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Patterns of Multilevel Relations in Immigration Policies

Geddes and Scholten (2014a) distinguish three patterns of Europeanization of immigration policies, closely corresponding to the different types of government relations discussed earlier. One of them is that Europeanization clearly involves loss of control for nation states, given the supremacy and direct effect of EU directives. In our typology, this is closest aligned to the centralist ideal type, with EU institutions exerting top-down control over immigration policies throughout Europe. Starting as a spin-off from major steps in European integration, like creation of the internal market and freedom of movement within the EU, immigration was Europeanized primarily for functional reasons; if there is freedom of movement, then there should also be a common immigration policy. This is in line with the broad literature on the gradual erosion of national control over borders and migration caused by globalization and economic and political interdependencies between nation states (see Sassen 1999). Here, it might also be mentioned that European institutions, in particular the ECJ and more recently the European Commission, have played important “activist” roles in the Europeanization of immigration policies.

A second pattern, described by Geddes and Scholten (2014a) as the “escape to Europe thesis”, counters the argument that states have lost control due to the Europeanization of immigration. Reflecting a literature on how European cooperation might rather strengthen the nation state (see Moravcsik 2013), countries may seek cooperation with their European neighbours to jointly fortify their grip on international migration. Thus, working together might increase their control rather than weaken it. Furthermore, seeking cooperation at the EU level might allow governments to find ways around the political and legal constraints they face within their own countries. The escape to Europe thesis provides a good account of the intergovernmentalist evolution of the EU's immigration policies. Many EU migration and asylum measures were first introduced as forms of cooperation involving subsets of EU member states and discussed in intergovernmental working groups (such as the Trevi Group) rather than at the level of EU institutions. In our typology, this comes closest to what was termed the localist model, with the nation state being the “local” actor seeking cooperation in an EU setting for the benefit of the nation state while not ceding any substantial degree of control.

Finally, Geddes and Scholten (2014a) identify a third pattern of the evolution of EU immigration policies that stresses a transgovernmentalist form of Europeanization. This means that governments seek cooperation in a European setting, even ceding some power and control to EU institutions, in order to gain a firmer grip on immigration, to the benefit of the nations as well. In fact, this form of transgovernmentalism comes close to our ideal type of multilevel governance, with the national and European levels systematically connected rather than one or the other being in control. Such a transgovernmentalist account gives a very good explanation for the strong involvement of EU member states (rather than EU institutions) in development of several key EU directives in this area, such as the Family Reunification Directive. It also accounts for the delicate balancing of national and EU interests; for instance, the Dutch government, together with several other governments, recently tried to renegotiate the Family Reunification Directive in order to realign national and EU interests in this policy area.

Apart from the three patterns of Geddes and Scholten, we also observe our fourth type, “decoupling” in multilevel settings and absence of coordination. The struggles between nation states and EU institutions, and sometimes even between subnational governments and national and EU institutions, signal that policy interests are not always aligned. Conflicts do take place. An issue that has become particularly prominent in recent decades is that of intra-EU mobility, especially East–west migration within the EU after the accession of Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries such as Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania. Migration from CEE countries is now by far the largest migration flow to some North-Western European countries, such as the UK and the Netherlands. Although transition arrangements were made which postponed free movement for a number of years, the borders have now opened to all new member states. Many CEE migrants appear to be permanently settling in other EU member states, raising concerns about how to incorporate these EU citizens into their new home countries. However, policy measures that would impose an obligation in terms of integration efforts (such as a language requirement) are considered at odds with the principle of freedom of movement of EU citizens within the EU. In France, this conflict was brought into sharp focus when the French government decided to deport large numbers of Roma migrants to Romania and demolish their camps, thereby engaging in direct confrontation not just with Romania but also with the European Commissioner on Immigration.

This brief review of types of relations demonstrates that rather than a single pattern, there are various patterns of interaction and relations taking place simultaneously between national and EU institutions. It is undeniable that some competencies have been transferred, but many of these transfers came about at the initiative or with the consent of national governments and in fact strengthened member states' control over immigration flows (of third-country nationals). There is no clear dominance of the centralist or localist pattern. Rather, there appears to be a delicate balancing between nations and EU institutions, as evident in the recent efforts to renegotiate the Family Reunification Directive and the conflict around Roma deportations. Although this is to some extent a matter of interpretation, we propose that the evolution of patterns of interaction fits our description of multilevel governance. There is certainly a high degree of interaction between nation states and the EU in the formulation of immigration policies.

Besides national–EU relations, there are some indications of involvement of subnational governments in these already complex relations. Subnational governments rarely have immigration policy competencies, but they do have policy interests in this area. For instance, economic and demographic characteristics of regions may increase or decrease their demand for immigration. Scotland, for example, advocates a much more open and active immigration policy than the UK government. Cities, too, have been important actors, especially in relation to policy implementation, as they may be particularly affected by the consequences of immigration policies. For instance, the human consequences of deportation and irregular migration are often most evident at the local level. Hence, many local governments have offered forms of assistance to irregular migrants even though this may be distinctly at odds with national policies. Local governments have furthermore been important advocates of “pardons” or regularizations of undocumented migrants. Some cities have even developed their own “urban citizenship”, counterbalancing exclusionist effects of national definitions of citizenship (see Chauvin and Garcés-Mascareñas 2012).

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