Portugal ‘will fight to last minute’ to seal migration pact

Portugal's Augusto Santos Silva said the pursuit of legal, safe and orderly migration routes to Europe is necessary. [EPA-EFE/ANTONIO PEDRO SANTOS]

The Portuguese presidency of the Council of the EU “will fight until the last minute of its term of office” for an agreement on the Pact on Migration and Asylum proposed by the European Commission, the foreign minister said in the European Parliament on Tuesday.

Speaking on behalf of the Council of the European Union in a debate on the deaths of migrants trying to reach Europe via the illegal routes in the Mediterranean, Augusto Santos Silva pointed out that Europe had to “continue to save lives and save more and more lives”, working in parallel on various dimensions, and regretted that there was still no real European response, but only “a group of member states cooperating among themselves” voluntarily.

“We need to continue to work to achieve accountability mechanisms that would allow the relocation of rescued people […] We need to combat trafficking, we need to combat people-smuggling networks, which are highly organised criminals and are, for all practical purposes, murderers,” he said.

But to respond to the root causes of migration and refugee flows, he continued, Europe needed to work on several dimensions, including strengthening the protection and management of its external borders, balancing the responsibility of frontline states with the solidarity of all other states towards them.

The pursuit of legal, safe and orderly migration routes to Europe was another dimension of the necessary work and the external dimension, with the countries of origin and transit, namely neighbouring countries in Africa and the Middle East, Santos Silva stressed.

The proposal presented by the European Commission clearly meets all the challenges I have outlined and is a good working basis, he said. The presidency of the Council of the EU will fight until the last minute of its term of office [the end of June] to make progress on this proposal and to obtain the necessary consensus to make this possible, he said.

Alluding to a provisional agreement reached on Monday between the Portuguese presidency of the Council and the European Parliament regarding the legislative proposal on the admission and residence conditions of highly qualified third-country workers, the so-called “Blue Card” directive, Santos Silva, said that it was not directly related to the migration pact, but the compromise was an encouraging sign.

“It is, however, a sign that we can understand each other, that we can reach agreements.

And based on the agreements we reach, we can even move forward on legal and safe channels for migration that Europe so desperately needs,” he argued.

In September last year, the European Commission put forward a long-awaited proposal for a new Pact for Migration and Asylum. Still, although this is also a priority of the Portuguese presidency of the Council of the EU, the major differences in migration policy between EU member states have not allowed much progress in the discussions.

[Edited by Josie Le Blond]

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