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Migration pact hailed as 'huge' EU win, amid human-rights fears

By Benjamin Fox

April 11, 2024

Credits @FFHR.CZ

MEPs gave their final approval on Wednesday (10 April) to the EU's long-delayed immigration and asylum pact, which European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen heralded as a "huge achievement for Europe".

The package of 10 regulations and directives approved by MEPs, which will come into effect in 2026, amounted to the biggest overhaul of the EU's immigration and asylum rules in over a decade.

It included new arrangements on burden-sharing quotas that would require governments to pay financial compensation to front-line countries if they refused to take their quota.

However, governments would be able to offset their financial obligations under this mechanism if they helped pay for tougher border security in another EU country.

Other controversial points include provisions to allow asylum seekers to be sent to 'safe' third countries for their claims to be processed, which critics say could allow the EU to replicate the UK's agreement to send asylum seekers to Rwanda while their claims were handled.

Meanwhile, the principle of outsourcing border control by providing funding to third countries such as Morocco, Tunisia, Mauritania, and Egypt, all of whom have agreed to 'cash for migrant control' deals with the EU in recent months, will also be enshrined in the new regime.

Although many civil society groups have been highly critical of the new rules, European Parliament president Roberta Metsola told reporters at a press conference following the vote that MEPs had "shown that Europe lives up to its responsibilities".

"Migration is a European challenge that must have a European solution," also said von der Leyen.

She emphasised that the pact would mean "more secure European borders", a phrase which her centre-right European People's Party (EPP) was likely to repeat in the run-up to the June EU Parliament election.

Von der Leyen added that the EU executive would continue to negotiate arrangements with third countries on migration transit and returns.

Ahead of the vote, a cross-party group of lawmakers, including Swedish centre-right MEP Tomas Tobé, French liberal Fabienne Keller, and Spain's Juan Fernando López Aguilar of the Socialist and Democrat (S&D) group, who had led parliament's negotiations on the files, had urged their colleagues to approve the package.

Tobé called on MEPs to show "loyalty" to negotiations, which originally started in 2016.

Although few national ministers or MEPs involved in the files were very enthusiastic about the final compromise, the von der Leyen commission had made adopting new immigration and asylum rules a key promise in its mandate.

Migration is set to be one of the main campaigning lines ahead of the June European elections, where the EPP is anxious not to be outflanked by nationalist and far-right parties.

But for its part, rights group Amnesty International's Eve Geddie said that Europe had "missed a vital opportunity to build a migration and asylum system that places human rights at the centre".

"EU institutions are now shamefully co-signing an agreement that they know will lead to greater human suffering," she added.

Ahead of the vote, officials briefed press that several of the files would be decided by narrow majorities.

Files on crisis situations, where member states were allowed to take emergency measures to cope with spikes in migration, and the processing of asylum claims were adopted by slim margins of 32 and 29 votes, respectively.

Insiders briefed that around one-third of MEPs in the S&D would vote against all the laws, though a large number of centre-left and liberal MEPs voted against most of them.

The Greens and The Left groups led opposition to the package.


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