Skip to main content

About this book

This edited book examines the experience of small states in Europe during the 2015–2016 migration crisis. The contributions highlight the challenges small states and the European Union faced in addressing the massive irregular flow of migrants and refugees into Europe and the Schengen Area. Small states adopted a number of coping strategies and proved relatively effective in navigating the storm they faced. Externally they pursued strategies of shelter-seeking, hiding, hedging and norm entrepreneurship, while domestically they tended to securitize migration and to pursue scapegoating by blaming the EU and other states for the nature and magnitude of the crisis. During this crisis management, their small administrations proved resilient and flexible in their responses, despite suffering from limited resources and being subject to the shifting preferences of stronger actors. This book shows that independent of whether we view the migration crisis as a crisis for the European Union or Europe as a whole, or how we interpret the intensity and severity of the crisis, this was a crisis for small states in Europe. The crisis disrupted the liberal and institutionalized order upon which small states in the region had increasingly based their policies and influence for more than 60 years.

Table of Contents


Introduction and Framework


Introduction: Small States and the Migrant Crisis in Context

In 2015 and 2016, the European Union (EU) faced an unprecedented arrival of asylum claimants and illegal migrants, with more than one million people reaching EU territories. This mass movement of people created a humanitarian crisis as well as posing serious public policy problems for individual member states of the Union, as well as for the EU as a whole. The migrant crisis demonstrated that the EU’s ability to deal with migration issues is complicated and contradictory. Migration goes beyond borders, both literally and figuratively, and thus a communal and united European approach was (and is) required. However, the 2015 crisis showed that the challenges and costs were not evenly distributed. With regard to the smaller states a number of specific problems became apparent, which this volume seeks to address and analyse. The key element is that a structural weakness vis-à-vis their size became apparent in a number of cases. In terms of their geographic areas, populations and economies, most small states simply have less resources and space to accept large numbers of migrants. Moreover, depending on their geographic position within Europe, the response of the populations with regard to the crisis varied.
Tómas Joensen, Ian Taylor

Analysing Small States in Crisis: Fundamental Assumptions and Analytical Starting Points

The chapter aims to discuss what is meant by a ‘small state’ and outline a set of coping strategies that small states can use to address their vulnerabilities. It maps the conceptual and theoretical landscape evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of definitions of small states and discusses the strategic menu of small states in crises. The authors provide a theoretical overview, which takes account of internal and external features of small states in order to examine their methods to meet the challenges of crisis. The attention is on how small states cope with crises in terms of policy, resources and focus. Hence, the chapter provides an analytical anchor for unpacking coping strategies of small states in the case studies of the book. The motive is to initiate a discussion on how small states have responded to the migration crisis, what have been the constraints and advantages of small scale and how they can become better equipped, domestically and externally, to deal with crises in the future.
Külli Sarapuu, Baldur Thorhallsson, Anders Wivel

Small States and the Current Political Turmoil Related to Immigration


Immigration-Integration: A New Opportunity for the EU?

Crises can often be turned into opportunities and the global migration phenomenon which is also affecting the EU can indeed be one such opportunity. The causes of this phenomenon are many and the possible responses are just as numerous. The EU will have to continue to apply an integrated approach comprising different policy actions. By exclusively focusing on “defensive” policies, building walls, will not resolve the problem. Immigration can also be a source of economic growth if the integration or “incorporation” of migrant communities in society can be achieved. While the anti-immigration rhetoric is the most eye-catching in public debates, in general the European public believes that the integration of migrants is the best way forward to avoid costly social cleavages and achieve economic growth. However, the figures show that members of the immigrant communities in Europe are among the poorest segments of society which points towards the need of renewed efforts aimed at strengthening immigrant integration in society.
Roderick Pace

