The European pact on migration and asylum faced with reality

The European Parliament hopes to finalize its end to the pact on migration and asylum by December.

With less than two years to go until the 2024 European elections, questions abound as to whether Europe’s state co-legislator is ready to concede the most delicate aspects of EU-wide reform.

Although European Parliament President Roberto Metsola has signed a roadmap with the EU’s five rotating presidencies to bring the pact to fruition, pending discussions on some of the most vital issues remain unresolved.

Among them is the issue of “solidarity” – a general term used to describe how EU states are supposed to help each other with asylum and migrant arrivals.

The issue has derailed previous attempts to overhaul the pact under European Commission presidency Jean-Claude Juncker.

While the European Parliament managed at the time to adopt a common position, the Council, representing the Member States, was unable to sit down at the negotiating table.

The commission then proposed a new pact at the end of 2020, which has since moved at a snail’s pace as EU states like Poland and others erect long border fences with Belarus.

The same pact repealed the EU’s Temporary Protection Directive, currently used to help millions of Ukrainians settle as refugees in member states.

Now the pressure is high for the deal to go through amid speculation that repeated failure would deal a devastating blow to the European Union’s credibility.

Solidarity or barriers?

But solidarity and its many iterations remain controversial among some key European lawmakers, including Sweden’s centre-right Tomas Tobe.

Tobe had last year rejected any notion of mandatory relocation that would force EU states to take in asylum seekers arriving on the shores of Greece, Italy and elsewhere.

Such relocations are anathema to a handful of EU states, including Austria and Hungary, while others like Greece and Italy insist on it.

Tobe is also the lead MEP on the biggest file in the overhaul, the so-called Managed Asylum and Migration Regulation, which essentially governs the whole pact.

In an email, Tobe told EUobserver that they still intend “to reach a parliament position on the settlement by the end of the year”.

But with the Swedish elections leading to a wave of support for Sweden’s far-right Democrats, Tobe’s stance on solidarity exclusions is likely to be strengthened.

Uncertainty remains over whether a right-wing coalition will come to power in Sweden, but the move sent a political signal against large-scale immigration.

Sweden will also take over the presidency of the EU, which leads the legislative process through the Council, in January next year.

The issue has not gone unnoticed by other MEPs in the European Parliament who insist that compulsory solidarity remains a key pillar of the pact.

Mandatory moves

Among them is the chairman of the powerful Civil Liberties Committee, Spanish socialist Juan Fernando López Aguilar.

López Aguilar is also the lead MEP for the Crisis and Force Majeure Regulation, a bill that is part of Tobe’s Asylum and Migration Management Regulation.

“There is a majority that supports mandatory relocation as an expression of solidarity in times of crisis,” said López Aguilar.

López Aguilar said Tobe will always need the support of other key MEPs from the different political groups, the so-called shadows, if he wants to get his bill through parliament.

“If this file did not meet the standards established by the political groups of the house, it would have enormous side effects,” said López Aguilar.

“Tomas Tobe is therefore aware that he has to compromise with Renew Europe, the Greens and certainly with the S&D [socialists],” he said.

The issue could be further complicated by the upcoming Italian elections, where the far right is also expected to make gains.

Picking cherries

Meanwhile, parliament is using its comprehensive approach to the pact as strategic leverage against the council.

The idea is to prevent the council from negotiating only on files that concern security, while ignoring the aspects of solidarity found in other bills.

López Aguilar said the roadmap signed between parliament and the presidencies means there will be “no picking” on files.

But the Czech EU presidency has already announced that it is ready to start discussions on the draft law on the collection of biometric data known as Eurodac, as well as a screening regulation which could lead to detention centers.

The screening bill is led by German socialist Birgit Sippel. In an email, she said a date for the committee-level vote had yet to be set.

The Czechs also intend to announce ideas for positions on asylum and managed migration regulations, while in parallel negotiating tough positions on the removal of asylum rights as part of a distinct “instrumentalization” proposal.

For parliament, this means talks can begin but adoption cannot move forward without the other files on board.

“At the end of the day, we have to have joint adoption of all dossiers,” said Dutch Green MEP Tineke Strik.

Stirk also expressed concern over whether parliament would bow to political pressure to only adopt legacy files and Eurodac and filtering.

These files inherited from the Juncker Commission include the reception conditions directive led by the Dutch liberal Sophie In’t Veld.

“We actually had trialogues and a deal over four years ago, but it’s been stuck in the council ever since,” she said of the dossier, in an email.

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