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4th Mar 2024

Asylum reform talks relaunch, after EU states settle dispute

  • The apparent breakthrough means the EU's entire pact on asylum and migration may just be agreed before next June's European Parliament elections (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)
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The European Parliament is lifting objections to press ahead on EU-wide asylum reforms with the council, representing member states.

The move came after the council reached an internal agreement on Wednesday (4 October) on a bill in the wider set of legislative reforms, paving the way for inter-institutional negotiations in the hopes of reaching an overall agreement before European elections next year.

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"We are now in a better position to reach an agreement on the entire asylum and migration pact with the European Parliament by the end of this semester," said Fernando Grande-Marlaska Gómez, acting Spanish minister for home affairs, in an emailed statement. Spain holds the current rotating EU presidency.

The initial dispute centred around a so-called 'crisis regulation', amid objections from the German Greens it would curtail asylum rights and allow unregistered refugees to settle in German town and cities.

Germany's chancellor Olaf Scholz last week smoothed over those objections following concessions by the Spanish EU presidency.

But those concessions had reportedly riled the Italians, as well as German state financing of NGO rescue vessels in the Mediterranean Sea.

The fresh objections from Rome posed additional questions on whether the bill would obtain enough support in the council to reach a negotiating mandate.

However, a diplomat source on Wednesday said the Italians were now onboard as well.

It means the European Parliament will relaunch talks with the council on the Eurodac fingerprint bill, as well as rules on screening asylum seekers.

The whole is part of the EU's pact on asylum and migration, a series of legislative bills proposed by the European Commission in September 2020.

It comes ahead of an informal meeting among EU heads of state and government in Spain later this week, where migration is also set to be discussed.

The looming deadlines to reach an agreement ahead of the June European parliament elections next year has also come amid intense pressure to curb the number of people fleeing north African states by boat to reach European shores.

The central Mediterranean route saw around 130,000 arrivals so far this year, almost the double from 2022.

Pressure is mounting for countries of origin and transit to prevent departures towards Europe.

Schinas in Africa

Next week, the European Commission is sending its vice-president Margaritis Schinas to Gambia and Mauritania to shore up their support on curbing migration.

Last week, Schinas went to Ivory Coast Senegal and Guinea.

"We are working with these countries of origin to make sure that they understand that they have much more to benefit from the European Union by working with us rather against us," he told MEPs in Strasbourg, also on Wednesday.

Schinas also defended the European Commission's decision to engage with authoritarian regimes, in a nod to Tunisia and its backsliding on democracy.

And he admitted that much of the work done in the past with countries and transit had failed to deliver on promises.

"We are the biggest development aid [donors] in the world. And still, we didn't manage to obtain added value for our development aid in Africa and elsewhere," he said.

He then announced a new so-called Talent Partnership proposal coming out in November to help people find jobs in Europe.

But speculation has also been rising on whether the European Commission would attempt to sign another migrant-curbing agreement similar to one over the summer with Tunisia.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen described that agreement, a memorandum of understanding, as a blue print for future deals.

When pressed, a European commission spokesperson said no such negotiations are currently taking place with other countries.

And the EU agreement with Tunisia is coming under fire by its own autocrat leader, president Kais Saied.

The commission this week injected €60m into Tunisia's treasury for post-Covid recovery. This came despite Saied on Monday announcing he did not want the money.

According to the commission, the money had been disbursed upon a 31 August request from the Tunisian foreign minister.

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