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31st Oct 2020

EU seeks political accord on migration this year

  • "It feels very good that you are now in the lead of the Council presidency," Ylva Johannson (l) tells Horst Seehofer (right in screen) (Photo: European Union)

The EU is hoping to reach a political agreement on the migration and asylum pact before the end of the year.

"Our aim is that by the end of the year, we reach a political agreement covering the most important basic tenants," Germany's interior minister Horst Seehofer told reporters on Thursday (8 October).

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Seehofer was speaking on the behalf of the German EU presidency, which is tasked to steer talks among member states.

"The aim is to bring about a political agreement and then under the Portuguese presidency of the Council [January-June 2021], the legal instruments will be put in place," he added.

He made the comments following the first meeting among EU state interior ministers on the pact, which was unveiled by the European Commission last month.

But Seehofer did not downplay the urgency and difficulty of the tasks ahead.

With Christmas holiday's factored in and mid-October fast approaching, the timetable to reach such an agreement is around two months.

The plan is to meet physically in Brussels again in November and in December. Other smaller meetings will also take place to thrash out solutions, he said.

The previous iteration of the commission's proposal on migration was bantered among member states for years without ever reaching any sort of agreement.

Earlier this week, EU commission vice-president Margaritas Schinas described the original proposal from 2016 as "too perfect, too ideal, too European."

"Clearly, on migration policy, I think it is a heavy dose on realism is called for," he said.

That realism has a focus on returns and sorting agreements with countries outside the European Union to take back their nationals.

But other issues with the commission's solidarity proposal, which also combines taking in asylum seekers with so-called return sponsorships, is likely to spark the most difficult discussions.

The Visegrad Four (V4), a loose alliance of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia, have already said they will not support the pact given the solidarity aspect.

Austria is not keen either, casting doubts on relocations, where member states take in asylum seekers already on the territory of others.

The whole is likely to create tensions with Cyprus, Greece, Malta, Italy, and Spain, often referred to as the five frontline states.

All five are pressing for a mandatory system of solidarity whereby others relocate people that arrive on their shores.

"Between those [Visegrad and frontline], we must find a solution," said Seehofer.

Seehofer did not rule out the need for a vote on the pact, should some EU states not fully align.

"In the course of political negotiations, you can never rule out anything entirely," he said, when asked.

"But what I can tell you is that our prime aim is to ensure a solution that has the backing of all member states."

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