“I do hope that we will get it,” EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson said Tuesday in an interview ahead of the vote on the asylum reform. “This has been a marathon,” she said with regard to getting the package to the voting phase.

The EU parliament on Wednesday adopted a sweeping reform of Europe’s asylum policies that will both harden border procedures and force all the bloc’s 27 nations to share responsibility.

The parliament’s main political groups overcame opposition from far-right and far-left parties to pass the new migration and asylum pact. 

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen hailed the vote, saying it will “secure European borders (…) while ensuring the protection of the fundamental rights” of migrants.

A political breakthrough came under the Spanish Council Presidency in December when a weighted majority of EU countries backed the reforms, overcoming opposition from Hungary and Poland.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Greece’s migration minister Dimitris Kairidis both called the reform “historic”. Kairidis said that the Greek government had supported the effort from the very beginning and the decision was historic for “the European unification”, as he told the Athens News Agency.

French President Emmanuel Macron said Europe was acting “effectively and humanely” while Italian Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi hailed what he termed “the best possible compromise”.

But there was dissent when Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán derided the reform as “another nail in the coffin of the European Union”.

“Unity is dead, secure borders are no more. Hungary will never give in to the mass migration frenzy! We need a change in Brussels in order to Stop Migration!” Orbán said in a post on X.

Criticism from NGOs

Migrant charities also slammed the pact, which includes building border centres to hold asylum-seekers and sending some to “safe” countries outside the EU.

Amnesty International said the EU was “shamefully” backing a deal “they know will lead to greater human suffering” while the Red Cross federation urged member states “to guarantee humane conditions for asylum seekers and migrants affected”.

The vote itself was initially disrupted by protesters yelling: “The pact kills, vote no!”, while dozens of demonstrators outside the parliament building in Brussels held up placards with slogans decrying the reform.

The parliament’s far-left grouping, which maintains that the reforms are incompatible with Europe’s commitment to upholding human rights, said it was a “dark day”.

It was “a pact with the devil”, said French MEP Damien Careme, a lawmaker from the Greens group.

In January, Elma Saiz, the Spanish Minister for Inclusion, Social Security and Migration defended the migration pact in the face of criticism from several left-wing parties that denounced the loss of rights for migrants. Saiz described the pact as “a step forward” as it will allow greater coordination at the European level and a better integration of migrants in the labour market. 

Measure to relieve migrant influx in the south 

Under current EU rules, the country of arrival bears responsibility for hosting and vetting asylum-seekers, and returning those deemed inadmissible, a system that has put southern states under pressure and fuelled far-right opposition.

New border centres would hold irregular migrants while their asylum requests are vetted under the new system. And deportations of those deemed inadmissible would be sped up.

The reform would require EU countries to take in thousands of asylum-seekers from “frontline” states such as Italy and Greece. Alternatively, they could provide money or other resources to the under-pressure nations. At least 30,000 asylum-seekers a year will come under this relocation system. An annual financial compensation of 600 million euros ($650 million) would be fixed for those preferring to pay instead of host.

The first-entry countries, such as Italy, von der Leyen assured that from now on “they will no longer be alone” in the face of the challenges posed by immigration. “The pact takes our needs into account,” Piantedosi stressed. “It is the best possible compromise. (…) Italy played an important role as did the European People’s Party, EPP,” Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani commented. 

In an interview, a day before the final vote, Commissioner Johansson pointed out that with the new pact also “a number of loopholes with regard to secondary movements” would be closed. 

It is already planned that, after a two-year transposition period, “if a person arrives in Portugal and asks for asylum in Portugal, they have to stay in Portugal”, explained Ylva Johansson in response to news agency Lusa. This came at a time when there are fears that the country could be a gateway to the EU for migrants who then want to settle in countries like Germany or France.

The package establishes an emergency response in the event of unexpected migration surges, the same sort of crisis the EU faced in 2015-2016 when more than two million asylum-seekers entered the bloc, many of them from war-torn Syria and Afghanistan. Asylum requests stood at 1.14 million in 2023, the highest level since 2016.

