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Migration: a step too far for the contemporary global order?

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Abstract

Migration is arguably the single most salient issue in in Western democracies today. Anti-immigrant attitudes have fueled the rise of right-wing populist parties, have proved decisive in swaying a slim margin of the British public to support Brexit and have catalyzed delicate democracies down authoritarian tracks. We contend that because of predominant identity and security concerns, the free movement of people has never become a key element of the contemporary global order despite its qualifying, liberal credentials. Even in the European Union (EU), the integration of migration policy has remained fragmented and differentiated. These omissions are taking their toll as they generate friction between domestic and supranational goals, and as global problems – like the recent refugee crisis – lack ‘global’ or unified solutions. Migration has turned from an orphan of the global order to one of its primary challengers.
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Migration: a step too far for the contemporary global order?
Sara Wallace Goodman and Frank Schimmelfennig
Pre-publication text of contribution to Journal of European Public Policy debate section.
https://doi.org/10.1080/13501763.2019.1678664
Abstract
Migration is arguably the single most salient issue in in Western democracies today. Anti-
immigrant attitudes have fueled the rise of right-wing populist parties, have proved decisive in
swaying a slim margin of the British public to support Brexit and have catalyzed delicate
democracies down authoritarian tracks. We contend that because of predominant identity and
security concerns, the free movement of people has never become a key element of the
contemporary global order despite its qualifying, liberal credentials. Even in the European Union
(EU), the integration of migration policy has remained fragmented and differentiated. These
omissions are taking their toll as they generate friction between domestic and supranational
goals, and as global problems – like the recent refugee crisis – lack ‘global’ or unified solutions.
Migration has turned from an orphan of the global order to one of its primary challengers.
Keywords
migration, liberalism, international order, European Union, refugee crisis
Word Count: 3921
Introduction
Migration is arguably the single most salient issue in in Western democracies today. Anti-
immigrant attitudes have fueled the rise of right-wing populist parties, have proved decisive in
swaying a slim margin of the British public to support Brexit and have catalyzed delicate
democracies down authoritarian tracks. As we confront the causes and consequences of the crisis
of the contemporary global order, a critical look at migration reveals a number of inherent
contradictions to the liberal components of this order.
We present two arguments as part of this debate on the crisis of the global order. First, we argue
that, philosophically, free movement of people is inherent to liberalism, like goods and services.
But, empirically, while states are heavily invested in other aspects of international liberalism
like multilateralism and trade—they have kept a tight fist of sovereignty around national
immigration policy. Unregulated movement of people has never become a key element of the
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global order. Even in the European Union (EU), the lodestar of international liberalism and the
most-likely case for the internalization of migration policy, integration has remained fragmented
and differentiated. These omissions are taking their toll as they generate friction between
domestic and supranational goals, and as global migration problems – like the recent refugee
crisis – lack ‘global’ or unified solutions.
Second, the ongoing contradictions between international liberalism and migration have
sustained an endemic cycle, wherein domestic immigration politicsoften manifesting in
xenophobic and far-right party support—contribute to ongoing skepticism of the contemporary
global order, which, in turn, generate more national identity politics. In conclusion, migration has
turned from an orphan of the contemporary global order to one of its primary challengers.
What’s Liberal about Migration?
Liberalism—both as political theory and as economic ideology—is fundamentally pro-migration.
Liberals’ commitment to basic, pre-political freedoms of the individual makes them outward-
oriented cosmopolitans when theorizing the international domain. For liberals, the freedom of
movement is a basic liberty in its own right and a prerequisite for other freedoms such as the
freedoms of association and occupation (Freiman and Hidalgo 2016). As Joseph Carens (1987)
has forcefully argued, both the libertarian theory of Robert Nozick and the interventionist
liberalism of John Rawls, the right-wing and left-wing antipodes of 20th century liberalism, call
for open borders.
Liberalism as economic ideology comes to the same conclusion. The argument for the free
movement of labor is essentially the same as for goods, services, and capital: removing barriers
to free movement facilitates the allocation of factors where they create the highest value. The
movement of labor from low-wage countries to high-wage countries not only benefits the
migrants and their families, but also the global economy.
