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The Logic of EU Policy-Making on (Irregular) Migration: Securitisation or Risk?

Arne Niemann, Natalie Schmidthäussler

This paper argues that EU policy-making on irregular migration and external border control is dominated by a risk rationale. This finding is contrary to the generally held assumption that migration primarily is discussed as security issue. Since the 1990's securitisation of migration has been widely received in academic circles; hence, it seems appropriate to call securitisation of migration a leitmotif of critical security studies. Thus, the paper contributes to the devel-opment of a differentiated image of EU migration-policy, which cannot be described overall securitised. We argue that the notion of securitisation is often applied reflexively, without an in-depth theoretical discussion of the concept. In this context the importance of theoretical foundation and precise use of terminology in academic writings is emphasised. An apparent change of policy in EU migration management visible in the 'Global Ap-proach to Migration' based on political dialogue, cooperation with third countries and support for regular migration, and critical voices claiming that the 'grammar' of security has changed in contemporary modernity and is now better described as risk logic, cast doubt if securitisa-tion can adequately capture EU policy on migration at the time being. Thus, the question aris-es which rationale underlies EU policy-making on migration, in particular whether risk or security logic dominates. In order to identify the dominant rationale, first the development of EU cooperation on migration issues is examined and increased interlinking of security and migration issues from the late 1980's on is detected. Next, the security concept is discussed with focus on the speech act view of securitisation, proposed by the Copenhagen School. This provides the basis of studying the linking of security and migration. Following a critique of the securitisation concept, the notion of risk is proposed as an alternative framework. Then, the characteristics of security and risk logic respectively are theoretically deduced. Building on these insights, a category system is developed for the empirical study of EU publications from the Frontex website. The content analysis of 53 documents published between 2004 and 2011 reveals that securitisation is rarely detectable in the recent discourse on irregular migra-tion and external border control, whereas arguments, which for the most part correspond to the pattern ascribed to risk logic, are common. Most of the times, threats and referent objects are broadly defined and frequently point to irregular migration as a general threat to Member States and the EU. Objectives are often constant, positive goals, but hardly ever defence or eradication of an external threat common in security logic. Though exceptions exist, as in the case of Rapid Border Intervention Teams (RABITs), whose deployment corresponds to secu-rity logic. However, in the vast majority of cases, measures are neither norm-breaking, nor do they justify the use of force. Rather, corresponding to risk logic, actions seem to be long-term oriented and preventive, while practices are gradually institutionalised.

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