The Global Compact for Migration: One year later


It has been a year since the adoption of the Global Compact for Migration. This non-binding albeit important international document was subjected to heated political debates in many countries. The Federal Council didn’t approve it, even if Swiss diplomats played a crucial role in its inception. This blog takes stock of the Global Compact’s international implementation efforts and discusses the need for its adoption by Switzerland in view of its new political landscape.

In a press release on 10 October 2018, the Federal Council announced that it approved the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (Global Compact) which is a non-legally binding cooperation framework. The plan was to join UN Member States in formally adopting it at an intergovernmental conference in Morocco on 10–11 December 2018. The Global Compact for Migration aims a better managing migration at local, national, regional and global levels. Contrary to all rumors it respects states’ sovereignty to determine who enters and stays in their territory and does not stand for immigration as a human right. Hence, the Global Compact is not a treaty and therefore legally non-binding. This means that based on Art. 166, 2 of the Swiss Constitution the Federal Council could have gone to Marrakesh without even consulting the parliament. Nevertheless, the Federal Council decided to present the matter to the responsible parliamentary committees. Ironically, the document that Swiss diplomats helped shape, was a matter of outpouring criticism following a heated debate in Switzerland led by the rightwing populists. Therefore, the Federal Council postponed its final decision on the Global Compact. Finally, Switzerland has thus joined a group of nations that did not attend the conference for the formal adoption of the framework in Marrakech in December 2018.

Although several states like Switzerland refrained from adopting the Global Compact, this first international migration agreement between 152 governments is not dead in the water. By establishing the United Nations Network on Migration in May 2018, the UN Secretary General ensured that the UN agencies (IOM, UNHCR, OHCHR, ILO, UNDP, etc.) will effectively contribute to the coherent implementation, follow-up and review of the Global Compact. More specifically, the network is to oversee the Global Compact’s three-pronged capacity building mechanism: a connection hub to facilitate the circulation of expertise and best practices; a start-up fund to realise project-oriented solutions; a global knowledge platform to act as an online open data source on migration. While the connection hub and knowledge platform are expected to be delivered by July 2020, the network launched this year a Migration Multi-Partner Trust Fund to funnel voluntary contributions from governments, the private sector and foundations into migration management projects. Furthermore, the network is to support the Secretary General’s biennial report on the Global Compact’s implementation and the quadrennial International Migration Review Forum. Both events are crucial for the relevance of the Global Compact in the years to come.

While implementation is in full swing around the world, the Global Compact seems to have disappeared from the political radar in Switzerland. The in-depth debate demanded by the parliament has not taken place yet. It therefore remains unclear when and how Switzerland will adopt a position. Nevertheless, it can be assumed that the political landscape is more favorable for Switzerland to join the Global Compact than it was a year ago. The popular initiative on self-determination (Selbstbestimmungsinitiative), in whose turmoil the discussion on the Global Compact had entered in November 2018, has been rejected. The political climate related to the European migration debate has slightly calmed down, not least because of decreasing asylum requests all over the continent. In addition, leading political discussions have shifted from migration to climate change – an issue which significantly has shaped the outcome of the Swiss parliamentary elections this year. In this context, the decision-makers in parliament have not only become more environmentally conscious but also younger, more feminine and leftist. These might be decisive factors for a positive outcome to ultimately join the Global Compact and avoid standing on the sidelines of this global endeavor in the future. Consequently, a debate and decision in Switzerland should not be postponed any longer but be given the space it deserves.


Image by Kyle Glenn on unsplash.