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Bridging the GapsLinking Research to Public Debates and Policy Making on Migration and Integration$

Martin Ruhs, Kristof Tamas, and Joakim Palme

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780198834557

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198834557.001.0001

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A Knowledge-base for the EU External Migration Policy

A Knowledge-base for the EU External Migration Policy

The Case of the CARIM Observatories

(p.189) 12 A Knowledge-base for the EU External Migration Policy
Bridging the Gaps

Agnieszka Weinar

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

Since the early 2000s, the European Union (EU) has been gradually developing its external migration policy, the Global Approach to Migration. In support of the policy, the EU has been funding research that contributes to a knowledge-base on migration issues outside of its borders. This chapter discusses the experiences of the Consortium for Applied Research on International Migration (CARIM) Observatories at the European University Institute (EUI), one of the central knowledge-brokers funded by the European Commission between 2004 and 2013. The research produced by the Observatories was primarily to serve the European policy-makers but, in the spirit of the EU partnership, they were also intended to benefit the partner countries. The success of the Observatories was possible thanks to a complex net of arrangements and multilateral adjustments. The chapter explores the pathways to that success and provides the insights and lessons for consideration regarding the relationship between research and policy-making in an international context.

Keywords:   EU external migration policy, migration policy, migration research, Global Approach to migration, CARIM, European University Institute


The European Union (EU) has been gradually developing its external migration policy, a process that has involved the use of various sources of knowledge over time. EU funding of research projects and research cooperation on migration showed a steep increase in the early 2000s, when the Global Approach to Migration was being crafted (European Commission 2008a; Weinar 2011). This increase in EU-level policy interest and funding—undertaken by many actors including academia, civil society, and international organizations—boosted the international efforts of data creation, translation, and adaptation. The policy-makers who, in 2002, put together the first Commission communication on cooperation with third countries on migration, were hard pressed to find a comprehensive analysis of trends in migration from Africa to Europe.1 By 2018, that information was much more easily available from a variety of actors and in a variety of forms. Sources include migration profiles from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD),2 the Migration Policy Centre’s series of migration reports,3 research reports on migration coming from dozens of projects funded by the external cooperation funds of the EU,4 not to mention the information gathered and adapted by EU agencies such as Frontex, the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) or the European Training Foundation (ETF). It seems today that a (p.190) myriad of knowledge-brokers stand ready to assist EU policy-makers (Korneev 2018).

This chapter discusses the experiences of one of these knowledge-brokers: the Consortium for Applied Research on International Migration (CARIM) Observatories at the European University Institute (EUI), funded by the European Commission between 2004 and 2013. The Observatories were tasked with building a knowledge base on migration in the Southern and Eastern neighbourhoods of the EU, and also in India. In this chapter, I focus mainly on the case of the CARIM-South and CARIM-East Observatories. My main objective is the critical discussion of the experiences of these two projects, and to identify key insights and lessons for consideration regarding the relationship between research and policy-making. I will discuss the Observatories in the wider context of EU policy developments and then reflect on the processes of building a knowledge base for policy-making in an international context. The chapter reflects on the challenges of collaborative research in a complex international environment. It identifies the risks that can hamper this collaboration, such as the language of knowledge production and the research culture, as well as the ways such risks can be minimized. It also provides insights into challenges with linking and communicating research to policy in the European context.

The Role of Research in the EU Global Approach to Migration and Mobility

The EU has consistently emphasized evidence-based policy-making as an important element of the EU external migration policy, going back to the early 2000s (European Commission 2002, 2006, 2008a). The ‘remote control’ of the EU borders required building relationships with the neighbouring countries, but also having a clearer view of the migration patterns in the European neighbourhood. This policy—the Global Approach to Migration and Mobility (GAMM)5—acknowledged the need to engage in bilateral and multilateral relations with the neighbouring countries based on three principles: partnership, conditionality, and sustainability (Kunz et al. 2011). Hence, the GAMM created the concept of ‘partner countries’—countries which should be partnering with the EU on migration policy. This cooperation is intended to cover all the countries of the world which either send migrants to the EU, or are transit countries for such migration. GAMM proposed a holistic approach to migration issues that goes beyond simple cooperation on border management, and can foster democratic and economic development of the countries of origin (Weinar 2011; Reslow and Vink 2015). Since the European Commission has dedicated significant financial (p.191) means to support this approach, building the knowledge base on migration in the partner countries was seen as crucial for the allocation of funds where they were most needed and for the assurance of policy effectiveness (European Court of Auditors 2016).

