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.