Spain, and Europe, need a new story about migration – there is some recognition of this in Spain but it remains to be seen how the country will put this into practice. Spaniards are relatively open towards migration, but the policy challenge for their government should be to allay, and not provoke, fears of migrant invasion.

Spain should lead the process to set up an European immigration policy

The Spanish government has called for reform of the EU asylum system, favouring solidarity and shared responsibility as opposed to simply stopping ‘secondary movements’. Spain’s migration diplomacy aspires to work with origin and transit countries rather than acting in a coercive way towards them. The Spanish experience should inform EU member states’ efforts to seek to answers to the populist challenge: they should enact comprehensive, planned, and proactive policies that see migration as normal and necessary.

Spain has been a country of emigration, at least in its recent history, and has had a generally welcoming attitude to newcomers. That general attitude has been punctuated by moments of public anxiety, and since the 2017-2018 spike in arrivals of migrants from the Western Mediterranean Route, the topic of migration has been more politicised in Spain than it was in previous periods.

Though the Spanish public has retained a relatively open attitude towards migrants and refugees, migration and asylum governance remains a political challenge for the Spanish government. For this reason, this latest report – Border games: Has Spain found an answer to the populist challenge on migration? – by José Ignacio Torreblanca and Shoshana Fine proposes three principles of shaping migration policy in a comprehensive way. The challenge for Spain is to ensure that invasion anxiety does not challenge these principles or undermine the development of new ways of thinking about migration.

Their report draws on interviews carried out with key stakeholders from the Spanish government in Madrid and Brussels, and with experts on migration governance in Spain from international organisations, research centres, and the media. It finds that the European Union and its member states can learn from the Spanish experience by formulating new ways of thinking about migration policy, basing this on an ethos of solidarity and not as a problem to be solved.

What is important in migration governance in Europe

  1. Pursue cooperation, not delegation: this requires a comprehensive approach to externalisation practices, which should not be limited to containing migrants and refugees in third countries but should provide robust and systematic legal avenues to Europe.
  2. Be proactive, not reactive: Migration is a structural phenomenon in the context of globalisation. It requires planned and sustainable governance informed by evidence. Healthy migration governance needs to be rights-based and accepted as a normal occurrence given its potential to make a positive contribution.
  3. Look for consensus rather than opt for coercion: An undue focus on border control or punishing origin or transit countries is likely to be counterproductive for promoting development in the region and undermines a partnership approach.