Initially, however, the knowledge base on migration—its trends, but also its causes and effects—was either non-existent or inaccessible in many countries. This was partly because not all the partner countries in the neighbourhood saw migration as an issue meriting research funding with other areas, often presenting more pressing needs in the context of scarce resources. Also, the existing research often employed local concepts and practices that were not always easily translatable to the EU-based concepts and practices (e.g. different legal frameworks resulting in different definitions, different methodological approaches). More often than not, such information was unavailable in English or French. Therefore, it was up to the EU to create the information to underpin its new policies. The first knowledge-building tool that the European Commission invented in 2005 was ‘Migration Profiles’, first proposed as an instrument to collect information on African countries in the Communication on migration and development:

The Commission also proposes the establishment of a Migration Profile (MP) for each interested developing country. Such a document would bring together all information relevant to the design and management of an effective policy on migration and development. This could help define a policy response which would tailor to the situation and needs of the country or countries concerned the instruments presented in a generic manner in this Communication and its annexes.

(European Commission 2005: 36)

Annex 8 of the Communication further elaborated what type of information would be needed to support the EU (in its role as a donor) in deciding on programming that would further support the migration and development agenda. This information was required to be presented in the form of ‘indicators’ that can be used to describe not only trends in migration, but also the context in which migration occurs; for example, immigration/emigration flows and stocks, migrants’ socio-economic characteristics, and labour market data (European Commission 2005). These indicators were to form migration profiles for each country receiving aid from the EU. Arguably, even the countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)—countries with a robust and capable administration—could have had problems compiling a list of quality data and information required for such documents. In this instance, the European Commission initially tasked itself with the delivery of migration profiles, relying on the desk officers of its own delegations and, sometimes, the administrations of the partner countries. Both had limited resources and skills to dedicate to this task, and this situation posed a problem in the delivery of (p.192) high-quality migrant profiles. It was only around 2007, when the EU made funding available to develop migration profiles and when external providers became engaged, that the situation improved.

The funding for the engagement of external actors and for relevant research and data collection projects was mainstreamed in the external cooperation funds of the European Commission; this included the Development Cooperation Instrument (DCI). For example, the Prague Process, funded by the DCI, produced a plethora of migration profiles as one of its deliverables.6 Interestingly, the more research-oriented bodies of the European Commission (such as DG Research or Eurostat) did not take a lead in the process of designing, funding, and implementing this policy-focused research cooperation. Instead, the building of a new knowledge base has been part of ‘development support’ within the EU’s migration and development agenda (European Court of Auditors 2016). This approach involved several risks: for example, the DCI funding instrument promoted the building of a knowledge base, but was not a research programme, thus it lacked a solid analytical approach and the capacity to evaluate the quality of research proposals submitted to the calls and tenders. Furthermore, it required cooperation with the countries of origin on research while, at the same time, assuming a very EU-centric view of the world and migration research undertaken outside the EU. Finally, the DCI funding instrument assumed that evidence in non-EU countries would be easily accessible and digestible in the EU policy context. These risks had to be mitigated by the actual implementing partners (in our case, the CARIM Observatories). Indeed, it soon became obvious that migration data collection and analysis in the partner countries required not only primary or secondary data collection, but also extensive capacity building measures.

Migration Observatories as a Tool of the Global Approach to Migration (and Mobility)

The first Migration Observatory at the EUI had its roots in the cooperation and partnership agenda between the EU and its Mediterranean neighbours. That cooperation, dating back to the 1980s, only began to include migration in the early 2000s, just after the Seville European Summit. The Euro-Med Migration I was the first project that supported collaborative migration research between all the countries of North Africa and the Middle East, and the EU (European Commission 2008b). The first Consortium for Applied Research in the Mediterranean (the CARIM-South Observatory) was established at the EUI in 2004, as a part of the Euro-Med project. Initially, its role was defined loosely as building a knowledge base on migration that could serve both the EU and the partner countries on the Southern rim of the Mediterranean. After 2005, (p.193) however, and in light of the increased interest in migration profiles, CARIM took on the creation of migration profiles for each of the countries it covered. In 2011, the CARIM Observatory was expanded to the Eastern neighbourhood (CARIM-East) and, in the same year, it also started data collection on India (CARIM-India).

