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Interview with ICMPD Director General: working together as migration needs answers around the world

17 May 2019

Michael Spindelegger, 59, joined ICMPD as Director General at the beginning of 2016. During his political career, he served as Austria's Vice Chancellor and was Minister for Foreign Affairs and leader of the Austrian People's Party (ÖVP). Mr. Spindelegger studied law, is married, and has two children.

ICMPD's Director General Michael Spindelegger talks about the shift in projects regarding migration, the role of true migration partnerships, the importance of practical solutions and how ICMPD plans to help the next European Commission in finding them.


2019 brings elections to the European Parliament. The last EU elections were held in the aftermath of the financial crisis and were dominated by topics relating to it. Will migration be the decisive topic this time?

Migration is seen as a central topic even though the number of people coming to Europe has decreased since the peak we saw in 2015. However, the underlying reasons of the migration crisis have not been solved. We are in a quieter phase of a long-term challenge. Given current demographic and other trends, the overall pressure to migrate will increase, not decrease.


You have been Director General of ICMPD for three years now. What has been significant in 2018?

The focus of ICMPD has shifted. The topic of return has become much more vital for states. Furthermore, there is increasing awareness that we need new ideas in the field of labour migration. Fighting the root causes of irregular migration has emerged as another key topic. Another topic is a true partnership between Europe and Africa, with Germany, for instance, calling for a “Marshall Plan with Africa.” We are developing new initiatives in all of these fields so that all parties involved can benefit from new solutions.


What were ICMPD’s top projects in 2018?

We have been carrying out projects in border management for years, but 2018 changed the scope for projects in this field. Our new, EU-funded Border Management Programme for the Maghreb Region (BMP Maghreb) not only involves training on border management in Tunisia and Morocco, but also the procurement of equipment needed on this long border. Another new project aims at fighting the causes of migration from Nigeria with training to impart practical skills. Together with our partners, we want to provide vocational training to 1,000 people a year in different occupations. We advocate genuine private sector involvement in this project, which has been hard to achieve in the past. The project was unveiled at the EU-Africa Summit in Vienna in 2018. 


Which projects or ideas have worked out particularly well?

Our return project for Austria and Nigeria, for example. We managed to organise the return of people in a new project that combines training in Austria, a new job for the returnee at an Austrian company in Nigeria and thus, direct investment for Nigeria. This has changed our overall relationship with Nigeria for other projects as well. It proves that true partnerships can open doors for solutions to migration issues. Another example is our Information Centre in Afghanistan, which provides potential immigrants with realistic information about what to expect in Europe.


Which ideas have turned out to be more difficult to implement than expected?

In some cases, bureaucracy can make things more difficult than they need to be. ICMPD will suggest that the next European Commission reflects on the bureaucratic requirements for projects such as those covered by the aid the EU as stipulated in the EU-Turkey deal. Applying for European assistance alone requires tremendous effort. This is frustrating to our member state Turkey.

In 2018, several states refrained from ratifying the United Nations’ Global Compact for Migration. What kind of consequences do you expect for 2019?

It is vital that IOM, as the UN institution in charge, now approaches those countries and finally discusses their reservations. In the end, it is crucial that we all work together, as migration requires global answers.   


What kind of new steps and efforts will ICMPD take in 2019?

We are working on a catalogue of recommendations that we will present to the next European Commission. It will include suggestions based on what our member states regard as necessary steps and actions on migration policies over the next five years. ICMPD comprises very diverse countries, including the Visegrad States, Switzerland, Malta and Turkey (the latter two since 2018). Our organisation also facilitates dialogues with Africa and Asia and our finding of solid compromises could be a promising contribution. 

Furthermore, the Netherlands is in the process of ratifying its ICMPD membership and Germany has also signalled its interest in becoming a member. This would give us even more weight in the debate about finding effective ways of managing migration in Europe.


Reaching compromises on migration issues has proven to be a tough task recently. Why do you believe that ICMPD member states can agree to a joint catalogue? 

As the list of member states goes beyond EU states, we can look at and discuss other issues. EU member states very often end up reverting all too quickly to discussions about the European asylum process, which always causes tensions. As ICMPD, we can and must consider the needs of our member states such as Turkey or Portugal as well as those of Malta or Sweden. This approach will help us to focus on practicable solutions, which, in turn, could pave the way to finding solid compromises.


Would it help if Europe would finally accept that it is a continent of immigration?

That is simply a fact and we must find solutions for coping with it. Legal migration will be an important topic in the future. European countries will need legal migration to address their shrinking labour forces. This need could lay the foundation for true migration partnerships with third countries.


The interview has been first published in the ICMPD Annual Report 2018.