The European Union (EU) announced a “historic” new migrant deal on Wednesday meant to overhaul how the bloc processes asylum seekers ahead of next year’s elections.
After overnight talks, EU lawmakers announced that an agreement was found “on the core political elements” of the Pact on Asylum and Migration.
“It’s truly a historic day,” European Parliament President Roberta Metsola said, flanked by lawmakers responsible for the key parts of the agreement.
With migration likely to be a hot campaign issue ahead of EU elections next June, Metsola said it was vital to make a breakthrough.
“Let’s not underestimate the risk if we had not reached such a deal,” she told reporters. “This means, hopefully, that member states will feel less inclined to reintroduce internal borders because the influx is being managed.”
Speaking to reporters in Brussels later Wednesday morning, Metsola admitted the deal is “not a perfect package,” but she championed how “it’s a center that does not copy the right, it goes on pragmatism,” according to Politico Europe.
“Great news! We did it, we have an agreement on the whole pact of migration and asylum,” Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said in a video on social media celebrating the deal, which still requires a final agreement on all its 10 parts to be reached by February, and then transcribed into law before the June 6–9 elections, in order for all of its reforms to enter force.
European Union President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement Wednesday that the Pact on Migration and Asylum “will ensure that there is an effective European response to this European challenge.”
“It means that Europeans will decide who comes to the EU and who can stay, not the smugglers. It means protecting those in need,” she said.
Von der Leyen said the pact will “ensure that Member States share the effort responsibly, showing solidarity with those that protect our external borders while preventing illegal migration to the EU,” as well as “give the EU and its Member States the tools to react rapidly in situations of crisis, when Member States are faced with large numbers of illegal arrivals or instrumentalization when hostile countries deliberately attempt to destabilize the EU or its Member States.”
The pact was touted as the answer to the EU’s migration woes when it was made public in September 2020. The bloc’s old rules collapsed in 2015 after well over 1 million people arrived in Europe without authorization. Most were fleeing war in Syria or Iraq, but little progress was made on the pact as the member states bickered over which country should take charge of migrants when they arrive and whether other countries should be obligated to help, according to The Associated Press.
In recent weeks, negotiators bridged differences on rules concerning the screening of migrants arriving without authorization – facial images and fingerprints will be quickly taken, including from children from the age of 6 – and the ways that this biometric data can be used. Agreement was also found on which EU countries should handle asylum applications, the procedures for doing so, and what kinds of mandatory support other countries must provide to nations struggling to cope with migrant arrivals, notably in “crisis situations.”
This comes as France has been on a heightened security alert since October amid the Israel-Hamas war and a series of slayings of French teachers by migrant Islamic extremists in recent years. Ireland, another European Union member state, has seen tensions rise over the resettlement of migrants in communities, and a knife attack on a woman and three children in Dublin’s city center last month allegedly carried out by an Algerian immigrant prompted a night of violent riots. Afterward, authorities condemned “far-right” radicalization on social media.
However, right-leaning political movements have been gaining traction across Europe as mass migration from Africa and the Middle East is seen as challenging Western values.
The EU breakthrough deal was announced just after the French parliament approved a divisive immigration bill intended to strengthen France’s ability to deport foreigners considered undesirable. The vote prompted a heated debate after the far-right decided to back the measure.
Dutch caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the deal improves “control over migration” with “better asylum procedures at the external borders of the EU.” Far-right lawmaker Geert Wilders aims to replace Rutte after sweeping to victory in last month’s elections on an anti-migration platform, according to the AP.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz described the pact as “a very important decision” that will “relieve the burden on countries that are particularly affected — including Germany.” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez told parliament that the pact “will allow us to have an improved, more humane and better coordinated management of our frontiers and migration flows.”
Wednesday’s deal also had its critics. In a post on X, the European Council on Refugees and Exiles – a migrant rights umbrella body – slammed the rules as “Byzantine in their complexity and Orban-esque in their cruelty,” a reference to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who erected razor-wire fences to keep migrants out.
Eve Geddie, director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office, said that it “will set back European asylum law for decades to come,” and “cause more people to be put into de-facto detention at EU borders, including families with children and people in vulnerable situations.”
“States will be able to simply pay to strengthen external borders, or fund countries outside the EU to prevent people from reaching Europe,” Geddie added.
Oxfam’s EU migration expert Stephanie Pope worried that the pact would encourage “more detention, including of children and families in prison-like centers. They have also slammed the door on those seeking asylum with substandard procedures, fast-tracked deportation and gambled with people’s lives.”
The secretary general of the Caritas Europa charity group, Maria Nyman, said the deal shows that EU countries “prefer to shift their asylum responsibility to non-EU countries, prevent arrivals and speed up return, exposing migrants to human rights violations.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.