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28th Jan 2021

New EU migration pact set for start of summer

  • The new pact on migration promises better legal pathways towards Europe. (Photo: Tomislav Stjepic / Swedish Migration Agency)

The European Commission is set to reveal its new pact on migration and asylum sometime in June.

"I do hope that we will be able to present it in the beginning of the summer," said European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson on Monday (18 May).

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But speaking at a videoconference organised by the Brussels-based think tank Friends of Europe, Johansson suggested that the most contentious aspects of asylum in the new pact have yet to resolved.

Among those are issues dealing with the distribution of arriving asylum seekers across member states, from those in which they arrive.

The commission's proposal in 2016 demanded an automated system based on quotas - triggering revolt from EU states like Poland and Hungary.

Asked if such a system would make it into the new pact, Johansson remained elusive.

"I am more optimistic to find a solution now compared to when I started my travelling around capitals and my dialogue with member states," she said.

Johansson did offer some other clues. She said there would be a big focus on process when it comes to distinguishing between those who deserve asylum and those who do not.

"In my new proposal there is a going to big distinction, a more stressed distinction between those who are eligible to stay and those who are not," she said, adding returns of failed applicants have to be swifter and more efficient.

She also spoke about legal pathways to enter Europe and floated the idea of having NGOs or local communities to sponsor refugees as part of a wider resettlement programme.

"Every year between one and one-half million people arrive in the European Union regularly as migrants and this is what we should strengthen," she said, noting in comparison that around 200,000 arrive irregularly.

'Us vs Them'?

The politics surrounding migration remains entrenched following the arrival of some one million people in 2015. Most at the time had been waved through by Hungary. Budapest even organised buses to take people to Austria, where many then spread out into Germany and further north into Sweden.

The European Commission in 2016 then proposed to reform EU-wide asylum laws but met stiff resistance from member states. Hungary and Poland, among others, balked at the idea of requiring them to take in asylum seekers that landed on the shores of Greece or Italy.

Johansson has since been tasked to come up with new ideas and new plans to create the so-called Common European Asylum System. Her cautious optimism for a result underscores the often toxic politics that shroud migration and asylum, regularly turning it into a numbers game.

In April, the number of people detected slipping through borders along Europe's main migratory routes fell to lowest level since 2009 mostly because of Covid-19.

But the failure of the European Union to get a handle of the hotspots on the Greek islands, where tens of thousands languish away in deplorable conditions, is also a stark reminder of how it delegates legal responsibility onto someone else.

Still, Johansson insisted that her new approach also aims to create a new narrative on migration and its policies.

"They are part of us, they are part of we," she said, noting the role many migrants play in fighting the pandemic throughout the European Union.

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