A key objective of the CARIM Migration Observatories was to establish partnerships and collaboration on migration research with countries neighbouring the EU. The partnership was reflected in the principles of ‘accessibility, ownership, and sustainability’. Accessibility meant that the data and research collected by the Observatories should be accessible to policy-makers and the public in both the EU and partner countries—this included linguistic accessibility as well as conceptual accessibility (discussed later in this chapter). Ownership meant that the stakeholders from the countries of origin should recognize the value of the research and data collected by the Observatories, so that the work is not seen as serving only the EU. Finally, the idea of sustainability was that when EU funding ceases, the Observatories should be able to sustain themselves.

To achieve these goals, a key strategy of the Migration Observatories was to develop and engage a network of country experts connected across countries and disciplines, thus allowing comparisons between countries and the multidisciplinary analysis of issues. The researchers from the neighbouring countries were invited to participate in a network of correspondents. They were selected through the existing academic networks of the team of experts based at the EUI and through literature reviews.

The architecture of the Observatories reflected three disciplinary divisions: law, economics/demography, and social/political studies. The logic behind this architecture was simple. First, the CARIM team followed the knowledge management principle: a knowledge base should have a structure that can be easily translated into a functional database. Second, the comparability principle had to be reflected across countries and across disciplines. The three disciplinary fields were covered by three teams comprised of an EUI leader (expert in the discipline) and country experts for each participating country. The teams collected data and performed analysis on a variety of migration topics common to all the countries. Thus, the same research topics were approached by disciplinary experts from the same country. Legal experts collected relevant texts on laws and regulations; the economists/demographers collected relevant statistics; and political scientists/sociologists collected policy papers, qualitative surveys, and reports. Each contribution was registered in CARIM’s online database, searchable by topic, country, or discipline. It is crucial to note here that the data included in the database were not a result of primary research; rather, they were a collection of existing information scattered across countries and stakeholders. In addition, each expert would (p.194) prepare a descriptive paper on the topic, to be published online. The results included in-depth studies that, together, created a multidisciplinary report on an issue, but that could also be compared along disciplinary lines across the different countries. The country experts also contributed with research on issues specific to their country, to fulfil the principle of ownership of knowledge production in the Observatories.

As will be discussed, the Observatories have been places of translation of existing knowledge and assuring accessibility, but they also have been places of knowledge production and management, to foster ownership. Further, they also had a role outside of academia: their activities targeted partner country political and public discourses, to assure sustainability. This broad approach had immediate benefits, but also carried important risks.

Translation of the Existing Knowledge

The idea behind the Observatories was that there was already a wealth of knowledge produced by the academic institutions in the partner countries. However, this knowledge was not easily accessible to EU policy-makers and scholars for two main reasons: language barriers, and the different cultural and legal contexts in which scholarship was produced and practised. Translation—understood as mainstreaming in English, and clarification of the context of knowledge production—was thus the core task of the project. The same concept was then expanded to the Eastern neighbourhood in CARIM-East.

Language: Language issues are by far the most important elements to consider when talking about accessibility of both primary research and existing studies in countries neighbouring the EU. The CARIM Observatory in the Southern neighbourhood paid attention to the prevalence of French in the academic exchanges across the Mediterranean. However, the dominance of English in the production and consumption of research across Europe had to be considered, together with the fact that research produced in French may not have been accessible either to the wider European public or more internationally. It is also important to note that the prevalence of French language among the younger generations in the Southern neighbourhood has been diminishing as the younger and skilled people recognize the importance of English to accessing the global labour market. This tension between two leading European languages became clear with the development of CARIM-South: each year the number of publications in English increased, achieving a balance with the publications in French around 2011. The migration profiles produced for each of the countries (as well as regional reports) were produced in English to reach the widest audience possible. The CARIM-South database contained administrative data that were presented in French or English, allowing for wider use by the international audience, but (p.195) the legal database contained documents in Arabic only, neither translated nor described, and so of little use for non-Arabic speakers.

