EU’s new migration pact to request ‘mandatory solidarity’ from member states

European Commissioner for Promoting our European Way of Life Margaritas Schinas (L) and European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson (R) give a press conference on New Pact for Migration and Asylum at the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium, 23 September 2020. [EPA-EFE/STEPHANIE LECOCQ]

The European Commission proposed to member states on Wednesday (23 September) to share responsibility for asylum seekers under a “mandatory solidarity” mechanism. With the new migration pact, it hopes to avert a replay of the 2015 migration crisis by giving the countries a choice between taking in migrants or helping to send them back home.

The key point of the EU’s New Pact on Migration and Asylum is that member states would have to either accept asylum seekers, take charge of sending back those who are refused asylum, or offer financial assistance on the ground to front line EU states.

The new proposal, according to the Commission, is meant to “strike a new balance between responsibility and solidarity” and make solidarity with EU front line states – especially Greece, Italy or Malta – compulsory when they are “under pressure” from arrivals.

It is also meant to pacify Eastern European countries, who have persistently refused to accept asylum seekers and in the weeks preceding the announcement reiterated their opposition to mandatory relocation.

The Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, immediately hinted that agreeing on the pact among the EU27 would not be plain sailing.
“My guess is that I will have zero member states saying it’s a perfect proposal,” said Johansson.

“But I do hope that I’ll also have 27 member states saying it’s a balanced approach and let’s work on this… It’s about realising we have a common problem and we have to manage it together.”

In the 400-page proposals encompassing five different EU laws, there is a special emphasis on sending back those who fail to win asylum.

The proposal is aimed at opening up more legal routes for refugees and migrants. It should also facilitate cooperation with third countries hosting people before they reach Europe, as well as closer monitoring of frontline EU countries to ensure they do not violate the law, after multiple reports of pushbacks in Hungary, Croatia, Greece or Malta.

The proposal includes a new compulsory pre-entry screening involving health, identity and security checks as well as a faster asylum border process involving swift returns for rejected asylum seekers, within eight months.

If the repatriation is unsuccessful, the member states will ultimately have to let the refugees stay in their country, so the new system would eventually lead to member states having to take in a number of refugees.

“It’s obvious to everybody that ad hoc solidarity or voluntary solidarity is not enough. That has been proven for many years now,” Commissioner Johansson, said. “It has to be mandatory.”

“Managing migration is not about finding a perfect solution but a solution acceptable to all,” she added.

No mandatory relocation

As EURACTIV reported earlier, there will be no mandatory relocation, which was tried and failed in 2015, instead, member states would have “flexible options” for how to share responsibility.

At the same time, if a country faced major pressure of new arrivals, it could seek to activate a ‘crisis preparedness’ mechanism under which fellow member states would be obliged to take people in or make arrangements to send those rejected back.

Asked by EURACTIV, whether there will be a specific threshold for when a member state can trigger the crisis mechanism, Johansson replied that member states would be able to demand it, and the Commission would then assess the request.

“But bear in mind we’re speaking about a 2015-type crisis situation,” added Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas.

Asked where the Commission exactly sees the role of Turkey in the proposed pact, especially when it comes to the returns, Schinas replied that he is “convinced we can work together”.

The migration crisis in 2015 could only be resolved after Ankara signed a landmark deal with the EU in 2016 to stop the flow in return for incentives that included financial assistance.

The new rules will also authorise tougher controls on the bloc’s external borders with mandatory pre-screening of asylum seekers.

“Currently, the only obligation is for a member state to take the fingerprints of someone who arrives irregularly and simply registers. Under the new pact all arrivals will be subject to a thorough security health and identity check,” Schinas said.

The Commission said all elements should be in place from 2023, but the pact first needs to be discussed and agreed by the EU27.

On the eve of the presentation, Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz warned the EU on Tuesday against forcing states to take in asylum seekers because it “has failed and many states reject this”.

The proposal follows a devastating fire earlier this month at the overcrowded Moria camp for migrants on the Greek island of Lesbos that left thousands homeless and brought back criticism of the EU’s delayed decision-making on migration.

“Moria is a stark reminder that the clock has run out on how long we can live in a house half-built,” Schinas added.

“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,” Schinas added.

Johansson said that “what we are proposing today will build a long-term migration policy that can translate European values into practical management”, and added that the set of proposals “will mean clear, fair and faster border procedures so that people do not have to wait in limbo”.

“It means enhanced cooperation with third countries for fast returns, more legal pathways and strong actions to fight human smugglers. Fundamentally, it protects the right to seek asylum,” she added.

Poland rejects southern Europe's push for mandatory relocation of migrants

The upcoming negotiations over the EU’s long-awaited new migration proposal are expected to hit another dead end, despite the European Commission’s assurances of having held an “intensive consultation process”.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

The Greens/EFA criticised the Commission's plans would not take into account the position of the European Parliament of 2017 on the reform of the Dublin system and a fair distribution of refugees in the EU member states, which emphasised and safeguarded the principle of common responsibility and should serve as a base for upcoming inter-institutional negotiations.

"The Commission's Pact won't stop another Moria, despite promises to the European Parliament last week," said MEP Tineke Strik, coordinator of the European Parliament's civil liberties committee (LIBE).

"We welcome the proposal that all Member States have to take responsibility with concrete contributions, however, financial incentives for relocation should be much higher to increase EU countries' willingness to receive asylum seekers," she added.

The EPP welcomed the proposal with MEP Roberta Metsola, the group's LIBE spokeswoman urging member states to be constructive and adopt a negotiating mandate on the package of new migration laws as soon as possible.

“These wide-ranging migration reforms are a good starting point for a European approach to ensuring strong borders, fair and swift asylum procedures, an efficient and safe return of those not eligible for protection, and a sustainable system to be better prepared to handle a crisis”, Metsola said.

At the same time, Caritas Europa criticised that the unveiled pact "falls short of expectations for shifting the EU’s direction toward more balanced and humane migration policies".

“A key element of the Pact aims at introducing mandatory fast track asylum and return procedures along EU border states," Maria Nyman, Secretary General of Caritas Europa, said, adding that her organisation fears that the new procedures "will dilute legal safeguards, and lead to possible ‘refoulement’ and increased detention".

"Any type of border measures must respect human rights and the Geneva Convention, and should never force people back to unsafe situations," she added.

 

 

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