“Learning from the past to predict the future” – Interview with the Director General on the occasion of ICMPD’s 25th anniversary

6 February 2018

Michael Spindelegger became ICMPD's Director General in 2016.

In 1993, ICMPD started as a small organisation with a handful of people and has grown into a global player in migration policy development over time. On the occasion of its 25th anniversary, ICMPD’s Director General Michael Spindelegger reflects on the past and the future of migration policies and ICMPD’s contribution to them.


Where were you and what were you doing 25 years ago?

In 1993, I had just been elected to the Austrian Federal Council, which marked the beginning of my political career. In 1994, I was appointed by Austria to join the European Parliament. This was the start of my international political career. 


What were the key issues 25 years ago? Are they still relevant today?

In the early 1990s, Europe was dealing with the aftermath of the fall of the Iron Curtain. Depopulation was a critical issue, as a significant proportion of the reunited Germany’s population moved from east to west. Many measures had been taken that we can learn from today when looking at other parts of the world where this is an issue, like Africa for example. What we see is that it takes effort and, above all, investment but in time you can see positive change, such as modernisation, technical progress and job creation. We can take this as an example of how  learning from the past allows us to partly predict the future.

How has the migration discourse changed since you became ICMPD’s Director General in 2016?

The significance of the topic “migration” has completely changed, not just in the commotion of 2015–2016 but also in the domestic policies. Migration has become the most important topic for many, and plays a prominent role in the political discussion. This is a topic on which you win or lose elections. In the institutions in Brussels many policies are now developed with an awareness of, or specific regard to, migration. The EU’s foreign policies are now strongly focussed on migration – be it the EU-Turkey deal, the cooperation with Maghreb countries or the External Investment Plan – we see a complete trend reversal.

Therefore, we can say that the 2015-2016 crisis has changed the subject matter and reversed the migration discourse. Economy, currency, investments – all are now considered within the migration context. This is one of the most significant changes in the last years.


And what will be the most significant migration challenge 25 years from now?

Migratory pressures will increase in some parts of the world. This is something we can partly predict through demographic development. For many, EU Member States will be their preferred countries of destination. I believe that by then we will have a common European migration policy that will work. With the support of Austria and the private sector, ICMPD is working on a pilot project on legal migration. The concept is closely related to circular migration. We will train people in their countries of origin and offer them a limited-time work permit in Austria with a company. When they go back they will, in turn, train their colleagues. The goal must remain to reduce the pressure to migrate and to create opportunities in the home countries.


What can we expect from ICMPD in 2018?

We’re implementing the 25 million euros project called “European Return and Reintegration Network (ERRIN)” with the Netherlands and we would like to see the legal migration project with Nigeria come to fruition. Throughout 2018, we will reflect on ICMPD’s achievements over the past 25 years. Our annual report will include a special section evaluating the past 25 years and looking 25 years into the future. The Vienna Migration Conference will be even bigger than in the previous years and will be informed by our analysis of ICMPD’s contributions to migration policy since 1993. All in all, we expect this year to be extremely productive and we are working to get new Member States on board. 


Let us imagine that it is 25 years from now, 2043 – where do you see ICMPD?

I predict that in 25 years ICMPD will be the leading European migration organisation. We will be a leader in European migration policy development, providing advice and support services to all European States. In only the past two years we have doubled our budget and our staff, so we are quite optimistic for the future of our organisation.