CARIM-South did not produce research papers in Arabic, relying on the French and English language skills of the partner country academic results and policy-making elites. This was possibly a barrier to the dissemination of the results among those sections of the population that do not master these languages.7

Over the years, the EU faced growing criticism of its partnership approach in external migration policy-making (Carrera and Hernández i Sagrera 2011; Van Hüllen 2012; Wunderlich 2012). The key criticism concerning knowledge production was that it serves only the objectives and interests of the EU. Thus, a growing emphasis was put on the benefits to the partner countries in the Communication of 2008 (European Commission 2008a). Observatories adjusted to this requirement in their next wave of activities, notably at the inception of CARIM-East in 2011.8 To benefit both the EU and the partner countries alike, the working languages needed to be adjusted. Indeed, Russian—not English—is the lingua franca east of the EU border and thus the database inputs and multidisciplinary research were produced consistently in English and Russian. The work was done by the bilingual research team and supported by translators and proof-readers in both languages. This required the use of additional resources.

The adoption of Russian as the official project language also had another advantage. When looking for scholars able to participate in a multinational research network, the language criterion is usually a limiting factor. A research coordinator can typically only use the pool of scholars who can write in good English, which considerably limits the choices possible. English-speaking researchers and consultants usually earn their credentials working for international organizations and producing informative reports, but not all can produce analytical contributions. Very often, English-speaking researchers unknowingly create research monopolies. This is a major unintended consequence of international research networks, which only open up to people with good English skills and previous experience working for international organizations. Often, it is two or three individuals in a country who are used in cross-country research projects, while arguably the possible pool of suitable candidates could be much wider if knowledge of English were not a precondition. So, the risk perpetuated by the international research networks is that competency in English, rather than exceptional skill or unique knowledge, gives a country expert their dominant position. Adopting Russian allowed us to reach scholars and practitioners who did not work in English but who had a required set of skills to contribute to the research. Most of them were invited to participate after a literature review of the Russian-language sources, performed by the CARIM-East team in the first month of the project.

(p.196) Cross-country comparisons: When establishing a network of collaborators, an important translating function of the Observatories emerged. Even if the working language were the same and understood by all the scholars involved, the different traditions of scholarship made a truly comparative approach difficult. The differences concerned both actual concepts used in data collection and analysis, and the standards of academic research and analysis. In my experience, when EU decision-makers look for comparative studies in migration, they often aim to achieve the standards of OECD work on migration, which effectively translates national differences in data collection into a coherent annual International Migration Outlook report.9 The OECD first reports pre-date EU-level efforts to harmonize migration statistics, and they are comprehensive, including information on policy changes and social issues. I believe that, for the time being, this standard is impossible to achieve across various non-OECD countries, mainly due to the differences in data collection methodologies (the definitions and modes of collection). Even in continental Europe, these traditions differ (see Di Bartolomeo 2019).

Within the CARIM, we attempted to address this difficulty in two ways. The first solution, adopted in the CARIM-South Observatory, saw the comparative research delivered at the stage of Migration Profiles. The CARIM-South statistical database contained table statistics from administrative sources and qualitative surveys for each country, but only the qualified team members were able to provide a comparative analysis of the content (which they did in the Migration Profiles). A lay person using the table ‘as is’ ran the risk of comparing apples and oranges. The second solution was adopted in CARIM-East: each data item included in the database was accompanied by adding explanatory notes for each of the tables, which explained the content of the table and thus aided its comparability across the countries.

It must be added here that the Observatories never aimed at offering a comparative dataset with the statistics processed to achieve comparability (as it is the case in the OECD reports or Eurostat reports). It has always been understood that the national data reflect local specificity that is lost when we try to use global, overarching definitions and concepts. A similar learning process took place in the case of legal and socio-political components of the database. In CARIM-East, the laws and policy documents written in local languages were annotated in English (and in Russian, when needed) to explain their content and importance. Also, newspaper articles in local languages were given a short explanation in English and Russian.