Tusk vows to “protect” Poland against EU migrant relocation

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk on Wednesday said his government would “protect Poland against the [European Union] relocation mechanism”.

Poland’s right-wing PiS party, in power until the October 2023 elections, was a fierce critic of the reforms, and the new governing alliance led by Tusk, despite its largely pro-EU views, has maintained that stance.

Migration deals

In parallel with the reform, the EU has reproduced the same sort of deal it struck with Turkey in 2016 to stem migratory flows. The EU has reached accords with Tunisia and, most recently, Egypt that are portrayed as broader cooperation arrangements. Many lawmakers have, however, criticised the deals. 

Bulgaria, which borders Turkey, has been strongly affected by migrant flows from Turkey. This year it has seen a drop in illegal crossings compared to the same time in 2023, according to the then outgoing Interior Minister Kalin Stoyanov. On March 22, he said that this year there were 5,777 illegal crossings compared to 18,474 the year before. 

Bulgaria’s Schengen accession was initially vetoed in 2022 by Austria and the Netherlands as it was seen as a transit route for many immigrants to Central and Western Europe.

Opponents

Marine Le Pen, the figurehead of France’s far-right National Rally, complained the changes would give “legal impunity to NGOs complicit with smugglers”.

She and her party’s leader who sits in the European Parliament, Jordan Bardella, said they would seek to overturn the reform after EU elections in June, which are tipped to boost far-right numbers in the legislature.

Orbán’s government reaffirmed Hungary would not be taking in any asylum-seekers.

“This new migration pact practically gives the green light to illegal migration to Europe,” Hungary’s Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said before the vote, adding that Budapest “will not allow illegal migrants to set foot here in Hungary”.

The Slovak Republic unequivocally rejected the new EU Migration Pact and said it did not agree with the compulsory redistribution of illegal migrants, Slovak Foreign Minister Juraj Blanár said after the vote on Wednesday. 

Czech MEPs have voiced support for some elements of the migration package, while rejecting others. Their stance reflects criticism that the proposals fall short of comprehensive solutions to the migration challenge and lack ambition. Additionally, Czech representatives have expressed concerns about the package’s failure to address strategies for migration prevention.

Outcome

Roberta Metsola (l), Präsidentin des Europäischen Parlaments,  und Ursula von der Leyen, Präsidentin der Europäischen Kommission, sprechen bei einer Pressekonferenz im Europäischen Parlament zu der Abstimmung vom EU-Parlament für die umstrittene Asylreform. Das Europäische Parlament hat den Weg für die umstrittene EU-Asylreform freigemacht. Nach jahrelangen Diskussionen stimmten die Abgeordneten am Mittwoch in Brüssel für das geplante Paket, mit dem die bisherigen Regeln für Migration in die Europäische Union deutlich verschärft werden sollen.
Roberta Metsola (l), President of the European Parliament, and Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, speak at a press conference in the European Parliament on the EU Parliament’s vote on Wednesday. The European Parliament has cleared the way for the controversial EU asylum reform. Photo: Jessica Lichetzki/dpa

For her part, European Parliament President Roberta Metsola assured that she was not surprised by the narrow result in any of the votes for the different laws of the immigration package, given that they are “politically sensitive issues”.

“It’s a make it or break it moment,” said Vice President of the European Commission Margaritis Schinas. “The Pact that you have in front of you is not rebuilding the Parthenon. We never claimed to do so,” he said, adding that before there was a “non-system for migration” which suited populists to win votes. 

The new pact’s measures are to come into force in 2026, after the European Commission sets out how it would be implemented.


Fact check: 

False and misleading information in regard to migration are often subject of online conspiracy theories. Here is AFP’s fact check on a video showing men attacking Italian law enforcement officers in Marotta in Italy, and not on Lampedusa as false claimed.
https://factuel.afp.com/doc.afp.com.33VE642

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