Delivering on the Promise? Partnering for Implementing Global Political Commitments in the Global Compact for Migration and the Agenda 2030

Forum on the Partnership Principle in the UN Global Compact on Refugees

Contribution by Marion Panizzon, Senior Research Fellow, World Trade Institute, University of Bern

11 April 2022


Partnerships in migration are often shrouded in secrecy and sometimes decried as ‘rhetoric’. Both assessments reveal a critic over their asymmetric exchange of interests tilted in favour of receiving states.  Yet, the 155 UN Member States endorsing the Global Compact for Migration politically committed to benchmarks for partnering. In so doing, international cooperation strengthened the format and function of partnerships, foremost when operationalizing as a venue for implementing global to local political commitments. From the UN Agenda 2030 to the GCM, partnerships ‘realize the objectives’ and ‘strengthen cooperation’.

In this ASILE Forum blogpost, we encourage to a new reading of existing partnerships in light of the global guidepost and transregional cooperation frameworks, at the forefront the Objective 23 of the GCM, SDG 17, and the EU New Pact on Migration.

In the first section we compare what partnerships means under the Agenda 2030 to what it implies under the GCM. Both frameworks use a common language for partnerships and share an identical institutional architecture. We argue that their ambivalent position, of sitting in-between global cooperation frameworks and the different national, regional efforts for implementing these, explains their uneasy relationship, including towards non-state actors. At the same time, this unease, we find is the factor to unleash transformation, which too, matters  for understanding what the  ‘promise’ of partnership means, and to whom.

Whereas Guild 2020 and 2021 compared the SDG 10.7 Agenda 2030 with the human rights record under the GCM, this piece looks at the functions of the positionality of partnerships  within the multilevel architecture of cooperation.

We infer from partnerships as a specific format of interstate cooperation– “in-between” a compact and implementation–that the soft law nature is not a coincidence. In fact, partnerships function to “firm” up the global soft law of the GCM and the Agenda 2030 into binding commitments.

Partnerships follow pre-defined global benchmarks, amongst which figure sustainable development, sovereignty, human rights, good governance and the whole-of-society/government approaches.

We extract two ‘new’ global benchmarks, which Objective 23 GCM puts forth, the ‘whole-of-society approach’ (WOSA) used interchangeably with ‘multistakeholder approach’ (Appleby 2020) and ‘good governance’, the former including ‘transparency, rule of law’, congruence with ‘international law and the ‘alignment to the Agenda 2030’.

Regarding the dialectical relationships, it is worthwhile to compare the Agenda with the GCM in terms of the notion of partnerships in three ways:

    • First, partnering liaising in-between global, regional, bilateral and national levels:
      • the ‘revitalized’ global partnership (GCM), Agenda 20303s and implementation via bilateral, regional or multilateral partnerships (GCM para. 39d) and local actors
    • Secondly, partnering as negotiating in-between a state and a non-state actor
      • operationalizing the ‘whole-of-government/society approach’ (GCM para. 40 and para. 14) enlisting businesses, academia, faith-based organizations
    • Thirdly, partnering standing in-between a compact and an agreement or treaty
      • “firming” international migration soft law

Comparing the narratives of partnering

To understand partnerships, it is useful to situate them not only in the respective UN cooperation frameworks but to periodize what state community, nonstate actors and migrants mean when calling for ‘partnerships ‘ to implement the goals (Hennebry and Piper, 2021.

As Abrahamsen 2022, notes long time, partnerships were the reserved domain of development cooperation, where ‘to partner’ was critically received for its hegemonic sub-context advanced by Bretton Woods institutions and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which assumed that the Global South had to be moved linearly, from a state of no-development towards one of reducing poverty through innovation and building capacity, expertise and know-how.

For migration, the Global Forum on Migration and Development’s meeting of 2010 in Mexico, is to be credited for  initiating a ‘partnership’ approach (Omelianuk 2012:361). The GFMD linked the idea already then to the Agenda 2030 emphasizing partnering for ‘human development’.[i] In this process, poverty reduction (more than climate change or refugee crisis) emerged as key ‘unifying’ motor between the Global South and North behind the migration-development nexus (Chetail 2019:317; van Riemsdijk, Marchand and Heins 2020) Followed the multistakeholder partnerships (Rother and Steinhilper 2019), which tackle sector-specific, practical  and technical issues, including document fraud during return operations and providing capacity for the mutual recognition of skills or fair or for ethical recruitment (Nielsen 2007:423). Yet, the visionary ambition of the earlier days somehow got lost to a sovereignty oriented meaning.

