participating EU Member States and a third country, were conceived as a mechanism to promote circular migration schemes. Among the Eastern Partnership (EaP) countries, the Republic of Moldova in 2008 and Georgia in 2009 have signed MPs with the EU. When assessing the Partnerships, in the first place their non-legally-binding nature does not guarantee the compliance of the parties with the projects agreed. Second, the empiricial analysis shows that circular migration, contrary to the original purpose, has not been their main component. Rather, the Partherships include a myriad of projects that mainly provide capacity-building on migration management for the third country. Third, the content of the Partnerships reveals that they are conditional on a strong commitment of the third country in the fields of readmission and border management, which calls into question their aim to promote channels for mobility from the Eastern partners into the EU.

EU Mobility Partnerships with third countries: a soft law policy tool to foster labour migration

Mobility Partnerships (MPs) have been coined by the European Commission as “the most innovative and sophisticated tool to date of the Global Approach to Migration".[1] They constitute the most representative instrument of the external dimension of the EU labour migration policy, one of the least developed of the EU migration policy areas. Indeed, EU Member States have traditionally been reluctant to transfer labour migration competencies at EU level. With this lack of development of the EU labour migration policy ad intram, it is not surprising that the external dimension has not been particularly dynamic.

MPs are soft law policy instruments that foster intergovernmental cooperation between EU Member States and a third country in the framework of the Global Approach to Migration. EU Member States participation is voluntary and the Commission acts as a coordinating agent in the negotiations and follow-up of the agreed migration-related projects.[2] The normative basis of MPs was set in the Commission Communication on Circular Migration and Mobility Partnerships between the EU and Third Countries.[3] The Partnerships were conceived as an instrument to promote circular migration, which foresees the temporary recruitment of TCNs to work in a particular field in an EU Member State with the possibility of renewal. The concept of circular migration in itself is not an EU innovation. but has been widely used by organisations such as the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).[4]

The EU has so far launched three MPs: with the Republic of Moldova (hereinafter Moldova) and Cape Verde in 2008 and with Georgia in 2009. The negotiations of an MP with Georgia ran in paralell with those with Senegal. However, the latter were not successful, most likely due to the lack of will of Senegal to sign the Partnership and the fact that some EU Member States had already signed bilateral migration arrangements with Dakar. The following sections focus on the analysis on the negotiations and implementation of the MPs deployed with EaP partners.

The EU Mobility Partnership with Moldova

Moldova was selected as a pilot country alongside Cape Verde for the deployment of MPs. Actually, the Moldova cooperation with the EU in Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) has been fruitful and has given room for the launch of pilot EU initiatives such as the MP.[5] Both countries are small in size and have been coined as EU willing partners.[6] Moldova conceived the Partnership as an instrument to come closer with the EU and as a step foward towards the top priority of visa liberalisation.[7]

With this aim, the Moldovan authorities were quite active in ‘campaigning’ for the candidature of Moldova for a MP. Chișinău presented three non-papers to the Commission advocating for the MP. It is worth mentioning that the second non-paper, presented in August 2007, had a strong focus on the deployment of circular migration schemes. In this sense, the possible involvement of IOM in the negotiations cannot be underestimated. As mentioned in the previous section, the Organisation had been developing circular migration and has an active office in Moldova. Nevertheless, the third non-paper, issued in April 2008, made no reference to circular migration. The reasons underlying this shift in the content of the Partnerships are twofold. First, Moldova was not interested in sending more workers abroad as approximately one third of its labour force is outside of the country. Second, the EU Member States interested in joining the Partnership were also not interested in favouring the development of circular migration.

The EU MP with Moldova was launched in the format of a Joint Declaration in May 2008[8], with the participation of fifteen EU Member States. The empirical analysis of the content of the MP with Moldova shows that the Partnership barely includes circular migration schemes. Nonetheless, Luxembourg, Bulgaria, Portugal and the Veneto region in Italy have all set up such schemes. This is a low figure if taken into consideration that fifteen EU Member States participate in the Partnership. The most overarching project within the MP has been implemented by the Swedish Public Employment Service, involving eleven EU Member States. The project deals with the strengthening of Moldova’s capacity to manage labour and return migration.[9]

The EU Mobility Partnership with Georgia

The MP with Georgia has to be framed in the context of the enhanced JHA cooperation between Brussels and Tbilisi proposed at the extraordinary European Council in the aftermath of the conflict with South Ossetia in August 2008. Unlike Moldova, emigration is not such a relevant issue for Georgian inner politics, and the number of migrant communities abroad is much lower. In this sense, the MP with Georgia was the first one to be negotiated with a country where migration does not play a central role. Georgia could also be coined as an EU willing partner and, although its migration cooperation with the EU is less developed than in Moldova, it could be argued that it is following the same path as regards the implementation of the most relevant EU migration policy tools. In this sense, it should be pointed out that Tbilisi was in contact with Chișinău while negotiating its MP.

The EU MP with Georgia was launched in November 2009 and was signed by sixteen Member States, the highest number to date on a MP.[10] It should be noted that in the non-paper sent by Tbilisi to the Commission, when the negotiations started, there were almost no references to circular migration. Following the trend of the MP with Moldova, circular migration has been vaguely included in the Partnership. Among the proposals, stands out a project involving ten of the participating EU Member States.[11] Most of the initiatives agreed in the Partnership are oriented at strengthening Georgia’s capacity to manage labour migration. Germany and the Netherlands have also proposed to set up circular migration projects.

