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25th Feb 2024

EU migration and asylum pact faces reality check

  • Border walls are being erected in Poland and elsewhere, while other member states broadly eschew questions of mandatory solidarity in an overhaul of EU asylum and migration reform (Photo: Vadim Ghirda)
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The European Parliament is hoping to finalise its end of the migration and asylum pact by December.

With less than two years before the 2024 EU elections, questions abound on whether the EU state co-legislator is ready to concede on the most tricky aspects of the EU-wide reform.

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Although European Parliament president Roberto Metsola signed a roadmap with the five rotating EU presidencies to get the pact done, outstanding discussions on some of the most vital issues remain unresolved.

Among them is the question of 'solidarity' — a broad term used to describe how EU states are supposed to help each other when it comes to asylum and migrant arrivals.

The issue derailed previous attempts to overhaul the pact under the European Commission presidency of Jean-Claude Juncker.

While the European parliament at that time managed to get to a common position, the Council, representing member states, failed to come to the negotiating table.

The commission then came up with a new pact in late 2020, which has since moved forward at a snail's pace while EU states such as Poland, and others, erect long border fences with Belarus.

The same pact repealed the EU's temporary protection directive, currently used to help millions of Ukrainians settle as refugees throughout member states.

Now the pressure is on to get the deal done amid speculation that a repeat failure would deliver a devastating blow to the credibility of the European Union.

Solidarity or fences?

But solidarity and its many iterations still remain contentious among some key European lawmakers, including the Swedish centre-right Tomas Tobe.

Tobe had last year dismissed any notion of a mandatory relocation that would oblige EU states to take in asylum seekers arriving on the shores of Greece, Italy and elsewhere.

Such relocations are anathema to a handful of EU states, including Austria and Hungary, while others like Greece and Italy insist on it.

Tobe is also lead MEP on the biggest file in the overhaul, the so-called regulation for Asylum and Migration Management, which essentially governs the whole pact.

In an email, Tobe told EUobserver that they still intend "to reach a parliament position on the regulation by the end of the year."

But with the Swedish elections leading to a surge of support for the hard-right Sweden Democrats, Tobe's position on solidarity carve outs will be likely reinforced.

Uncertainty remains on whether a rightwing coalition will come to power in Sweden, but the move has sent a political signal against large-scale immigration.

Sweden will also take over the EU presidency, which steers the legislative process through the council, in January of next year.

The issue has not been unnoticed among other MEPs in the European Parliament who insist that mandatory solidarity remains a key pillar of the pact.

Mandatory relocations

Among them is the chair of the powerful civil liberties committee, Spanish socialist Juan Fernando López Aguilar.

López Aguilar is also lead MEP on the regulation for crisis and force majeure, a bill that dovetails into Tobe's regulation for asylum and migration management.

"There is a majority supporting mandatory relocation as as an expression of solidarity in crisis," said López Aguilar.

López Aguilar said that Tobe will still need the support of other key MEPs from the different political groups, so-called shadows, if he wants to get his bill across the line in the parliament.

"Should that file not to meet the standards set by the political groups in the house, then that would have mega side effects," said López Aguilar.

"So Tomas Tobe is aware that he has to compromise with Renew Europe, the Greens and certainly with the S&D [socialists]," he said.

The issue could be further complicated by the upcoming Italian elections, where the far-right is also set to make gains.

Cherry-picking

Meanwhile, the parliament is using its packaged approach on the pact as strategic leverage against the council.

The idea is to prevent the council from negotiating only on files that deal with security, while ignoring the solidarity aspects found in the other bills.

López Aguilar said the roadmap signed between the parliament and presidencies means there will be "no cherry picking" on the files.

But the Czech EU presidency has already announced it is ready to start talks on the biometric data collection bill known as Eurodac, as well as a screening regulation that could lead to detention centres.

The screening bill is headed by German socialist Birgit Sippel. In an email, she said a date for the vote at the committee level has yet to be scheduled.

The Czechs also intend to announce positional ideas on the regulation for asylum and migration management, while in parallel negotiating hardline positions on stripping away asylum rights under a separate "instrumentalisation" proposal.

For the parliament, it means talks can start but that adoption cannot move forward without the other files onboard.

"In the end we need to have a joint adoption of all files," said Green Dutch MEP Tineke Strik.

Stirk also voiced concern on whether the parliament would cave into political pressure to only adopt legacy files and Eurodac and screening.

Those legacy files from the Juncker commission includes the reception conditions directive headed by Dutch liberal Sophie In't Veld.

"We have actually had trilogues and an agreement already more than four years ago, but it has been stuck in council ever since," she said of the file, in an email.

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Opinion

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.

Fresh dispute may delay EU-wide migration reforms

Negotiations on EU-wide asylum and migration reforms hit a snag, following a long simmering dispute between the European Parliament and the council, representing member states.

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