The European Council published on 6 June its long-awaited General Approach outlining its position on two key legislative proposals of the EU Pact on Migration and Asylum: the Asylum Procedures Regulation (APR) and Regulation on Asylum and Migration Management (RAMM). This comes after the European Parliament voted on its own negotiating position on 28 March (see QCEA blog post on the topic). This means trilogue negotiations between Parliament, Council and Commission can now start.
Contentious issues remain ahead of trilogues – we elaborate on some of them below.
- Disproportionate responsibility placed on Member States at the external borders. Detention capacity in countries along the external border will have to expand significantly (or be set up in countries who do not yet use these procedures) to comply with standards of ‘adequate capacity’, a concept introduced by the Council which determines the minimum number of people states should hold in border procedures. Once adequate capacity is exceeded, Member States will no longer have to apply border procedures, but it is likely that border procedures will become the new normal and be used also for groups that fall outside of the scope of obligatoriness for Member States. This is far from a sustainable EU approach to migration, with serious implications such as the worsening of already appalling conditions in which people are detained at the EU’s external borders and the deterioration of procedural safeguards (access to legal aid, right to appeal, etc.).
- Border procedures that lead to systematic and widespread use of detention, including of children. The border procedure can apply to all people who request asylum, yet will be mandatory for certain groups. For example, people coming from countries where the recognition rate is below 20% will be automatically held in border procedures alongside their children or siblings who are minors. Based on the Council’s proposal, children below 12 years of age will no longer be excluded from the border procedure (overturning the Commission’s initial approach).
- Externalisation of migration management through financial measures, with the purpose of speeding up returns and promoting migration control in non-EU countries of origin and transit. EU countries who refuse to relocate migrants will be obliged instead to contribute to capacity building or to a common fund, with a financial equivalent to relocation of 20,000 euros per person. This fund could be used to finance projects in non-EU countries with the aim of preventing migration at source or block migrants in transit. This is likely to increase the focus on deterrence and containment, and shape EU engagements with non-EU countries under the pressure of conditionality upon cooperation on the issue of migration, as illustrated during a recent visit of Italy’s Prime Minister Meloni, Netherlands’ Prime Minister Rutte and European Commission President von der Leyen to Tunis. An emphasis on Tunisia’s cooperation in blocking migrants from leaving Tunisian shores featured prominently in negotiations regarding a proposed EU aid package, which included financial support for border surveillance equipment despite rising xenophobia against sub-Saharan migrants and anti-black violence in the country.
- Emphasis on swift returns to non-EU countries. The European Border and Coast Guard Agency Frontex is expected to play a more prominent role in facilitating deportations and implementing border management programmes in non-EU and accession countries. The agency confirmed that deportations remain a core priority for the agency, which in 2022 alone aided the return of almost 25,000 people, a steady increase from the previous year. 90% of 151 charter flight return operations were organised by France, Germany and Italy, while support for return operations is being expanded in countries such as Romania and Bulgaria. Deportations will be conducted based on a broad definition of ‘safe third country’ to where people can be returned based on a vague ‘connection’ to that country. Member States will each consider what constitutes a safe third country, allowing them to cite mere transit as ‘connection’ to that country and thus suitable for return.
The EU Pact turns solidarity into a commodity worth 20,000 euro per person by which Member States can relinquish their responsibility to relocate.
All in all, the agreement does little to address the dysfunctions in the system, and in fact deteriorates existing standards. Poland and Hungary continue to block any European coordinated approach to migration, while North/South EU divisions will likely deepen and become more acute as Member States continue to relinquish their responsibility to relocate migrants. Just as we are reminded of the devastating loss of life happening daily in the Mediterranean sea with 400 to 750 lost in a recent shipwreck in Greece, the Pact also makes few effective proposals on search and rescue at sea. Search and rescue (SAR) organisations are facing more and more technical and administrative barriers to continue their vital work to save lives.
Schengen Reform in course
In parallel to the Pact negotiations, the EU is set to negotiate a reform of the rules that regulate the Schengen space, with a view to it also becoming an instrument to prevent irregular migration. This reform would allow police to carry out ‘random’ internal checks, which will inevitably lead to ethnic and racial profiling (see more detailed analysis in this joint civil society statement). As in the Pact, this reform reflects the interests of some Member States to advance measures to discourage or actively prevent the movement of people from Member States at the external borders to the wealthiest parts of the EU (also called secondary movements).
Council of Europe “It does not have to be this way”
To mark the occasion of World Refugee Day, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights published a powerful reminder of EU’s moral conscience in relation to migration and asylum. She denounced the EU’s “collective focus on deterrence and shifting responsibility to third countries (that) has created a breeding ground for practices that routinely violate refugees’ and migrants’ rights”. Mijatović stressed that many across Europe are putting their solidarity into action, sometimes at great personal risk, and that this commitment needs to be “matched by Council of Europe member states’ governments”. The full letter is available here.
What is next?
The position reached by Member States outlined above is not the final word – the Parliament and the Council will have to negotiate to reach a common position which will become binding EU legislation. In addition to causing harm on a large scale to people who do nothing else than seek a place where their rights are affirmed, the proposals in the Pact do not reflect the views of many Europeans – instead turning solidarity into a commodity to be bought and sold. Will the negotiating parties have the courage to reevaluate at such a late stage of negotiations? Or will they sacrifice core EU values for the sake of moving forward with an agreement?
For more information please contact QCEA’s Migration & Peace Coordinator Saskia Basa at firstname.lastname@example.org