European migration pact proposes flexible solidarity as Brussels takes another stab at reform

The European Commission's newly proposed Pact on Migration and Asylum emphasises the obligation of member states to show solidarity during times of pressure but otherwise argues for a flexible system of contribution that relies on the willingness of member states

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen

A European migration pact released today proposes a mixed system of forced solidarity in times of crisis and flexible contributions that depend on the willingness of member states.

The Pact on Migration and Asylum was unveiled on Wednesday by the European Commission.

While emphasising responsibility and solidarity the proposed arrangement is unlikely to satisfy either border countries like Malta that demand solidarity from other member states and migrant-sceptic countries like Hungary opposed to relocation mechanisms.

The Commission is arguing that countries should be obliged “in times of stress”, to help stabilise the overall system by supporting other member states under pressure and ensure the EU fulfils its humanitarian obligations.

However, the proposal also suggests a system of “flexible contributions” from member states that can range from relocation of asylum seekers from the country of first entry to taking over responsibility for returning individuals with no right to stay, or various forms of operational support.

A solidarity mechanism will cover various situations, including the disembarkation of persons following search and rescue operations, crisis situations or other specific circumstances.

The new pact also deals with the management of the EU’s external borders by proposing streamlined procedures on asylum and return.

The integrated border procedure being proposed will for the first time include a pre-entry screening covering identification of all people crossing the EU's external borders without permission or having been disembarked after a search and rescue operation.

This will also entail a health and a security check, fingerprinting and registration in the Eurodac database after which individuals can be channelled to the right procedure. Swift decisions will then be made on whether asylum should be given or if the individual should be returned.

The Commission wants an effective return policy and an EU-coordinated approach to returns of those migrants who are not eligible for protection.

But it also proposes “mutually beneficial partnerships with key third countries of origin and transit” in the hope of addressing migrant smuggling.

The EU will help develop “sustainable legal pathways” for those in need of protection and to attract talent to the EU and support effective integration policies.

The proposal highlights the complexity of migration with many facets that need to be weighted together – it importantly concedes that the current system no longer works and that for the past five years, the EU has not been able to fix it.

Commenting on the proposal, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the commission has set out to restore the citizens’ confidence in their capacity to manage migration as a Union.

Von der Leyen said that the EU must move away from ad-hoc solutions and put in place a predictable and reliable migration management system.

“The EU has already proven in other areas that it
can take extraordinary steps to reconcile diverging perspectives. We have created a complex internal market, a common currency and an unprecedented recovery plan to rebuild our economies. It is now time to rise to the challenge to manage migration jointly, with the right balance between solidarity and responsibility,” Von der Leyen said.

She said the proposals will secure permanent and consistent solidarity for member states. "The proposals will focus on not if member states will contribute, but how they can contribute," she said. 

Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas, said that the Moria refugee camp tragedy was a stark reminder that the clock has run out on how long the union can live in “a house half-built”.

“The time has come to rally around common, European migration policy. The pact provides the missing pieces of the puzzle for a comprehensive approach to migration. No one Member State experiences migration in the same way and the different and unique challenges faced by all deserve to be recognised, acknowledged and addressed,” he said.

Schinas added that the management of external borders will be improved. He said that the European Border and Coast Guard standing corps, scheduled for deployment from 1 January 2021, will provide increased support wherever needed.

Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson highlighted that migration will always be part of society. “What we are proposing today will build a long-term migration policy that can translate European values into practical management. This set of proposals will mean clear, fair and faster border procedures so that people do not have to wait in limbo.”


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