Mobility Partnerships (MPs) have been introduced as a ‘novel approach’ to regulate migration relations between destination and source countries on a broad basis and are claimed to depart from earlier, primarily unilateral and less comprehensive policies (European Commission (COM) 2007b: 2). Sometimes heralded as a ‘paradigmatic shift’ (see Rittener et al. in this volume), their introduction has to be interpreted in the context of the intensified global dialogue on international migration cooperation which has unfolded in the United Nations system since the turn of the millennium, and the increasing prominence that the notion of ‘partnership’ has acquired in international relations more broadly (see Kunz in this volume). Within the EU context, MPs constitute the most tangible operational substance of the ‘Global Approach to Migration’ propagated from 2005 onwards. Whereas the policy substance of EU MPs is analysed elsewhere in this volume (Carrera and Hernández, and, from a comparative legal perspective, Ward), this chapter interprets their innovative potential in the context of the broader EU migration policy, its evolution and institutional set-up. Putting particular emphasis on the discursive construction and the practical implementation in the relations with the ‘receiving partners’, it seeks to uncover continuity and change embodied in this concept, also beyond persistent paradigms in policy substance. The first section contextualizes MPs in the general evolution of EU migration policies and highlights that some of the concept’s basic tenets are not as new as sometimes suggested. This chapter’s main argument is that the resurgence of claims for comprehensiveness and closer interaction with third countries in the form of MPs is mainly a reaction to the failure of unilateral repressive measures. In the second section we take a closer look at the understandings of ‘migration/ mobility’ and ‘partnership’ in the political discourse around MPs. We will show that whereas a certain widening of the understanding of international migration towards a more comprehensive vision has taken place, the notion of ‘partnership’ becomes less and less tangible, the farther the practical operationalization of the concept proceeds. The third section scrutinizes the implementation and
concrete functioning of the three MPs already adopted (Cape Verde and Moldova 2008, Georgia 2009) and compares practice with discourse, specifically with respect to gathering political commitment and capacity of implementation. Here, the finding from the preceding section that the discursive use of the notion of partnership fades away will be confirmed by the way in which the MPs have been put into practice. By looking at the modes of governance established under these new initiatives, however, the fourth section proposes that despite the asymmetry in the way they have been framed and set up, MPs may nevertheless, if properly administered, unfold an integrative dynamic that could theoretically allow for the development of more balanced and mutually beneficial forms of cooperation. Our preliminary observations suggest that owing to the difficulty of managing this multilevel policy tool, which combines an EU layer of policies, usually the trilateral components of the Global Approach to Migration, with the national immigration tools ‘interested’ EU Member States propose, these positive dynamics are not very likely to unfold, at least in the near future. The main reason is that under the current division of competences in the EU, those issues that would interest partner countries most, i.e. mobility, are in the competence of the Member States, and the Commission has no leverage to induce the latter to open up their labour markets. As a consequence, commitments under the MPs concern security measures rather than mobility, and may be seen as complementary to the implementation of readmission agreements. In view of these internal constraints, the Conclusion sheds light on potential hidden agendas sustaining supranational actors’ momentum towards MPs despite their inherent weaknesses. Returning to the analysis of the evolving EU competence in migration matters, it will be argued that the immediate effect of a Mobility Partnership may lie in internal dynamics within the EU’s multilevel division of competencies. The establishment of these partnerships may, apart from fostering internal coordination between the Member States and the Commission, boost the external pressure for a more unified position on legal (economic) migration. If successful, this pressure may, in the long run, increase the EU’s room for manoeuvre in the implementation of MPs and eventually help to unleash some of their integrative potential.