New adaptation or the same old script? Political elites' national role conceptions and domestic role contestation in the UK and Germany during the European 'migrant crisis'
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date17/11/2022
The European ‘migration crisis’ in 2015-16 highlighted the stark variation in national policy responses to forced migration among European Union (EU) member states and engagement in responsibility-sharing arrangements. Whilst the United Kingdom framed the crisis as a security issue best addressed through foreign aid, Germany implemented a policy of ‘Willkommenskultur’, rooted in narratives of national responsibility and EU solidarity. By early 2016 Germany had backtracked on many of its ‘open door’ policies. Whether from the dispassionate perspective of absolute numbers or the narratives used to frame policy dilemmas, these developments raise important questions regarding what drives policymaking in times of increased migratory pressure and highlight the need to understand decision makers’ perceptions of appropriate policy responses. This doctoral thesis posits that role theory offers a promising analytical framework to further our understanding and explain these phenomena. Investigating policy developments in Germany and the UK during the peak of the ‘crisis’, this research examines the impact of policymakers’ national role conceptions, defined as “policymakers’ definitions of the general kinds of decisions, commitments, rules and actions, suitable to their state, and of the functions, if any, their state should perform…in the international system” (Holsti 1970, 246), and domestic contestation of roles on policy decision-making. Drawing on an interpretive approach, it proposes that an analysis of decision makers’ perception of the role their state should play provides insight into variation in policy behaviour and policy change. Since it is not assumed that role interpretations are homogenous across political actors, masses and elites, how domestic contestation constrains and drives the selection, and the enactment of roles is also examined. This thesis offers a unique contribution to knowledge by bringing together scholarship from foreign policy analysis, migration studies and public policy research. At the theoretical level, this thesis contributes to our understanding of asylum and refugee policy decision-making by providing an array of conceptual tools, which enable the investigation of different levels of analysis; a process-orientated framework that offers a plausible account of situated actors and links norms and identity with politics and action through the concept of ‘role’, thereby operationalising the ideational dimension of policymaking. From a methods standpoint, it furthers role theory research by introducing migration studies and public policy concepts, including the ‘organised public’ and narrative analysis. Furthermore, this thesis develops a clear and transparent operationalisation to identify national role conceptions. Finally, at the empirical level, the research generates a typology of national role conceptions in the UK and Germany in a new policy area. It offers insight into the interpretation of domestic and international factors shaping migration policy decision-making. The empirical basis of the thesis rests predominantly on a systematic documentary analysis, supplemented with data gathered from explanatory semi-structured interviews conducted with politicians, civil servants, and representatives of NGOs in the refugee sector in the UK and Germany.