Despite these twin liberal impulses towards open borders, the free movement of people has
remained highly contentious in the contemporary global order. International migration is a rare
case of a trans-boundary problem without a ‘coherent, multilateral global governance
framework’ (Betts 2011, 7). It lacks a global international organization similar to the WTO for
trade or the IMF for money and finance, as well as a formal, legalized international regime
(except for the protection of refugees). The institutions that do govern international migration are
weak, fragmented, and characterized by thematically as well as spatially limited arrangements.
Global Compacts for migration and refugees were only adopted in 2018. And even though they
are not legally binding, they were opposed by large recipient countries, including the US and
several members of the EU. In even the EUthe most complex and penetrating of international
organizations—we see sizable differentiation, with free internal movement within the EU
combined with a variety of immigration and asylum policies for those coming from outside the
EU.
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In short, the ‘architecture … departs from the liberal institutionalist model of multilateral regime
building that we know from other fields of cooperation’ (Lahav and Lavenex 2012, 767). Why is
this the case? It is not for a lack of ideational or normative fit with the principles of liberalism, as
we note above. Moreover, a multilateral and open international migration regime would be in
line with the basic substantive elements of the post-World War II global order. As Eilstrup-
Sangiovanni and Hofmann note (this issue), the contemporary global order is fundamentally
characterized by migration-compatible liberal features, in that it promotes economic openness
and interdependence. It is not even necessary to include ‘civic identity’, encompassing ethnic
toleration, shared values of personal freedom, and a progressive international institutionalization
of human rights, in the principles of the contemporary global order, as Deudney and Ikenberry
(1999) do, to come to this conclusion.
Such a global migration regime would not even contradict the ‘embedded liberalism’
compromise between a multilateral, non-discriminatory international order and domestic
interventionism assuring social security (Ruggie 1982).i Ongoing debate in economics
notwithstanding (see, e.g., the controversy about Borjas 2016), the overwhelming evidence
produced by international organizations such as the IMF or the OECD does not show any
systematic negative effect of immigration on wealth, equality, fiscal or social systems (Docquier
et al. 2014; Jaumotte et al. 2016; OECD 2013). At any rate, and in correspondence with the
paradigmatic regimes for trade and money, embedded liberalism would call for a multilateral
regime with international capacity to assist states and temporary national derogations of the free
movement in migration crises rather than the absence of a multilateral regime at all.
To account for the outlier status of international migration in the global order, it is important to
consider both the ‘pre-functional’ or sovereignty-based and the ‘post-functional’ or community-
based logics, which affect international cooperation and openness in this area. First, migration is
‘securitized’ (Adamson 2006). States often regard migration as ‘high politics’, a challenge to
state sovereignty and, in particular in relation to terrorism and transnational organized crime, a
security problem (Lahav and Lavenex 2012). Second, migration is ‘identity politics’, perceived
as a threat to national community and solidarity. Consequently, even in liberal democracies, both
state and societal actors tend to replace the liberal, cosmopolitan framing of migration as an issue
of personal freedom and economic utility with a ‘communitarian’ framing of national
sovereignty and identity. This framing politicizes the free movement of people and locates it
outside the legitimate domain of a liberal international order. James Hollifield (1992) has aptly
termed the tension between economic and rights-based pressures for openness, on the one hand,
and state and community protection, on the other, the ‘liberal paradox’ of immigration policy. In
practice, states can commit to certain aspects of liberalism while simultaneously exercising the
right to include or exclude (Joppke 1998).
What is more, even though it has remained marginal in the architecture of the contemporary
global order, the accelerating growth of international migration in the 21st century (United
Nations 2017) has had pervasive effects that threaten the core of this order. The threats to
national community and solidarity allegedly emanating from international migration have
become the most powerful rallying call and mobilizing issue for (right-wing) populists, who
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claim to represent the legitimate ‘we’ group in advanced industrial democracies. Their
ascendancy not only has policy, but also domestic and international polity effects. It is not
confined to producing restrictive immigration and asylum policies or chauvinistic welfare
arrangements; it threatens core institutions of liberal democracies (the rule of law and the
separation of powers) and their commitment to a multilateral, rules-based international order.
