Incoming European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen | Photo: EPA/Olivier Hoslet
Incoming European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen | Photo: EPA/Olivier Hoslet

The incoming head of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen has outlined her agenda on migration in letters sent to the EU’s new Vice President Margaritis Schinas, who is tasked with migration affairs, and Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson. The letters stressed the need for a new pact on migration and asylum in Europe.

The elected president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, sent two letters Tuesday to the two future commissioners who will be working with her on migration issues. The recipients were Margaritis Schinas, who has been given the migration brief and the title Vice-President-designate for "Protecting our European Way of Life," and Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson. The title "Protecting our European Way of Life" has been condemned by many, even within the EU, who called it "patronizing," and asked for an immediate re-think. Amnesty International has also expressed its concerns saying that the title makes a connection between migrants and security; and sets up a Europe versus non-Europe dichotomy.

Von der Leyen said, in the letter to Schinas, "we need to look at all aspects [of migration], including external borders, systems for asylum and return, the Schengen Area of free movement and working with our partners outside the EU."

Asylum reform needs to be revived 

In her letter to Johansson, she asked for a new pact on migration and asylum. As part of this, she clarified, "I want you to relaunch the reform of asylum rules. This should include finding new forms of solidarity [across the bloc] and should ensure that all member states make meaningful contributions to support those countries under the most pressure."

She added, "you should look at ways to close loopholes between asylum and return rules. We must honor our values and our responsibilities to those fleeing persecution or conflict, while at the same time ensuring that those not eligible to stay go back."

Work on new approach for rescues 

The incoming president then called the bloc to work "on a new, more sustainable, reliable and permanent approach to search and rescue, replacing existing ad hoc solutions." Von der Leyen wants to create legal pathways to the European Union, "both through resettlement of those in need of international protection and through employment opportunities for skilled workers." 

In addition, Von der Leyen urged close cooperation between commissioners and an emphasis on developing links between countries of origin and transit, and the EU. Von der Leyen calls for more efforts to "develop a robust system of readmission and return" whilst at the same time looking for "ways to establish humanitarian corridors in order to help refugees and offer decent and humane conditions."

Combatting human traffickers and smugglers will also remain a top priority for the EU's incoming president. To that end, von der Leyen called for Johannson to focus on the implementation of the reinforced European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) "which should play a central role in ensuring we have strong external borders." Von der Leyen is planning 10,000 Frontex border guards operating on the EU's external borders by 2024.

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