The new normal

Written by Ellen Halliday on . Posted in Current profiles, Profiles

Andrew Geddes took up the Chair in Migration Studies and role of Director of the Migration Policy Centre (MPC) in January 2017. He will be part-time Professor at the Robert Schuman Centre and Professor of Politics at the University of Sheffield  until September. His current research, supported by an Advanced Investigator Grant from the European Research Council, focuses on inter and intra-regional comparison of migration governance with a focus on Asia-Pacific, Europe, North America and South America. He is also a speaker at The State of the Union 2017.

Migration is not a crisis, ‘it is a form of adaptation,’ said Andrew Geddes, new Director of the Migration Policy Centre at the EUI. The professor, who will relocate from Sheffield to Florence for his new appointment, argues that Europeans need to think a little differently about migration. ‘The problem is that migration is always seen as a crisis or an act of last resort’ he told EUI Times. ‘For most migrants that is completely wrong.’

Andrew Geddes

Andrew Geddes, Director of the Migration Policy Centre at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies

‘We are dominated by images of people in boats, and maps where we see arrows pointing towards Europe from Africa,’ said Geddes. He believes this has created ‘a myth of invasion,’ responsible for some of the greatest problems the EU faces today. Immigration was one of the main factors which pushed concerned voters in the UK to vote for Brexit. Meanwhile, migration into Europe has created tension between those states which first receive the migrants crossing the Mediterranean, like Italy and Greece, and northern European states who are reluctant to share the cost.

With this in mind, Geddes criticises the ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude some Europeans have taken in regard to Trump’s ‘travel ban’. ‘You can condemn the language, the rhetoric and the overt discrimination [of Trump’s measures],’ he argued, ‘but at the level of practice there are some quite strong similarities and there have been for some time. There is systematic discussion between the EU and Homeland Security in the US.’

In order to understand and respond both to migration and the public perception of migration, ‘we need to know far more about the dynamics of free movement and mobility,’ Geddes argued. ‘Often we assume that there are only those who move and those who don’t. But there are different kinds of mobility,’ he said.

Under his directorship, the MPC aims to ‘think about migration as an entirely normal, everyday thing that for many people, happens in a regular, peaceful, orderly way.’ ‘That’s not to say that there isn’t the other, disorderly, disruptive aspect of migration,’ Geddes conceded. Yet he believes that migration can alleviate crisis rather than creating it. ‘If you restrict and exclude you create more harm, damage and poverty. People’s lives become more desperate and they have less capacity to support themselves and their families,’ he said.

It is clear not all Europeans share his view that ‘migration is an integral part of Europe today and Europe in the future.’ As the Dutch elections approach with anti-immigration Wilders at 25%, Geddes wants to find out exactly what drives these public attitudes to migration.

‘We need to understand the different types of movement and how this connects with attitudes to mobility and support for European integration,’ Geddes argued. ‘The debate about immigration is not a simple case of for or against,’ he added. ‘There may be people who are concerned about immigration, but when they think about students, high-skilled migration, or migration to sectors such as social care or health, start to see some benefits of immigration,’ Geddes explained. ‘We need to know more about  this ‘anxious middle.’

MPC Logo

That’s why the Migration Policy Centre is launching a new project to gather data from across all member states on public attitudes to migration. The first results, examining the drivers of attitudes to migration in the Netherlands, have recently been published.  The full project, in coordination with IPSOS, will be launched this autumn and will ‘look at some of key demographics of class, age and gender to understand the structure of attitudes to migration,’ said Geddes. It will be the largest single resource of its kind and could have a big impact. If the European public understand the full diversity of migration, ‘the political implications could be very different,’ he said.  The results will be discussed further during a conference on The Dynamics of Regional Migration Governance, at the European University Institute at the end of May.

Geddes believes ‘there is still a strong political commitment to free movement [in Europe], although it is in greater question than at any time.’ Through the new project, and their wider research on themes such as borders, labour markets and smuggling, Geddes said the MPC ‘hopes to contribute to a discussion on how to debate immigration. We have to think beyond this crisis,’ he said.

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