Thus, we need to think about how the crisis of the global order is filtered through immigration
politics, where—particularly given the rise of national populism—rejecting immigration and
rejecting liberalism go hand in hand. While not confined to Europe, this explosive effect of
migration is particularly pronounced in the EU, which combines a liberal democratic
membership with the most integrated (regional) free movement regime around the world. If a
multilateral, state-led, and economically-open response to migration is going to occur anywhere,
it would be the EU. Yet it is here that the liberal paradox and the potential disintegrative impact
of the migration issue has become most visible.
The Liberal Paradox in the European Union
Immigration policy development in the EU has been uneven. In some domains, the EU has
achieved remarkable coordination on regulating the movement and assignment of status to
individuals, namely free internal movement and robust external borders and strong border
security (Schilde 2017). In other areas, member states retain absolute sovereignty, including the
conferring of citizenship, immigration policy for third country nationals, decisions over
applications for asylum, and policy strategies for immigrant integration. The evolution of these
differences quintessentially reflects the liberal paradox, where an economic logic of openness
comes into conflict with a political logic of protective closure. In the EU, this plays out across
multilevel governance. It also places contemporary exclusionary, anti-elite populist politics into
a larger context of reconciling competing economic and political tensions.
Free movement was part of the original vision of Europe, presented in the 1958 Treaty of Rome
as the ‘free movement of persons’, alongside other freedoms of services, capital and goods.
Importantly, the Treaty applied to free movement for workers who are Community citizens, to
accept employment across the community. Codified in 1968, it was expanded to include
freedoms of establishment and services. By the 1980s, to support passport-free travel with the
Schengen Area as stated in the Single European Act, member states worked with the Council and
Commission to strengthen the regulation of external migration, such as visa policy and asylum
(Goodman 2018). Finally, with the 1992 Treaty of Union, free movement rights became attached
to the concept of Union citizenship, providing selective political and social rights for EU citizens
residing outside their home country.
Despite these steps, policy development is stuck, and a consequence of partial development is
policy differentiation at the national level, where states use a variety of policies (like
immigration, asylum, welfare, and citizenship) at a variety of settings (some more exclusive than
others) to domestically balance economic openness with political closure. But this fragmentation
and divergence is also where the national and the supranational come into conflict. With free
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movement and integrated markets, problems that were once exclusively domestic became shared
but the tools to resolve them stayed fixed at the national level. The inevitable friction that results
from using fragmented domestic levers to reach mutually beneficial supranational goals portends
problems not just for liberalism at home but for a liberal international order. We present
immigration and asylum policy areas as brief illustrations of how this friction emerges.
First and foremost, immigration policy itself is highly particularized by nation-state needs and
preferences. States have different labor migration needs, driven by different sector demands and
variation in demographic decline (Ruhs 2013). So while sharing in a single economic union,
states meet specific labor market needsespecially decisions pertaining to the admittance of
third-country nationals (immigrants from a non-European country)—through state-level policy
and politics. This tension reveals the heart of the liberal paradox: open immigration from outside
Europe meets certain economic needs, but brings with it political challenges, as non-EU
immigrants become the most contested and politicized by nativist politicians. Figure 1 (not
included) maps immigration of first (returning citizens to their home country), second (citizens
of a second EU member state), and third country nationals (immigrants from outside of the EU),
as well as those categorized as stateless. ii In each member state, as well as the EU as a whole,
second country nationals represent only a modest component of overall immigration. In other
words, the single marketthe domain of EU authority with the most integration in establishing
free movement—is only a fractional slice of the overall immigration pie. Most migration to the
EU is not governed by the EU. This limits the extent to which the EU can mount a unified
response to a transnational problem, like the recent refugee crisis. Moreover, as each state
exhibits dynamic immigration change over time, the decision of one country affects the other 27.
And what may be economically beneficial to one state may prove politically unacceptable to
others.
