As part of the Conference on the Future of Europe, a randomly selected European Citizens' Forum has put forward 40 recommendations on how to deal with migration and strengthen the EU internationally.
The recommendations focus on five areas:
- Autonomy and stability
- The EU as an international partner
- A strong EU in a peaceful world
- Migration from a human point of view
- Responsibility and solidarity in the EU
The last of three Forum meetings, held in Maastricht from 11 to 13 February 2022, brought together around 200 people from all EU Member States. Due to the COVID-19 situation, Forum participants were able to attend from afar.
Enrico Giannotti, a participant from Italy, described the recommendations as "very comprehensive" and added: "I hope they will be taken up by the European institutions."
Forum participants strongly supported deliberative processes such as the conference and recommended that it continue to be held annually.
Tackling root causes of migration
After exchanging views on all aspects of migration, Forum participants recommended measures to address the root causes of migration. In addition, a humanitarian approach to migration should be taken, refugees should be better integrated and responsibility should be shared among all EU Member States.
Participants noted that migration is not necessarily a problem. They suggested giving asylum seekers with appropriate qualifications access to the European labour market and improving conditions for workers migrating within the EU.
Strengthen border management agency Frontex
Inequalities along the EU's external borders were also highlighted. To address these, participants recommended strengthening the European border management agency Frontex and making it more transparent.
"Northern countries that do not have many external borders should contribute more to a central agency like Frontex to help southern countries that face more (migration) pressure," said Péter Csákai-Szöke from Hungary.
The EU in the world
The EU's dependence on imports of strategic goods such as medicines, semiconductors, energy and food was identified as a major problem. The Civic Forum recommended widespread promotion of local production and an increase in renewable energy production to reduce dependence "as much as possible".
The forum also suggested that most foreign policy decisions should be taken by qualified majority rather than unanimously, in order to be able to react more quickly to crises and to strengthen the EU's presence in the world through a united front.
"We could meet halfway"
The EU should also impose import restrictions on countries that do not respect ethical or environmental criteria and also promote values such as human rights and democracy abroad, the forum participants recommended.
"We did not agree on everything, but we were able to meet halfway on these issues, and that is wonderful," said Ewa Buchta from Poland.
The Citizens Take Over Europe (CTOE) network had criticised what it saw as the "one-sided influence of experts" on the Citizens' Forum in early February 2022. CTOE sees "an extremely problematic one-sided expert influence with regard to the topic of borders". Fabrice Leggeri, Executive Director of the EU border management agency Frontex, had been invited to speak on this topic.
His invitation is seen as problematic because he had a direct interest in portraying Frontex in a positive light. Moreover, it is seen as totally unacceptable to invite him without also inviting experts from human rights organisations such as Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International, who could have presented an independent alternative perspective on Frontex and the whole issue of EU border management.
"Highly problematic selection"
CTOE quotes a report published on 23 June 2021 by Human Rights Watch: "An analysis of the actions of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, known as Frontex, shows a pattern of failure to credibly investigate or take action to curb abuses against migrants at the EU's external borders, even in the face of clear evidence of rights violations."
The "highly problematic selection" of experts seems to have had a strong influence on the opinion-forming of the Forum participants. A number of "guidelines" call for an extension of Frontex's powers. However, the Civic Forum also recommends monitoring Frontex in order to create transparency and avoid all kinds of abuse.
The representatives of the Citizens' Forum presented and debated the recommendations at the plenary session of the Conference on 11 and 12 March 2022 in Strasbourg. The plenary session was attended by representatives of the EU institutions, national parliaments, civil society and citizens. The Conference Plenary met on 25-26 March and 8-9 April 2022 to develop proposals for EU action based on the ideas submitted on the Conference Platform and the recommendations of the Citizens' Forums.
The final outcome of the conference will be summarised in a report to be presented to the Presidents of the Parliament, the Council and the European Commission. They have committed themselves to following up on the recommendations.