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Pact for Migration and Asylum
Towards a Joint European Response

Author: Angela Ostlender

On 10 April 2024, the European Parliament adopted ten legislative texts to reform European Migration and Asylum Policy. We analysed opportunities and challenges on the way to a common European response in a panel discussion.

The long way to an efficient Migration and Asylum Policy

The European Commission's "New Pact on Migration and Asylum," introduced in September 2020 during the German Presidency of the Council of the European Union, aimed to establish a comprehensive framework for regulating migration, acknowledging the interconnectedness of Member States' policies. In 2023, both the Swedish and Spanish Presidencies of the Council made significant steps in advancing the negotiation process, culminating in a "historic agreement" on key proposals shortly before the end of the year.

The EU's response reflects citizens' expectations to bolster the EU's role in combating irregular migration while enhancing the protection of the Union's external borders, all within a framework that upholds human rights. This entails ensuring uniformity in the application of rules for the initial reception of migrants and reforming the European asylum system based on principles of solidarity and equitable distribution of responsibility among Member States.

The New Pact: Not perfect, but necessary

Almost a decade of diligent effort and commitment has finally culminated in a tangible outcome on a common European approach to managing migration and asylum policy. Though this result may not fully satisfy all stakeholders, it represents a necessary step towards resolving the current fragmented and unsatisfactory situation and put an end to uncoordinated ad hoc reactions.

The European Parliament has voted by a majority in favour of the Pact on Migration and Asylum. While the predominant centre groups in the European Parliament have demonstrated a strong willingness to compromise and find common ground, dissent persists among some national delegations. Groups on the far left and far right political spectrum, as well as within the Green Party and certain civil society organizations represent rather extreme viewpoints ranging from backing completely open borders to advocating for their complete closure to those seeking protection on EU territory.

All speakers agreed, that the Pact was a first step, or “the end of the beginning” as Hugo Brady named it. However, numerous challenges lie ahead for its effective implementation. Notably, the shift from unanimity to qualified majority voting among Member States to secure the agreement highlights the potential future challenges that could emerge from changing political landscapes within individual Member States. The question of whether the laws will successfully pass through the voting processes in all national parliaments is also still open. Moreover, contentious issues such as mandatory solidarity remain highly emotional and divisive, highlighting the difficulty of reaching a comprehensive consensus on all aspects.

From the perspective of Member States, it is evident that the current system is failing. Peter Robberecht explained that Belgium, for instance, has been struggling with a persistent influx of asylum claims and the resulting pressures since the end of the Corona Crisis. The country lacks the resources to effectively manage such large numbers, which led to a significant political shift towards extreme right parties advocating for border closures.

For countries affected by secondary movements, such as Germany and Belgium, it is crucial that countries of first entry enhance their capacity to process irregular arrivals through mandatory border registrations and provide support for those likely to receive asylum, while simultaneously denying entry to ineligible individuals. Collective burden-sharing is essential for effectively managing migration flows and combating human smugglers. Another critical aspect for the success of new measures is reducing the number of Member States that have reintroduced border controls within the Schengen area, which has increased from six in 2019 to 12, and which is not a good sign for the internal market.

For the first time, the EU has a comprehensive mandate to develop a common migration and asylum policy from the centre and to transform itself from a mere legislator into a key player and operational body. The New Pact on Migration and Asylum is not only a colossal endeavour within the EU. It is also a unique model worldwide that needs to be developed from scratch with no existing templates to follow.

Next steps: Implementation, opportunities and pitfalls

The Pact is primarily based on the assumption that the respective administrations are able to fulfil their tasks. Consequently, Member States need to carry out a kind of "administrative revolution", especially in the countries of first entry, in order to ensure efficient implementation of the Screening regulation. Furthermore, a change of mentality is urgently needed in those countries that still refuse to show solidarity. The EU's largest economies have already committed to accepting large numbers of legal migrants, which could reduce the influx of irregular economic migrants, but requires smart, targeted policies rather than simply opening the floodgates.

Technical demands are also significant, such as the urgent establishment of a second-generation Eurodac database and the enhancement of new border management systems. Furthermore, the topic spans various national responsibilities, including home affairs, foreign affairs, economics, and social affairs, hindering swift solutions, especially when it comes to financing.

