Landmark EU Asylum Reform Goes To Vote

EU legislators will vote Wednesday on a major revamp of the bloc’s asylum rules, which would toughen border procedures for irregular entrants and oblige all member countries to contribute.

The new Migration and Asylum Pact is a set of ten laws drafted after years of discussions with the goal of bringing European Union countries — all with different national interests — to work together on migration issues under the same rules.

If only one of the laws is rejected, the entire package will fail — but this is likely to result in last-minute bargaining.

The main political factions in the European Parliament have indicated that they will support the package. However, far-right and far-left parties oppose one or more of the measures.

Migrant charities and non-governmental groups have also spoken out against the deal, viewing it as an attempt to strengthen “Fortress Europe” and make it much more difficult for migrants to seek asylum.

“It’s not a given vote,” admitted Fabienne Keller, a French politician in the parliament’s centrist Renew party who helped pass one of the articles.

The failure of one text may sink the entire package, she claimed, despite the fact that “a democratic majority in the European Parliament supports it”.

The plan will build border centers to keep irregular migrants while their asylum applications are processed, as well as expedite the deportation of those found inadmissible.

In the name of European solidarity, it would also oblige EU members to accept thousands of asylum-seekers from “frontline” countries such as Italy and Greece if they are put under strain by inflows.

Alternatively, the other EU countries might send money or other resources to the under-pressure countries, or offset their contributions by assisting with border security.

A particularly contentious proposal is the deportation of asylum seekers to “safe” nations outside the EU if the migrant has ties to that country.

EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said on Tuesday that she was “proud” of the package’s progress to the vote stage.

“I do hope that we will get it,” she said. “This has been a marathon.”

Long negotiations 

The treaty underwent years of difficult negotiations and concessions.

When substantial numbers of irregular migrants came in 2015, many of them from war-torn Syria, the EU realized it needed to act together.

Initial proposals, such as allocating “quotas” of migrants, were met with opposition from a number of countries.

In recent years, most of the European Union’s politics have shifted to the right, and rising geopolitical uncertainty has hindered the search for consensus.

The European Commission prepared a revised proposal for 2020, which received political support in December of last year.

Although many EU parliamentarians from mainstream parties are concerned about some of the pact’s harsher provisions, they see it as an overall improvement over the existing scenario, in which responsibility is not shared.

Far-right legislators argue that aspects of the plan do not go far enough, such as barring irregular migrants from “safe” neighboring nations. However, they support the pact’s extension of biometric data collection from newcomers.

Far-left MPs are horrified by what they regard as a rejection of European ideals like compassion and human decency.

They are echoed by 161 rights organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the International Rescue Committee, which consider the treaty as “punitive” to migrants and asylum seekers.

In line with the change, the EU has been expanding the type of agreement it reached with Turkey in 2016 to restrict migrant flows. It has established agreements with Tunisia and, most recently, Egypt, which are presented as broader cooperation arrangements.

If passed, the measure will take effect in 2026. Over the next few months, the European Commission will outline how the accord will be implemented.

Jean-Louis De Brouwer, a migration expert who previously led the Commission’s asylum and immigration policies, expressed “serious doubts” about the agreement’s effectiveness.

“We are heading towards a system that is objectively much more complex, and I’m not at all certain that member countries are inclined to pick up their game,” he went on to say.

Another analyst, Alberto-Horst Neidhardt of the European Policy Centre think tank, observed “a lot of grey areas” in the pact’s implementation.

However, he added that it also offered “an opportunity to change the way the EU views its immigration policy, moving from emotion-based discussions to fact-based ones” .

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