Knowledge Production and Management

To build the knowledge base of migration issues in the neighbourhood of the EU, the EU institutions have been seeking information on very specific topics (p.197) all linked to the main themes of the Global Approach to Migration, such as irregular migration, remittances, circular migration, and so on. Consequently, the CARIM Observatories focused on these topics in such a way as to make it clear that the primary beneficiary of the research was the EU. Yet, these topics were not always relevant for a given country: for example, the issue of asylum seekers was not relevant for Georgia (with a handful of cases each year), while the issue of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) was a real topic of concern. In order to produce analytical reports and data on asylum seekers in Georgia, primary research had to be conducted. This was a clear challenge for two reasons: financial constraints regarding the primary research, and lack of motivation to conduct such research due to its thematic irrelevance. It is important to note, however, that only relatively few topics were considered largely irrelevant for the partner countries. CARIM teams have tried to adjust the thematic range and be open to other topics that are more important to the partner countries (hence, for example, the research on IDPs conducted by CARIM-East).

The financial instruments dedicated to migration policy at the EU level are insufficient to support quality, large-scale primary data collection and analysis.10 This is understandable, since primary research has not been an objective in these instruments. Consequently, the Observatories were unable to develop a fully fledged primary research programme. There have been isolated cases of small-scale surveys undertaken in the framework of CARIM-South involving selected countries, but usually primary research was funded by other international donors (e.g. the IOM funding a survey of asylum seekers in Italy). Indeed, more primary research could have been done in the framework of Horizon 2020 but that programme has rarely followed the Global Approach interests.11 Therefore, the Observatories could only engage in limited original qualitative studies on an ad hoc basis.

The pooling of resources and optimizing the existing knowledge were thus a key strategy. The belief underlying the functioning of the Observatories since their conception was along the lines of the beliefs expressed in the Global Approach policy documents: that the relevant research exists but is not easily accessible. It transpired that this was, indeed, true—to a considerable extent. Migration studies is a functioning field of research all over the world, albeit that scholars can have different perspectives and be interested in different facets of the phenomenon. A clear example of such differences is burgeoning literature on immigration control in the countries of the Global North, while the scholars in the Global South work more on the effects of emigration. These differences lead to inevitable gaps in the existing data and knowledge. The main task of the Observatories was to identify and transmit research relevant from the point of view of the EU and the partner country development agenda. The problem was that the EU-centred view on what constitutes an (p.198) important research question on migration would not always be met with understanding, or be relevant to the reality of a partner country.

It is natural for researchers from the countries of origin, with a predominance of migration outflows, to be interested in emigration and its effects. Thus, the knowledge base often exists, ready to be interpreted and shared internationally. However, in many cases the outflows are towards other regions than the EU, as was the case in Armenia or Palestine. Thanks to their role as a bridge between the EU and the partner countries, the Observatories were able to generate a holistic image of migration in the wider EU neighbourhood, and study flows towards other destinations (such as Russia or Turkey). In addition, between 2004 and 2010, a significant evolution of the EU’s thinking about the nature and extent of evidence that was needed for policy formulation occurred. EU policy-makers became more interested in migration phenomena in general, to contextualize the EU’s position. The work of the Observatories was needed to provide that contextual information, which was a wider topic than just studies of migration flows into the EU.

Yet, controversies arose in cases where a partner country had different priorities and the available research did not fit the core topics of the research agenda dictated by the EU. That was the situation with Libya and Russia—both huge markets for immigration—where most scholars no longer undertook research on either emigration or emigration to the EU. Arguably, the primary research in Libya was very scarce on any topic related to migration. Contrary to that, the research on immigration to Russia developed exponentially in the early 2000s and thus there was a wealth of excellent primary sources to tap into. But this required flexibility on the part of both the Observatories and the EU policy-makers, and agreement that the Russian team should take a different perspective—that of a host country. This helped the CARIM-East team to open a new research field: the comparative analysis of migration from Eastern partnership countries to the EU and the Russian Federation. This became a win–win situation: it engaged Russian scholars who perceived the comparative perspective as very useful for their own work; it made the research produced by the migrant-sending countries more relevant for them because it allowed a holistic view of migration in these countries; and it helped to change the tone of the EU debate on migrations from the Eastern partnership countries to the EU by recognizing the central role of Russia.