It was not untll 2015, when the Agenda 2030 launched the ‘Partnerships for the goals’ under the Sustainable Development Goal 17 which itself is a ‘global partnership’ under continuous ‘revitalization’ (Filho 2022) that some human rights based ambition made its way back onto the stage. The GCM Objective 23 likewise self-defines itself as ‘revitalized global partnership’ ‘to facilitate safe, orderly and regular migration, which links at least linguistically, the transformative agenda of the SDGs.

Innovatively,  paragraph 39(d) of the GCM devolves its global partnership to bilateral, regional, national scales, and furthermore to local actors, thus creating an image of multi-level governance:

‘bilateral, regional or multilateral mutually beneficial, tailored and transparent partnerships, in line with international law, that develop targeted solutions to migration policy issues of common interest and address opportunities and challenges of migration in accordance with the Global Compact.”

Insofar, the GCM’s partnerships achieves a multi-level element, not present in the Agenda 2030.

Functionally, both UN cooperation frameworks construe partnerships as a second-order format of cooperation, which is one step behind an agreement, but one step ahead of a compact.

Objective 23 of the GCM expressly aligns partnerships to the ‘mutually reinforcing nature’ of the Agenda 2030 and its 17 global goals; adhering to the SDGs can contribute to minimize the drivers of migration, including poverty, hunger, climate disasters (GCM objective 2) and help build stronger diaspora ties (GCM objective 19).

The extent to which the GCM partnerships can be aligned to the Agenda relates to the question if the GCM  incorporates or simply refers to the Agenda and its leading principles of ‘to leave no one behind’ (LNOB).

The interrelatedness among the Global Compact for Migration’s 23 objectives, is decidedly weaker than in the Agenda, the former which aligns to LNOB, a key transformative principle,. LNOB, borrowed from the humanitarian law and military context, ensures non-regression with respect to human-rights, more effectively than the Global Compact for Migration’s ‘non-discrimination approach’.[ii]

In addition, the principle of ‘equality and empowerment’, requires states in the Agenda 2030 to measure progress towards 2030 thru tangible outcomes, measured by 169 targets, monitored by an even higher number of indicators. As Banerjee 2022 notes, nonstate actors contribute to sensitizing the global community to how the targets have been reached or not.

With the exception of paragraph 36(a), a numerical target to decrease the costs of remittances transfers by 2030, which is copy-pasted directly from SDG 10,[iii] the GCM has no other such targets. The GCR, in para. 68 defines autonomously a target, which is the duration of time for children and youth spent outside schooling, which should ideally not be more than 3 months after departure.

‘Whole-of-approach’: partnering for good governance?

In the GCM, partnerships feature as the ultimate political commitment, e.g. Objective 23 which is informed by  its final, 10th guiding principle, the WOSA, which partnerships implement (para. 15).

‘Whole-of-society approach: The Global Compact promotes broad multi-stakeholder partnerships to address migration in all its dimensions by including migrants, diasporas, local communities, civil society, academia, the private sector, parliamentarians, trade unions, National Human Rights Institutions, the media and other relevant stakeholders in migration governance’ (italics added).

The GCR and GCM use WOSA and multistakeholder approach interchangeably, for example, the GCR uses multi-stakeholder and partnership approach (Domicelij and Gottardo 2019).

The WOSA originates in a cost-benefit analysis, whereby states devolve to bilateral or local  partnerships to create synergies with relevant stakeholders (private sector, academia, faith-based organizations) and interconnect over themes, which would otherwise be treated as self-standing, in isolation from one another (Gammeltoft Hansen et al. 2017) .

Secondly, partnerships create ‘alternative interconnection’ among people, policy, power, by shifting policy issues from one level of law-making to another, ultimately to enhance legitimacy and acceptance for a topic among a more marginalized group.

Thirdly and inevitably, the multistakeholder approach becomes linked to partnerships when these aim to be inclusive and compliant with standards of good governance.

GCM Objective 2 on minimizing the drivers of migration seeks to “invest in programs that accelerate States fulfilment of the Agenda 2030” and in that context, lists good governance as one structural factor to be improved to prevent people from leaving.

Yet, unlike in the GCM, in the Agenda 2030, good governance is operationalized by a principle: LNOB fulfills a certain measure of good governance. Conversely, as Pécoud (2020) notes, comparing the GCM final text to its zero drafts, is less solid on good governance, because states feared its implication on diminishing sovereignty. The problem of sovereignty explains why good governance in the GCM is very weakly connected to partnerships, with the exception in para. 39 where local actors are called upon to respect good governance when engaging in a partnership

The GCM de-couples good governance from sovereignty, because it is linked to the Agenda 2030 and thus connected to  sustainable development over a non-migration specific issue. LNOB or good governance which the Agenda 2030 draws upon is a link that got lost in the GCM(Filho et al. 2022).

Yet, Objective 23 GCM is committing to partnering with ‘African countries’ and ‘other disadvantaged countries’ in implementing the Compact. Under this meaning, partnerships are encouraged to be preferential and region-specific, rather than universal.

