The last-minute agreement, particularly brokered between Germany and Italy, who initially exhibited reluctance, has effectively resolved the regulatory framework concerning the management of migration crises amidst heightened tensions within the European Union.
After protracted negotiations spanning several years, the 27 member states of the European Union have ultimately closed the last chapter of the Migration Pact. This pact has been a focal point of discord within the union during recent times. On Wednesday 4th, the member states collectively endorsed the regulation concerning crisis management and the instrumentalization of immigration, which introduces further constraints on entry and asylum applications. The convergence of interests between Germany, advocating for enhanced safeguards for families and minors, and Italy, seeking stricter immigration policies within its domestic political landscape amidst an upsurge in arrivals on its shores, expedited the promulgation of the new regulation just ahead of the EU heads of state and government summit scheduled for the ensuing Friday in Granada. Subsequently, this regulation, along with the four others comprising the long-awaited Migration Pact, will undergo inter-institutional negotiations to formalize into a legal text.
This agreement emerges during a period of heightened tension among member states owing to concerns regarding a potential migration crisis. These concerns have led to temporary border closures and frictions among partner nations. Although the pressure persists, this consensus paves the way for the European leaders’ summit in Granada. The immigration debate and strategies for its management have infiltrated the agenda and pose a substantial threat to monopolizing the meeting, despite the accord achieved on Wednesday. As the European Union progresses toward finalizing the chapter on internal immigration management, discussions on models for reducing arrivals within EU territory will take precedence. This includes agreements such as the contentious one with Tunisia, wherein the Union provides financial support in exchange for the management of migratory flows.
Spain, currently presiding over the EU Council and serving as a mediator in these negotiations, had been cautiously optimistic about the possibility of reaching an agreement, despite reservations from Paris and Rome, whose support was indispensable for the agreement’s success. Spain’s interior minister, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, had affirmed that an agreement would be reached prior to the Granada summit. After a week of intense technical negotiations, this optimism has materialized. Germany and Italy have extended their support for the regulation, while Poland and Hungary voted against it. Austria, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic abstained, as per diplomatic sources.
The legislation, an integral component of a comprehensive package, further tightens the criteria for accepting asylum applications and prolongs processing times, potentially leading to applications being blocked in countries facing crisis situations. It also permits the extension of detention periods for asylum seekers by an additional eight weeks beyond the standard 18-month limit under normal circumstances, as delineated in preliminary drafts of the regulation.
Additionally, the regulation introduces the concept of “instrumentalization” of migration, which applies when a nation experiences an attempt to “destabilize” itself or the EU as a whole through the sudden influx of migrants. This concept emerged prominently during the 2021 migration crisis, when Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko orchestrated the dispatch of thousands of migrants, facilitating their attempts to cross into Eastern European countries, exploiting their vulnerabilities.
Italy, grappling with a tense situation on the island of Lampedusa, now a primary entry point for migrants traveling via the Central Mediterranean route, predominantly originating from Tunisia, had advocated for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) involved in humanitarian operations, especially sea rescues, to be encompassed within the purview of ‘instrumentalization.’ This proposal raised concerns within rescue operations. Ultimately, these entities, often scrutinized by Rome and frequently held responsible for the influx of migrants to its shores, have been largely exempted. However, the language in the approved regulation on Wednesday appears somewhat expansive, potentially leaving room for the legal questioning of specific operations, especially if they fail to meet European standards.
Human rights and immigration-focused NGOs have expressed apprehensions that this new regulation may create a gray area where the rights of migrants could be violated.
The agreement reached on Wednesday carries far-reaching implications, as it marks the conclusion of the much-anticipated Migration Pact. This pact, a cornerstone of Ursula von der Leyen’s Commission, introduces stringent reforms to reception and asylum systems. It was formulated in response to the migration crisis of 2015, which strained the European Union and posed a threat to the Schengen area of free movement, from which it has yet to fully recover.
The Migration Pact outlines a new system for border control and processing asylum applications, encompassing technical aspects such as biometric data. Moreover, it introduces the concept of an “entry fiction,” a provision that could leave asylum seekers in limbo for extended periods while their claims are being processed. Above all, it introduces a new paradigm of flexible yet mandatory solidarity among EU-27 member states, wherein they must collectively contribute to managing migration flows. This contribution may take the form of reception quotas or the payment of 20,000 euros for each rejected asylum seeker.
As the Migration Package advances to the next phase of negotiations between the EU Council, the Parliament, and the European Commission, there remains the possibility of further alterations. Germany, for instance, seeks to incorporate additional safeguards for minors.
Nevertheless, the issue of migration, highly divisive and politically charged for certain member states, will continue to provoke tensions. The agreement with Tunisia to curb arrivals teeters on the brink of collapse, and the European Commission is exploring similar agreements with countries like Egypt. Meanwhile, migrant arrivals within the EU persist, prompting several Central European nations, including Germany, Austria, Poland, and the Czech Republic, to temporarily close their borders in a bid to prevent asylum seekers from entering their territories.
Brussels is making efforts to defuse tensions and forestall any escalation. On Wednesday, the EU executive sought to downplay the significance of temporary border controls, even though they persist within the European Union.