Even so, among the partner country teams that were studying emigration, the challenges prioritized by the EU were not the same as the perceived challenges their countries faced. Irregular migration to the EU was probably not an important research theme for Lebanese or Armenian scholars, neither was irregular immigration to their countries. If the research was to benefit them, the differences had to be recognized by the EU team coordinating the (p.199) Observatories. In many instances, other issues related to migration were considered more important. Among them were the IDPs, depopulation, and the social impacts of emigration. Over the years, the Observatories adjusted their methodologies to include the themes that were more relevant for the partner countries than for the EU, thus fulfilling the promise of research partnerships. In CARIM-East, the research themes were actually agreed by the national teams themselves. They took the decision based on their knowledge of the existing research and its usefulness for comparative multidisciplinary work, thus taking full ownership of their work.

Apart from the thematic issues and data discrepancies, an important consideration had to be taken into account when coordinating large international networks: the different research cultures. The existing knowledge had to be collected by the experts according to the common guidelines and then adapted to the needs of the European policy-makers according to Western European standards. Culturally responsive communication was thus the top skill required from all the EUI team members. Indeed, a crucial element of the success of the Observatories was the fact that they specialized in the regions under study, had had experience of living in the countries participating in the Observatories and, at the same time, had the Western European approach to the research process and to academic publications. The translation of one academic culture into another was far more important than simple language translation. All differences had to be carefully managed and negotiated, especially when there was a different understanding of research standards, publication standards, and analysis. An important and delicate issue was the variation in norms of academic freedom across countries. In a few extreme cases, the political pressure on academics made meaningful cooperation impossible—either because they felt obliged to insert political language (e.g. praising a country leader) into academic papers, or because they did show academic free thinking and risked political consequences.12

One of the goals of the Observatories was to build the capacities of the researchers from the partner countries to enable them to function in the Western European academic culture. Hence, the EUI teams engaged in ad hoc training (e.g. on policy–research communication), as well as offering support for publications in the English-language academic journals. That part of the work was especially rewarding and had a visible impact on the younger generation of scholars over the years.

Shaping the Political and Public Discourses

The knowledge base produced by the Observatories was primarily to serve the European policy-makers but, in the spirit of the EU partnership, they were also (p.200) intended to benefit the partner countries. As already alluded to earlier, this part of the Observatories’ mission has been the most difficult to achieve.

The EU-level policy-makers were the most receptive targets for research–policy communication. This came as no surprise, as they all read English and French; in addition, immigration has been highly relevant for the EU institutions. The Observatories thus served as a knowledge hub for migration-related data and information for many European institutions, and the dialogue has been ongoing. CARIM teams regularly prepared briefings and information notes for the Commission officials, highlighting evidence on migration in the neighbourhood. This work was often done through very informal channels of communication. The team members regularly participated in research–policy dialogues, contributing to the Commission working groups and Council working group meetings. For example, the CARIM-East team was one of the key stakeholders in the consultations on Schengen visa liberalization with Ukraine and Moldova, supporting the Commission when it was designing its Action Plans on Visa Liberalisation. Its members also participated in the Eastern neighbourhood partnership meetings and Prague Process meetings, as well as during European Parliament hearings.

Yet, for a variety of reasons, getting the national government officials to engage actively in the debates resulting from the research was more challenging. First, the European dimension of the research was not seen as necessarily relevant at the national level in all instances. Second, not all the countries in the EU are equally interested in migration from North Africa or Eastern Europe. Italian policy-makers have been quite involved in the activities of CARIM-South, while CARIM-East enjoyed high levels of support from the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In addition, as already explained, the language barrier was decisive in limiting the possible impact of the results beyond those able to speak English or French. However, the Observatories tried to build bridges: it is important to note that CARIM-South supported the upcoming Polish presidency when it was preparing its plan of action on the Mediterranean by contributing a policy paper (2011). The Observatories were also a scientific partner of the POLITICALLY.EU Italian national debate on ‘Europe and Migration Policies’ (2014).