The Joint Declarations of both the MP with Moldova and Georgia include a section that enumerates a set of measures related to irregular migration. First, they foresee measures on border management such as the adoption of Integrated Border Management (IBM) and other related border management initiatives. In that regard, they stipulate the improvement of the operational cooperation between the respective Moldova and Georgia Border Guard Services and FRONTEX. Second, the Partnerships make reference to the broadening of the readmission policy, since at the time of their signature the Readmission Agreements had not entered into force yet. Third, they mention the enhancement of document security measures, aimed at the introduction of biometrics.

Conclusions and Prospects of EU Mobility Partnerships in other Eastern Partnership countries

This article focusing on the assessment of the MPs signed with the Eastern partners (Moldova and Georgia) draws the following conclusions. First, the non-legally binding nature of the Partnerships does not guarantee their enforcement. This is surprising when the EU has competence to sign legally binding agreements in the field of migration.[12] This non-legally binding character has several implications. On the one hand, the Partnerships are not subject to an independent follow-up mechanism. The Commission is in charge of organising biannual Task Force meetings, which tend to highlight only positive aspects of the cooperation. On the other hand, the content of the Partnerships results in a wide range of initiatives of fragmented cooperation.

Second, in light of the analysis, the Partnerships, contrary to its original purpose, do not consist predominantly in the development of circular migration schemes. Rather, officials stress that MPs enable the exchange of best practices and experiences as positives outcomes. Moreover, they underline that the Partnerships provide capacity-building in migration management.[13] Finally, it seems that MPs are much more focused on ensuring the implementation of the readmission agreements and border management activities than in fostering mobility. Their content reveals that they are conditionality tools to implement further the EU irregular migration policy towards the EaP.

Regarding the prospects of EU MPs in the rest of the EaP countries, the Commission is currently negotiating a MP with Armenia. Once adopted, Azerbaijan will most likely follow the same path. As for Belarus, the absence of EU contractual relations with Minsk makes the prospects for a Partnership unlikely. Ukraine constitutes a special case. So far, the Partnerships have been deployed only in countries of a small size. Despite the initial intentions of the Hungarian Presidency of the council of the EU to start  negotiations with Ukraine[14], the lack of will on the Ukrainian side and among EU Member States has most probably been the reason behind the lack of steps in that direction. Actually, the Ukrainian migration policy is concerned about the demographic decrease Ukraine has been suffering and does not envisage regulating labour migration into the EU.[15]

In the context of the Arab Spring in 2011, the EU has given an impetus to the MP as a tool in the framework of the Dialogue for migration, mobility and security with the southern Mediterranean countries.[16] It foresees the deployment of MPs with countries such as Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt, which unlike Moldova and Georgia, are not so small and willing. Without a doubt, this annoucement will give food for thought as regards to in how far the model of the MPs with Moldova and Georgia will be exported to the southern Mediterranean countries.

[1]See European Commission (2009), Mobility Partnerships as a tool of the Global Approach to Migration, Commission Staff Working Document, SEC (2009) 1240, Brussels, 18 September, p. 4. The Global Approach to Migration foresees the adoption of a comprehensive approach towards migration, not only focused on irregular migration, but also on channels for regular migration such as labour migration. It was conceived at the Hampton Court European Council in 2005.

[2]For a thorough analysis of the origin and implementation of EU MPs with third countries, see Carrera, S, and Hernández i Sagrera, R. (2001), “Mobility Partnerships: Insecurity Partnerships for the Policy Coherence and Human Rights Workers in the EU”, in R. Kunz, S. Lavenex and M. Panizzon (eds.), Multilayered Migration Governance: The Promise of Partnership, London: Routledge, pp. 97.115.

[3]See European Commission (2007), Communication on circular migration and mobility partnerships between the European Union and third countries, COM (2007) 248 final, Brussels, 15 May.

[4]See the definition provided by International Organisation for Migration (IOM) (2005), World Migration 2005: Costs and Benefits of International Migration: Geneva: IOM. See an analysis of the implication of circular migration at Vertovec, S. (2007), “Circular Migration: The Way Forward in Global Policy?”, International Migration Institute Working Papers, Oxford: International Migration Institute.

[5]See Hernández i Sagrera, R. (2011), “Moldova: Pioneering Justice and Home Affairs Cooperation with the EU in the Eastern Partnership?”, Moldova’s Foreign Policy Statewatch, issue 30, Chișinău: Institute for Development and Social Initiatives “Viitorul”, July 2011.

[6]On EU willing and reluctant partners, see Emerson, M., Noutcheva, G. and Popescu, N. (2007), “The European Neighbourhood Policy Two Years on: Time indeed for an ‘ENP plus’”, CEPS Policy Brief, no. 126, Brussels: Centre for European Policy Studies.

[7]Interviews with officials from Moldova in Brussels (April 2009 and 2010) and Chișinău (April 2011).

[8]Council of the European Union (2008), Joint Declaration on a Mobility Partnership between the European Union and Moldova, 99460/08, Brussels, 21 May.

[9]For more information on the project, see

[10]See Council of the European Union (2009), Joint Declaration on a Mobility Partnership between the European Union and Georgia, 16396/09, Brussels, 20 November.

[11]Ibid.p. 8.

[12]See Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, art. 79.3. See Carrera, S. and Hernández i Sagrera, R., (2011), op. cit., p. 106.

[13]Interview with an official of the Ministry of Labour, Social Protection and Family, Chișinău, April 2011.

[14]Interview with an official of the Permanent Representation of Hungary to the EU, Brussels, June 2010.

[15]Interview with an official of the IOM office in Ukraine, Kyiv, April 2011.

[16]See European Commission (2011), Communication on a dialogue for migration, mobility and security with the southern Mediterranean countries, COM (2011) 292 final, 24 May.