According to Natasha Bertaud, the Commission is presently crafting an implementation plan to support and oversee Member States' actions, alongside with securing appropriate funding in the upcoming Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF). Good things take time, but the EU must not only devote itself to dealing with past challenges, but also those that are already looming on the horizon. It's crucial to remain vigilant regarding the still pending legislative proposals of the Pact, such as the Return directive, the Anti-trafficking directive, or the Long-term Residents Directive. While results may become manifest within EU borders relatively soon, the external dimension demands more attention. The EU's recent shift towards embedding migration into multilateral agreements to safeguard its interests is still in its infancy. This includes the imperative of developing a European culture of returns, recognizing that individuals no longer requiring protection must leave the EU.

Eleonora Milazzo raised a concern that the Pact is likely to increase the transfer of responsibilities to non-EU countries, particularly in North Africa and the Western Balkans. To effectively address the challenges outlined in the Pact and simultaneously fortify its external action, the EU should transcend a purely transactional approach with partner countries. Instead, it should fully recognize that cooperation on mobility issues is not merely a means to deter spontaneous arrivals but rather an area of strategic importance for the EU.

Outlook

As the next step, the European Council has to formally adopt the package. Following publication in the Official Journal of the European Union, the new regulations should be transposed into national law and enter into force within two years. The next years will prove the feasibility of the Pact and the capacity and readiness of Member States to really implement it.  The Pact hinges on a delicate compromise, wherein EU arrival countries commit to conducting comprehensive screenings at the border and processing asylum claims, while also facilitating the return of individuals with no right to stay. In exchange, other Member States agree to host refugees or share the associated costs. However, cooperation with countries of origin and transit, particularly in terms of accepting rejected applicants, remains problematic. The different dimensions of the Pact are closely interconnected. Therefore, it is important that progress is made at all levels to maintain the fragile balance and to ensure its functionality.

In the medium to long term, the pact should also help to dismantle the business model of smugglers and human traffickers and reduce the number of irregular arrivals of people by preventing them from undertaking a perilous journey to Europe, knowing well that their chances of staying are slim. Increased information campaigns and the effectiveness of customised support for local infrastructures that help improve living conditions and offer new opportunities for a viable future will play a crucial role in achieving this goal.

Group photo with Michael Hinterdobler, Dr. Eleonora Milazzo, Peter Robberecht, Markus Ferber, MEP, Dr. Loredana Teodorescu, Natasha Bertaud, Hugo Brady, Dr. Thomas Leeb (from left to right)

Given the challenges associated with the adoption of the Pact, the Brussels Office of the Hanns Seidel Foundation and the Istituto Luigi Sturzo have closely monitored the progress made in recent times. Two series of pan-European policy dialogues took place in 2021 and 2023 and brought together decision makers, experts and other stakeholders from different sectors and countries to foster collaboration, share perspectives, and lay the groundwork for substantial discussions. Furthermore, a recent publication summarises the insights from these expert discussions and makes them accessible to a wider audience.

On 10 April 2024, we held a fruitful panel discussion about the potential benefits and implications of the new rules and structures of the Pact on Migration and Asylum. Natasha Bertaud, Deputy Head of Cabinet of Commission Vice-President Schinas, and Peter Robberecht, Head of Staff of the Belgian State Secretary of Migration and Asylum, shared valuable insights into the various aspects of the Pact, including both its opportunities and challenges. Guided by Dr. Loredana Teodorescu, Head of EU and International Affairs at the Luigi Sturzo Institute, we also reflected on the Pact's implementation and strategies to navigate potential obstacles with Eleonora Milazzo, Research Fellow at the EUI Migration Policy Center / Robert Schuman Centre, and Hugo Brady, Senior Strategic Advisor at the International Center for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD).

Download our publication on the topic here:

This publication addresses the potentialities arising from the new  Pact on Migration and Asylum, the main challenges in implementing the Pact and ensuring the effectiveness of agreed measures. But foremost it deals with the question whether the Pact equips Member States and EU institutions with the best instruments to prevent future migration crises and manage migratory flows effectively.

Here you can find more information on the topic:

 

 

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Director: Dr. Thomas Leeb
Belgium (Europe Office Brussels)
Dr. Thomas Leeb
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Programm Managerin: Angela Ostlender
European dialogue
Angela Ostlender
Programm Managerin