A second area of national differentiation is in asylum procedures and decisions. Here, the
consequences of uneven development in migrant-related policies are particularly evident with the
lack of solidarity and coordinated response to the 2015 refugee crisis. First, the Dublin
Regulation shifts the burden of handling asylum requests away from core states and to the
periphery states on the border of the EU. Second, while the Common European Asylum System
lays out a number of regulations and directives regarding standard procedures and conditions,
policy and practice are weakly harmonized (ECRE 2018). Third, the spillover effects are
enormous. Overburdened (southern) front-line countries (deliberately or not) fail to register and
process asylum claims, pushing asylum-seekers to (northern) member states with better asylum
and living conditions. Germany’s decision to admit over one million asylum seekers reverberated
in all directions. Nearby states (Poland, Hungary) rejected a strong supranational capacity to
protect EU external borders or provide for a fair distribution of migrants. Other states (France,
the Netherlands) under-committed to redistribution by free-riding on Germany’s generosity. As
states “go it alone” or pursue strategies outside of the EU, EU asylum policy struggles to meet its
already-modest objectives – to prevent ‘asylum tourism’ and transfer the principle of ‘mutual
recognition’ from the internal market (Lavenex 2018, Trauner 2016).
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From Liberal Paradox to Anti-Liberal Backlash
Both policy areas immigration and asylum highlight where states are struggling to strike a
politically-acceptable balance given the constraints of the liberal paradox that seeks to maximize
both labor market openness and social closure. If we think of this complication as generating
friction on a horizontal plane – that is, both within- and across-states the EU adds a
complicated, vertical layer of goal-setting and authority-sharing. Thus, a central problem with
the EU’s migrant-related policies is that their unevenness generates incentives for free-riding and
race-to-the-bottom dynamics. The efficiency-oriented ‘functional’ response to this problem
would be regulatory harmonization and supranational capacity-building. Because of national
concerns about sovereignty and community protection, however, international agreement on the
functional response has proven elusive.
Not even the refugee crisis of 2015 produced significant change. The Eurozone crisis forced
reluctant member states to agree to a major leap of integration because the costs of disintegration
were prohibitive, the most affected member states were unable to cope with the crisis
unilaterally, and a supranational actor with strong autonomy and high resources (the European
Central Bank) was already in place. By contrast, in the refugee crisis, even weak states could
fence off, or wave through, migrants; the costs of a partial suspension of the Schengen regime
were moderate; and supranational actors with the competence or capacity to provide an EU-wide
solution did not exist. As a result, the member states managed the crisis through a mix of
unilateralism (re-establishing border controls and toughening asylum standards) and
externalization, i.e. assistance to third countries such as Turkey and Libya for curbing the
migrant flow (Schimmelfennig 2018). Even though citizens and national governments turned to
Brussels for a ‘European’ solution, the EU was unable to produce one given heterogeneous status
quos, unaligned member state preferences, and weak institutional powers in the area of migration
(Goodman 2018).
In the absence of EU authority, immigration politics remain at the domestic level which have
become increasingly anti-immigrant, both substantively and structurally. To wit, anti-immigrant
attitudes are a core component of the cultural GAL-TAN dimension of politics and of the
‘demarcation’ pole in the emerging transnational cleavage in European party systems (Kriesi et
al. 2006, Hooghe and Marks 2018) – together with protectionist and Eurosceptic positions. The
rise of right-wing populist parties, and their widespread participation in EU member state
governments, has fed illiberal immigration policies across Europe, which has led to paralysis in
EU decision-making on the issue. The salience of migration, and the incapacity of the EU to
agree on effective and solidarity policy solutions, has also boosted the electoral fortunes of
parties opposed to liberal democracy and supranational European integration in general. In many
Eastern European countries, large-scale emigration of nationals reinforces the fear of
immigration of non-nationals (Krastev 2017).
The damage to European integration is pervasive, and crucial for illustrating the limits of the
contemporary global order moving forward in a liberal direction. First, especially in Hungary
and Poland, right-wing governments riding the anti-immigration wave undermine the rule of law,
the independence of the judiciary, and the freedom of the media, which are fundamental values
7
of the EU and crucial for its functioning as a community of law. Second, several EU
governments have kept controls at internal Schengen borders in place since September 2015 –
renewing temporary emergency measures that would otherwise be in direct contravention of EU
law and even though the migration surge has long abated. Third, migration has been the single
most important issue in the campaign and vote for Brexit (Clarke et al. 2017). In sum, it is fair to
say that no other policy issue generates as significant disintegration pressures in the EU as
migration including unilateral renegotiation bids and withdrawals as in Brexit as well as non-
compliance with international norms as in the Schengen crisis (Copelovitch et al., this issue).
