Making Policies against Migrant Smuggling

On Thursday, September 24, 2020 our Phd candidate Federico Alagna, successfully defended his PhD thesis.

Federico was part of a double degree programme together with the University of Bologna, and from the side of the Radboud University was supervised by Prof. Huib Ernste, dr. Joris Schapendonk and dr. Martin van der Velde.

His thesis is titled: SHIFTIG GOVERNANCE. Making Policies against Migrant Smuggling across the EU, Italy and Sicily.

This research seeks to understand the policy-making dynamics related to migrant smuggling within the European Union, focusing in particular on the Italian case and on the Sicilian sub-case, over the period 2014-2019.
The study is based on an operational definition of migrant smuggling which goes beyond a merely legal understanding of it and considers smuggling in its persistent tension between security and human rights. To do so, the phenomenon is unpacked into its two main components – supply and demand, the latter being often neglected in policy practices. After that, such components are brought back together into a ‘smuggling spectrum’, which becomes a key analytical tool: an area of complexity where the phenomenon is considered through six different layers, pointing to the existing contradictions both in empirical and policy terms.
Building upon this approach, this interpretive case study, falling within the broad field of the EU studies, combines new institutionalist and multi-level governance approaches. This analytical perspective makes it possible to answer the main research question, aimed at understanding how and why agency, influenced by institutional constraints, moves within and across governance levels in the formulation of policies aimed at countering the smuggling of migrants in the EU, Italy and Sicily. To do so, multiple data are considered and analysed, including: 23 in-depth semi-structured interviews, realised with relevant actors on different governance levels; parliamentary proceedings from 1998 to 2019; judicial proceedings; documents from the European Commission, the European Parliament, the Council of the EU, national ministries, Europol, Eurojust, UNODC, UNHCR and NGOs, among others.
The multi-level perspective is unfolded into three different levels – i.e. supranational (EU), national (Italy) and local (Sicily) – each of them being associated with a sub-research question. Moreover, the elaboration of an analytical model makes it possible to apply the conceptual combination of new institutionalism and multi-level governance on the specific case at hand and on the three governance levels connected.
Adopting a bottom-up perspective, the focus is firstly placed on local implementation patterns in Sicily, based on different arenas of agency. The consequences of these practices on policy-making, as well as (sometimes unwanted) bottom-up dynamics in fighting migrant smuggling, influencing both national and European policies, are also discussed, disclosing the importance of certain actors in particular, such as judiciary, NGOs and intermediate bodies (institutions placed in-between governance levels), among others.
The analysis of the national level explores policy-making in relation to migrant smuggling, in the light of vertical and horizontal dynamics. The former are based on the influence of the local and EU levels, where again intermediate bodies play a crucial role, alongside parliamentary committees and unwanted effects originating at EU level. As for the latter, they consider the way in which different policy areas and different institutional and non-institutional actors placed at national level interact in the elaboration of smuggling-related policies. Here the security-based framework, the unwanted consequences caused by NGOs and the executivisation of policies are all aspects that gain primary relevance.
A very similar approach is proposed also at an EU level. In this case, vertical dynamics confirm the importance of intermediate bodies and parliamentary committees, in addition to field visits, whereas horizontal interactions help to disclose the relevance of other policy domains outside the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice, the institutional consequences of that, the interaction between supranational and intergovernmental actors as well as the important (and yet contradictory) role of research and studies.
Building upon this analysis and assessing the way in which each actor moves within and across the governance levels, influenced and limited by institutional constraints, this study makes it possible to understand (a) which actors lead the policy-making process in the field of anti-migrant smuggling in the EU, Italy and Sicily, and why this is the case; (b) what their approach to smuggling is; (c) what dynamics characterise the relationships between them; (d) how much room there is for processes of information and preference upload; (e) to what extent non-institutional actors contribute to the process of policy adoption.
Namely, what emerges in these five dimensions is the strong executivisation of policies, with a prominent role of national governments and of the Council of the EU; the widespread tendency towards a more securitising approach to migrant smuggling; the existence of pass-the-buck dynamics (especially between national and supranational levels); the difficulty in processes of information and preference upload (mostly depending on the content to be uploaded); and, lastly, the importance of non-institutional actors in influencing the policy-making process through their practices.
The conclusions that are reached, on the one side, allow for an in-depth understanding of the specific Italian/Sicilian case, which is significant, considering this as first systematic insight into a policy domain still to be explored. On the other side, through the conceptual combination proposed, they provide a definition of a model aiming to look at similar policy-making processes in other fields and/or in other case-based and comparative studies.

This PhD thesis shows that Places are especially made at the Border! and not just at the centres of European Governance.