Engaging with policy-makers in the partner countries was the main challenge faced by the Observatories. A tradition of an intensive research–policy communication is not universally shared by all the countries of the world. Indeed, more often than not scholars do not have access to policy-makers. If anything, the fact that the Observatories were seen as an EU project opened some doors for the dissemination activities. Nevertheless, the lack of deep interest in migration matters was a major obstacle to fruitful research–policy debate on migration issues. Morocco and Moldova have been the most interested in systematic and collaborative research on migration of their own (p.201) citizens, while in other countries such interest was short-lived (e.g. in Ukraine). Migration was not a top-priority and was seen as predominantly an EU concern, to which the countries felt obliged to respond within clear political limits—that is, participating in EU initiatives but not necessarily engaging in the production of an EU-sponsored knowledge base. The knowledge base used by these governments was usually produced by United Nations organizations or the IOM on an ad hoc basis, and that was clearly perceived as sufficient.

The view that migration is mostly ‘the EU’s problem’ caused challenges for the sustainability of the Observatories. At that time, the CARIM partner countries did not invest in comprehensive migration research and the EU funding could not replace sustained national support.


The work of the CARIM Observatories can shed light on the challenges faced by EU policy-makers when trying to establish migration policy partnerships with third countries. The key issue, in my view, is the true partnership in collaborative research and research–policy communication. Such a partnership relies on the acknowledgement of diversity, understood as linguistic, cultural, and institutional diversity that impacts on research goals; its execution and the policy–research dialogue. This diversity needs to be negotiated to satisfy all the partners. Such partnerships are complex: they involve academics from different academic cultures, policy-makers from different institutional settings and actors from other sectors that bring their own perspectives.

Collaborative research in such a context requires a team of knowledge translators (or brokers). Their role is based on trust: the trust of the donor as regards their academic credentials and capabilities to meet the expected standards and goals; and the trust of experts from the partner countries who recognize the academic authority of the team members to the extent that they accept the necessary adjustments and improvements of the produced research. This was the case of the peer review process across languages and cultures performed by the Observatories. The EUI-based teams elaborated a model of cooperation that allowed the achievement of research excellence in a complex environment.

Research–policy communication can be even more challenging. If the partner countries do not have a tradition of research–policy communication, a one-off external initiative will not change the status quo. The political support of the donor can help foster the dialogue, but it may not be entirely successful because of its perceived imposed character. In the case of the CARIM Observatories, the main beneficiaries of the knowledge base were the EU institutions, (p.202) network members from the EU and the partner countries, and numerous academics and students from all over the world (as documented by the database statistics). The policy impact of the Observatories on the partner countries’ policies has never been measured in a systematic way.


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(1.) In fact, the authors relied heavily on a report by the Centre for Development Research in Copenhagen, which is the only research source quoted in the Communication COM(2005) 390 Final (European Commission 2005).

(2.) See the migration profiles repository at: https://gfmd.org/pfp/policy-tools/migration-profiles/repository (last accessed 3 June 2018).

(3.) The repository of the reports can be consulted at: www.migrationpolicycentre.eu/publications/migration-report/ (last accessed 3 June 2018).

(4.) For example, the reports produced by the CARIM Observatories, to be consulted at: www.migrationpolicycentre.eu/publications/

(5.) The original name figuring in EU documents since 2005 was the Global Approach to Migration, but it was modified in 2011. However, it refers to the same policy framework.

(7.) However, there has been no evaluation study to provide an accurate assess ment of the CARIM reception among the wider population in the countries of origin.

(8.) Language has never been an issue in CARIM-India because English is an official language in India.

(10.) Unlike research funding available under purely research instruments; for example, Horizon 2020.

(11.) A handful of large-scale projects were funded under the 7th Framework Programme, specifically, Migration between Africa and Europe (MAFE) and Temper projects.

(12.) For example, as is the well-known case of Arif Yunusov from Azerbaijan, a country expert from CARIM-East who became a prisoner of conscience due to his critical stance towards the country’s leadership.