Migration is shaping up as a central issue in the upcoming May 25 European Parliament elections. It drove Brexit. It catapulted the populist far right to prominence and power. It split Europe, with Germany opening its doors and Central Europe slamming them shut.
Unfortunately, the current debate ignores the crucial role of food scarcity and hunger in driving migrants to the continent.
When the candidates to become the next European Commission president sparred verbally in Maastricht at the end of April, they focused their discussion on general support for the Paris accords to cut climate change and on the failure of Europe to pursue a common policy of keeping out migrants.
Another recent debate, EU Migration Policy Doomed to Fail?, featured seven parliamentary candidates from across the political spectrum. MEPs agreed that the current EU response has been unsuccessful, with most stressing the need for European governments to do more to share out the burden of hosting migrants.
None of the candidates raised the issue of food insecurity. That’s an error. In May 2017, a study by the World Food Programme found that countries with the highest level of food insecurity and armed conflict, have the highest outward migration of refugees.
Most candidates emphasized how war and other conflicts are driving migrants. Syria’s civil war was the major proof point/ Judith Sargentini (Greens) said that the “root causes of migration lie in poverty.” In a follow-up question, Sargentini’s staff told me that “she does not see food shortages as a major driver of migration.”
Most of the clash around migration focuses on whether migrants should be forced to request asylum outside of Europe, when they reach safety in countries such as Turkey. Asylum “is not a right to choose where you can find that safety, and if you can find that safety along the way and if the European Union can help in creating safe places along the journey why wouldn’t we do that?,” asked Dutch Christian Democrat Jeroen Lenaers.
Other MEPs refuted this assumption. The Green’s Sargentini, in particular, claimed that “the whole idea that we can outsource our own problem by paying it off, actually made our relationship with a lot of African countries crumble.” She later described as the deal with Turkey to provide financial assistance as long as Ankara keeps refugees from reaching Europe as a form of “push back.”
Candidates are divided over how to deal with migrants who already have arrived in Europe. Dutch Liberal MEP Sophia in ‘t Veld (ALDE) advocated allowing migrants to work. This would help their economy. As the population of Europe ages, it also is in Europe’s advantage to facilitate the legal migration of laborers.
Although no easy solution exists for the problem of food insecurity, we cannot afford to ignore the issue. Politicians must not just aim to put a band aid on the flow of impoverished and hungry populations into Europe. They must look at the root causes.
MEP Martina Anderson (GUE/NGL, Sinn Féin) - Anderson is a Northern Irish politician from GUE/NGL. This is her second term in office. Anderson is a Member of the Bureau of GUE/NGL. She is part of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice, and Home Affairs and the Delegation for relations with Palestine.
MEP Miriam Dalli (S&D, Partit Laburista) - Dalli is a Maltese politician and is part of S&D. This is her first term in office. She is on the Committee on the Environment, Public Health, and Food Safety, the Committee on Petitions, and the Delegation for relations with the Maghreb countries and the Arab Maghreb Union.
MEP Laura Ferrara (EFDD, Movimento 5 Stelle) - Ferrara is an Italian politician from the EFDD. This is her first term in office. She is the Vice-Chair of the Committee on Legal Affairs. She is a member of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, Delegation to the EU-Chile Joint Parliamentary Committee, Delegation to the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly, and the Delegation to the Euro-Latin American Parliamentary Assembly.
MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld (ALDE, Democraten 66) - Veld is a Dutch Politician from ALDE. She is in her third term of office. Veld serves as the First Vice President of ALDE. She is on the Committee of Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs and is part of the Delegation to the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee.
MEP Jeroen Lenaers (EPP, Christen Democratisch Appèl) - Lenaers is a Dutch politician and is part of the EPP group. He is in his first term of office in the European Parliament. He is on the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs.
MEP Judith Sargentini (Greens/EFA, GroenLinks) - Sargentini is a Dutch politician and is part of the Green party. This is her second term in office. She is the Vice-Chair of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice, and Home Affairs. She is a member of the Delegation for relations with South Africa, and the Delegation to the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly.
MEP Helga Stevens (ECR, Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie) - Stevens is a Belgian politician and is part of Conservatives and Reformists. She is in her first term of office. She is the Vice Chair of ECRG and is their pick to be the next European Parliament President. She is on the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, and the Delegation to the EU-Kazakhstan, EU-Krygyzstan, EU-Uzbekistan and EU-Tajikistan Parliamentary Cooperation Committees and for relations with Turkmenistan and Mongolia.
Amanda Sky is a research intern at the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels.