On 7 December negotiators met in Brussels for a mega trilogue, which promised to make progress towards a final position on the EU’s Pact on Migration and Asylum. Although no final agreement was reached, the European Parliament’s LIBE Committee announce that negotiators are closer than ever to completion and confident that they will finalise negotiations by 18 December.
What may soon be celebrated as a historic agreement is in reality nothing of the sort. The Pact on Migration will constitute the expansion and normalisation of a punitive and criminalising approach to migration in the European Union, with devastating impacts for migrants, their loved ones and people that support them.
“They are playing with the lives of people who are vulnerable and in danger” said Parvin A, a survivor of violent pushbacks from Greece. In the days prior to the 7 December summit, nineteen human rights organisations spoke in one voice stating what exactly is at stake: the right to asylum in the European Union, the international system of refugee protection and rule of law. The principal concerns noted include:
- Entrenchment of Pushbacks: The reform will lead to a reinforcement of pushbacks at borders, which have been associated with deaths, injuries, and rights violations by EU Member State border forces.
- Increased Use of Detention: The reform will involve an increased use of detention across Europe, including children and families, leading to prolonged incarceration, legal uncertainty, and harsh physical and material conditions.
- Risk of Racial Profiling: The introduction of surveillance-backed screening procedures will exacerbate racial profiling, affecting individuals living in and coming to Europe, regardless of their citizenship or residence status.
- Deepening of Externalisation Policies: The outsourcing of European migration control to third countries without sufficient accountability has been linked to deaths at sea, torture, and inhumane conditions.
- Focus on Deportations with Lowered Safeguards: The Pact’s emphasis on deportations, coupled with reduced procedural safeguards and the use of a “safe third country” concept, enables Member States to evade their responsibility to provide protection and dignified reception.
- Mandatory Asylum Border Procedures: The mandatory use of asylum border procedures will force member states to subject people to de facto detention with limited access to legal assistance, undermining the right to asylum in international law.
- Failure to Address Substantive Issues: The Pact fails to address significant issues, such as the fair distribution of asylum claims across EU member states.
These concerns are confirmed in a document published by the Spanish Council Presidency revealing that the European Parliament has made significant concessions, while the Council has sidelined concerns of discrimination based on race. The current proposal on the table would subject children as young as six to de facto detention and accelerated border procedures. This constitutes a departure from current proposals that allow for such measures for children aged twelve and above – a measure that already contradicts the international definition and standards of protection applicable to children.
Is this the best we can do?
Officials are claiming that in the face of diminishing political will, particularly from the Council, this is the best possible outcome of the negotiations. They also warn about potentially more harmful consequences were the Pact not be adopted on time before the heralded shift to the right in the European elections next summer. Scenarios given include the prospect of an even more restrictive EU Pact, or a retreat into a ‘free for all’ system of individual Member State policies, and abandonment of efforts to reach an EU common approach to migration. However bleak the alternatives may be, decisions of this nature, impact and complexity cannot be rushed or forced to match political cycles; greenlighting and legalising human rights abuses can not be an acceptable price to pay.
The status of the Pact negotiations raises a number of additional deeply important questions about the moral and ethical foundations of the EU, the quality of value-based leadership, and the fitness of existing EU governance processes in delivering policies that work for people. These, alongside a worrying and generalised lack of trust between EU actors, are root causes that explain not only the outcome of Pact negotiations, but also the inability to find and nurture common ground on other significant issues of our time, such as environmental protection and nature restoration.
Towards a hopeful reinvention of process
Solution is not clear-cut or easy, yet a re-engagement in a long-term and creative dialogue would be a good place to start. Any robust democracy should be able to reconsider a process that leads to results which are not compatible with progress already made on ensuring the law upholds rights and allows communities to flourish. Even if the Pact is adopted, sustained and creative forms of dialogue will be needed to tackle lingering trust issues.
Were EU actors to be willing to embark on this process, a constellation of diverse, locally engaged civil society actors, including Quakers, would stand ready to support the EU in exploring possibilities for transformation. A more participative approach to policy-making would make the EU more capable of meeting the challenges of the future, in particular the risks of internal conflict. From making EU institutions more reflective of the diversity of the population, to mainstreaming mediation support and training throughout EU institutions, to opening up spaces of active listening and mutual learning – we are not short of ideas to kickstart this process towards hopeful, democratic renewal.
Universal means universal
The latest update on the Pact negotiations comes less than a week before the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as the 23rd anniversary of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. On these important dates, Europeans are reminded of the historical pledges that have given the European Union credibility as a peace project committed to every person’s enjoyment of their inalienable rights.
Ahead of the 18 December trilogue, QCEA joins migrant rights advocates in a final effort to call for a careful examination of the Pact’s consequences on human rights and refugee protection across the European Union. A U-turn on this Pact will require political courage, but it is the right thing to do if the EU wants to stay true to its values and instead works towards a EU common approach that safeguards, rather than threatens the rights of migrants and refugees.