Even if these disintegration pressures can be contained, the immigration issue is realigning
political and intergovernmental coalitions in the EU. In a press conference on 10 January 2019,
Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, unchecked vis-à-vis his continued alignment with the
centrist European People’s Party Group, hailed these developments and expressed his desire to
see ‘anti-immigration forces’ to take over national governments and the European Council. In his
perspective, migration has ‘radically transformed Europe’ and defines its ‘political processes’:
‘The division of party structures as left or right is being overtaken by a different dimension:
those for migration and those against migration.’iii
The past two decades have seen unprecedented—and unevenly distributed – levels of migration
come to Europe. In the absence of strong supranational authority, states have chosen to remain
the default setting for resolving conflicts of the liberal paradox. This status quo portends some
unsettling conclusions for EU political authority and the international liberal order more
generally. As a fragmented migration regime, characterized by lack of coordination and
harmonization across 28 EU member states, the EU nominally preserves disequilibrium and
disincentivizes solidarity. It lacks authority to either resolve exogenous migration problems or
ameliorate endogenous one. Migration is a crucible, wherein states not only question the
incentives of multilateralism but the benefits of international liberalism more generally, as
evident in the strong illiberal and national populist backlashes across the European continent and
beyond.
Conclusions
A global, multilateral migration regime has proved a step too far for the liberal international
order. Even in the ‘most likely’ case of the EU, a fragmented and disequilibrated migration
regime has only exacerbated the tensions inherent in the liberal paradox of migration policy. This
paradox has been a consistent feature of both the domestic and the global liberal post-World War
II orders. Yet the consequences of the tensions and deficits of international migration regimes are
not limited to international migration policy. As we have argued in this paper, the rise in
international migration pressures has contributed significantly to the rise of populist leaders,
parties and governments throughout the core states and regions of the contemporary global order.
They threaten to undermine not only the principles of this order (such as multilateralism) and its
main policies (such as trade) – leading to unprecedented disintegration threats – but also the
domestic foundations of liberal democracy. In this respect, migration – an orphan of the
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contemporary global order despite its liberal credentials – may indeed be turning into its
nemesis.
In principle, states could take two ways out of this situation, either separately or in combination.
For one, states could follow up on the Global Compacts on Migration and Refugees to build the
migration regime that has been missing in the global order. Yet anti-immigrant populist
governments have already become so widespread in the EU and worldwide that decisive steps in
this direction appear unlikely in the short term. It is therefore tempting to conclude that practical
solutions are best found at the domestic level, in a mix of strong external border and immigration
control alongside integration and social policies to address internal, domestic resentment (Bisbee
et al., this issue). This combination may suffice the current situation—to contain the
disintegration pressures emanating from migration. But it will not do away with either the rise of
international migration pressure or the other side of the liberal paradox, that (ageing) Western
democracies will depend on immigration to uphold their living standards in the future.
Disclosure Statement
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.
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Notes
i That embedded liberalism was constructed on the backbone of migrant political exclusion is but a further paradox
(Goodman and Pepinsky 2019).
ii This disaggregation is made available by Eurostat from 2013 2016.
iii ‘Orban calls for anti-immigrant takeover of EU institutions’, Financial Times, 11 January 2019.
... The Migrant Crisis set a precedent to changes in the European Union, such as a push for changes in policy, an uptick in separatist movements, and the first instance of a successful separatist movement (Goodman & Schimmelfennig, 2019). ...
... In order to do so, four European Union member states will be used as case studies in order to investigate the dimensions of these changes, and how they have occurred. Case studies of individual countries (particularly, Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain, and Greece) provide basis for the scope of these changes, particularly given the claims that the EU's power is weak in regards to migrant policy (Goodman, Schimmelfennig, 2019). ...
... This "vision" for the European Union, established by the Treaty of Rome and European Economic Community, spoke of free movement; specifically, a free movement of workers from within the EEC (alongside the free movement of goods, capital, and services) (Goodman, Schimmelfennig, 2019). The ability of EEC citizens to accept employment in other EEC states carried over to the EU, and eventually expanded in 1968 to allow EU citizens to start businesses and provide services in other member states. ...
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