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Harmful systemic effects: the policy goal to “restore the credibility of the EU return system”.

European Politics
European Union
Immigration
Asylum
Yasha Maccanico
Statewatch

Abstract

In 2014, just over five years after the Returns Directive was adopted, the strategic policy goal to “restore the credibility of the EU returns system” started being repeated like a mantra in policy documents and European Council discussions. A shift involved member states pushing back against limited human rights safeguards included in the Directive (2008/115/EC) at the behest of the European Parliament in exchange for providing an EU legal basis to national detention and deportation practices which had become routine. Using bulk numbers to present migrants staying irregularly in EU territory as an existential “problem” to be solved with the utmost urgency and without paying much attention to legal niceties, this outlook heralded an onslaught against the human rights of people on the move. The European Agenda on Migration and the hotspot approach deployed in Italy and Greece from 2015, as well as the 2020 Pact on Immigration and Asylum that is under discussion, all sought to subordinate normative frameworks to the “effective” pursuit of this strategic goal. From 2015 to 2022, Frontex, the Commission and member states have pushed an agenda to reframe human rights as a “problem” that limits the attainment of strategic policy goals, including large-scale “returns”. Building on this overall scenario, the present contribution will use Bob Jessop’s strategic relational approach (SRA) to state power to investigate what positive values, human rights principles and legal precepts must be undermined to achieve the goal of “restoring the credibility of the EU returns system”. Furthermore, this paper also examines whether it is worth doing so in light of the findings.