Informality in Spatial Planning

Spatial Planning is closely related to applying strict procedures and rules for spatial decision making, and for the implementation of these decisions. In the ancient times of Spatial Planning this was a sole government responsibility, even though in the seventies of the last century, certainly also in the Netherlands, spatial decision making was increasingly done in a participatory way. These were the heydays of collaborative and communicative planning.  Since then we moved from government to governance, and spatial planning became a joint responsibility of many involved public and private partners. The public participatory decision making was at the same time partly replaced by market-led planning. Throughout these developments, the relationship between the different involved stakeholders and affected groups and parties has also changed. They are not always led by the same target, they have different interests, they value the diverse aspects of a spatial decision differently, they have unequal resources to contribute to the plan, etc. etc. Spatial planning has thus evolved as a complicated game of dealing, negotiation and collaboration. This is therefore much more than choosing a target, setting up a plan, and implementing a plan. Successful planning nowadays is the art of bridging these cultural and social differences between the involved parties, and only to a very small part driven by formal rules and procedures. This also implies that much more informal ways of communicating, evaluating, and negotiating have become crucial in spatial planning. Spatial planning is really the work of human beings with all their subjective needs, interpretations, valuations, preferences, visions, intentions, beliefs, politics, talents, etc. One might say that these ‘soft factors‘ or ‘cultural factors‘ in spatial planning have increasingly become decisive, and formal and institutional aspects seem to lose their importance. Spatial planning becomes a regular form of Placemaking.

It was my Austrian colleague Prof. Peter Weichhart from the University of Vienna and Prof. Rainer Danielzyk from University of Hannover, who already addressed this in 2005 as the Culture of Spatial Planning when they were asking, why is even in states which have an elaborated and almost perfectly institutionalised and regulated spatial planning system planning not always successful? and, what are then the real structural principles and deeper working mechanisms in spatial planning? And what is the role of the subjective and cultural backgrounds and of their culturally determined ‘ways of doing’ of the people involved? It is self-evident that the growing importance of these cultural aspects of spatial planning is not necessarily about ‘national’ cultures, or planning styles, or planning systems but much more about the cultural backgrounds and everyday ways of doing of the people involves in spatial planning, beyond the rules and regulations of the planning system.

In the former PhD project on this issue by Marlies Meijer (see separate entry on this site) this was addressed as Informality in Spatial Planning in demographically shirking areas in Sweden, Spain and the Netherlands. As a follow up on that stream of thinking, now Jinshuo Wang now successfully defended her PhD thesis on Local government-led informality in planning in Chinese urban land development. She was supervised by Prof. Erwin van der Krabben, but I had the honour of being a member of the panel at her defence.

Her thesis was different and also her defence was different. Of course in China the situation is different and also local cultures are different, both: the local cultures of spatial planning as well as the local cultures of doing research on those issues.  Jinshuo Wang accordingly operationalised ‘informality’ as ‘spatial decision making through negotiation’, and investigated this on the basis of a huge quantitative data set on many spatial planning projects. This also in first instance seemed to have confused some of the spatial planning peers, which somehow again confirms the importance of ‘culture’ in spatial planning and spatial planning research. This is of course only one form of informality and maybe also not the one where soft factors can fully flourish and have a broad impact, but on the other hand — as she convincingly showed — it is a culturally sensitive deviation of traditional formal top-down planning. Her defence was also different because of the circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic, which implied that several opponents could only participate remotely on screen.

Alexander von Humboldt Lecture

Alexander von Humboldt Lecture
and Opening Lecture of the 2020-2021 Human Geography Master Programme

Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020, 15:30-16:45 (Dutch time)
Public Virtual Lecture by means of Zoom:
Meeting ID: 929 7302 8257
Passcode: 748148
Free entry

Prof. Eberhard Rothfuß, University Bayreuth, Germany

The Theory of Recognition and its relevance for Geography
Empirical evidence from urban Latin America and rural Sub-Sahara Africa

Abstract: The aim of this presentation is twofold: Firstly I will try to explain, why the Theory of Recognition by Axel Honneth (1994) – the most prominent protagonist of the third generation of the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory – has a high potential for Human Geography and secondly to illustrate the empirical evidence of recognition theory from two different socio-spatial contexts of the Global South, to understand the struggles of social groups in their ‘fights for recognition’.

The first case study will focus on a marginalised neighbourhood (“favela”) in Salvador da Bahia – Brazil, which is constantly confronted with exclusion and ‘social invisibility’. The point which is being made is that the Brazilian favelas are, on the one hand, in terms of their media coverage and stigmatisation, the most visible urban spaces in Brazil. On the other hand, however, with regard to societal recognition and human relevance of the Favela residents, these disadvantaged urban spaces remain socially invisible. This involves a double humiliation of this Brazilian declassed class.

The second case study will address aspects of energy justice in Ghana. Many urban households in Ghana are keenly installing Solar Home Systems (SHS) to mitigate frequent grid power outages and ensure stability in the performance of social and energy-saving practices which grant them recognition as ‘enlightened’ social groups or as individuals staying au courant with modern energy technologies. Many rural community residents, however, claim the SHS facility restricts performances of ‘modern’ practices in comparison to fellow ‘Ghanaians’ who have access to electrical grids and that its acceptance may perpetually reduce them to ‘second-class-citizens’. Empirical evidence suggests that energy justice visions remain fuzzy unless they are set in relation to how and why practical solutions to the energy ‘needs’ and ‘visions’ of socially and spatially differentiated groups could be realised. I call this practical recognition.

In this lecture, I advocate practical recognition as a suitable alternative pathway in Geography for researching just urban and rural futures by emphasizing connections between socio-spatial justice, human agency and entitlement notions.