Where Is the EU on the Reform of the Migration and Asylum Policy?
In an article for the EUCO Debrief, our expert assesses whether the circumstances are more favourable for a deal now then a few years before.
In 2020, the European Commission unveiled its proposal for a comprehensive reform of EU migration and asylum policy with the “New Pact on Migration and Asylum” – covering irregular migration to the EU, asylum and border procedures, and cooperation with third countries on migration. The objective was two-fold; to lift the EU out of its 2015 crisis mode and of the ad hoc arrangements that came with it, and to update and streamline procedures across the EU with agencies like Frontex and EASO stepping in. To force a compromise between member states with differing views on migration, the Commission used a puzzle strategy – or solidarity by interdependency. Each bit of proposed legislation served the demands of specific member states but hinged on agreements on other aspects of the Pact appealing to other member states. One example is the proposal for return sponsorships which gives the option for states who refuse to engage in the relocation of asylum seekers from another member state to contribute instead to the return of irregular migrants to their countries of origin.
Two years later, negotiations on the New Pact are stalled, pushed to the sidelines of European diplomacy during the Covid-19 pandemic. But with the situation at the borders with Belarus in the second half of 2021, European leaders reactivated the crisis mode and risk falling back into old routines. Recent proposals rip apart the comprehensive approach of the New Pact, with member states picking their preferred pieces of the Pact and pushing for their pet projects – and in fact going well beyond the provisions of the Pact. For instance, in response to the Belarus crisis, the Commission proposed a regulation “addressing situations of instrumentalization” of migration that would allow member states to resort to suspensive measures when border countries allow or force people to move across their borders in an irregular way. The proposal would institutionalize options for states to loosen asylum and border procedures in certain emergency situations – similar to the emergency measures Poland, followed by Latvia and Lithuania, pushed for in December 2021 – which, human rights organizations fear, would undermine the right to asylum. But they also face resistance from other member states.
Such is the case of France. Over the course of its presidency of the EU Council, France ambitions to make strategic, yet gradual, advances on migration and asylum. It counts on a coalition of the willing grouping 10 or so member states that would take part in smaller-sized agreements, building on the proposals of the New Pact (e.g., support to screening at borders in exchange for relocation from frontline states) and beyond (i.e., reform of the Schengen Borders Code). France already managed to block the derogatory emergency measures Poland and other eastern states were hoping for. But the rest of the negotiations are unlikely to move fast. Even among France’s coalition of the willing, disagreements exist. Elections are coming up in France and Hungary, where immigration is already high on the agenda, and risk to dampen politicians’ ambitions on high-visibility migration reforms. A new “deal” for a coherent EU migration and asylum policy is unlikely to see the light of day very soon, but several small deals may emerge between blocks of like-minded member states – until the next crisis.