Openness Versus Helplessness: Europe’s Border Crisis, 2015–2018

Almost 2 million irregular migrants and asylum seekers arrived by sea to Europe between 2015 and 2018, plunging the EU into a crisis often misconstrued as purely a moral battle between east and west. However, this comfortable conceit obscures dynamic political and interdisciplinary conflicts within the Union that remain poorly understood. Their roots go back to the foundation of the passport-free Schengen travel area in the 1990s and centre around the opposing regional interests of Member States on border control; disagreements on asylum policy between states and other protagonists, notably the European Commission and UN Refugee Agency; and the seemingly irreconcilable priorities of diplomats, development experts and interior officials. Hugo Brady—a senior advisor on migration in the European Council from 2015 to 2019—gives an insider perspective on the bellicose debates between EU leaders during this period; characterises Europe’s crisis response; and explains how small states worked to protect their fundamental interests from the furore.
Hugo Brady

On the Frontline: The Experiences of the Border States


The (De)Europeanization of Greece: Experience from the Eye of the Storm

Greece has been the member state that faced the ‘refugee crisis’ of 2015–2016 in the eye of the storm. Such refugee crisis took place on the same time as the acceleration of the economic crisis. The aim of this chapter is: first, to explore the scope of Europeanization/De-Europeanization caused by the immigration and refugee crisis, second, to examine the relevance of foreign policy objectives and practices in Greek migration policymaking and third, to identify the strategies which the Greek government applied. The chapter consists of three parts: The first part offers a brief theoretical introduction to the small EU member states foreign policy from the perspective of Europeanization/De-Europeanization in the field of migration. The second part explores the extent to which Greek migration policy has been Europeanized during the period 2008–2015 and the third part examines how far the Greek migration policy has been De-Europeanized during the refugee crisis of 2015–2016.
Charalambos Tsardanidis

Migration and Security: The Case of Greece

The aim of this chapter is to present the main security challenges from extreme migration pressures for small states. Using the case of Greece, the main front line state during the migration-refugee crisis, the author describes the dual security challenge for front line states. The first challenge is linked with border security and with the risk of foreign terrorist fighters’ possible infiltration within the mixed flows. Furthermore, the states are also dealing with polarization and its security outcome. The main risks from polarization are refugees’ radicalization and the rise of the right-wing extremism. Finally, the author describes the measures and the policies implemented by Greece and the lessons learned both at the national and European level.
Triantafyllos Karatrantos

Malta: A Janus Faced Migration and Integration Policy

An emigrant island state for most of the post-World War II period, Malta started becoming a net immigrant country from the mid-eighties. “Regular” and “irregular” immigrant trends picked up pace at the turn of the millennium and accelerated from 2015. Maltese society which was used to emigration struggled to accept the phenomenon of mixed immigration. A fully fletched integration policy launched in 2017 was aimed at all immigrant types. Public opinion in Malta has remained consistently concerned about immigration, but more resentful of the irregular arrivals such as those rescued in Malta’s maritime Search and Rescue Area (SAR), than towards those who are purposely imported to address skill or labour shortages in key economic areas. EU-EEA citizens who are entitled to live and work in Malta on the basis of the Union’s free movement of labour rules also raise fewer concerns. This chapter summarizes some of the key patterns of Maltese immigration, the main motors of the phenomenon, official reactions and policy developments and the way Malta has sought to “securitize” the phenomenon and enlist the EU’s aid in order to keep irregular migrants at bay while keeping the door open for select third country and EU citizens.
Roderick Pace

Waving Them on? The Experiences of Peripheral States


Coping with the Migration Crisis in Small States in the European Union: The Experience of Slovenia

This chapter contributes to the ex-post dialogue on the migration crisis of 2015–2016, providing an examination and elaboration of the coping strategies of Slovene government. With the case study research method, paper findings are advocating that policymaking and decision-making focused mainly on the border management and other needed logistics. Slovenia became a transit state on the migration route, and was consequently heavily challenged, due to crisis magnitude, EU and Schengen zone membership, EU policymaking inactivity and inconsistency, and not to be neglected, the state size. Such challenges imposed some problems in multilevel governance and are advocating for more holistic crisis management approach. This chapter also has practical implications for the improvement in crisis management of small states, notwithstanding the fact we are still missing examinations and elaborations of the migration crisis effects, specifically from the perspectives of the most heavily challenged EU states.
Primož Pevcin, Danila Rijavec

