EU countries claim breakthrough in migration talks

European Union countries reach deal to revamp the bloc's migration and asylum policy • Malta among countries who abstained during vote

File photo
File photo

European Union countries have reached a deal to revamp the bloc's migration and asylum policy.

The agreement paves the way for introducing new rules to collectively manage the reception and relocation of asylum seekers. Last year, the EU received more than 962,000 asylum applications, the highest figure since 2016.

According to reports, Malta was among a handful of countries who abstained during the vote. Only Hungary and Poland voted against.

Italy, a country seen as a deal-maker due to its geographic location, chose to vote in favour, cementing the qualified majority.

The rules endorsed on Thursday stem from the New Pact on Migration and Asylum, a holistic proposal presented by the European Commission back in September 2020.

The pact's most innovative element is a system of "mandatory solidarity" that will give member states three options in times of migratory pressure: 1) accept a number of relocated asylum-seekers, 2) pay for the return of rejected applicants to their country of origin and 3) finance operational support, such as infrastructure and personnel.

Governments will be allowed to freely choose the option they prefer and no one will be forced to relocate migrants.

This solidarity mechanism was one of the two pieces of legislation that were voted upon on Thursday, together with a new set of rules on fast-tracked border procedures to examine the requests of those who illegally cross the borders.

European Parliament President Roberta Metsola welcomed the vote, saying the EP is ready to start negotiations immediately to reach a deal before the end of the term. “We can find a way forward.”

“We can protect our borders and find an approach that is fair and humane with those in need of protection, firm with those not eligible and strong against traffickers exploiting the most vulnerable,” she tweeted.

Following the vote, Ylva Johansson, the European Commissioner for home affairs, spoke of a "really important day" that had restored "trust and cooperation" among the 27 member states.

"It has been a marathon," she said, recalling how when she took office in 2019, the topic of migration was considered "more or less toxic."