The European Union (EU) member states have announced an agreement on sharing responsibility for the care of refugees and migrants. This preliminary agreement comes after disputes among EU member states since the breakdown of cooperation in 2015, when over a million refugees, mostly fleeing the war in Syria, arrived in Europe via the Mediterranean Sea. Poland and Hungary voted against these proposals, while Bulgaria, Malta, Lithuania, and Slovakia abstained from voting.
After a long day of arduous negotiations that ended with persuading Italy and Greece to proceed with the amendments, the interior ministers of the EU member states reached an agreement on two key provisions as part of the immigration system reform.
The reform highlights European solidarity in terms of receiving migrants and expediting the processing of asylum applications for migrants at the borders. The agreement reached on Thursday opens the door for negotiations in the European Parliament, aiming to adopt the reform before the European elections scheduled for June 2024.
German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser stated, “These are not easy decisions for everyone at the table, but they are historic decisions.” Ylva Johansson, the European Commissioner for Home Affairs, welcomed the agreement, describing it as a “very important step” towards the asylum and immigration pact presented by the European Commission in September 2020.
Poland and Hungary voted against these proposals, while Bulgaria, Malta, Lithuania, and Slovakia abstained from voting, according to the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union responsible for managing the negotiations.
Ten countries, including Italy and Greece, had previously expressed opposition or reservations regarding the proposals on the table. A new compromise text was prepared to accommodate as many countries as possible, especially Mediterranean countries through which migrants enter the European Union.
Italy advocated for allowing migrants who did not receive asylum to move to “safe” countries they could transit through, even without a specific connection between the migrant and the country. However, Germany opposed this idea.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, during his visit to Rome where he met with Italian Prime Minister Georgia Meloni on Thursday, emphasized that European Union member states must face the migration challenge “together” and not leave Mediterranean countries “alone.”
The issue of asylum system reform resurfaced as the number of migrants arriving in the European Union increased after the pandemic, while four million Ukrainians sought refuge in the bloc. There is a trend towards immigration policies with stricter limitations, particularly as right-wing extremists recently achieved electoral victories in several member states.
One of the supported provisions obliges EU member states to implement mandatory solidarity but with flexibility, requiring them to either receive a certain number of asylum seekers who arrive in another EU member state under migration pressure or, if they do not wish to do so, provide financial contributions to that country.
Significant financial compensation, amounting to twenty thousand euros per asylum seeker who is not transferred to another location, is included, according to several diplomatic sources.
This attempt aims to strike a balance between Mediterranean countries that receive migrants who seek to automatically move to other countries in the bloc and countries like Hungary or Poland that refuse to be compelled to receive asylum seekers.
The other provision that received ministers’ support requires member states to expedite the review process of asylum applications for certain migrants who are clearly ineligible for protection because they come from a country considered “safe.” The goal is to facilitate their return to their home countries.
German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser requested “not subjecting families with young children to border mechanisms.”
French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin left the conference center before noon on Thursday after the announcement of an attack in the city of Annecy (Eastern France), which left four children and two adults injured. Prior to his departure, he called for the spirit of compromise regarding the proposals.