The 2015 Migrant Crisis as an Identity Crisis for Iceland

Among small states in Europe, Iceland is unique for its extremely small population, geographical isolation and relatively strong economy. The 2015 migration crisis affected Iceland with a gradually rising number of asylum applications from the year 2012, with a sharp increase in 2016, characterized by a large proportion of applications from the Western Balkans. Despite “the wave” reaching Iceland about a year later, Iceland remained reactive and unprepared in its response. The “crisis” has remained mainly of a political nature as the country has coped relatively well with the administrative, economic and cultural challenges stemming from the increase. Iceland’s main challenges are therefore of a political nature, in balancing the strong human rights culture with an underlying fear of the numbers.
Arndís Anna Kristínardóttir Gunnarsdóttir

Small States: “The Gatekeepers” of EU Borders During the Migration Crisis

Three main challenges detected at the EU level during the migration crisis are analysed in the chapter by using different case studies of small bordering EU member states: the question of sovereignty, the lack of clear EU policy and a division which emerged between the most affected states and other member states on taking the heaviest burden of crisis. In order to understand migration trends and challenges faced by the bordering EU states, the meaning of borders is particularly explained and all affected bordering states detected and categorised. As one of the small states’ foreign policy strategies, sheltering, is analysed on the example of four small bordering EU states (Greece, Bulgaria, Hungary, Croatia) during the migration crisis. Several levels of analysis brought forth conclusions regarding the three issues defined at the EU level, regarding each analysed small bordering state, as well as regarding the sheltering strategy layers discussed within the framework of the migration crisis.
Đana Luša

A Small Administration Facing a Complex Policy Challenge: Estonia and the 2015 Refugee Crisis

Contemporary policy challenges are horizontal, tenacious and span across organisational, sectoral and national borders. These complex policy problems have substantial implications for the government machinery, require new competencies, ability to adapt swiftly and new ways of collaboration. The inherent characteristics of small states and small administrations are expected to present them with several challenges in managing the complex problems. However, there is currently little research to prove this. The chapter looks at the 2015 European refugee crisis specifically from the perspective of small state governance. The authors inquire how Estonia as a small EU border-state handled the domestic repercussions of the refugee crisis. The chapter presents a comprehensive and context-sensitive insight into the Estonian case where the external pressures of the crisis shook the society, politics as well as administrative organisations. The analysis shows that the 2015 refugee crisis unfolded largely as a mental crisis in Estonia having a profound effect on public discussions and socially embedded ideas. Although the small size of the country allowed quick adaptation to the changing circumstances, its administrative system remains vulnerable in terms of constrained resources and lacking economies of scale.
Mariliis Trei, Külli Sarapuu



Conclusion: Small States and the European Migrant Crisis—New Challenges and Coping Strategies

The European migration crisis was a crisis for small states in Europe in the sense that it disrupted the order upon which the European small states had increasingly based their policies and influence for more than 60 years. Among the most serious challenges were the renationalization of European politics, the return of geopolitics and disagreements among European great powers and the shifting policies of the most powerful actor, Germany. In order to meet these challenges, small states employed a number of external and domestic coping strategies. Externally, small states pursued strategies of shelter, hiding, hedging and norm entrepreneurship. Domestically, small states tended to securitize migration and to pursue scapegoating by blaming the EU and other states for the nature and magnitude of the crisis, while at the same time seeking administrative adaptation in order to meet the concrete day-to-day challenges of the crisis. The chapter identifies the consequences of these strategies for the influence and position of small states in Europe and discusses what the crisis and the ensuing responses from small states tell us about the nature and consequences of “smallness” in contemporary Europe.
Anders Wivel


Additional information

Premium Partner

    Image Credits