In conclusion, Objective 23 insists that partnerships should be ‘recognizing that we are all countries of origin, transit and destination.’ (GCM Objective 23, para. 39),  conveying migration as a circular, rather than linear life event, e.g. a ‘migration cycle’ (Objectives 4, 9, 14 and para 15),[iv]

This ultimate benchmark pays respect to defining human mobility as circular movement. By timidly moving away the partnership discourse from its voluntarist quality (Cooper and French 2018), the GCM aligns migration to the circular notion of the SDGs under the Agenda 2030,

Multistakeholder Engagement and Partnerships for Migration: More of the Same or Different?

An empirical study of partnerships recorded under SDG 17 on the UN SDG Partnership Platform show that lower income countries participate in fewer partnerships and the few N-S partnerships were ‘developed from a Northern perspective, according to Northern priorities rather than attentive of Southern needs and view’ (Blicharksa et al. 2021).

Whether the same picture will develop for the GCM Objective 23 partnerships is uncertain, because migration, unlike sustainable development is more intrinsically transnational, than domestic.

Of course, multistakeholder consultations, as the ones held to assist the state-led stocktaking and negotiations of the GCM ensure that a breadth of topics are tabled (Appleby 2020; Panizzon 2019). Also, WOSA prevents states from sweeping under the carpet issues that are bothersome or resource-intensive like access to basic services, vulnerability protection, labour rights of migrant workers (Höflinger 2021). In that sense the WOSA  approach maintains a level of legitimacy. However, if the ‘wrong ‘ prioritization is used to rank issue areas, as some ascribe in relation to human rights to the GCM (Guild, Basaran , Alinson 2019), no panoply of topics addressed under a WOSA and multistakeholder involvement will be able to save that partnership from compromising its value for the sending country.

Consequently, it matters for partnerships, how which topics are interlinked. For example, if labour  market access is offered upon the condition that the sending country in return cooperate formally or informally to force returns of its citizens or third country nationals in irregular stays abroad, (Tittel-Mosser, 2020 Kunz and Maisenbacher 2013:169)  paradigm well-known from EU Mobility Partnerships under the label of ‘conditionality’ such a liaison can be dangerous (Carrera et al 2019,

Similarly, the EU’s partnerships, shifted away from ‘more-for-more’ conditionality (Carrera 2020, Faustini-Torres 2020 and Olkape 2020), towards a ‘fresh look’ involving a softer, incremental, cautious approach of ‘balanced’ and ‘tailor-made’ patterns under the new Pact, but as Piper and Foley note (2021) ‘meeting at eye level’, is often paralyzed or perverted by incomplete legislative competences (e.g. Art. 79 TFEU on EU  labour market access for third country nationals, or over development cooperation and Diaspora relations under Art. 4 and 208 TFEU). In addition, a source country may be unwilling  to allocate the necessary resources or capacity to development cooperation (Senegal’s  government’s reluctance to engage with France, Switzerland or the EU in respective bilateral migration agreements is well-documented (van Criekinge 2019; Chou and Gibert 2012).

Migration is multidimensional reality’ (GCM para. 15 e)[v] However, the Agenda implements a cyclical vision of the use of resources, planetary and people, and one that is progressing at multiple speed(Weiland et al. 2020).

A tighter interconnectedness among the objectives of the GCM would not allow for “cherry-picking” (Farahat and Bast 2022), which means to be advancing in one area of the GCM, e.g. regularizing migrants under emergency, pandemic relief, while losing ground on another, e.g. unsafe returns.

As long as the GCM caters to a one-dimensional and linear dimension of the “silos” dividing host, transit and sending countries, associated with GCM script of “safe, orderly and regular migration”, it will lose out on SDG 10.7 calling for “responsible” migration.

Proposing Benchmarks for Partnerships for Migration: The GCM’s ground-breaking guidance?

The 2017 Sutherland Report suggested partnerships be based on ‘peer-learning’ and more ‘systematic’ exchange (para. 44). Today, paragraph 39 offers a guidance for partnerships, which succinctly summarizes the lessons learned from the mixed track- record of successful and failed bilateral and transregional partnerships.

Under the GCM benchmarks, a partnership should be:

    • ‘mutually beneficial, tailored and transparent’
    • ‘in accordance with international law’
    • ‘providing targeted solutions to migration policy issues of common interest and address opportunities and challenges of migration in accordance with the Global Compact».

