Understanding the new pact on Migration and Asylum as an opportunity

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

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]

Few topics have divided Europe as much in recent years as migration and asylum. The new
pact on Migration and Asylum puts migration back on the EU agenda, writes Michael Spindelegger.

Michael Spindelegger is the general director of the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD)

The proposal on a “New Pact on Migration and Asylum” is probably the most holistic attempt
the Commission has ever made to address Europe’s migration challenges and opportunities.
It tries to integrate the interlinkages between different migration policy areas and between
the internal, external and border control dimensions more thoroughly than in the past.

Although the public and media discussion focussed a lot on the question of whether the Pact
would bring an end to the “Dublin System”, in reality, it focuses more on aspects of the
external dimension or the “seams” where migration policy areas and external and internal
dimensions meet.

This should be welcomed. Europe’s migration challenges have their origins outside of Europe.
Despite the importance of the internal dimension, the real change has to be made where
these challenges arise.

The proposed Pact contains many proposals that would strengthen the external dimension, a fact that is likely to increase its actual impact once it is implemented.

As regards the dominating issues of the last five years, namely the question of – mandatory –
solidarity and responsibility sharing, the Communication includes promising new proposals.
The scope of solidarity should be enriched by a return dimension, whereby member states
assume a “return sponsorship”.

This sponsorship entails the obligation to support the return of rejected asylum seekers or other persons with no right to stay from another MemberState’s territory. Thus, member states should have the flexibility to decide whether and to what extent they engage in return sponsorships or relocation.

Other forms of solidarity, such as the provision of staff and financial support, will also continue to be part of the toolbox.

The question about which of those should be mandatory is kept open.

It remains to be seen whether this proposal, together with other ideas, including prescreening at the external borders, will be enough to break the gridlock that has characterised the internal dimension of the EU’s policy on migration and asylum during the last five years.

Another encouraging aspect lies in the fact that this time there were intensive discussions between the EU institutions and the member states before a final text was completed. In this regard, the proposed Pact neither represents a beginning nor an end to a process, but rather a milestone in a joint effort that will continue once its first major result has been presented to the public.

If we read into the future, it is safe to say that the next immediate crisis in Europe will have
its origin outside of Europe as well.

The Beirut harbour disaster, for instance, has displaced an estimated 300,000 people in a country plagued by severe political and economic challenges and which is hosting large-scale refugee populations.

Nobody should be surprised if this situation triggers significant migration flows, but everybody should be prepared to cope with them. Another example is the recent upsurge in irregular arrivals from Tunisia.

As a direct consequence of the break-down in tourism in the country due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many young Tunisians see no other option other than leaving their country and trying to find work in the EU.

This pattern will repeat itself many times in the future and, in parallel to its own economic recovery, the EU will have to support its partners, both near and far, in their efforts too.

In this context, it is welcome that the Commission strongly emphasises the aspect of crisis
preparedness in its Communication. It will be crucial to better prepare, to think in scenarios
of what might happen, and to try to address crisis situations early on or before they even
emerge.

Building on these efforts, this time it might really be possible to find common solutions and
compromise.

The disaster at the Moria refugee camp provides a tragic reminder that such solutions must be found despite our differences and that, in addition to the legitimate aim of combating people smugglers and irregular migration, these solutions must do justice to the fundamental values of the European Union.

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