Little support for the New Pact on Migration and Asylum

Editor’s Blog: Produced in collaboration with the EU Buzz team 

Europe’s migrant crisis seems to have no end, and definitely no solutions, and the New Pact on Migration and Asylum, announced to address the recent influx of migrants, appears unlikely to bring any success. It has, worryingly, brought a great deal of criticism from civil society organisations and think tanks across the EU. 

The current challenge for European leaders is how to effectively manage migration to the EU. In this, there is little solidarity between the Member States. Negotiations for a comprehensive migration policy have been taking place for years now with no concrete solutions forthcoming that will address the obstacles Europe is facing. Under obligations imposed on Member States today, few tangible achievements have been made. Attempts to focus on border controls have been poorly received, with strong reactions from human rights groups. All efforts to have legal or labour pathways are little more than gestures of appeasement and the funding of third countries to holdback the migrant flow has also backfired on European leaders. On top of it all, several European countries have refused to adopt the UN Global Compact for Migration. 

Migratory movements of people in recent years have shown the complexity of European migration management. The New Pact on Migration and Asylum, proposed in September 2020, sets out the European Commission’s revised approach to migration, asylum, integration and border management. It aims to integrate the internal and external dimensions of migration policies by creating more efficient and fair migration processes, reducing unsafe and irregular routes and promoting sustainable and safe legal pathways to those in need of protection. The New Pact revolves around a commitment to solidarity and responsibility.

Effective and fair management of external borders, including identity, health and security checks are a fundamental part of the New Pact, alongside fair and efficient asylum rules, streamlining procedures on asylum and return. A new solidarity mechanism for situations of search and rescue, pressure and crisis are also foreseen, with stronger foresight, crisis preparedness and response to be part of the process. The EU is to coordinate an efficient approach to returns and have comprehensive governance for better management and implementation of asylum and migration policies. In what the Commission has referred to as a paradigm shift , tailor-made and mutually beneficial partnerships with third countries are planned to tackle the effective implementation of readmission agreements. Forming and strengthening this relationships should develop a sustainable legal pathways for those in need of protection and to attract talent to the EU.

In concept and theory the objectives are defined. The EU will carry its responsibility – but who is the EU? It is not the Commission who will accept responsibility nor accountability for migrants nor asylum seekers, that obligation will be passed to the Member States who form the EU. Of those Member States the ones who receive migrants on their shores, countries of first entry, will have the sole responsibility of their management. Under the Pact, solidarity is both mandatory and flexible. It requires all Member States to share responsibility, but countries can choose from three forms of solidarity – relocation, return sponsorship, and “in kind” contributions to help countries facing migratory pressure.

Civil Society and human rights groups have expressed concern on the implementation of retention and detention centres and the lack of clarity as to who will manage these and whether they will be inside or outside of the European Union. Tensions have been increasing  between human rights groups and border control representatives, and only recently legal action was filed against the EU’s border agency, Frontex over its human rights violations in the Aegean Sea.

In practice, well managed migration can contribute to growth, innovation and social dynamism. An effective system that manages and normalises migration should ensure secure external borders, respect for fundamental rights and free movement within the Schengen Area. As a fundamental principle of the European Union solidarity should ensure that all Member States work together for the benefit of the whole. However, migration not only appears to show which Member States embrace solidarity more than others, but it also demonstrates how political parties within Europe’s nations are also willing to reject this value. 

Whilst the New Pact on Migration and Asylum may well have been unveiled by the European Commission in September 2020, it is still being negotiated between the European Parliament and the Council of the EU, and unlikely to resurface in its current form – if it resurfaces at all except in discussion forum of the EU. An even though demands have been requesteded by other European institutions and civil society groups, who have been highly critical of the Pact, ultimately the real challenge of any proposals that come from the Commission is its ability to be implemented and enforced.

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