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5th Dec 2021

Analysis

Commissions's new migration pact still seeking 'landing zone'

  • The lead MEP, Sweden's centre-right Tomas Tobe, has apparently removed solidarity provisions on search-and-rescue, in the draft asylum regulation (Photo: Nikolaj Nielsen)
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One year ago, the European Commission gave an optimistic outlook on the adoption of its migration and asylum pact.

"Unless there is a landing zone on migration policy, one should never bring down the landing gear," EU commission vice-president Margaritis Schinas said on 8 October 2020.

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  • Margaritis Schinas, on 8 October, 2020: 'This time we can make it because Europe cannot afford to fail twice on such a crucial topic' (Photo: European Commission)

"So we are bringing the landing gear with a pact because we now feel there is such a landing zone," he said.

"This time we can make it because Europe cannot afford to fail twice on such a crucial topic," he added.

About a week previously, in a presentation of the pact , he had scolded a reporter for his "intellectual appeal of pessimism" on the merits of the proposals.

"If in Brussels you are a pessimist then somehow it is OK, people deal with you, like you," he said, his voice slightly shaking.

The challenge facing the European Commission, following the failure of its previous efforts to overhaul EU asylum rules in 2016, cannot be understated.

But overselling its pact to the public may end up backfiring.

And the commission is now using the crisis along the Belarus borders with Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania, as an extra appeal for its 'swift' adoption.

'All the answers'

When pressed about pushbacks in Poland, where at least eight people have so far died, Schinas says the answers are all found in the pact.

Given the urgency of the standoff, where numerous stranded migrants are currently freezing in the forests, it is a cynical response.

The pact will not be adopted tomorrow, nor next week - nor even this year.

The European Parliament and the Council, the two co-legislators, have not even reached their own political positions.

It means negations are nowhere close to being started. And the Minsk regime in Belarus doesn't care about the pact either.

The reality is that the current overhaul appears to be running into similar problems that buried the previous 2016 proposals.

Upcoming presidential elections in France next year are also likely to muddy the waters, as migration policy likely takes a turn to the right, with Paris also helming the next rotating EU presidency.

The fact that some of the discussions are still taking place online doesn't bode well for trust building either.

Latest draft removes 'solidarity'

On substance, EU states still cannot agree on some of the core elements - especially when it comes to solidarity (i.e. relocation from frontline Mediterranean states) and responsibility-sharing.

And some of the compromises put forward by the Slovenian EU presidency, as well as the corresponding draft from a lead MEP on the file, suggests the two sides won't agree.

Among them is the commission's central proposal in the pact, a draft regulation on asylum and migration management.

Last year, Greece, Malta, Italy and Spain, demanded a guarantee of European solidarity on the disembarkation of rescued migrants.

But the lead lawmaker on the regulation, Swedish centre-right MEP Tomas Tobe, has other ideas.

EUobserver understands his latest draft shifts even more responsibility to the member states at the external borders, than originally proposed by the European Commission.

Catherine Woollard, the secretary-general of the Brussels-based European Council on Refugees and Exiles (Ecre), an NGO, has obtained a copy of his draft.

She said Tobe had removed the "solidarity" support in search-and-rescue operations at sea, meaning Italy would be left alone to handle disembarkation.

Other criteria, allowing migrants to travel to another EU state - whether for family reunification or for diplomas obtained there - appear to have also been broadly removed from his draft.

The commission proposal had also said that after three years, the responsibility of the 'country of first-entry' expires.

But under Tobe's proposal, it doesn't expire, according to Woollard.

"If the parliament's position is along these lines then it will be harder for there to be eventual agreement between parliament and council," she said.

"I think the big question immediately is how the other political groups are going to respond to this," she added.

Other files, like the commission's proposal on screening migrants at the borders, may have a greater chance of reaching an agreement among EU states, she noted.

But even some of the less contentious proposals appear to be stalling.

One deals with fingerprints, known as Eurodac.

The Slovenian EU presidency wants to separate Eurodac from the rest of the pact, in order to reach an agreement.

But Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Hungary, Malta, Poland and Spain disagree, according to an internal council document dated 11 October.

Germany and Romania, on the other hand, take the presidency view, to delink it from the other proposals. Unless those positions have since shifted, Schinas' landing zone analogy appears to be way off the mark.

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How to break the political deadlock on migration

We propose a mandatory solidarity mechanism that allows for flexible options. Every member state will have to contribute in one way or another - through either relocation, return sponsorship or capacity-building measures, writes EPP rapporteur Tomas Tobé MEP.

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