EU strikes major deal to reform migration policy, Metsola hails historic pact

Roberta Metsola described the legislative coup “an emotional moment” and hailed it as a win for the pro-European centre

European Parliament president Roberta Metsola congratulates S&D MEP Fernando Lopez Aguilar at a press conference on the EU Migration Pact
European Parliament president Roberta Metsola congratulates S&D MEP Fernando Lopez Aguilar at a press conference on the EU Migration Pact

Member states and the European Parliament have struck a major deal to reform the bloc’s migration policy, sealing agreement on a vast array of subjects dealing with detention periods, racial profiling, unaccompanied minors, search-and-rescue operations and border surveillance.

European Parliament president Roberta Metsola hailed the deal, which still needs to undergo formal ratification, after a three-year-long ambitious effort that at times seemed doomed to fail.

Metsola described the legislative coup “an emotional moment” and hailed it as a win for the pro-European centre.

“I come from an island in the Mediterranean and I know what it means to say that we have delivered on the migration pact, probably the most important legislative aspect of our mandate.

“It still remains the number one concern for many, and it’s been over 10 years in the making. It was one of the first issues I spoke about. I never thought it would take this long to negotiate.”

Spanish MEP Juan Fernando López Aguilar (S&D) said MEPs had not slept a wink over marathon talks that started Monday afternoon and continued on to Wednesday afternoon.

The Council, led by the Spanish presidency, defended a rigid position to give member states the widest margin of manoeuvre to handle migration, by extending a proposed fast-tracked asylum procedure to as many claimants as possible, while the Parliament insisted on stricter provisions to respect fundamental rights.

The bloc now will push forward five interlinked pieces of legislation that redefine the rules to collectively receive, manage and relocate the irregular arrival of migrants.

Instead of go-it-alone policies employed by member states to cope with a steep rise in asylum seekers, the New Pact on Migration and Asylum will give the EU collective decision-making with predictable, clear-cut norms that bind all member states, regardless of their geographic location and economic weight.

López Aguilar said the solidarity mechanism in the Pact was meant to find a balance between the responsibility of frontline nations, like Italy, Greece and Spain, which receive the bulk of asylum seekers, and the principle of solidarity that other countries should uphold.

But the agreement also allows countries to opt out of a broad range of EU asylum rules in times of increased arrivals and in case of so-called ‘instrumentalisation’ of migrants or ‘force majeure’.

Human rights NGOs said these exemptions risk, in practice, breaching international obligations under refugee and international human rights law. At the same time, this agreement reinforces the EU’s dependence on states beyond its borders to manage migration, building on recent deals with Albania, Libya, Tunisia, and Türkiye.

While last-minute demands from governments cannot be ruled out, approval by the EU council will be through qualified majority vote, meaning individual countries will not be able to veto.

MEP will have to formally ratify the deal before European elections in June.

Five laws, one pact

The five laws contained in the New Pact are:

·      The Screening Regulation, which envisions a pre-entry procedure to swiftly examine an asylum seeker’s profile and collect basic information such as nationality, age, fingerprints and facial image. Health and security checks will also be carried out.

·      The amended Eurodac Regulation, which updates the Eurodac, the large-scale database that will store the biometric evidence collected during the screening process. The database will shift from counting applications to counting applicants to prevent multiple claims under the same name.

·      The amended Asylum Procedures Regulation (APR), which sets two possible steps for asylum seekers: a fast-tracked border procedure, meant to last a maximum of 12 weeks, and the traditional asylum procedure, which is lengthier and can take up several months before a definite conclusion.

·      The Asylum and Migration Management Regulation (AMMR), which establishes a system of “mandatory solidarity” that will be triggered when one or more member states come under “migratory pressure.” The system will offer countries three options to help out: relocate a certain number of asylum seekers, pay a contribution for each claimant they refuse to relocate, and finance operational support.

·      The Crisis Regulation, which foresees exceptional rules that will apply only when the bloc’s asylum system is threatened by a sudden and massive arrival of refugees, as was the case during the 2015-2016 migration crisis, or by a situation of force majeure, like the COVID-19 pandemic. In these circumstances, national authorities will be allowed to apply tougher measures, including longer detention periods.

Human rights concerns

However, humanitarian organisations have warned that the New Pact also risks normalising “arbitrary” detention and sending migrants back to countries where they face violence and persecution.

“We are acutely aware that politics is often about compromise. But there are exceptions, and human rights cannot be compromised. When they are weakened, there are consequences for all of us,” over 50 NGOs said in an open letter this week.

They said they were concerned that the Pact could lead to rushed asylum procedures with restricted safeguards and appeals.

Eve Geddie, Director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office, said the EU Pact would set European asylum law back for “decades to come and lead to greater human suffering”.

“The Pact will almost certainly cause more people to be put into de facto detention at EU borders, including families with children and people in vulnerable situations. There will be reduced safeguards for people seeking asylum in the EU, with more people channelled through substandard border asylum procedures, rather than receiving a fair and full assessment of their asylum claims.

“The Migration Pact also falls short of concretely supporting states where people first arrive in Europe including Italy, Spain or Greece. Instead of prioritising solidarity through relocations and strengthening protection systems, states will be able to simply pay to strengthen external borders, or fund countries outside the EU to prevent people from reaching Europe.”

Geddie said that rather than investing in dignified reception within the EU and expanding safe and regular pathways to allow people to reach protection in Europe without relying on dangerous journeys, a further step towards externalising border control and evading Europe’s refugee protection responsibilities.

“The Pact won’t solve the pressing problems facing asylum systems in the EU, including underinvestment in asylum and reception systems, unlawful and often violent pushbacks, policies that deny people the right to asylum, and impunity at EU borders. Without renewed commitment to enforcing EU law and ensuring accountability for pushbacks and other violations, the Pact will do nothing to improve protections for asylum seekers in Europe - or improve Europe's common response to migration. We continue to call on the EU to address these well-documented violations and take steps to ensure a human rights compliant, sustainable, and well-resourced response to people arriving at Europe’s borders.”

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This article is part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. This article reflects only the author’s view. The action was co-financed by the European Union in the frame of the European Parliament's grant programme in the field of communication. The European Parliament was not involved in its preparation and is, in no case, responsible for or bound by the information or opinions expressed in the context of this action. In accordance with applicable law, the authors, interviewed people, publishers or programme broadcasters are solely responsible. The European Parliament can also not be held liable for direct or indirect damage that may result from the implementation of the action.

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