The Migration Opportunity

LONDON – In the last year, more than 4,000 men, women, and children have lost their lives attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea from Africa to Europe. Their tragic deaths have done nothing to slow the human tide, which is swelling by the week, as smugglers on the coast become increasingly brazen and cruel. Thousands of migrants have been rescued from the frigid waters since the beginning of this year alone.

Against this backdrop – and that of the fear sown by the terrorist attacks in Paris and Copenhagen – the European Union is set to develop a new – and critically important – agenda on migration. When EU commissioners gather to debate how to proceed, they must overcome the temptation to grasp at short-term, knee-jerk solutions, and instead develop a truly creative, comprehensive plan of action both at home and abroad.

The last time Europe faced such a turning point on migration was in 2011, when the Arab Spring triggered a flood of new arrivals fleeing violence and chaos in North Africa. But the moment for bold actions – the creation of a Mediterranean Marshall Plan, for instance, or massive investments into immigrant integration – passed without being seized. Instead, the EU made a few bureaucratic tweaks to its asylum system and consumed itself with debates about non-issues, such as migrant “welfare cheats."

In 2014, the EU's emergency funding for migration and asylum totaled a mere €25 million ($28 million) – a pathetic exercise in collective action, albeit one supplemented by funds from member states. Last fall, Italy's bold Mare Nostrum sea-rescue operation, which had saved thousands of lives, was replaced by a far feebler EU initiative that has struggled to carry out its mission.