Europe has long used carrots to force third countries to rein in migration. Now, Brussels wants to start using trade benefits as a stick.

Migration is again topping the political agenda, with EU leaders set to discuss the divisive issue at their summit next week. EU leaders will say that Europe will use “as leverage all relevant EU policies, instruments and tools, including development, trade and visas as well as opportunities for legal migration,” according to draft conclusions seen by POLITICO.

Sweden, chairing meetings of EU ministers during its six-month presidency of the Council of the EU, has a right-wing government and wants to focus more on the return of migrants denied the right to stay in Europe. Governments in member countries like the Netherlands, Belgium and Austria — under political pressure over migration — are also keen to show their domestic audiences that Europe is doing all it can to send back rejected asylum seekers. [...]

Free traders

EU institutions kicked off talks on linking trade and migration on Tuesday, and will resume discussions on March 2, according to two EU officials. The more liberal free-trade advocates argue the EU shouldn’t overload its trade ambitions by trying to solve too many issues at once — otherwise, the “boat will sink,” according to Sabine Weyand, the Commission’s top civil servant on trade.

Bernd Lange, the chairman of the European Parliament’s trade committee, last week blamed EU countries for mixing trade policy with foreign security objectives.

“On the GSP, you are linking trade preferences with taking people, taking refugees back to [their] countries,” Lange said, adding that this didn’t serve the objectives of economic development. “Shouldn't we stick to trade policy?” asked Lange. [...]