EU member states remain at odds over a unified migration policy, but there is some progress | Photo: picture-alliance
EU member states remain at odds over a unified migration policy, but there is some progress | Photo: picture-alliance

The European Union looks poised to find broad political agreement on a new EU migration pact. German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said that the 27 member states might be able to adopt the new legislation before the end of the year.

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency until the end of 2020, said that he hadn't heard from a single member state thus far that they opposed the current draft for a new EU migration and asylum pact.

“We want a political agreement,” he said, adding that reaching an agreement during his country's EU presidency could lay the groundwork for related legislation to be passed during the upcoming six-month presidency of Portugal, which begins in January 2021. 

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer | Photo: Picture-alliance/dpa/M.Müller
German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer | Photo: Picture-alliance/dpa/M.Müller

“Our aim is that by the end of the year we reach a political agreement covering the most important pillars of the [migration and asylum] package and under the Portuguese presidency the legal instruments would be put in place,” Seehofer specified.

EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson, who had presented the proposed migration pact last month, however expressed scepticism about the ambitious time frame, saying that “we are also going to need the Portuguese presidency to finalize this.” 

The EU’s “New Pact for Migration and Asylum” must be endorsed by all member nations and by the European Parliament in order to be made law.

Read more: Mixed reactions to new EU migration pact

Division among member states

The European Commission had launched its third attempt to find broad consensus on migration two weeks ago. Migration has been an important and contested political issue in the EU over the past five years, when over a million people made it to the EU irregularly, challenging security and welfare networks, and stirring populist sentiment across the bloc. The number of new arrivals has since dropped significantly, but the topic of migration has remained hotly debated.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's refugee policies since 2015 have not been welcomed across the board in the EU | Photo: picture-alliance
German Chancellor Angela Merkel's refugee policies since 2015 have not been welcomed across the board in the EU | Photo: picture-alliance

While most member states appear to agree that reform is needed indeed, migration-sceptical states like Austria, Hungary and Poland oppose the concept of automatic redistribution of migrants coming to the EU. 

The premiers of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland all criticized the plan proposed by the EU Commission as not going far enough in its efforts to curb migration to Europe. Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban urged the commission to “stop the migrants” from coming to the EU in the first place. 

The European Commission has proposed that states will receive 10,000 euros ($11,750) for every adult asylum seeker or refugee they take in, yet the nationalist governments of these eastern EU states remain adamantly opposed to the idea of redistribution. 

However, front line states in the south of EU such as Italy, Malta, Greece and Spain, which have seen large numbers of migrants reaching their Mediterranean shores see the redistribution plan as an essential component of a viable unified migration policy going forward. Italian Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese said that the EU was only at the “beginning of a long process and a very complex negotiation” that had to ensure that the countries where most migrants enter were not forced to carry the burden alone.

Fortress Europe?

While a mandatory redistribution plan is not part of the “New Pact for Migration and Asylum,” the EU does want to make provisions for exceptional situations. If an EU country were to find itself under major migration pressure, the Commission wants a crisis mechanism to oblige other EU governments to take people in or send them back.

The commission's new plans focus on tackling migration by improving several aspects of the procedures involved. In addition to speeding up the processing of asylum applications, the plan would also accelerate the deportation of those whose applications fail. Many of these procedures could also be moved to the EU’s outer borders -- where applicable.

NGOs are worries that keeping migrants at the edges of the EU will create further ghettos and squalid camps | Photo: Henning Goll/DW
NGOs are worries that keeping migrants at the edges of the EU will create further ghettos and squalid camps | Photo: Henning Goll/DW

Migrants arriving at Europe's outer borders without a visa or similar documentation would be screened within five days. They would then enter the standardized asylum procedure or -- if unsuccessful -- be deported. People could be held in detention throughout for 12 weeks, which is the deadline set for reaching a decision in each and every case.

A series of NGOs have criticized the plan as an attempt to further seal off Europe that disrespects the needs of refugees.

Meanwhile the IOM has cautiously said that it welcomes the proposed changes in EU law.

Ambitious eight-month asylum process

For those accepted for asylum or any other form of protection, all EU countries would face two choices: they could opt to take in some of the migrants and refugees and receive financial support, or they would have to provide other material and logistical support in tackling the new arrivals and those who are stuck in the asylum system.

For those not willing to deal with asylum seekers, they would be given the option of taking charge of deporting people whose applications were refused. The time-frame for carrying out these deportations -- under consideration of all legal appeals -- would be set to eight months. If these states failed to carry out the deportation order within that time frame, they would subsequently be forced to accept the failed asylum seekers.

There has been some opposition against the latter provision, as eight months is deemed to be a tight time frame to see through a deportation. Also, in recent years, only about a third of all people ordered to be sent back home were successfully deported.

with dpa, Reuters, AP, KNA 

 

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