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Will European Migration Policy Survive a New Parliament in Brussels?




By Hafed Al Ghwell, Director North Africa Institute, SAIS, Johns Hopkins University

If polls are to be believed, a potential emergence of a more influential far-right bloc within the European Parliament could have significant ramifications for the EU's migration policy. Historically, far-right parties have campaigned on stringent immigration platforms, advocating for tighter border controls and stricter asylum policies. A sizable presence of these parties in the European Parliament would likely result in more robust debates and possibly policy shifts reflecting their hardline stances on migration.

Given the increase in asylum applications reported by Eurostat and the heavy inflow of Ukrainian refugees since the conflict began, migration remains a salient issue within the EU; however, the influence of the far-right will largely depend on their ability to form a cohesive bloc and on their relationships with other political groups in the Parliament. In scenarios where centrist and even central-right parties adopt harsher migration policies, ostensibly to mirror the appeal of their far-right counterparts, the legislative output could lean towards more restrictive measures, in line with the policies championed by far-right parties. This seems to be a strategic move by some mainstream parties as they attempt to capitalize on the electoral benefits observed in cases like the Danish Social Democratic Party under Frederiksen.

The far-right’s focus on migration issues resonates with a subset of the European electorate who perceive the EU's handling of migration as inadequate. The rise of right-wing surges and the implementation of hard-line policies do not necessarily mean an end to migration but rather a more controlled and selective approach. This perspective aligns with Italy's Georgia Meloni'sefforts to secure deals with North African countries, illustrating that direct foreign engagement is part of the broader strategy to manage migration flows at their source.

However, the far-right's approach to migration may test the fabric of European cohesion. The European Union thrives on its foundational tenets of solidarity and collective governance, but divergent national policies fueled by right-wing ideology could strain intra-European. As the EU looks ahead to the Migration Pact, which emphasizes cooperation, the discord sowed by hardline immigration stances may prove counterproductive to the voluntary system the pact envisages.

Though the Migration Pact outlines measures intended to streamline and manage migration flows more effectively, the implementation of these policies could become fragmented in a landscape where individual member states, influenced by right-wing politics, pursue their own agendas. This challenge is compounded by the legal structure of the EU, where considerable power over immigration policies remains with the member states rather than the European 

The ultimate impact on European cohesion and the management of migrant flows will be shaped by the ability of far-right parties to form influential coalitions within the European Parliament and to reconcile their policies with existing EU legal frameworks and commitments.


For curious eyes in North African capitals, an increasing rightward tilt in the European Parliament could significantly alter the dynamic of EU-North Africa relations, cementing a more transactional and pragmatic approach to dealing with migration issues and broader geopolitical interests. This tendency would lean towards a policy framework that prioritizes stringent immigration control over broader human rights considerations and could lead to the EU engaging more openly with regimes that have questionable human rights records.

Individual EU member states, driven by national electoral politics and the influence of far-right parties, might pursue their own bilateral agreements with North African countries as a quick means to curb migrant arrivals. This approach would undermine the collective bargaining power and unified voice of the EU as articulated by Brussels. 

This fragmented approach risks creating a patchwork of agreements that may be effective in the short-term in reducing migrants' arrivals to specific countries but are less effective from a holistic, long-term perspective. Additionally, by deprioritizing human rights and democratization, the EU risks enabling autocratic tendencies in North African governments, as they might receive European support without significant pressure to improve governance or human rights records.

The impacts of this paradigm shift will predominantly affect migrants and refugee populationsthe most. For these groups, an EU more aligned with far-right ideologies and less concerned with human rights could mean harsher travel conditions, more stringent border controls, and fewer opportunities for legal resettlement or asylum. Increased collaboration with autocratic regimes could also mean that migrants fleeing persecution or conflict in their home countries might find North African transit countries less hospitable and more dangerous, potentially trapping them in cycles of detention or forcing them back into hostile environments without adequate protection.

Moreover, the local populations in North African countries could also experience adverse effects. As EU support may become increasingly contingent on migration control rather than broader development goals, issues like economic development, education, and healthcare might receive less attention. This could exacerbate the root causes of migration such as poverty and instability, ironically leading to more migration pressures in the long term.

By focusing narrowly on stemming flows and engaging with autocratic regimes without pushing for broader reforms, the EU risks not only its reputation as a champion of global human rights but also the effectiveness and sustainability of its migration policies.

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