Polish migration referendum pushes MEPs to stall key asylum negotiations

MEPs suspend talks on tighter border controls after Poland refuses solidarity deal for crisis situations at EU frontiers

Europe has seen over 8,500 people from around 200 boats arriving on the Italian island of Lampedusa alone in the past week
Europe has seen over 8,500 people from around 200 boats arriving on the Italian island of Lampedusa alone in the past week

MEPs suspended negotiations on two key laws for the European Union’s migration pact, until EU ministers settle on a ‘crisis management’ regulation.

The MEPs from the justice and civil liberties committee (LIBE) are part of the Asylum Contact Group, which lead negotiations on EU immigration and asylum reform.

A group of governments are contested what they claim is a ‘mandatory’ relocation mechanism in the crisis management regulation, although it is member states who decide whether to be part of the contributing group.

The crisis management regulation is an EU framework to deal with emergencies when a high number of people arrive at the EU border. It is up to the EU Commission to declare such an event a crisis, triggering a mandatory solidarity obligations and help border countries. But some member states can decided to be among those that receive migrants as “contributing countries”.

MEPs decided to put on hold the talks on two files on fingerprint database Eurodac and migration screening – which regulate the registration of first arrivals at EU borders – after Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawieski contested the proposed law and called a referendum on EU migration policy for the 15 October, the same day as the next general election. 

The ‘screening regulation’ will tighten controls at external borders for irregular arrivals, or asylum seekers filing for protection at a border cross-point.  

The Eurodac revision concerns the rules for mandatory registration of fingerprints and facial images. 

Elena Yoncheva, the Bulgarian socialist MEP who chairs the Asylum Contact Group, said in a statement said these comprehensive reforms are only possible if solidarity and fair share of responsibility between EU member states is placed in action. “The files of the Pact are interlinked and making progress on some proposals rather than others risks leading to a bottleneck in the negotiations,” she said.

Yoncheva said the Crisis Regulation is an essential element of the reform, because it creates a predictable EU mechanism to support member states facing sudden crisis situations.

But suspension of the two files reducing the chances of MEPs and ministers finalising the new laws before next June’s European elections – after those elections, all unfinished legislative files fall.

Europe has seen over 8,500 people from around 200 boats arriving on the Italian island of Lampedusa alone in the past week.

The far-right government of Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, who made cutting migrant numbers one of her main priorities, extended the amount of time migrants can be detained to the EU maximum of 18 months.

Meloni plans to increase the number of detention centres, and mooted the prospect of a naval blockade of North Africa to prevent boats setting sail for Europe.

EC president Ursula Von der Leyen’s plan to prevent departures through agreements with third countries and accelerate the implementation of the memorandum of understanding with Tunisia, was criticised by Human Rights Watch.

“The Commission’s plan includes staples of the EU’s failed approach: throwing money at countries like Tunisia and Libya to prevent departures, cracking down on smuggling networks, increased surveillance, accelerated asylum procedures to swiftly deny protection and send people away, and futile information campaigns to discourage people from getting on unsafe boats,” HRW associate director Judith Sunderland said.

Lampedusa is one of the closest EU points to the Tunisian city of Sfax, from which, in the latest months, most of the people trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea departed. While only roughly 180km apart, the journey between Sfax and Lampedusa remains extremely dangerous due to shoals and the makeshift boats often used for crossings.

One proposal was for a European naval mission to be deployed in the south Mediterranean Sea to prevent boats from leaving North Africa. “This is coupled with the proposal to speed up support for the Tunisian coast guard and ‘other law enforcement authorities,’ revealing again the EU’s emphasis on border security over saving lives, and its dogged insistence on propping up Libyan forces despite well-documented abuses amounting to crimes against humanity,” Sunderland added.

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