Tailored, sector-specific partnering is a first benchmark, but it is not new. As early as 2017, the UN Secretary General took up the idea by Michael Clemens of the Center of Global Development in 2015[vi] who proposes global skills partnerships, a deal between private firms with labour shortage in Europe and African talent. The idea was already put to practice by different regional partnerships including the Swiss-Nigeria migration partnership, a groundbreaking partnership linking a readmission arrangement with private sector involvement, e.g. Nestlé Nigeria recruiting trainees, which has lead t a more than 10-year cooperation between Switzerland and Nigeria (Bisong  2015).

The EU Migration and Integration Fund (Garcia-Andrade 2020), together with EU  Trust Fund for Africa  and the Member States’ development cooperation agencies  operationalized on 11 July 2021 the EU Talent Partnership initiative under the EU New Pact of 23 September 2020 (Schneider 2021) and the MATCH, which was preceded by ‘Towards a Holistic Approach to Labour Migration and Mobility in Africa (THAMM)’ on South-South and Africa-EU labour mobility, is the first such “tailored”, “mutually beneficial” project.

Transparency is a second benchmark. It relates to defining how NSA participates alongside government. This will prevent a partnership to backfire, e.g. during the implementation phase, if not jeopardizing the conclusion of a partnership in the first place (e.g EU and Senegal). In that sense, the 2017 Sutherland Report clearly identified multi-stakeholder partnerships as factor for ‘good governance of migration’ (para. 41), involving financial industry representatives, regulators, technology and data entrepreneurs, so as to fulfil the sustainable development goals (para. 85).

The GCM final text has dropped the explicit link between the SDGs and the actors, without which the multistakeholder approach remains a technical, operational methodology (Weiland et al. 2020).[vii] Hence, so far, most partnerships seem to heed to sector-specific, technocratic constructs, but the link to sustainable development, human rights and other international legal standards, as required by Objective 23 GCM, have still to be created.


In this piece we discussed how partnerships in migration have evolved from a  ‘comprehensive approach’ towards issue-specific formats. This development comes at the cost of transformation. Whereas the Agenda 2030 commits its partnerships to a dynamic, human rights orientation, guided by the LNOB, the same astuteness has gone missing in the Global Compacts.

In the field of migration, partnership, are sector-specific tools for technocratic cooperation, as under the Global Skills Partnership under Objective 18 GCM and its uptake by the EU Skills Partnerships under the New Pact for Migration (2020).

Whereas the GCM, a self-proclaimed “revitalized global partnership”, ascribes to “aligning” to the Agenda 2030, it falls short of incorporating, LNOB. This missing link accounts for a weaker human rights orientation and transformative agenda of the Global Compact’s “partnerships for the goals”.

On the upside, we are encouraged that the GCM puts forwards certain benchmarks for partnerships, Under pargraph 36, devolving partnering to bilateral, regional and multilateral levels. We understand such multi-levelling as a promise to diversify the partnership.




I thank Luzia Jurt, Nicola Piper and Fanny Tittel-Mosser for insightful discussions and critical comments on an earlier version and Sergio Carrera, Lina Vosyliute and Roberto Cortinovis at CEPS for very helpful, critical feedback and guidance. I also thank Eva Schmassmann, Swiss Civil Society Platform Agenda 2030 for learning how to speak ‘SDGese’ during an internship. This blogpost builds on a chapter forthcoming in the Edward Elgar Companion on Migration and the SDGs, edited by Nicola Piper and Kavita Datta. Research funding under the Swiss National Science Foundation Grant Nr. 122153 ‘From temporary movement to mobility partnerships: conceptualizing a transnational law of labor migration’ is gratefully acknowledged.




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[i] The theme of the 2010 GFMD Mexican presidency was ‘Partnerships for Migration and Human Development: Shared Prosperity, Shared Responsibility’,

[ii] Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, UN GA 25 Sept. 2015, UN Document A/RES/70/1.

[iii] GCM para. 36(a); ‘Develop a road map to reduce the transaction costs of migrant remittances to less than 3 per cent and eliminate remittance corridors with costs higher than 5 per cent by 2030 in line with target 10.c of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development; ‘

[iv] GCM para. 16: To fulfil the 23 objectives, we will draw from these actions to achieve safe, orderly and regular migration along the migration cycle.

[v] As Weiland et al find: ‘Closely connected to the theme of interactions is the notion of partnership for implementation. SDG 17 explicitly focusses on ‘strengthening the means of implementation and revitalising the global partnership for sustainable development.’ … A broad range of state and non-state actors is regarded as institutional agents with the potential for policy change.’

[vi] Making Migration Work for All: Report of the Secretary-General (A/72/643), 12 December 2017.

[vii] Weiland et al.: They (NGO/CSO) invest time, issue specific expertise, and skills to promote certain policies and strategically act as ‘meaning managers’ …These actors often represent specific policy issues and objectives. Building partnerships between them is therefore not only a means to foster cooperation to achieve the SDGs, but also to understand how interactions look like between the policy issues or sectors they represent.’