This project, FAiR, analyses the objectives in the call from a governance perspective, which argues that contemporary political authority is polycentric and multileveled (cf. Bexell, 2014, Walters, 2004 ). It is no longer appropriate, if it ever was, to assume that each nation-state reigns over a field of subordinate public and private actors, and that international relations are merely determined by the military and economic power balance between nation-states. Rules arise and operate in a complex field, in which a multitude of public and private actors – often with different interests – influence each other using different sources of power, including forms of ‘soft power’ (e.g., persuasion, norms and cultural frames) (cf. Nye, 2004). The governance of the (non-)return of migrants, in other words, involves a plethora of state and non-state actors at different levels in different countries. FAiR proceeds from the analytical observation that policy failure and implementation deficits in the field of return are fundamentally linked to the concept of legitimacy. Sociological and legal perspectives on legitimacy and legitimation are combined to better understand problems of legitimacy and legitimation in return governance (compare Fallon, 2005). Sociological legitimacy is a property attributed to an organisation, policy or actor, which, if present, involves a normative belief by the attributing audience that the organisation, policy or actor ought to be obeyed (Hurd, 1999). Legitimation is the activity of either seeking or granting legitimacy (Bexell, 2014), such as by narrating how a practice relates to an accepted value or norm that regulates a social outcome or how it relates to a well-established procedural expectation (Beetham, 2013). In this perspective, EU return policies cannot be analysed in isolation from origin and transit states. Outcomes that are seen as being in the ‘common interest’ are generally easier to legitimize than outcomes that unequally benefit actors; unequal outcomes can still be (perceived as) legitimate if actors can credibly legitimize unequal outcomes on the basis of a well-accepted ‘principle of differentiation’ (Beetham 2013). Restrictive labour migration and asylum policies benefit citizens of richer countries more than they benefit citizens of poorer countries. Nationalism is among the principles of differentiation that legitimizes the differentiation between citizens and non-citizens and the privileging of the former by states, yet civil society actors also routinely question the policies and procedures designed to keep ‘undesired migrants’ out, as do the origin and transit states which are requested to readmit them. This research will help to identify and understand such legitimacy deficits and dilemmas in the field of migrant return, which could be useful to attenuate some of the gaps between policy objectives and their outcomes in this field. It may turn out, for example, that specific return arrangements are relatively agreeable for countries of origin (e.g., when contributions to migrant return come in exchange for more legal migration or mobility, and genuine partnerships). Similarly, it may turn out that alternatives to return are more acceptable to European voters than European governments fear, or that the acceptance depends on which alternatives to return are offered, and how these alternatives are framed/legitimated (e.g., based on cost-effectiveness or respect of human rights rather than as an outcome ‘policy failure’) (cf. Voss, Silva, and Bloemraad, 2020).


Duration 01/05/2023 - 31/10/2026
Funding EU
Logo - European Union

Department for Migration and Globalisation

Center for Migration and Globalisation Research

Principle investigator for the project (University for Continuing Education Krems) Univ.-Prof. Dr. Mathias Czaika
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